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Published: Jun 29, 2022 11 min read
Photo of a women with a dog happily browsing online on her laptop
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Adopting a dog can be an overwhelming process — especially if you do it online.

There’s research to do (Which dog adoption sites are legit? What breed will work best for your household?), paperwork to fill out, pet insurance to buy and budgets to consider. But at the end of it all, you’ll have a loyal, furry friend in your life — so stick with it.

There are many benefits to pet adoption. The fees are lower than buying a pet, and the reward is greater: According to the ASPCA, roughly 13% of dogs who end up in shelters are euthanized.

Read on to learn about the ins and outs of adopting a dog online, and some tips for making the process go as smoothly as possible.

How to Adopt a Dog Online

Online adoption process

Adopting a dog is a complicated process — and doing so online can be even more so.

We’ve gathered the information you need to make your preparation and the online adoption process easier.

Do your research

Before you start browsing through photos of available pups, think about what kind of life you can offer a dog (not the other way around). For example, if your heart is set on a large, energetic breed — like an Australian cattle dog or a Golden Retriever — you’ll need to make sure you have plenty of outdoor space and solid fencing around your yard.

If you have an HOA or landlord, you’ll also need to find out if they even allow dogs in the first place, or if they have any breed restrictions.

Look up shelters online

There are several online resources to find your new best friend.

National pet adoption organizations — for example, the Humane Society and the ASPCA — have websites that let you browse all of the adoptable animals in their care. These nonprofit adoption centers are usually run by volunteers.

Rescues, on the other hand, are smaller networks — usually made up of private citizens— who have well-defined goals such as rescuing specific breeds of dogs or saving dogs from abusive situations like dogfighting or trafficking for the meat trade. Rescues foster dogs and other pets until they get placed in their forever homes.

Online databases (such as Petfinder and Adopt-a-Pet) and social media sites like Facebook and Instagram are great ways to find adoptable pets in both shelters and rescues, as well as individuals looking to rehome their own pets.

Due to this wide variety of options designed to help you find a pet, adoption processes can vary. It’s usually two-fold, with the initial search and application communication taking place online, followed by an in-person meeting.

In some cases, you can actually adopt a dog through a completely virtual process, and have your pet shipped to your home. This is often done by shelter volunteers who are trained to safely ferry rescued animals across the country to new pet owners.

But beware: Pet scams are becoming fairly common. These may involve scammers posing as shelters on fraudulent websites and deceiving the victim into paying adoption fees or shipping costs for non-existent dogs.

And even if you’re adopting from a legitimate site, it’s always worthwhile to meet your new dog and get a sense of his personality before you take him home.

Fill out an application

The next step in the adoption process is filling out an application, which can often be done online. Whether applying online or in-person, you’ll need to provide the shelter with a valid proof of I.D., for example, a driver’s license or passport.

These applications can be quite involved, since the purpose is to ensure your prospective pup ends up in a loving home, with an adopter who is committed to his well-being — for the long haul. Expect to answer questions about your job, house, family members and any additional pets you might have.

Don’t be put off by long questionnaires: While time-consuming, these are often a sign that you’re adopting from a legitimate, responsible organization.

Schedule a home visit

Rescue organizations tend to be more strict in their adoption process than shelters, and usually require one or more home visits in addition to an application. During these visits, rescue staff might check the overall safety of your home and point out potential hazards.

Pay the adoption fee

Adoption fees can vary greatly depending on the shelter you’re adopting from, the state you live in and the age and size of the dog. Most fees include initial health costs like vaccines, spay/ neuter surgeries and microchipping.

A quick search of different Humane Society databases across the country shows the adoption fee for puppies and pure-breed dogs can range between $290 to $500. Older dogs and mixed breeds, on the other hand, range between $190 to $400.

Requirements for adopting a dog from an online shelter

These are some of the requirements you’ll need to meet before you bring your furball home.

Necessary documents

When adopting a dog online, you may need to provide some of the following documents depending on the adoption agreement.

  • Proof of identification and age: You’ll be required to show your driver’s license, state ID, passport or other legal government identification. (The minimum age for online adoption is either 18 or 21, depending on the state.)
  • Proof of home ownership or rental agreement
  • Personal references from people who can vouch for your character
  • Health records of your current pets

In return, you can also expect to receive from the shelter, rescue or breeder:

  • An adoption contract or contract of sale
  • Your pet’s medical history and certificates of health
  • Microchip information

Adoption counselor

Some shelters require an interview with a counselor to discuss the adoption process and help facilitate a good match. More than one meeting may be required, so you should expect to dedicate some time to this process.

Additional adoption aspects to consider

If you’re a new dog owner, you’ll need several amenities to get started – crates, bedding, toys and treats. If your lifestyle involves frequent travel, you’ll also need to find a reputable kennel or dog sitter.

Additionally, keep in mind that the cost of your dog's medical needs can be expensive. If you’re ready to adopt, it’s a good time to find out more about what pet insurance covers and pet dental insurance.

Here are some of the most common costs associated with pet ownership:

Pet food

However, the cost of dog food can vary greatly depending on the size of your pooch and the quality of the food you buy. You can choose dry food, wet food and fresh or raw food. There are even home delivery services for dog food. In general, the average dog owner spends about $300 per year on dog food, the ASPCA reports.

Behavioral training

Behavioral training can help your dog adjust to her new environment and make both your lives easier. There are individual and group classes available at local pet stores and through private trainers, and the cost can range from $40 to $250 per session. Additionally, if your dog shows signs of stress or trauma, pet therapy is also a great option.

Spaying and neutering

The spay/neuter surgery is a very common procedure. It’s important for population control and can protect your pet from health problems that emerge later in life, for example, cancer and incontinence.

According to the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), you should wait until your dog is at least six months old to spay/neuter if she’s a smaller breed (those likely to remain under 45 pounds), and nine to fifteen months for larger breeds. The price for this surgery can range anywhere from $150 to $300, though it’s often included in your adoption fee (so make sure to inquire beforehand).


Microchipping is also strongly recommended by most vets. This quick procedure involves inserting a tiny device (no larger than a grain of rice) under the dog’s skin. The implanted chip is programmed to show your telephone, name and home address; if your dog is ever lost, a veterinary office or shelter can scan the chip and notify you of your dog’s location.

Veterinary care

Dogs are required to have rabies vaccinations in most states. Veterinary professionals also strongly recommend the parvovirus, distemper and canine hepatitis shots. The total cost of these shots can range between $80 and $250 a year.

Other common canine medical expenses can quickly add up. Flea and heartworm medicine, for example, can cost up to $120 for a six-month supply, and the recommended annual dental cleaning can average $350 to $500.

How to Adopt a Dog Online FAQ

How long does it take to adopt a dog online?

Shelters usually take less time to process adoptions than rescues, and the process may be simpler. You can usually begin the application process online, then pick up your pet in person, sometimes the same day. If you are doing a fully online adoption process, and transportation is involved, the process may take up to a month.

Where can I adopt a special mixed breed dog online?

There are numerous databases — such as Petfinder and Adopt a Pet — where you can search for specific mixed breeds, such as a Labradoodle or Pomsky. You can also find pages dedicated to certain breeds on Facebook. Local shelters and breed-specific rescues are also a good bet.

Is it better to adopt a dog online or in person?


While starting the adoption process online is convenient, it's best to follow up with an in-person visit. It's important to let every member of your household meet the dog you're planning to adopt and make sure its temperament is right for all of you.

It's often a good idea to start your search by visiting a local shelter and looking at available dogs in your area. However, if you're looking for a very specific type of dog — perhaps due to allergies or strong preferences for a certain breed — then online will be the best way to go.

Summary of Money’s How to Adopt a Dog Online

  • The process of adopting a dog online is much easier when you do research beforehand
  • Application requirements and fees vary widely from shelter to shelter (and from rescue to rescue).
  • There are many additional costs to consider, like veterinary care.
  • For more information about how to find the right dog for you, read about the best place to adopt a dog in your state.