Once you’ve decided to welcome a new pooch into your home, your work has just begun. While adopting a dog seems easy on paper, there is an abundance of preparatory work that has to be done to make sure you choose the right pup and create a dog-friendly home.
Sit down with your family members and have a thorough heart-to-heart discussion before heading to the shelter to pick out your pooch. Then, get to work preparing for your brand new family member.
Steps to Take When Adopting a Dog
1. Determine the Best Dog for Your Family
No two families are alike, and no two breeds are alike, so it’s important to do your best to match up the right family with the right type of dog. For instance, if you spend your weekends playing video games and watching TV, a high-strung Weimaraner that needs lots of exercise might not be the best choice. Along the same lines, if you’re living in an apartment or small home without a backyard, a smaller or low-key breed, such as a bulldog, is probably going to be a better fit than a high-energy cattle dog that needs room to run.
When you sit down as a family, talk about types of breeds you’re drawn to, then talk about expectations: Who will feed and walk the dog? Is grooming a concern? Are there other animals in the house you need to consider? Once you’ve put together a framework of the type of animal you’re looking for, consider taking a dog breed quiz to narrow your options further.
Another consideration when picking a dog is to decide whether you want a puppy or an adult dog. There are pros and cons to both options, so it’s a very personal decision. When you adopt a puppy, you have more control over its training and socialization, particularly if you adopt it before it’s four months old. That said, there are challenges that go along with training: accidents in the house, torn up shoes, and chewed up paper, just to name a few.
Many adult dogs available for adoption have already received basic training and house training, making the initial adjustment period a little more owner-friendly. However, some adult dogs come with “baggage,” so to speak. They may have developed idiosyncrasies, fears, or bad habits that are hard for a new owner to break. Think carefully about the behaviors you are and are not prepared to deal with, and choose the age of your new dog accordingly.
2. Prep Your Home
Even if you’re a few weeks out from bringing a new pup home, it doesn’t hurt to go ahead and do some prep work first. Dogs are notorious for getting into food, trash cans, and toilets, so do a walk-through of your home to determine if there are any attractive nuisances you should address. Be especially conscious of potential hazards, such as antifreeze or rat poison. The scent of these items is attractive to dogs, and the results are lethal. Just as if you were baby-proofing a house, take the time to dog-proof your home to prevent foreseeable damage or injury.
3. Choose a Vet
It may seem premature, but it’s a good idea to find a veterinarian even before you adopt your dog. Many adoption organizations actually require you to list your vet’s name on their application, so if you have one picked out, it’ll make the adoption process go more smoothly.
Ask family and friends for referrals, then call the suggested vets and let them know you’re about to adopt a dog and are looking for information on their vet practice. It’s important to know how much the vet charges per visit, what their hours of operation are, and whether they’re available for after-hours emergencies. It’s also a good idea to meet your top candidate in person, just to get a feel for how he or she interacts with humans and animals.
Once you’ve chosen your vet, go ahead and ask his or her advice about food brands, trainers, and must-have supplies. While you don’t have to follow every bit of your vet’s advice, it’s a good idea to have professional input before you bring your new pup home.
4. Purchase Supplies
You don’t have to buy everything you need before you adopt, but because the day of adoption is filled with excitement and stress, it’s a good idea to have several things on hand before you pick up your pup. Borrow a few supplies from friends, or take a trip to the pet store to buy the basics.
Don’t just grab the first items you see, though. It’s a good idea to keep in mind the type and size of dog you plan to adopt – a Chihuahua’s supplies are considerably smaller than those of a Great Bernard, so be sure to look for size specifications and cross-reference those with size information on the dog breeds that have made your short list.
Items to buy include:
- High-Quality Food. Look for dog foods with meats and proteins listed first on the ingredients list, followed by non-corn whole grains, such as oats or barley, and whole vegetables, such as sweet potatoes or broccoli. Pay most attention to the first five or six ingredients, as their content is most prevalent in the food. Also, avoid corn products and byproducts, as well as chemicals or sweeteners. Just like with human food, you want your dog’s food to be as whole and natural as possible. Expect to spend $20 to $30 for a medium-sized bag. Or, make homemade dog food.
- Food and Water Bowls. Look for products appropriately sized for your dog. Expect to spend at least $10 per bowl.
- Collar. Choose a collar appropriately sized for your dog. If you’re not sure about the size, purchase two different sizes, then return the one that doesn’t fit correctly. Nylon is a good, inexpensive option to start with, usually ranging between $5 and $15.
- Leash. Look for a basic, six- to eight-foot leash made of a strong nylon material. Avoid retractable leashes, at least at first, as some dogs don’t do as well with them, and could even break them if they pull too hard. Another great option is a leash made of climbing rope. Most high-quality nylon leashes range from $10 to $30, depending on the length and width of the leash.
- Dog Bed. Dog bed style and pricing varies greatly, and you can pay practically as much or as little as you want, although you should expect to spend a minimum of $20 on this purchase.
- Baby Gates. Purchase baby gates if you want to prevent your dogs from accessing certain areas. This can be especially helpful early on as your dog acclimates to its new home. Pricing varies considerably based on size and style of gate, but a very simple, portable gate from PetSmart costs roughly $30 to $40.
- Dog Crate. Crating your dog when you’re away helps keep your pet calm while also preventing unwanted destructive behaviors. It’s also helpful as you work on house training your dog. Crates are very size-specific, and pricing varies accordingly. This is a product you might be able to buy via Craigslist, but if you plan to buy new, expect to spend a minimum of $50.
- Toys. Splurge on one or two fun-looking toys for about $10 to $15 each.
- Treats. Likewise, grab a bone and a bag of small treats to use with your dog. The small treats can be given out as rewards during training. Spend about $10 the first time out.
If you want to wait to pick up dog supplies until you’ve chosen your pet, set aside a few large bowls from your cupboard to use in the interim, and fold up an old blanket to use as a dog bed. Ask your vet or the adoption organization if they have a temporary collar/leash you can use to take your dog home. These simple collars are often provided free of charge or for a small fee, and are a single, long piece of leash material with a D-ring on one side and a handle on the other. You simply slip the handle through the D-ring to create a loop that’s placed over the dog’s head as a temporary collar, leaving the remaining material and handle as the leash.
5. Adopt Your Dog
After narrowing down the types of breeds you’d be interested in adopting, call around to the local shelters and rescue organizations to see whether any waiting dogs match your list. In all likelihood, you’re bound to have a fair number of animals to choose from. Ask each rescue organization what their policies are for adoption, and gather any necessary materials before you start your search. For instance, some organizations require proof from the landlord that you’re allowed to have a dog at your apartment, while other organizations require referrals or recommendation letters. In some cases, rescue organizations require home visits before adoption, so it’s important to know the rules before you head out.
Set aside a day to drive around to the shelters and meet with the potential animals. Each animal has its own personality, and while these personalities are sometimes muted while living in a shelter, you and your family will be able to get a feel for each of the dogs you’re considering. Most shelters allow you to spend time with the animal in an adoption room.
If you have other animals at home, ask in advance if it’s okay for you to bring your other animal with you, particularly if it’s another dog. Not all dogs get along great, so it’s a good idea to introduce your new dog to your old dog in a semi-neutral setting, like an adoption room or in the grass outside the shelter.
When you’ve chosen the animal that’s right for your family, notify the shelter workers and fill out any appropriate paperwork. In some cases you’ll be approved on the spot and allowed to take the dog home immediately, but in other cases you may have to wait for the paperwork to be processed or for a home visit to be performed. Sometimes shelters house animals that need additional vet care, so you may also have to wait for your new pet to receive treatment before taking him or her home.
6. Settle Your Dog at Home
Once your adoption is complete and you’re able to bring your new pup home, get ready for a lot of excitement. The dog is going to be curious about his or her new environment, and will likely spend time running around and sniffing things.
Once your dog gets a feel for the home, expect a subsequent dip in energy. After spending weeks or months in a high-stress shelter environment, then taking a car ride to a whole new home, the pup is bound to be worn out. Don’t be surprised if he or she spends the first couple days doing a lot of sleeping. Encourage this rest and spend waking time cuddling, playing with, and otherwise loving your new dog. It takes a little while to bond, but as your dog becomes more comfortable, its personality will start to shine, and you’ll be hooked in no time.
Now that you’ve picked out your dog, go ahead and head back to the store to pick up a few more supplies. A dog tag is a must, and if you waited to purchase collars, leashes, and bowls, now’s the time to make your purchase. It’s also a good idea to grab some spot cleaner and doggie bags. New dogs (even house trained ones) frequently have accidents in their new homes, and even if they keep their business outside, you’ll want to have the supplies on hand to pick up the doo and throw it away.
7. Invest in Training
Even if your dog came to you fully trained, it’s a good idea to go ahead and sign up for a basic obedience class within the first week or two of ownership. These classes are as helpful to the dog owner as they are to the dog, and they establish a chain of command within the house. Standard classes through major pet stores typically cost about $100. This may seem like a lot, but the peace of mind provided is definitely worth the expense, and the classes help ease your dog’s mind, too. Dogs are pack animals, and they need to know who’s boss.
8. Head to the Vet
Last, but certainly not least, you need to schedule a vet visit shortly after adopting your pet. Some adoption organizations provide a follow-up vet visit for free, but if your shelter doesn’t, you need to do this on your own.
The vet visit determines whether there are any health issues you should be conscious of, and it puts your dog on a regular schedule for immunizations. It’s also a good idea to pay for an antigen heartworm test if your shelter just tested for heartworms using the less-accurate antibody test. Use your time with the vet to ask questions and talk about any owner concerns, whether medical or behavioral.
Bringing a dog into your home is a rewarding experience, but dog ownership isn’t cheap, and it shouldn’t be done without careful consideration. The annual cost of dog ownership ranges from $400 to $700, not accounting for possible major injuries or illnesses, while the upfront costs alone can set you back more than $500. By taking the time to choose the right breed, prepare your home, and seek out professional assistance, you and your family will be equipped with the necessary tools to start dog ownership on the right foot.
Have you adopted a dog? What additional tips can you suggest?