Tips for Choosing & Welcoming Home a Shelter Dog

by | Read time: 3 minutes

It’s a grim statistic: Each day across America, thousands of dogs’ lives hang in the balance because they live in shelters and have not found a loving home.

The good news? You can do something about it. October is Adopt-a-Shelter-Dog Month, the perfect time to consider rescuing a dog.

Woman Happily Holding Rescue Dog from Animal Adoption Shelter |

“For every dog that people rescue, they are saving a life,” says Kristi Littrell, adoptions manager at the Best Friends Animal Society, a national animal rescue and advocacy organization.

However, don’t let your emotions get the best of you. It’s easy to look in to those puppy-dog eyes, swoon over that wagging tail and rush into a decision that can end up being a mistake.

Instead, take the time to investigate your wants and needs so you adopt a dog that is the perfect fit for your home and family.

Finding the right dog to adopt

Before you adopt, understand the commitment you are about to make. It is possible you could have your new best friend for a decade or longer.

Once you’ve determined you’re ready for a dog, zero in on the type that is right for you.

For example, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals says a puppy is probably not the best choice if you have young children. In that situation, a medium-sized dog that is at least 5 months old makes more sense.

If you plan to adopt your dog from a shelter, it’s likely the staff will help you find the right match by asking a few key questions, such as:

  • Do you own or rent?
  • How many children do you have, and how old are they?
  • Do you have other pets? Have you ever had pets in the past?
  • How active are you, and what is your lifestyle like?

If you find a dog you like, talk with staff members who have spent time around the dog. Learn as much as you can about the dog’s history and personality.

“Look at the age and size of the dog,” Littrell says. ‘Ask the staff how active they appear to be to help determine which dog is actually a match for your lifestyle.”

If possible, arrange an outing or sleepover with the dog. Or, ask if the shelter has a policy that allows you to be a foster parent to a dog before adopting. Seeing the dog inside your home can provide crucial insights into its personality and behavior.

“Often, dogs are different in a home than they are at the shelter,” Littrell says.

Once you find the right dog and bring it home, show some patience. “Remember that the dog’s entire world has changed,” Littrell says. “They need time to adjust.”

Create a welcoming environment for the dog. Seal garbage can lids, and make sure small items such as toys and other choking hazards are out of reach. Keep toxic foods and plants away from the dog.

Littrell says unless the dog’s behavior indicates it might be a threat to a human or another animal, she asks that people give a dog at least a month to adjust to its new surroundings.

“Some will take more time and others less,” she says. “But be empathetic and put yourself in the dog’s ‘paws.’

So, if you’re looking for a dog this fall, Littrell urges you “please adopt, don’t shop.” You can start your search by visiting the Best Friends website, or by contacting your local shelter or animal rescue organization.

“Whether they are adopting a dog from Best Friends, or from their local animal shelter or animal rescue group, that allows one more dog to be brought in to rescue, one more life saved,” Littrell says.