When you adopt a dog from a rescue or shelter, you're giving them a second chance at a happy life with a forever family. Think you're ready to adopt a dog? Start here!

Adding a four-legged family member to your home can bring so much joy and happiness into your life—and we don't just mean from the extra Instagram followers you'll gain once you start sharing all those cute puppy photos. In fact, adding a dog to your family has the ability to boost your physical and mental health, and research has shown that dog owners may actually live longer, happier lives. But beyond that, there's just something special about the bond between rescue dogs and their owners. Ask any pet parent of a former shelter dog, and they'll tell you that while adding any new member to the family can bring challenges, the pros of adopting a dog definitely outweigh the cons. 

Not only will you be providing a safe, loving home to one of the 3.3 million dogs who enter shelters nationwide every year, but you'll gain a fur-ever friend who'll bring endless happiness into your life. 

boy with dog; adopting a dog for the first time
Credit: andresr / Getty

Why Should You Adopt a Dog?

Ever heard the phrase, "Adopt, Don't Shop?" It's part of a national campaign that raises awareness about the benefits of adopting over buying from a pet store. When you adopt a dog from a shelter, you're saving the life of a dog who otherwise would not have a home, and creating space for new animals to be rescued. About 90 percent of puppies from pet stores come from puppy mills, and adopting from a shelter takes business away from those inhumane breeding operations. Thankfully, the number of pets who are adopted versus bought is rising. Amy Nichols, Vice President of Companion Animals with the Humane Society, says that nearly 40 percent of companion animals are acquired through a shelter or rescue versus purchasing. Aside from saving animals who might otherwise be destroyed, here are three great reasons to consider adoption:

Adoption is Cost Effective

Adopting a dog is often less expensive than buying a new one. Most rescue dogs have already had at least one round of vaccinations and have been spayed or neutered, so you won't have to worry about those vet bills. The average cost to purchase a puppy is between $300 and $1,500, while the average adoption fee is much lower—typically between $50 and $300. Some shelters offer free adoption days, too, where fees for new owners are waived as part of an effort to create more room in the shelter. But even better than the lower cost of adopting versus buying a dog, you can rest easy knowing your adoption fees go back into helping save and care for other animals within the organization.

You Can Find a Dog That Fits Your Family

By adopting from a shelter, you'll also often have more information about the dog's personality and appearance that you would get if buying one at a pet store. Rescue organizations are able to observe the dog's behavior, so you'll be better able to match your family's needs with a pup who's perfect for you. Ask about the dog's activity level, how he behaves with children, and if he gets along with other pets and strangers. Adopting a dog instead of buying a puppy can also give you a better idea of what the dog will look like as an adult since many of the dogs available for adoption have already fully matured. Tell the shelter what you're looking for in a pet, ask plenty of questions, and they'll be able to help you find the perfect addition to your household.

Adopt a Dog Who’s Already Trained 

Don't have the patience to train a new puppy? An adoption organization can help you find a rescue that's already house trained and knows basic commands. Even if you have a specific breed in mind, you can use shelter search tools like Petfinder or the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) database to search for your dream breed.

Are You Ready to Adopt a Dog?

If you or another member of your household is thinking about adopting a dog, but aren't quite sure about making such a big decision, consider these questions before you take the plunge:

What do you want a dog to contribute to your life? Do you prefer going on hikes or daily runs, or are you more likely to spend time lounging around the house? Do you want a snuggle buddy, or a pet who's independent? 

Is your current house or apartment suitable for a dog? Is there space for a pet to play, eat, and go outdoors? What parts of the home will the dog be able to access?

How will your career obligations, social life, or vacations impact your ability to care for a dog? Do you have the time to give them plenty of attention? Do you have other care options for when you are away?

How will the people you live with react to your new dog? Do you need a dog who's friendly with children? Is anyone in the house allergic to dogs? How will other pets react to another animal? 

Do you have the patience to socialize and teach a new dog? Can you persevere through all the accidents, chewing, and energy it takes to train a new pooch?

Are you committed to the dog, no matter the financial cost? Are you prepared to pay for food, toys, grooming, and vet bills?

If you can confidently answer the above questions, you should be well-prepared to take on a new dog from a rescue organization. Those willing to open their homes and hearts to shelter dogs will gain a lifelong loving companion. Your final hurdle is deciding which of the thousands of adorable dogs who need a home you'll adopt as your own.

What Supplies Will You Need?

Once you've decided you're ready to adopt a dog, you'll need to gather the supplies necessary to keep them happy and healthy. Check off each of the following essentials before picking up your new best friend:

  • Dog food (what does the shelter/your vet recommend?)
  • Bowls for food and water
  • Collar, ID tag, and leash
  • Crate or carrier specific to their size
  • Dog bed
  • Toys
  • Treats
  • Dog toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Brush or comb
  • Nail clippers
  • House training potty pads
  • Poop scooper and poop baggies
  • Baby gate
  • First-aid supplies

How Does the Dog Adoption Process Usually Work?

You've answered the essential questions, you've gathered the supplies… So what's next? You need to figure out where to adopt your new family member. You can start online and search for a specific type of dog through internet databases. Many shelters have their adoptable dogs listed online, so you don't have to visit multiple locations to find your perfect pup. If you prefer to visit in person, do some research on the animal shelters in your area and choose a day to go in.

Adopting a dog could take anywhere from a couple of hours to a few weeks, depending on the shelter. Some shelters require a home visit to see the environment in which the dog will be living. Others will ask for references and even a veterinarian contact if you have an existing animal in the home. Contact the organization to request the application and ask about requirements for adoption.

When it's time to bring your new family member home, remember to be patient. Put yourself in the dog's shoes: He may have come from another home or even the streets, where his life was completely different. Be gentle and don't expose him to everything at once. You've prepared your home and family as best as you can, and the only thing you can do now is show your new pup some love and patience. The adjustment period can take weeks, but trust us—the transformation is worth the wait.