Every year, about 2 million dogs are adopted from rescue shelters.

Big-hearted people are giving these dogs a second chance to have a happy and healthy life. But adopting a dog is not as simple a decision as turning on a light switch; there are many factors to consider before you rush out and bring home the first rescue dog you see. 

Here are some things to think about thoroughly: 

Breeds of Dogs

If you’re thinking of adopting a dog, one of the first things to consider is its breed. The American Kennel Club (AKC) officially recognizes 195 breeds of dogs, while the Europe-based Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI) says there are 360 breeds. No matter which association you follow, the bottom line is that all dogs differ in terms of size, aesthetics, energy levels, athleticism, susceptibility to disease, grooming needs and other qualities.

A number of online sites exist that can help you to choose a breed based on how compatible it may be with your age, lifestyle, living situation and personality. Some basic elements to consider are how big your home is and whether it has a front or back yard, whether you or someone else is at home during the day (for instance, if you work from home) and whether you’re able to walk the dog every day (or can hire someone who can).

Where to Find the Dog You’re Looking For

Shelters are a great place to start your search, but they’re not the only places to find rescued dogs.

There are many different reasons why a dog can wind up in a shelter: dogs have been rescued from neglectful homes; dogs have been relinquished; stray dogs that may have been found wandering without an owner, and others might have come from a litter that was unwanted.

Some shelters are run by animal welfare organizations, while others are run by humane societies, or overseen by a municipal or county government. 

Beyond shelters, rescue and other organizations exist that may not have the resources for dedicated animal facilities (they may have a network of foster homes instead) but may still have dogs that are in need of adoption. In many cases, these dogs (and even some shelter dogs) have already acquired basic training and socialization skills.

What to Know About a Dog Before You Adopt

Whether it’s a shelter or other organization that you’ll be adopting from, you should try to get a complete sense of your dog’s personality before you take them home. In many cases, these organizations will have some basic information about the dog in question, but ideally, you should ask:

  • How old is this dog? (Dogs of any age can be adopted, but it’s usually harder for shelters and other organizations to get people to take older animals. There are many pet parents who have a heart for older animals and dedicated to their specific needs)
  • Is this dog better suited to one owner, or would it be good for a family?
  • Does this dog have a history of excessive barking or other behavioral issues? 
  • Should this dog be the only dog in the household, or will he or she get along with other dogs or animals?
  • Is this dog good with children or is this dog better suited with an adults-only family setting?
  • Can you spend significant time with this dog you’re thinking about adopting before making a commitment to take them?

In general, the more information you can gather before you make a decision, the better. Adopting a dog is not a decision to take lightly; it’s recommended that you think it over for at least a day or two before you say “yes.”

Dogs Are a Responsibility

Remember that adopting a dog is not all about your needs; dogs are living, sentient beings that require affection, attention, stimulation and daily exercise.

In fact, almost every dog needs to be walked at least once every day. Are you ready to make that kind of commitment (or can you hire someone who can make it)? What will you do when you’re sick or you go on vacation? Who will take care of your dog?

Like human beings, dogs need warmth, affection and companionship. Can you commit to giving it to them? Just like human relationships, a dog will make demands on your time. Do you have the time to spare? 

In truth, there are many costs associated with dog ownership, and your time is just one of them. Here are some others to consider:

  • Food — This may be the biggest expense on this list. Most dogs consume several tons of food over the course of their lifetimes, costing on average between $10 and $20 per week (although food for large breeds can cost significantly more).
  • Treats, Toys, Bones, Poop Bags — As with food, these are continuous costs for items that are consumable/disposable.
  • Pet Insurance — Could you handle veterinarian bills if your dog had an emergency? For instance, what if your dog had cancer, or you discovered he or she had parasites?  Pet insurance will cover some costs, but not everything.
  • Vets — If you don’t have pet medical coverage, pet parents will need to pay out-of-pocket expenses for health checkups, bloodwork, medications, special foods, flea and worm treatments, ointments, etc.
  • Dog Trainers — If your dog is in need of training, hiring a professional trainer to train the dog and teach you the skills to maintain that training is an option many pet parents take on.
  • Dog Boarding/Sitters — If you travel a lot or can’t get anyone to take care of your dog when you go away, these can be significant costs.
  • Dedicated Items — In theory, these are one-time costs, but they should nonetheless be taken into account. Consider at a minimum a dog bed, crate, leashes, a collar, dog tags/chipping, food and water bowls. 

Like food, other ongoing costs will include toothpaste and a toothbrush, monthly flea and tick control, and heart-worm meds. 

All of these costs add up (some sources estimate their total to be between $60 and $100 monthly [excluding major medical costs, training, boarding/sitters], or between $27,000 and $42,500 over a lifetime for the average dog), and bear in mind that the above list is incomplete. 

Adopting Is for Life 

Most shelters and other organizations are happy to see their dogs being adopted, but they sincerely want any new owner to be able to take care of that dog for a lifetime. In general, if you can’t make that kind of a commitment, you probably should not get a dog for the time being until you’re in a better position for dog ownership. 

For those that have adopted a rescue dog and provided them with a wonderful life we all thank you and appreciate you!