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Published: Apr 29, 2022 18 min read
Woman happily holds up a puppy she just adopted
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So you’ve decided to adopt a dog. Now what?

There are thousands of Fidos, Milos and Bellas waiting for a forever home in animal shelters nationwide. From budgeting for your new family member to pooch-proofing your home, this guide will help navigate every step of the process.

Find out more below.

Table of contents

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How to adopt a dog

Once you set your eyes on your new pet, you’ll probably want to take her home as soon as possible. So it’s best to do as much research and planning as you can before you even start your search.

Set up a budget

Dogs bring a priceless joy to our lives, but alas, they’re not free. There’s no way around it: Your new tail-wagging companion will also bring some new expenses. Here’s a list of the major ones.

Adoption fee

Most shelters will ask you to pay an adoption fee, which ranges from about $50 to $300. This cost will vary per shelter, but usually covers vet exams, spay/neuter surgery, vaccinations, deworming, tags, collars and a microchip implant. Be ready to pay more if the adoption fee doesn’t cover these items.

Accessories and grooming supplies

Your new dog will need a collar or harness, leash and ID tag right off the bat. If you’re adopting a new pup, you’ll also need a replacement collar once the pup grows to its full size.

Grooming routines vary per dog, but most owners will want to invest in a doggie toothbrush, nail clippers and shampoo. Medium to long-haired dogs and dogs that shed will also need to add a few other items to the list, like a comb, deshedder brush and grooming clippers.

Household items

Your home will probably need some additional furnishings to make it canine-friendly. That includes bowls for food and water, a kennel, crate or dog bed, and (if you don’t want Fido chewing up everything that’s already in your house), some chew toys. Budget for a baby gate as well, if you want to keep certain rooms like the kitchen off limits.

Preventive care

All dogs, even healthy ones, need annual checkups. Here’s a breakdown of what pet parents can expect to pay per year:

  • Vet examination - $45 to $65
  • Heartworm test - $35 to $75
  • Annual vaccinations - $75 to $100
  • Heartworm prevention - varies per type of treatment
  • Tick/flea medicine - varies per type of treatment

Know that you can keep costs low if you adopt a small dog since the dosage of medications, preventive treatments and other expenses like anesthesia is determined by weight.

Other medical expenses

Dental care is also key to your pet’s long-term health. Veterinarians recommend one professional dental cleaning per year, but the frequency can vary depending on the dog’s breed, age and diet.

Professional dental cleanings can set you back a pretty penny. Expect to pay $200 to $300 for regular cleaning and up to $1,000 if anesthesia is necessary.

You can extend the time between dental cleanings if you take good care of your dog’s teeth at home by brushing frequently and regularly treating your pup to dental chews.

Besides routine care, it’s wise to anticipate that your new pet may fall ill or require emergency care at some point during his or her lifetime. Older dogs may need extra care — special equipment, medication, treatment and prescription dog food — if they have any illnesses or conditions.

Don’t let this dissuade you from adopting a senior dog, though. Some medical expenses may be high, but the overall costs of adopting a puppy are higher. Remember, that a puppy is eventually going to grow into an old dog too, which means you’ll have a decade or more of expenses ahead of you.

Many dog owners purchase a pet insurance policy to help cover the costs of routine care, accidents and illnesses and pet dental care. Find out what pet insurance covers and if it suits your dog, and check out our guide on how to buy pet insurance. You can also use our list of the best pet insurance companies before taking the plunge.

We also recommend setting up an emergency fund for any other unexpected costs with a high-yield savings account, especially for adult dogs that may be too expensive to insure. Research the costs of standard treatments and emergency procedures in your area to get an idea of exactly how much money to put away.

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Training

With proper training, every dog — high-energy, clever and stubborn breeds in particular — will be better equipped to navigate the human world.

First-time pet owners should invest in training classes with a professional. Professional guidance is key if you’re an inexperienced dog owner or your pet has a challenging temperament and can help treat issues like aggression and separation anxiety. According to a recent survey conducted by Rover, pet owners paid between $40 to $250 per training session. To choose the best trainer, use the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists’ guide on how to hire a dog trainer . The guide will help you identify and void harmful or misguided training techniques

That said, you can definitely learn how to train your dog on your own. But know that there’s a lot of misinformation about dog training circulating on the internet that can lead to an ineffective, or actively harmful, experience. If you choose to go this route, stick to expert training advice from trusted organizations like the American Kennel Club.

Pet sitting or boarding

Let’s say you adopted an adorable snub-nosed bulldog or pug. You’d love to take Otis on vacation, but air travel can be dangerous (and is often prohibited) for his breed. If you don’t have family or friends that can take care of him, you’ll need to rely on a professional pet sitter.

Luckily, nowadays, you can find help on apps like Rover and Wag. Services include dog walking, daycare, boarding and even drop-in visits

Since each sitter sets their own price, rates will vary according to experience, location and time of year. Consider the typical costs of these services in your area when designing your budget.

Prepare your home

Small homes and apartments with limited outdoor space are best suited for small dogs, but if you have access to a big yard or a nearby park, a larger dog would be happy to join you.

Likewise, homes with small children or other pets are best for easy-going dogs that don’t have a history of aggression. And if you live with elderly family members, consider adopting a calm, older dog over a rambunctious, untrained one.

Look up local shelters and rescue groups

There are tons of different avenues for adopting a dog: city-run shelters, non-profit shelters, animal rescue groups and more. Most pet adoption centers have online databases and social media pages that let you browse all the pets in their care. Use our guide to find the best place to adopt a dog, which ranks the top pet adoption centers in the country based on customer reviews. You can also search thousands of shelters on Petfinder, an online database of adoptable dogs nationwide.

Many shelters, like the Humane Society, follow a no-kill philosophy. To be considered a no-kill, the shelter has to find placement for 90% of animals in their care. (The other 10% are typically animals with severe, incurable illnesses or behavioral issues that warrant euthanasia as a last resort.)

Also, consider supporting a senior dog rescue or sanctuary near you. Older dogs are often overlooked in favor of puppies and may even be euthanized if the shelter is overcrowded. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be this way. Many organizations across the country focus on finding loving homes for sweet, elderly dogs.

Check out adoptable pets

Dogs are known to have a positive effect on our health and wellbeing. Not only are they loyal companions, but studies show that they help reduce stress and loneliness. However, not every dog will be the right match.

Before adopting any rescue dog, consider the following factors:

  • Age — Puppies demand a lot of attention and effort. Think frequent bathroom breaks, playdates, and proactive training. Older dogs need less attention, less exercise and most are content with lounging on the couch with you.
  • Size — Small dogs are great for people that live in small apartments and they’re easy to travel with. Larger dogs will thrive in a house with a yard or large apartment with plenty of outdoor spaces nearby, and they can keep up with an active lifestyle, thanks to their high endurance.
  • Personality — Playful and well-tempered dogs are a good match for homes with young children while anxious, reactive pets are best matched with adults. Some dogs are also better as the only pet in the household if they are predisposed to behaviors such as a strong prey drive or territorial instinct.

If you don’t have the time to care for a puppy, we encourage you to adopt a senior shelter dog. You get to enjoy canine companionship without the commitment of raising a puppy, while a deserving dog gets the chance to live its golden years in a family home. It’s win-win.

Consult with the shelter’s employees to get a good idea of the dog’s personality and behavioral history. You’ll get an even better understanding of a dog's behavior if it lives in a foster home since it is exposed to more variables like children, strangers and other pets.

Here are some questions you can ask:

  • What are its energy levels? High, average or low?
  • How does it behave with children, strangers and other pets?
  • Does it have a high prey drive? (Important if you have cats or other small pets)
  • What are its preferred activities?
  • Does it have any behavioral issues? Think barking, lunging, aggression or anxiety. How do these manifest?

Submit an adoption application

Now it’s time to apply.

Your application must be as detailed (and truthful) as possible, and will usually require you to disclose the following information:

  • Household size and age of its members
  • Whether anyone in your home has pet allergies
  • Number of additional pets
  • Experience caring for other pets
  • Housing situation — do you own or rent?
  • Outdoor space — is there a fenced yard?
  • Contact info for the vet you plan to use
  • Available budget for supplies, routine animal care and emergencies
  • How much time the dog will spend alone each day
  • Expected exercise and playtime routine

If you rent your home, you may need your landlord’s permission to bring a dog onto the premises. Some shelters may also require a home visit as part of the adoption process.

Failure to meet these requirements doesn’t necessarily mean you’d make a bad dog owner, but it might make your search take a little longer (the last thing a shelter wants to do is place a dog in a home, only to have it be immediately returned). If you’re confident that you can give a dog a happy, healthy lifestyle, keep looking. You’re bound to find the right companion.

Adopting VS buying a dog

Dog adoption gives thousands of incredible animals a second chance at a forever home. For people deadset on a specific breed, however, buying might be the more appealing option. We’ve outlined the pros and cons of adopting and buying below.

Adopting a dog

Pros
  • More affordable
  • A second opportunity for homeless pets
  • Lots of options to choose from
  • Great way to find adult dogs
  • Supports animal welfare work
  • Disempowers the puppy mill industry
Cons
  • Can come with a strict screening process
  • Unclear breed history
  • Puppies are harder to find
  • Not for those looking for purebreds

Buying a dog

Pros
  • Suitable for people who only want purebreds
  • Access to puppies of all breeds
  • Access to genetic testing
  • More information about predisposed illnesses
Cons
  • More expensive than adopting
  • May involve puppy mills
  • May involve irresponsible breeders
  • Increased risk of scams

Dog scams are not uncommon, especially in the purebred dog market. Every year, more and more people get fooled into thinking they just bought the dog of their dreams, when they’ve actually just paid a scammer hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars.

If you’re buying a dog from a breeder, particularly one you’ve found online, look out for any red flags that may signal a scam. Some of these include:

  • Reluctance to show you the dog in person
  • Demanding upfront payment in cash
  • Displaying photos of pups that are sourced from other websites

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Other types of dogs available for adoption

Dogs that are up for adoption come from all sorts of places and different life experiences. Retired service dogs — military, police or TSA — usually age out of their job or are deemed unfit to work for a specific reason. Eligible caretakers can apply to adopt a retired service dog if the original handler can’t keep it.

From hardworking dogs ready to retire to sweet puppies that failed K9 training, these are the three types of service dogs usually up for adoption.

Adopt retired police dogs

Police dogs are trained to aid in a wide range of police work, but they’re retired after they reach a certain age or are deemed unable to work.

The working years of a police dog often lead to anxiety, stress and aggression issues. The new caretakers must know how to manage these behavioral issues and provide a calm environment, free of any triggers and free of work.

To adopt a police dog, contact your local police department, police training schools or organizations that specialize in retired working dogs, such as Mission K9. Look over the eligibility requirements before submitting your application.

Adopt retired military dogs

Military working dogs (MWD) are trained to detect explosives, patrol, track, rescue and attract. As they age, they may be retired due to medical or age reasons. Many military dogs retire with their handlers, but a small percentage of dogs are put up for adoption. The most popular military dog breed in the U.S is the German Shepherd, followed by the Belgian Malinois.

Military dogs often retire with high levels of stress and anxiety, meaning they need to retire in a peaceful environment. To apply for adoption, contact military dog adoption centers nearby or contact a representative of the U.S Airforce. Due to high demand and a limited number of adoptable dogs, some centers may not take more applicants.

When the time comes, you’ll have to meet the following requirements:

  • U.S citizenship
  • 6 ft yard fence minimum
  • No household members under five years old
  • Commit to providing appropriate veterinary care, training and playtime
  • Bring leash, collar, muzzle and crate on pick-up day

TSA dogs for adoption

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) puts dogs for adoption through its Canine Adoption Program. TSA dogs for adoption are deemed unfit for government work, mainly because they’re highly active. Getting kicked out of TSA training may be embarrassing, but it doesn’t mean that the dog’s untrainable or unfit for other pet owners.

An experienced pet owner can provide the necessary care a TSA dog needs. This includes obedience and house training, playtime, exercises and gradual exposure to children and animals. To apply, send an email to TSA’s adoption coordinator at adoptatsacanine@tsa.dhs.gov.

As with military and police dogs, prospective applicants must meet all eligibility requirements. Currently, the TSA isn’t accepting applications, but more details are available on the TSA’s Canine Adoption Program page.

How to adopt a dog FAQ

How much does it cost to adopt a dog?

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Adopting a dog can cost up to $350 in fees alone, depending on the shelter and the services included in the adoption fee. Once you're out of the shelter, additional expenses include food, toys, crates or beds and routine veterinary care.

How old do you have to be to adopt a dog?

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You have to be 18 years or older to adopt a dog through most shelters and rescue organizations.

How long does it take to adopt a dog?

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It depends on where you're adopting from. Many animal shelters have a screening process that can take several weeks, if not months, and they're often understaffed. Animal rescue groups may take less time, especially if the organization operates on a smaller scale than other shelters.

Why is it so hard to adopt a dog from a rescue?

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Adopting a dog from a rescue or a shelter may be difficult because of their strict screening process. Shelters may reject an applicant for reasons including being a renter, having an unfenced yard or working too many hours. There's also a backlog of applications, and prospective pet owners may be placed on a waitlist in the meantime.

Summary of Money’s how to adopt a dog

  • Set up a budget — consider everything the dog might need on top of medical care
  • Consider the size of your home and the members of your household
  • Think about the dog's temperament and personality that best fits your lifestyle
  • Look up dog shelters, rescue groups and other adopting options like retired military dogs
  • Make sure you meet all eligibility requirements and submit your application