Get off to a great start with your new fur-ever friend with these helpful tips.

By Kristi Valentini
April 01, 2021
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dog plays with man on grass
Credit: Kar-Tr / Getty

Adopting an adult dog is an awesome thing to do—not just for the dog who gets a second chance for a good life, but for you too. Puppies are adorable, but they're a lot of work. With middle-of-the-night potty breaks, their desire to play all the time, and the chewing phase (watch out, furniture legs!), raising a puppy can be pretty exhausting.

"When you adopt an adult dog, you know what you're getting and who you're bringing into your family," Tiffany Bierer, Ph.D., Raw Material Development Manager for Mars Petcare North America, says. "They're grown-up so you know how big they're going to get and what their personality is. And they've usually had some training, either from their previous home or in the shelter."

Adopting an adult dog definitely has a lot of benefits. But before you run off to rescue a pooch, there are few things you should know. Read on for tips on everything from picking out your perfect pup to preparing your home for a new best friend.

1. Read Up on Different Breed Types

One of the first steps of adopting an adult dog is learning what characteristics will be the best fit for you and your family. You can start your search by doing some research about different types of dog breeds and their histories, and find out how much exercise, grooming, and social interaction different types of dogs need.

2. Have an Open Mind (and Heart)

Long-term shelter stays can happen for many reasons, but dogs who may have waited longer can still make the best pets. In the rush to see the adorable puppies, people often overlook adult dogs who need a home, too. Because of that, grown-up dogs tend to stay in shelters longer. For some dogs, that means they could require additional training or specific home requirements (like a fenced yard or to be the only pet in the house). Or they may have medical conditions that need to be taken care of before they can go to a new home. But typically, the dogs who stay in shelters the longest are those who are shy or scared. The new, noisy environment can be terrifying to pups, so they avoid making eye contact or interacting with potential pet parents.

"That doesn't mean they're bad dogs," Bierer says. "They're just great dogs who are feeling overwhelmed. But once you get a shy dog out of the kennel, you may see that they're a hidden gem."

3. Enlist the Help of Shelter Staff to Find the Best Match

Bierer recommends talking with shelter staff to learn more about the personalities of their dogs. Some shelters and rescue organizations even have matching programs where they find out what kind of dog would fit your lifestyle and point out the best candidates. If staff aren't available, look for cards next to each dog's kennel that may help explain more about the animals' personalities. You should also ask about any unique needs the pet may have, and learn more about their activity level to see if there's one that fits your routine. Some breeds have more energy than others, while others may be just as inclined to kick back and relax. 

dog plays with man on grass
Credit: Kar-Tr / Getty

4. Take the Dog to a Different Environment to Reveal Their True Personality

Because dogs can be fearful in kennels, ask to take potential fur-ever friends out into the yard or away from the hustle and bustle of the shelter to socialize. Another option is to foster a dog to get to know him better before fully committing. "That way you get a chance to bring him home and spend some time together," Bierer says. "If you don't end up adopting that pet, you'll at least be able to provide the shelter with valuable information about the dog's personality."

5. Consider the Costs (and What's Included)

Dogs who are adopted from a shelter typically receive good veterinary care, which is included in adoption fees. The cost for adopting a dog usually ranges from around $50 to $300, and it's a fantastic deal. Typically, any adult dog that you adopt is already spayed or neutered, is up-to-date on vaccinations, and has recently had a veterinary exam. The pup may also have been tested for heartworm disease and put on a flea preventative. Many shelters also microchip dogs in their care, so that you have a better chance of finding them if they are ever lost or stolen. Ask for a copy of your new pal's medical records so you can work with your vet to complete any healthcare items that haven't already been taken care of.

6. Find the Right Food That Fits Their Needs

The nutritional needs of puppies and adult dogs are different, and the right dog food should reflect their age and dietary requirements. Because puppies are growing, they need more calories and nutrient-dense food. But adult dogs need less calories, so you'll want to make sure whatever food you choose is designed for adult dogs and says that it's "complete and balanced." This indicates the food meets the nutritional requirements set forth by the American Association for Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). Also, if your pup is tiny or giant, look for kibble that's sized accordingly. Check with your vet to be sure you're feeding them the appropriate amount, and have them advise on any special nutritional instructions (for instance, if your new BFF needs to shed a few pounds then they can prescribe a diet for weight-control).

7. Stock Up on Supplies

Be sure to have a dog bed, kibble, and food and water bowls ready for your adoptee. You might also want a crate, if you plan on crate-training your pooch. Purchase a leash and collar to bring to the shelter when you pick up your dog, and don't forget poop bags! Once you've settled on a name for your new fur baby, be sure to get a dog ID tag made with their identifying info, as well.

8. Remember to Be Patient with Your New Pet

Adult dogs may need more time to warm up to their surroundings, so it's up to you to help them feel safe and secure. In the beginning, your new dog may feel insecure and need a spot that feels protected, like a crate or his bed. Give your pup plenty of time to settle in and relax, says Bierer, and reach out to shelter staff if you have questions about helping your dog adjust. They can provide guidance and sometimes even training assistance to help create the best beginning for you and your furry pal.