20 Essential Questions to Ask When Adopting a Dog

July 26, 2021


July 26, 2021

Adopting a dog is a big decision, and you can easily get caught up in the excitement of welcoming a new family member. You may find yourself daydreaming about life with your future new addition, and the effortless transition, and prematurely be patting yourself on the back for saving a life.

OK. Time out.

Adopting a dog is a phenomenal way to find your next best friend, but, as with any major life change, the keys to long-term success and a smooth transition involve some careful research and planning.

Consider your requirements

A Saint Bernard in an 800-square-foot studio apartment may be unrealistic, and a border collie won’t be happy spending every weekend binging on Netflix and popcorn. Think carefully about your needs from your future dog before you begin your search. Be honest about your lifestyle, and what you can offer a dog, when you answer these questions:

  • How much time can I give to a new dog? — If you cannot provide plenty of daily exercise and play, consider a senior dog, or a mix of more sedentary breeds.
  • What size dog suits my lifestyle and finances? — Large dogs take up a lot of space, and have equally large appetites and veterinary bills.
  • Can I support a dog with medical conditions? — Many handicapped or health-challenged dogs need homes, but know ahead of time whether you can make the commitment.
  • Do I want a dog with specific personality traits? — Does a calm dog suit you best, or are you looking for an energetic, playful running buddy?
  • What does the family agree on? — Consider the whole family when making decisions.

20 questions, 4 paws, 1 home

Once you have found some potential candidates for adoption, you can begin the interview process. Use the following questions as a guide to steer your decision-making. Remember that there is no such thing as the perfect dog, and that many minor behavior issues can be resolved with professional training and veterinary assistance.

Before you go to the shelter, know that they may have limited information about some pets because of the volume of pets in their care, and their unknown past. Rescue groups that place pets in foster homes may be able to provide more answers and insight about their dogs.

Ask about the dog’s past

Learning as much as you can about a particular dog’s story may give you valuable insight into their behavioral, emotional, and physical health.

#1: How did the dog get here?

Determine if the dog was a stray, surrendered by a previous owner, or brought in by a rescue group. If the pet was surrendered by a previous owner, find out if they provided a reason, keeping in mind that people sometimes list a false reason out of shame, or from fear that the shelter will not accept the pet.

#2: How long has the dog been with this shelter or group?

This question can help you understand the dog’s emotional health. Prolonged periods in a shelter or foster environment may create behavior issues or depression.

#3: What was the dog’s original condition?

Has the dog’s body condition improved since admission—were they overweight or underweight, which may indicate a medical issue? Did the dog arrive with fleas, mange, or lameness?

#4: Was the pet previously adopted and returned? Why?

Many unknowns could have caused the dog’s poor showing, including not being given enough time, but multiple adoptions and returns may be a red flag.

#5: Is there any known history of abuse? Was this dog part of a cruelty or hoarding confiscation?

Dogs who have suffered abuse or neglect need patience and an experienced, loving owner to help them recover. These innocent victims of circumstance can make wonderful companions.

Ask about the dog’s medical history

Although any pet can hide illness, and good health can never be guaranteed, shelters and rescue groups do their best to provide adequate health care to adoptable pets. Look closely at a dog’s eyes, ears, and skin.

#6: Has the dog received any veterinary care since admission?

Find out if the dog is spayed or neutered, or will be, prior to adoption. Ask if they have been vaccinated appropriately for their age, and for recent heartworm or fecal screening test results.

#7: Any knowledge of previous illness or injury?

While some adopters can take care of a dog with chronic illness, others may struggle. Previous injuries, such as broken bones or ACL tears, may lead to arthritis or complications.

#8: Is the dog on flea, tick, and heartworm prevention?

Has the facility kept the dog current on preventives, and what kind do they use for continuity of care?

#9: Is the dog microchipped?

If so, find out the manufacturer and date of implantation. If the previous owner microchipped the dog, you will need to update the registration information.

Ask about the dog’s social skills

Learn all you can about a dog’s personality to prevent unwanted surprises.

#10: Has the dog ever bitten someone or been aggressive?

This is one of the most important questions. If the answer is yes, find out when and how the event occurred. Was the dog acting out of fear or pain? Were there warning signs? How frequent was the behavior?

#11: Is the dog protective of food, toys, or people?

Resource guarding can be a challenging and dangerous behavior in a home with children or other pets. Ask if the dog has been temperament tested, and if you may review the results.

#12: Has the dog been exposed to children? How did they react?

Whether you have children or not, this is important. At some point, your new dog will encounter kids.

#13: How does the dog respond to men, women, and strangers?

Fear or unease may be a lack of confidence or a past negative association.

#14: How does the dog respond to other dogs? Cats?

Again, this is important for your daily dynamic. Your dog will encounter other pets, and dogs, especially large, hard-to-control dogs who react to other dogs or are aggressive toward cats, may be a bad match.

Ask about the dog’s behavior

Finally, ask some questions about the dog’s training and coping skills.

#15: How does the dog behave when left alone?

Does the dog show separation anxiety signs? Specifically ask about:

  • Clingy or nervous behavior
  • Excessive barking or whining
  • Destructive behaviors
  • Pacing or digging
  • Urinating or defecating when left alone

#16: Is the dog crate or kennel trained?

You can easily train the dog this skill, but a crate- or kennel-trained dog will transition to a new home with less stress.

#17: Is the dog house trained?

Shelters can often determine a dog’s house training status by whether they eliminate in their run or cage.

#18: Does the dog accept grooming and handling?

This is important not only for your groomer, but also for you, to know whether the dog will accept basic husbandry, such as wiping off muddy feet, cleaning ears, or checking for fleas and ticks.

#19: Has the dog received any training?

Some shelters provide basic manners classes to their adoptable dogs, and some foster parents train life skills around the home. Find out what the dog already knows, or doesn’t know, so you can speak the same language.

The tough but final question before adopting a dog

No one wants to imagine this worst-case scenario, but for the dog’s wellbeing and safety, you must examine all contingencies.

#20: If things do not work out, can the dog be returned?

Despite asking all the right questions, some relationships simply aren’t meant to be. A reputable shelter or rescue group will welcome back a dog who is not the right fit.

Never feel pressured to adopt a dog who is too much for you, or who may be a safety risk to you, your family, or themselves. For a successful adoption, everyone, including the dog, must want to be involved.

Good things take time

When you find your ideal dog, remember that the transition and bonding will not happen overnight. Keep the Rule of 3’s in mind. Be patient, and allow your dog plenty of time to adjust. Most newly adopted pets experience milestones at three days, three weeks, and three months, but some may need longer before they feel at home.

Your veterinarian is an excellent resource for any questions about your new dog, their health, and behavior. They can also provide recommendations to local positive reinforcement dog trainers, so you can get off to a great start with your new pet.


https://www.giveshelter.org/assets/images/documents/Rule_of_Threes.pdf. Dane County Humane Society. 2021.

https://www.ccpdt.org/dog-owners/certified-dog-trainer-directory/. Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. 2021.

https://www.maddiesfund.org/behavior-problems-and-long-term-housing.htm. Maddie’s Fund. 2000.https://veterinarypartner.vin.com/default.aspx?pid=19239&id=4953032. Veterinary Partner. 2019.

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Disclaimer: Our content is for informational purposes only — it’s not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.