Dog Adoption: How to Ensure a Smooth Transition From Shelter to Home

Jane Costa, DVM
April 6 2021

“People who say money can’t buy happiness have never paid an adoption fee.” - Unknown

If you're looking for a way to add life and love to your home while helping your local community, you needn’t look further than your nearest animal shelter. Adopting a dog offers incomparable rewards—including saving a life—but, caring for a pet is an immense responsibility that should never be taken lightly. Consider the following tips to help you before, during, and after the adoption process to ensure a pleasant transition from shelter to home.

Determine what you are looking for in a pet.

Examining your lifestyle is the first step in deciding what kind of dog you’d like to bring home. Think about the reasons why you want to add a pet to your pack in the first place. If you’re looking for a companion for the running trails, a younger, athletic dog may be a good option. If you’re longing for more couch cuddles and a gentle walking buddy, then a smaller dog or senior pup may fit the bill. If you’re willing to take on a new hobby with your dog, such as agility or water rescue training, you may opt for a specific breed that is tailored to a certain activity. Some families wish to introduce responsibility to their children by way of a pet. A well-trained, adult dog can offer a variety of ways to safely add daily tasks--but remember, the ultimate accountability of owning a pet is on the parent, not the child.

Consider your limitations.

It is unwise to take on the responsibility of a dog before looking at how well-suited you are to care for one. If your family is out of the home during the week for extended periods of time, a puppy may not be a reasonable—or fair—choice. A shelter dog with underlying health issues may require multiple doses of medications or injections throughout the day along with frequent veterinary visits, necessitating time and money. Folks who live in studio apartments with no yard access may want to reconsider adopting an active, giant breed dog. Similarly, if you live in a condo or flat with shared walls, you may avoid choosing a dog that tends to bark, bay, or howl, for your neighbor’s sake. Additionally, many housing facilities have strict rules and regulations regarding pet size and breed, which you’ll need to consider beforehand. Fortunately, many shelter dogs come with few surprises and what you see is what you get. They’ll often have descriptors indicating any special needs or behavioral tendencies, allowing prospective pet owners to make informed adoption decisions.

Make a realistic pet budget. cute retriever with flower

The financial implications of owning a pet are an important consideration when contemplating adoption. Potential pet parents need to look beyond the initial adoption and vaccination fees and anticipate emergency, preventive, and illness care for their pet in the future. Start by calling your local veterinarian and inquire about typical fees associated with physical exams, vaccinations, preventive medicines, dental cleanings, and emergency hospitalization. Some clinics even offer wellness plans to offset expenses and, along with pet insurance, this can be a wise way to protect your pet from the unexpected. While you cannot anticipate what illnesses your adopted pet may endure, having a rough idea of the cost of care is prudent. Additionally, you’ll need to calculate the price of food, supplies, grooming, and boarding or care. Keep in mind that you may need to budget more cash for certain shelter dogs, depending on their breed, underlying medical conditions, and individual needs.

Prep the home for your new family member.

Getting your home fitted for a new pet can be a joyful and exciting step in the adoption process and it’s also an essential one. Examine all aspects of your home where your pet will have access. Assess for potential dangers such as electrical cords, candles, toxic plants, food, loose fence posts, and valuables that your new dog may mistake for a toy. All medications should be kept on a high shelf away from reach, along with household chemicals, cleaners, and yard and garden products. After pet-proofing is complete, carve out a special retreat for your new companion, complete with comfortable bedding, a few different toys, or even a crate. For puppies who like to be near all of the action, create a space near the main living area. For senior or less social pets, consider a private space in a more quiet area of the home. 

Be sure to introduce other pets.

If you already share your home with a four-legged friend, getting their approval on a new pack member is a crucial step for a successful adoption. Setting your heart on a shelter dog only to find out he doesn’t dig your other pets not only sets you up for disappointment, but it also negatively impacts the adoptee, who must be surrendered to the shelter—again. Avoid the emotional distress and heartbreak by bringing your pets in to meet your favorite shelter picks before making a final decision. Ideally, each pet would be introduced to the potential pup individually and on neutral ground to avoid territorial-related behaviors. Many animals shelters actually require this step prior to adoption approval, but be sure to request a meet-and-greet if it isn’t standard procedure. Of course, making friends can take time so approach the process slowly and calmly, allowing all parties adequate time to adjust and familiarize.

Allow time for the transition.

Unfortunately, many newly adopted pets are relinquished to the shelter shortly after adoption due to behavior concerns that could be explained by the delicate transitional period after bringing them home. Perhaps you notice your new dog pacing, panting, yawning, or hiding often. Maybe they are socially isolated and unwilling to engage in play. Some pets may even urinate or defecate in the home, despite being house-trained. These can all be signs of fear and anxiety in dogs, which can be expected to a degree shortly after adoption. Remember, entering a new home requires adaptation to a myriad of new sights, smells, sounds, people, and other pets. Expecting a shelter dog to immediately adjust to these new surroundings is unrealistic—especially if they’ve been abandoned more than once. If you notice any undesirable or abnormal behaviors in your new pup, don’t give up. Rather, set up an appointment with your veterinarian—either at the shelter or elsewhere—to discuss your concerns. Chances are that with time, a few modifications, and endless affection, your forever friend will emerge confident and secure. Of course, if you fail to notice an improvement with time, your veterinarian may recommend more intensive behavior training or medications to address your pet’s individual needs.

While all shelter pets deserve grace, patience, and time during the adoption process, a particularly vulnerable group may warrant additional considerations—senior dogs. Sadly, aging dogs spend significantly more time in shelters than their younger counterparts, even though they make equally loving and loyal companions. Deciding to adopt a senior pet is an incredibly rewarding experience, so long as you understand their nuances. Older pets may require longer transition periods, additional supplies (think ramps or slings), and life-long medications or supplements. And, while senior dogs are typically tolerant and patient, sharing their new home with a puppy or other rambunctious pet may cause them unnecessary stress. If you have the time, dedication, and lifestyle suited for a senior dog—and you are willing to receive unconditional love at all times—consider this wonderful, adoptable group at your local shelter.




Jane Costa, DVM

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