Adopting a Dog


This article is written by Pet Circle veterinarian, Dr Nicole du Plessis BVSc (Hons) updated by Dr Belinda Stancombe BVSc (Hons) and Vickie Davy, Co-founder of PetRescue.

So you are thinking of taking a step towards welcoming a new four-legged friend to the family? Congratulations!

Of course, adopting a dog is a big commitment. There are questions you can ask yourself to help decide if this is the right move for your family and lifestyle. After all, this lucky dog could be a part of your life for a very long time!


Why should you adopt a dog?

There are so many great reasons to adopt a dog! But why should you adopt a dog, over say, purchasing from a private breeder? One of the best reasons to adopt a rescue pet is to find a pet that's perfectly matched to your lifestyle, family and circumstances.

Dogs of all ages, breeds, sizes, and energy levels find their way into rescue organisations. The dedicated caregivers at these organisations take the time to get to know each dog, helping to match the right one to you. With over 20,000 dogs and puppies listed on each year, choosing to adopt isn't just a fantastic option for you; it's a life-changing opportunity for a dog as well.

Adopting a dog means you have the option of welcoming an adult or mature dog to your family. Golden oldies will find themselves at rescue organisations for various reasons, often through no fault of their own. One sad reason is their original owner has passed away, come into financial hardship or failing health and can no longer care for the dog.

Do you have your heart set on welcoming a puppy? There will often be litters of puppies available in rescues, waiting for adoption! Puppies are bursting with energy and will undoubtedly keep you on your toes. It is wonderful to welcome a puppy into the family, and we have our New Puppy Guide to help you navigate this process.

When you adopt a dog or puppy from a rescue organisation, they will have had health examinations and vaccinations updated. And as a bonus, rescue dogs and puppies will also go to their new homes desexed and microchipped.

The staff at rescue organisations and approved foster homes are passionate about these dogs and will spend a lot of time and effort learning about the dogs in their care, testing the dog's behaviour with other dogs, strangers and sometimes children and other animals like cats.

Adopting a dog or puppy won't be for everyone, and it is important you find the right fit for your family and circumstances. If you decide to purchase a puppy from a private breeder, please read our article How to find a good breeder.

How to adopt a dog?

So you have decided to adopt a dog or puppy, but what are the next steps? Thanks to adoption platforms, the internet and social media, adoptable pets have become highly visible to the public, with easy access to information, images and videos of pets looking for homes.

Although rescue organisations would love the dogs in their care to be adopted out quickly, this is not their only focus. Rescue organisations want to ensure they match the right dog with the right family to try and reduce the number of shelter returns or rehoming. All dogs deserve a second chance in a good, loving home!

Step one: Start searching for your new furry friend!

PetRescue is a great website where potential pet parents can easily search for their new furry family member by using filters such as species (dogs, cats, or pocket pets), size, age and location.

Start by thoroughly reading the pet's profile to understand their needs and determine whether they'd be a good fit for your home and you for them! Ensure you've also read the rescue organisation's adoption policy if it's mentioned in the profile.

Step two: Enquire about the dog

At this stage, the rescue organisation will want to learn as much about you as you do about the dog. This may start with an application form or simply be a chat with a foster carer. It's the time to get to know each other.

Step three: The meet and greet!

Once you think you've found a dog or puppy that could be a good fit for your family, it's very important to meet them in person to get an idea of their personality before committing to adoption. Like humans, dogs can have very different temperaments, they can be shy, boisterous or outgoing.

It is encouraged that you also bring all other family members, including other dogs they will be living with in your household. The 'meet and greet' is an excellent opportunity for the dog's caregivers to give you more information about the dog you're interested in adopting, and for you to tell them more about your lifestyle to make sure you're also a good match. It also presents an opportunity for you to ask the rescue organisation staff or foster carer some important questions about the dog you are considering:

  • Start by asking about the dog's background.

    How did they end up in the shelter or rescue? Understanding their history can provide insights into any potential behavioural or medical issues they may have. You can also inquire about the dog's personality, energy level, and any known behavioural challenges. This information will help you assess if the dog's personality and needs align with your lifestyle and family.

  • Check that the dog has received medical care.

    Ask about vaccinations, de-sexing, and any necessary treatments. Request copies of medical records if available. It's essential to be aware of the dog's current health status and any existing health concerns they may have. This will help you prepare for any ongoing care requirements or potential costs.

  • Inquire about how the dog interacts with other animals and children.

    Ask if the dog has been assessed for compatibility with other animals or if there is any information regarding their behaviour with children. This is important to ensure a harmonious and safe environment for everyone involved.

  • Ask about the dog's training history and behaviour modification.

    Inquire about any training they have received or if they have undergone any behaviour modification programs. Understanding their training background can give you an idea of any specific training needs they may have.

  • Check if there are any restrictions or special requirements for adopting the dog.

    Some dogs may have specific considerations due to their training level or age. A frequently encountered consideration is dog reactivity. Knowing about any special conditions or restrictions associated with the dog you are interested in is crucial.

  • What support or resources are available after adoption.

    Inquire if the shelter or rescue organisation provides guidance on training, behaviour, or access to trainers or behaviourists if needed. Post-adoption support can be valuable as you navigate the transition and adjustment period with your new furry companion.

Step four: Approval, paperwork and payment.

If you and the rescue organisation think it's a great match, the adoption will be approved. The adoption fee is paid to the rescue organisation, and paperwork will be completed. Most rescues will ask you to complete an adoption agreement and provide desexing and microchip certificates. Rescue organisations usually provide a trial period to make sure the dog you are bringing home is the right fit for you and your family.

Step five: Pick up your new pooch!

It's time to collect your new puppy or dog and bring them home! It is best to come prepared with all the travel essentials, like a harness, car seatbelt tether and maybe some dog treats.

How much does it cost to adopt a dog?

Dogs listed on PetRescue range from $150 to $1500. The cost of adopting a dog depends on the age, breed and any special needs. Adopting a puppy is usually more expensive than an adult dog. Similarly, adopting a popular breed dog from a rescue may have a higher adoption fee.

The adoption fee goes toward supporting the rescue organisations work and includes any previous vaccinations, de-sexing, microchipping and up-to-date parasite prevention. The adoption fee is a fraction of what these services would actually cost.

According to MoneySmart, purchasing a dog from a breeder will set the average person back between $3000 and $6000 in the first year. Purchasing a puppy from a breeder will often cost several thousand dollars. Additional costs that you may or may not have expected are the puppy vaccinations, microchipping, de-sexing, food, pet insurance and any additional vet visits for unexpected illnesses.

What is the best age to adopt a dog?

If you are thinking about adopting your next canine companion, especially if you are a first-time dog owner, you may be wondering "should I adopt a puppy or an older dog" or "should I buy or adopt a dog?" This can depend on your individual situation and experience with dog ownership.

There is no denying it, puppies are hard work! Puppies especially have high needs in the first year of life and then there is the chewing! Additionally, there is veterinary care, parasite treatments, puppy preschool, obedience, toilet-training and lots of playing. Adopting a puppy will alleviate some of the veterinary care, but a lot of time and effort must be invested into a puppy to ensure you have a well-socialised, well-mannered adult dog.

If you think you are past the 'puppy stage', then adopting an older dog may be more your pace. Older dogs tend to be past the naughty puppy stage and are toilet trained! The great thing about adopting an adult dog is that their personality is already formed, so you know exactly what you are getting (and the foster carer can tell you what that particular dog is actually like in a home) rather than a puppy which is always a surprise! There is one thing for sure, they will bond with you and love you just as much as if you adopted a puppy.

Here are some considerations for different age ranges:

  • Puppies (up to 6 months):Puppies require a significant amount of time, attention, and training. They are adorable, but also demand a lot of energy and patience. If you have the time and resources to dedicate to housebreaking, socialisation, and training, adopting a puppy can be a rewarding experience.

  • Young adults (6 months to 2 years):Young adult dogs have typically passed the puppy stage, but are still energetic and require training. They may have already developed some basic manners, but will still benefit from additional training and socialisation. Young adults can be a good option if you're looking for a dog that has some maturity, but is still playful and trainable.

  • Adult dogs (2 to 7 years):Adult dogs are often well past the puppy stage and have settled into their personalities and behaviours. They may require less intensive training and have established habits and routines. Adult dogs can be a good choice for individuals or families seeking a more stable and predictable pet.

  • Senior dogs (7 years and older):Senior dogs are typically more relaxed, have lower energy levels, and may require less exercise. They often make excellent companions for individuals or families who prefer a calmer lifestyle. Senior dogs are often already trained and can provide a lot of love and gratitude in their golden years.

Ultimately, the best age to adopt a dog depends on your personal circumstances and preferences. It's important to consider factors such as your lifestyle, available time for training and exercise, and the compatibility of the dog's needs with your own. Additionally, remember that dogs of all ages need loving homes, so consider adopting based on the individual dog's personality and needs rather than focusing solely on age.

Tips to help prepare for bringing your furry friend home

Deciding to adopt a dog or puppy is very exciting, and it can be easy to fall in love! It is still important to prepare before diving into the adoption journey.

Here are some of our top tips when adopting a dog or puppy!

1. Find a good match

Getting to know a potential pet is important. Each one has unique quirks and personality traits, even siblings can be wildly different. The good news is that many rescue pets live with foster families who really get to know them in a home environment. They can tell you all about their behaviour, whether they're shy or outgoing, and what kind of home they'll thrive in.

Also, don't hesitate to ask the rescue organisation about their adoption trial policy. It's all part of making sure your new pet is the perfect addition to the family.

2. Have you prepared the home?

Shopping for your new arrival is just one aspect of getting the home ready! To make your newly adopted dog or puppy feel right at home, you will need:

To help them feel more settled in their new home, you can use Adaptil, which is a dog-appeasing pheromone to help them feel calm. You will also need good quality food for your new dog! Continuing to feed what the shelter has been feeding is ideal to avoid any sudden diet changes, which can upset their stomach. If you do need to change their diet, there is a helpful guide on how to go about this: How to introduce a new food to your pet's diet.

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Should first-time dog owners adopt?

The good news is first-time dog owners can absolutely adopt a rescue dog. Rescue dogs, in particular, make wonderful companions, and there are many benefits to adopting from a shelter or rescue organisation:

  • Saving a life: Adopting a rescue dog provides a second chance to a dog in need. Most rescue dogs have arrived in rescue through no fault of their own and are looking for a loving and stable home.

  • Variety of options: Shelters and rescue organisations often have a wide variety of dogs of different sizes, ages, and temperaments. This allows you to find a dog that fits your lifestyle and preferences.

  • Health and behaviour assessment: Rescue organisations typically assess the health and behaviour of the dogs in their care. They can provide information about the dog's personality, activity level, and any known medical or behavioural issues. This can help you choose a dog that is a good match for your family.

  • Support and guidance: Rescue organisations often provide support and guidance to adopters. They can offer advice on training, behaviour, and any specific needs of the dog you adopt. This can be helpful, especially for first-time dog owners.

Further Reading

Tips for bringing your rescue dog home

Adoption applications- here's what you need to know

Causes of vomiting in dogs

Obesity in dogs and cats

3 daily habits to improve your pet's health.

5 ways to help ease your dog's arthritis.

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