Questions to Ask Before Adopting a Dog

Adding a dog to your family, puppy or adult, should be a well-thought-out decision.

When adding a dog to your family, you can choose which one to bring home. It’s important to make the best choice so that the dog can succeed in your home.

No matter whether the dog is from a shelter, rescue group, or even from a family friend, ask questions about him. Lots of questions. The shelter or rescue may not have all the answers, but with questioning you can learn as much as you can. Before you look for a dog, however, ask yourself some questions. Talk to family members, too.

Questions to Ask at Home

Why do you want a dog? What kind of dog do you want? Do you want a puppy, young adult, or older dog? What do you want to do with the dog? Does everyone at home want a dog? Is everyone willing to make changes at home to adjust to the disruption a dog will cause? Who is going to care for the dog? Who is going to walk the dog? Is everyone at home ready to train the dog and be consistent with the dog’s new rules? Do you realize a dog will get your car dirty? Where will the dog sleep? Where will he relieve himself? Is your budget ready for a dog?

These are only the basic questions that you should ask yourself and your family or roommates. A dog, no matter whether he’s your first dog or a second dog in the household, will cause some disruption. He will change the family’s routine, schedule, and even increase the number of times the floor will need to be vacuumed.

What Are His Physical Characteristics?

What breed is the dog? Is the dog male, female, neutered, or spayed? Is he short haired, long haired, coarse coat, wiry coat, or fluffy? How big is he? How old is he?

Knowing the breed or mixtures of breeds can often predict certain characteristics. Working dogs, in general, tend to be more protective. Herding breeds are often busier than other breeds. Terriers are tenacious. There are always exceptions, of course, since many breeds do have individual characteristics. Knowing the dog’s breed beforehand can help you choose a dog that will fit into your household or family.

Whether the dog is male or female isn’t a deal breaker to most people, but some do prefer one sex over the other. If the dog is spayed or neutered prior to adoption it could save you the veterinary bill afterwards.

Short-haired dogs shed, often just as much as long-haired dogs, but they shed pokey short hairs. Fluffy coated dogs might get tangles in their coat and require more grooming. These are all personal preferences to help you decide on the right dog for you.

Knowing the dog’s age is important. If you want to avoid puppyhood and the teenage months then you can choose an older dog. Some people hate to see old dogs lose their home and so prefer to adopt senior dogs that can be loved through their old age. The age of the dog you wish to adopt is one of those questions you asked yourself at the beginning of this process.

Is He Well Socialized?

Is he friendly and open with men, women, and children? Is he good with people of various cultures? Has he ever growled at anyone? Has he ever bitten anyone? If so, who and in what situation? Does he get along with other dogs? Is he friendly to cats? Is he afraid of anything when out for a walk? Does he have any known social problems?

These questions are all important but to varying degrees depending on your household. If you don’t have a cat, for example, and never plan on adding one to your family, then a dog who isn’t socialized to cats won’t be a problem.

A dog who is afraid, growls, bites, or shows aggression in other ways can also be potentially dangerous. If the dog you are thinking of adopting has some of these issues, ask a dog trainer to help you talk to the shelter or rescue, go over the dog’s issues, and help you evaluate the dog. A third party opinion is never a bad idea. Then you can make an educated decision.

adopt dog questions

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Evaluate the Dog’s Training and Behavior

Has the dog had any formal obedience training? Does he come when called? Has he had training so that he can behave himself in the house? Is he house-trained? Does he know how to relieve himself when asked to and what words need to be used? Does he jump on people? Does he chew destructively in the house or yard? Does he dash out open doors or gates? Does he grab hands with his mouth? Does he dig holes in the lawn? Does he have any other behaviors that could cause a problem?

It’s usually a good idea for a new owner and newly adopted dog to go to a training class together. By doing this, the two of you can create mutual communications skills, build a relationship, and get to know one another. However, by knowing more about the dog’s behavior before adopting him, you can decide whether you want or are able to spend the time, effort, and money on a dog with a number of behavioral issues.

What Else?

Ask the shelter or rescue what else they can tell you about this dog. Is he standoffish? Does he remain in the room with people, watching, but not interacting? Or would he prefer to be on your lap? Does he like to play and if so, what games does he like?

What food is he eating? How many meals a day does he eat and at what times? Does he have any food issues? Does he have any health issues and if so, what are they? Has he been seen by a local veterinarian and would they provide his health records?

Make a Good Decision

If a dog is coming from a private party, that person will be able to answer all or most of your questions. Hopefully, that person will be honest with you.

If a rescue group places the dog in a foster home for a while, the foster volunteer will be able to answer many of these questions. Obviously, the longer the foster parent has the dog, the more questions can be answered.

A dog in a shelter, though, is not in a home situation and often only the basic information is given to the shelter. Plus, if the dog was a stray or abandoned, little will be known. However, ask questions anyway. Those who work or volunteer at shelters get to know what to look for in dogs. They can tell you if the dog guards his food, is worried about other dogs, dislikes men, or hates hats.

After querying yourself, your family, and those caring for the dog, make a decision as to whether this will be a good dog for you. I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be some emotion behind the decision, though. Choose a dog who tugs at your heart strings; but support that decision with the answers to your questions.

Meet the Author: Liz Palika

Liz Palika is a Certified Dog Trainer, Certified Animal Behavior Consultant, and the co-owner of Kindred Spirits Dog Training in Vista, CA. Liz is also an award-winning author and writer specializing in pets. She writes about cats, cat behavior and health, dogs, dog behavior and health, living with pets, and pet nutrition. Liz’s works have been recognized with many awards, but her most recent book, “Idiot’s Guides: Dog Training” (Penguin Books, 2014) recently won the Best Nonfiction book category in the San Diego Book Writing competition. Liz shares her home with two dogs; Bashir, an Australian Shepherd, and Bones, an English Shepherd. Three cats, Spock, Scottie, and Kirk, provide motivation for her articles about cats. And yes, she is a Star Trek fan. For more information go to www.kindredspiritsk9.com.

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