How to Adopt the Right Dog for You: A Guide to Picking the Perfect Rescue Dog

caucasian woman sitting on the beach with a small dog

There’s no easier way to make your house a home than by adopting your best friend. But how do you adopt the right dog? How do you make sure you go home with the best rescue dog for you?

There’s no such thing as a perfect dog. But with the right amount of research, time, and patience, you will absolutely find a dog that’s perfect for you. So where do you start? How do you make sure you bring home the right one?

Here’s your dog adoption guide on choosing a shelter dog that’s the perfect match for you.

A Beginner’s Guide to Adopting a Dog: Why Do You Want a Dog?

Justin and our first dog, Winston. Photography credit: Still Poetry Photography

There are so many amazing reasons to want a dog in your home. Figuring out what parts you’re most excited about will help you in deciding what type of dog would work best for you.

Do you want a dog because:

  • You want a snuggly couch potato?
  • You want an exercise partner?
  • You want a travel buddy?
  • You want someone to play with?
  • You want someone to entertain you?
  • You want a companion?

When you think about you and your future dog, what do you picture you two doing together? My husband loves huskies, but going running or hiking with our dogs is a special outing, not a daily occurrence. We need a dog that’s more low-key. My grandmother loves German Shepherds, but is not particularly mobile. So she found a geriatric German Shepherd at a local dog shelter. He was just as content to lay on the couch as she is.

Thinking about what you’re most excited about for you and your future dog will help you figure out what you need to look for in your future companion.


Things to Look for When Adopting a Dog

When figuring out how to adopt a dog, you have to know the difference between negotiables and non-starters.

Here’s an example: when my husband and I were looking for a dog as a companion for our current dog, we wanted an older small dog that was animal-friendly and not too energetic.

Let’s break that down into our negotiables and non-starters. Our future dog had to be animal-friendly. That’s non-negotiable. At that time, we had a dog, a cat, three rabbits, a hamster, and four chickens. To keep everyone safe and happy, we needed an animal-friendly dog.

And even that broke down into different categories. We’re still working on getting Aloy acquainted with the cat. But we have our house set up so everyone can have their own space. But Aloy and Winston absolutely had to get along. That was non-negotiable.

Older and not too energetic were strong wants, but not needs. We’d much rather give an older dog a home than go through the ordeal of puppy training. So we wanted someone mature.

Small was entirely negotiable, but it’s something we would have liked.

So we ended up with a dog that loves Winston, needs a bit more exercise than him, is between 4-5 years old, and is 45 pounds.

You’re not going to get a dog that checks all your boxes. So it’s important that you figure out which boxes absolutely must be checked.

It took a lot of time, patience, and research, but we found our perfect rescue dog! Love the “Proud Dog Parent” Shirt? Grab one at our Etsy shop!

Where to Get a Rescue Dog

The way you got a dog 20 years ago is not the same way you can adopt a dog now. Back then, you’d head to the local dog shelter, find one that caught your eye, sign some papers, and bring them home. Now, the process is more involved, and you also have a lot more options.

Like everything else, the internet has completely changed the face of rescue. You can scroll through PetFinder with filters to get exactly the type of dog you’re looking for. You can find rescues online that will relocate dogs across the country to find their new owner. You could join rehoming rescue dog groups on Facebook and adopt a pet someone can’t keep (if you’re a beginner, stick to working with a reputable rescue organization). You aren’t limited to your zip code anymore. There are shelters all over the place, so start your search online. If you’re going to submit applications online, be prepared to do a lot of paperwork. Have references ready, because most shelters will ask for them.

Feeling overwhelmed? Then start local. See if any shelters are doing pop-up adoption events. Check what hours your local shelter is open and stop by. The only way how to know if a rescue dog is right for you is by seeing them in person. They might look perfect for you on paper but just might not connect with you when you meet face to face. Another dog you never considered may catch your eye and you could instantly connect during your meet and greet. So use the internet as a place to get started, but never underestimate the power of an in-person visit when deciding how to choose a rescue dog.

How to Know if a Rescue Dog Is Right for You

Winston hanging out with my parents’ rescue puppy! Photography credit: Still Poetry Photography

So you’ve figured out why you’re excited to have a dog. You know what your non-starters and negotiables are. You’ve found a dog that looks like they check your boxes. You set up a meet and greet.

How do you know if this the right dog for you?

If you’ve ever gone wedding dress shopping (or you’re like my husband and love watching Say Yes to the Dress), you know about “the moment.” That moment where you look in the mirror and you just know that this is your dress. You can’t explain it, but it just feels right in your gut.

That’s how you adopt the perfect dog.

Rescue dogs are the best. They aren’t perfect, but who is? They might need extra time and extra love to become their best selves, but there is no purer love than the love of a dog who finally found their person.

At the end of the day, how to pick a rescue dog isn’t about logic. There are countless good dogs to adopt just waiting in shelters for someone to take them home. But knowing how to adopt the right dog for you comes down to that feeling in your heart.

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