How to Adopt a Dog from a Shelter: knowledge from the largest no kill shelter in the nation

adopting dog from rescue shelter how to tips

When we decided to help and encourage the right people to adopt and rescue shelter dogs, I thought "who better to explain this than someone who is in charge of communications at the largest No Kill shelter in the entire country?" Lucky for us, she is our friend, Jennifer Olohan at Austin Animal Center, TX. Jennifer and Black Echo Company are so excited that we get to help and hopefully encourage the right people to consider shelter dogs.

We recognize this is not for everyone, and we hope to help you decide for yourself by reading this article. As you read this guide on how to adopt a dog from a shelter, I personally want to emphasize the part about the energy level of the dog. Getting a treadmill and using it as a clothes drying rack cost you nothing but what you paid for the treadmill; getting a super high-energy dog in hopes of it making you exercise more will cost you way more than the cost of the adoption.

When you are ready to adopt, our new dog checklist will help you avoid frustration and save you money. Also, check out our dog shirts. We hope to stat working with dog shelters around the nation with the mission of getting more dogs adopted by right people. Below is written by Jennifer :) 

Jennifer Olohan is the Communications Manager for the Austin Animal Center, the largest municipal animal shelter in Central Texas and the largest No Kill shelter in the United States. AAC saves 98% of the 17,000 animals who come through their doors each year through innovate programs. Visit AustinAnimalCenter.org to learn more or follow them on Facebook and Instgram @AustinAnimalCenter.

If you’ve decided to adopt a dog from a local animal shelter then you are, quite literally, saving a life. Regardless of whether your shelter is traditional (meaning they euthanize for space) or No Kill (meaning they save at least 90% of the animals in their care), both need your support in order to save animals and have some really amazing dogs waiting for a second chance. 

Quite often walking into an animal shelter can be overwhelming. At the Austin Animal Center in Austin, Texas, we’re home to more than 800 animals at any given time—so where do you even start?! Here are a few things to keep in mind when choosing a new pet, and what to do once you bring them home.

How Do You Choose?

  • Keep an open mind. You might think a husky or German shepherd is the perfect dog for you, but be realistic about the time and energy you’re willing to invest. Adopting an energetic dog with the thought that you’re suddenly going to become a runner could result in a pup with pent up energy if/when that new running routine fizzles out. A tired dog is a good dog, and a dog with lots of energy and nowhere to expend it is a dog that probably isn’t going to make great life choices (think chewing on furniture or drywall). Think about your daily life, and go from there.

    choosing the right dog from rescue shelter energy level
  • Talk to shelter staff and volunteers. We all have favorite animals. Often, they’re dogs who have stayed at the shelter long enough for us to get to know them pretty well, which means they’re even more in need of a lifesaver. But my point is, these animals stand out to us for a reason—because they’re awesome! It might be a silly personality, a touching backstory, or just that something special that draws you in, but can’t be seen from a kennel gate. It’s impossible not to fall in love and if you ask us who our favorite animal is, I guarantee you’ll find some of the coolest dogs in the shelter. The other benefit here, is that we know these dogs. Generally, we know what kind of home they need, the time and energy they’ll require, and where they might need some extra training. At the shelter in Austin, roughly 80% of the animals we see are stray, which means we have no idea where they came from. We don’t know if they’re housetrained, have lived with other animals or kids, adverse to men—no idea! But if staff or volunteers have gotten to know a particular dog, they’ll have a general idea of what an ideal home looks like for that pup.
  • At the end of the day, the most important thing is that you connect with your new dog. You might head to the shelter thinking you want a one-year old Lab mix, but a 10 year old Boxer grabs your attention. Listen to your gut and if you feel a connection, even if it’s not the dog you pictured yourself with, be open to it.
how to adopt a dog from a rescue shelter tips

*Special mention: Dogs who are all black in color, all brown, blocky headed (think pit bull mix) or medium/large in size, are generally the most difficult dogs to get adopted. Extra lifesaving points for you if you fall in love with a pup in one of these categories!

Bringing Them Home

  • Let’s say you’ve fallen in love with a dog at the shelter and decide to make it official—congratulations! You’re bubbling with excitement and want to take your new dog to the pet store to get supplies or show them off to your friends at a restaurant. Resist this urge! Take your new dog straight home and let them decompress from shelter life for a few days, let them get to know you and their new life before introducing more new experiences. The first few days might be stressful for you both and here’s why:
    • A shelter environment is completely unnatural for dogs, who are pack animals. They are alone in a concrete kennel for 24 hours a day (less any walks or outings)—think jail, except they’ve done nothing wrong. They don’t sleep well, they’re forced to go to the bathroom in their kennel, there’s minimal human interaction, and when people do walk by, these pups are doing everything they can to get your attention (and usually they’re not successful). They’ll need time to adjust.
    • If your new dog has been at the shelter long enough, making the transition back to a home can be confusing. They might go to the bathroom in the house at first, because at the shelter, they had to. They might refuse to leave your side in case you disappear, like their last family. They might bark when they see other dogs, because that was the norm at the shelter. Please, have patience with them. Being sympathetic to what they’ve experienced, and carrying some extra patience will go a long way in your relationship with your new pup. 

shelter dog meeting your pet at home tips how to
    • If you already have pets at home, make introductions slowly. This might mean days, even weeks, depending on the animals. It’s exciting to bring home a new dog and maybe you even adopted them to be a best friend for your resident dog or cat. But an ill-managed intro can doom a doggy friendship from the get-go. Get advice from your shelter and if they offer it, schedule a Meet and Greet with your new dog and your resident dog on shelter grounds. This ensures they meet on neutral territory and allows you to see how they interact before committing to an adoption. 

All in all, my biggest advice when considering to adopt a shelter dog is this: do it! Dogs are amazing companions and shelter dogs in particular are so very thankful for a second chance at a happy life.