My parents adopted their rescue dog, Rupert, way back in 2007. A Whippet cross, we don’t know his exact age but suspect he’s now 12-14 years old. Not that you would know it when he’s running around the garden chasing squirrels!
Rupert is a fantastic companion for my family, lively and brimming with character. A far cry from the timid little puppy that we brought home for the first time after going to meet him at a rehoming center. With almost no background information, we knew very little about Rupert. We were also quick to discover that he had never been socialized and we suspect he had some unpleasant encounters with other dogs.
So as you can imagine, a lot of time, care and attention was needed for Rupert to move past his bad start in life and grow into the happy dog he is today. With this in mind, I have compiled a list of questions for prospective rescue dog owners to ask when adopting a dog at an animal shelter.
Our adopted rescue Whippet cross Rupert in his younger days
1. Is the breed of the dog known?
Knowing the breed of the dog you are going to adopt can be helpful to understand more about their expected size, characteristics, and energy levels. However, it’s highly likely that the dog you are considering adopting is going to be a cross, a mix of possibly two or more breeds.
Yes, pedigrees are often what everyone is after but the great thing about mixed breeds is not only are they unique in their looks and character. But, dogs that are a mix of multiple breeds tend to suffer from fewer health conditions and live longer.
2. What are the most common characteristics of their breed?
You may discover that you haven’t a clue about your possible rescue dogs breed and don’t be afraid to ask this question. Dog characteristics can vary greatly depending on their breed, from their energy levels to common medical conditions.
It’s also important to bear in mind that things can become a little more complex when a dog is a crossbreed. They are likely to have inherited a combination of the traits and characteristics of both breeds.
3. How big is the dog going to get?
If the rehoming shelter knows your dog’s approximate age and breed, or at least a rough estimate, they should be able to give you an idea of how large they could get. Helpful to know, for example, if you are looking to adopt a smaller dog, which may make it come as a surprise if your rescue dog grows to the size of a German Shepherd.
However, it’s important to remember that this is just an estimate. Rupert, for example, is a Whippet cross and he’s between the size of a Whippet and a Lurcher.
4. Was the dog handed in or is it a stray?
The key reason you will want to ask this straightforward question is to quickly uncover if the rescue dog you are considering adopting is likely to have any known history.
If a dog is handed in either by its previous owner, then yes, the shelter is likely to have more of an understanding about the dog’s background. However, when it comes to strays, a shelter is likely to have little to no details about their past. If it’s the latter, please don’t let this put you off. This was the case for Rupert and after a little bit of time getting to know him, it was quite clear where he needed a little extra reassurance and training.
When rehomed stray dogs can make wonderful companions
5. Does the dog have any known history/background details
A general question that can cover anything from socialization to medical history. However, it’s a good starting point when you visit any dog you hope to adopt from a rescue shelter and if the answer is yes, you can start to be more specific and discuss areas such as training and anxiety.
6. Are they neutered, microchipped and up to date with vaccines?
In most cases, a rescue center will at the very least be able to answer this question for you. You may find that the center you visit ensure all dogs looking to be adopted are neutered, microchipped and vaccinated accordingly. If not, they should be able to give some advice when it comes to the procedures, costs and local vets to contact.
7. Is the shelter aware of the dog’s medical history or any known conditions?
One of the most important questions you are going to want to ask about any rescue dog. Medical conditions could potentially incur financial implications and getting a general picture of their medical history will help you get a better picture of the dog’s overall health.
All dogs throughout their life are going to develop some kind of medical condition, particularly if they are older. Rupert a perfectly healthy pup when we adopted him has since suffered problems with one of his back legs which led to quite a major operation (don’t worry he made a full recovery and was back to his normal self in no time).
Many shelters will assess new dogs brought into the shelter to assess if they have been socialized with other dogs and people.
As with any element of a dog’s training, socialization is key to a happy and relaxed dog, so it’s an important question to ask for you to understand if your adopted rescue dog will require any extra time spent in this area.
Socialization is a key part of any dogs training
9. Does the dog get on with other dogs/animals?
As humans, we don’t get on with everyone and the same goes for our four-legged friends. A shelter should be able to give you an idea as to whether the dog you are considering adopting can be around other dogs. They may not know about other animals i.e. cats, rabbits & chickens but this should give you an idea as to whether your home is going to be suitable for the dog and if any extra training may be required.
10. Has the dog had experience being around children?
This is a key question for anyone who has a young family at home. We all know that kids can sometimes get excitable, particularly around animals, which can be stressful for some dogs. It’s, therefore, a quick way to understand if a child-friendly environment is going to be right for your potential adopted pup.
11. Has the dog ever bitten or shown signs of aggression?
For many of us, a yes to this question is likely to bring up some red flags but remember, many dogs that display signs of aggression are just frightened. However, a dog like this will require serious, in-depth training and is not recommended for first-time dog owners.
12. Is the dog toilet trained?
Most dogs are house-trained within their first few months but a rescue dog may never have received this kind of training. It’s an easy one to resolve and if you are looking to adopt an adult dog from a shelter that hasn’t been trained, don’t let it put you off. Most dogs can be fully house-trained in six months or less.
13. Does the dog suffer from anxiety and can it be left alone?
It is common knowledge that adopted rescue dogs are more likely to suffer from anxiety, depending on their background. Although it is not advised that you regularly leave a dog alone for long periods of the day, you will likely need to leave your dog’s side at some point. Which is why it’s important to know if they are comfortable being left and whether they suffer from separation anxiety.
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Training tips for anxious dogs
14. What are the dog’s energy levels?
It’s all well and good falling in love with a breed but when choosing a dog to welcome into your home you need to ensure their energy levels suit your lifestyle. Depending on how long the rescue dog you are considering adopting has been at the shelter, the team there should be able to give you an idea of their energy levels. Not only will this help you work out how much walking they will require every day but also how much playtime and mental stimulation they will need around the home.
Whippet’s like Rupert might be good sprinters but they love nothing more than a lazy day
15. Is the dog trained to walk on a lead
Training a dog to heel when walking on a lead is a skill every owner should master but that being said it’s not always the easiest. Getting an idea of how experienced your adopted rescue dog is with walking with on a lead will help figure out how much work will be required in this area and potentially how long it could take before your pup can walk calmly on a lead without yanking your arm off.
Nail leash training and feel comfortable walking your dog anywhere
16. Does the dog have any recall training?
A dog without recall training can be a tricky one to control, particularly if they are a high-energy breed or one with a high prey drive (Rupert is a prime example of this can’t resist chasing the neighbor’s cats out of the garden). Recall training is another skill that can take time to implement and depending on how old your adopted rescue dog is, a good understanding of their ability to follow this command should help you put a training plan in place.
17. What food is the dog currently eating?
As dog owners, we can get pretty particular when it comes to the food our pups tuck into every day. However, changing your dog’s food should be done gradually to avoid digestive problems. This is why it’s a good idea to find out what food they are enjoying at the rescue center before you decide if this is something you want to change.
18. Does the dog have any specific Grooming requirements?
When it comes to grooming, Rupert is pretty low maintenance, as are many short hair breeds. However, there are some breeds of dogs that do require grooming daily and regular trips to the groomers (this includes breeds such as Poodles and Bichon Frises). Grooming is something you may want to discuss with a rescue center if you are concerned about shedding or suffer from allergies and are looking to adopt a hypoallergenic dog.
Rupert doesn’t have a lot of fur so a winter coat is essential in the snow
19. Can you go on a trial walk with the dog?
When we walk our dog it’s our way of becoming a pack and what better way to get to know your rescue pup than with a nice walk. I would recommend requesting a few walks before you make any firm decisions about adopting a dog as it can take time for them to get to know you. Remember, depending on their background, they could be feeling quite anxious and one meet & greet with a walk is unlikely to be quite enough.
20. Can you take your dog back if it doesn’t work out?
When we decide to adopt a rescue dog and give it a forever home, one of the last things we think about is the thought of having to return them. However, this is an important question and one every responsible dog owner should consider. No matter how many questions you ask the rescue shelter, how much planning and preparation you make before welcoming your new dog home, there is always going to be a risk that your dog won’t settle easily. They may not see eye to eye with other family members, or you may decide that you are unable to offer the amount of care and attention the dog needs.
In case your circumstances change and you are no longer able to look after your rescue dog, it’s important to know if the rehoming center will accept the dog back and if there are any restrictions.
Whether you are a new or experienced dog owner, adopting and caring for a rescue dog might not always be a walk in the park. But with these questions answered, you will be able to better understand what sort of care and training your rescue dog may require and focus on providing them with the perfect forever home.
Jen Jones is a professional dog trainer and behavior specialist with more than 25 years of experience. As the founder of ‘Your Dog Advisor’ and the ‘Canine Connection’ rehabilitation center, she applies a holistic, empathetic approach, aiming to address root causes rather than merely treating symptoms.
Well known for her intuitive and compassionate approach, Jen adopts scientifically-proven, reward-based methods, encouraging positive reinforcement over punishment. Jen specializes in obedience training, behavior modification, and puppy socialization. Her innovative methods, particularly in addressing anxiety and aggression issues, have been widely recognized. Jen has worked with many of the world’s leading dog behaviorists and in her free time volunteers with local animal shelters and rescue groups.