Questions to Ask Before Adopting a Dog

This post goes over the long list of questions people should consider asking when adopting a dog.

I don’t mean this whole list should be taken literally. I mean these are just some ideas to give you. Pick and choose what questions apply to your situation. And of course, don’t expect the shelter or rescue to know everything. These are questions to start discussions or find your deal breakers.

I had high standards when I adopted my mutt Ace years ago. I worked 10-hour shifts at the time and needed a dog who was already housebroken, kennel trained, gentle with cats and fairly lazy. May 2018 update: Ace has passed away.

I believe I found the right dog because I was able to overlook other dogs that did not meet my criteria. This is hard to do when you walk through a shelter, and every set of eyes seems to say “I’m yours.”

This list may seem long, but remember you are searching for a companion who will hopefully share your home for the next five to 10 years. Asking “yes or no” questions is not always effective because each person has her own definition of “housebroken” or “aggressive” or “high energy.” You need to seek out specific examples.

Questions to ask before adopting a dog

When searching for a dog to adopt, I recommend you ask some ofΒ the following questions:

General history

  • Where did this dog live before the pound/shelter/rescue?
  • Why was she surrendered? Or, why are you trying to re-home her?

Behavior around other dogs

  • Is this dog friendly around other dogs?
  • Has this dog ever growled at another dog?
  • How does she act when she meets new dogs?
  • What does she do if another dog tries to take her food or toys?
  • Does she like to play nonstop?
  • Could I see her interact with another dog?
  • Can I take her for a short walk with my dog?
  • Would you trust her at the dog park?
  • Do you leave her unattended with other dogs?
  • How does she act when she meets other dogs while leashed?

General behavior

  • Does she chew things that aren’t hers?
  • Where does she sleep at night?
  • What are her favorite activities?
  • What is she scared of?
  • Have you ever trusted this dog off leash?
  • Does she like to play fetch?
  • Does she like to swim?
  • Has this dog been to a professional groomer? How did it go?

Kennel training

  • Has she ever been in a crate (kennel)?
  • How does she act in a crate?
  • How do you think she does when left alone?
  • Do you leave her loose when you’re not home?

Behavior around cats

  • How does this dog act around cats?
  • Has she ever shown aggression around cats?
  • Does she like to chase cats?
  • Has a cat ever swiped at her? How did she respond?
  • Could I see her interact with a cat?

Energy level

  • How much exercise does this dog need?
  • How far do you walk her each day?
  • Is this her typical energy level?
  • Does she lounge around when nothing’s going on?
  • Would this dog like to go for hikes? How about running?

Training

  • Has she had any formal obedience training?
  • What commands does she know? Please show me.
  • Does she pull on the leash during walks?
  • Is she easy to train?
  • Is she treat motivated?
  • How do you discipline her and how does she respond?

Questions before adopting a dog

Aggression to humans

  • Is there anything that brings out aggression in this dog? (Bikers, strangers, men, etc.)
  • How does she act around strangers?
  • How does she act around kids? How about toddlers?
  • Have you ever seen her growl at a person? Why do you think she growled?
  • Has she ever shown fear or shyness around new people?
  • What does she do if you try to take her food or toys away?
  • Has she ever snapped at anyone?
  • Has she ever bitten or attacked anyone?

Potty training

  • Has she had any accidents?
  • Does she keep her cage/kennel clean?
  • Does she ask to go outside?
  • How often does she get a potty break?
  • How long can she be left home alone?

Barking

  • When does she bark? Is she a vocal dog?
  • Does she bark when left alone?
  • Does she bark at the door?
  • Does she bark at people/dogs on walks?

Health

  • When was her last veterinary exam?
  • Does she have any health issues?
  • Does she have any allergies?
  • Has she had any injuries you know of?
  • Is she up to date on shots?
  • Is she spayed?

The list could go on and on. My point is, it’s OK to get as much information as possible about the dog you could be spending the next 10 years with. Rescues and shelters ask adopters a lot of questions. It’s OK to ask questions right back.

What are some questions you would ask before adopting another dog?

Questions to ask before adopting a dog

33 thoughts on “Questions to Ask Before Adopting a Dog”

  1. Very good questions, wish I had these when I adopted my dog from a shelter last month. I did ask a lot of these questions but wish I was able to see how she behaved outside. She was friendly and calm around the dogs and people indoors but outside is another story!

    1. Yay I’m going to adopt in 2 days I wrote all the questions and I will ask them lol I’m only 11 and I’m sooooooooo onlookers excited I drove my mum and dad crazy even though we already have another dog , cutie

  2. It is good to have an idea of what you want before you adopt. I admit that I didn’t ask even half of all these questions. But my needs weren’t as specific. The more specific your requirements, the more you should definitely ask. Thanks for the info! πŸ™‚

  3. I just got my first foster dog (another mastiff, no surprise there).
    I had a list of questions. Can she be touched anywhere/is anywhere a sensitive area?

    How is she in the car?

    Two good ones to know.

  4. Some shelters or rescues require a meeting with any current dogs before they will adopt a new dog to you. However, if the rescue your adopting from doesn’t require it, don’t be afraid to ask. There’s nothing worse than thinking you’ve found a new family member only to have bring them back because they can’t get along with your current dog.
    Also, don’t be afraid to be an advocate for giving the dogs the best possible chance. When we brought Moree to meet Smokey, we requested an outdoor meeting, so that Moree would not be stressed from being walked through a shelter full of dogs before meeting Smokey.. Moree was high strung, and things could have gone very differently if we hadn’t asked.

  5. It’s been a while since I’ve adopted a dog, but my list was very similar. It was also very long.

    Here is what I discovered in the process about how you ask these questions:

    – Ask your deal-breakers first. If you have a cat or if you live with a relative who is noise sensitive during the day, ask about cat tolerance or barking level first. You can save everyone a lot of time if you understand what is not negotiable and screen away dogs that are a bad match for you immediately.

    – Once you’ve cleared major dealbreakers, if you are planning to see the dog in person/spend time with the dog (which I always would recommend) don’t ask that many questions with detailed follow-ups for items that are better observed in person (e.g., walking on a leash). Almost everyone you are dealing with is a volunteer and they may get many inquiries from “tire-kickers.” Respect their time. If it’s something you can see in person, wait to see it (again, unless it is a dealbreaker).

    – Follow-up caveat: Once you meet a dog, you are going to want to adopt. The emotional pull is so strong. Be honest about what your dealbreakers really are before you start getting attached to any dog. (oops…too late…heh).

  6. This is a great list of questions…but in some situations not much is known about the dog. Our dog was an owner give-up to a shelter due to economic reasons and was in a foster home only a few days before we met him. The foster did not know a lot about the dog in the short time that she had him.

  7. We have been matched with a possible adoptee today, and the shelter were grat! First visit and we went for a walk with her and the dog we already have, they even had a play together.

    I’m looking for questions to ask when we meet with her again tomorrow and these have been great. Thank you

  8. Thanks for these questions. My husband and I are in the process of adopting a dog, and I’ve asked some of these, but not all. I just found your blog today and have read a lot of your posts already. I really appreciate you sharing your experience and tips. I’ll definitely be back. Fingers crossed that the foster organization likes us and our adoption goes through smoothly!

  9. hey, I just wanted to ask…
    I really want to adopt a dog. I’ve found one that I really LOVE!
    but I wanted to ask, how expensive are dogs to buy, and how much money has to go into food and things like that..
    thanks πŸ™‚ this is a great list!!

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      You can get dogs for free or spend thousands, depends on what you want. Plan on a few hundred first month minimum for care for food, shots, spay/neuter, supplies. Then at least $100 per month for the next 10 years.

  10. Susan Campbelle

    I’m so glad I found this site! We want to adopt a dog and our needs are very specific so these questions are very helpful. There are so many that need homes! We have 3 cats ages 6, 12 and 20 (yep, 20!). My husband likes dogs, but he has never lived with one. The cats will probably adjust to a cat-friendly dog quicker than he will! LOL!!! : )

    Thank you for you site, Lindsay!

  11. When adopting Sade-Mae (almost 2 yrs ago!) from a local shelter I was happy my husband thought I knew they told him one reason she was surrendered was b/c she tore furniture apart..hmm, could have fooled me! She has not done that at all! I found this out after we had her a yr! The only *issue* is she does growl when nervious..but that’s it. I think she has always been a great gal but her first two yrs of life was spent in an apartment, crated most of the day (no wonder she tore things up, she is high energy!) BUT as I always say..someone really loved her to give her a chance for a new life, my husband had to just about force me to go to the shelter that day, I had been twice in the months b4 and both times I was allowed to spend time w/each dog but wanted my husband to have time also b4 making such a descion, was told both times ok, made plans for hubby to come, both dogs were adopted out a day later! So, I was heartbroken and *gun* shy..but..here we are! Sade-Mae chose us and I couldn’t be happier!

    1. Remember also, not everyone tells the truth when they surrender a dog. Some people will use an excuse that doesn’t make them look bad. Shelters don’t usually know if a dog likes to swim & such. Don’t rush into it because you are responsible for your new family member for the rest of his/her life. Most shelters & rescues spay/neuter before a dog can be adopted. Most do all the vaccines also. I volunteer at two shelters & have fostered & did rescue work also. I’ve also been a foster failure three times!

    1. I agree completely,
      Adopting a dog, is a decision that no one should ever make without questions that they can answer honestly and without doubt.
      This article is informative and the list is very thorough. It definitely is important to find out as much about a dog before adopting as possible.
      I volunteer at a shelter and fostered for a PB rescue for 4 years. I recommend that anyone thinking about adopting should volunteer or foster for a few months before adopting.
      Most shelters require potential volunteers to attend an orientation, and training sessions. They also have to complete a Safe Animal Handling program. Fostering requires a thorough background check, vet and personal references, experience, a home check, and permission from everyone who lives in the home.
      There’s no better way to find out if adopting a rescue is for you,or potentially find the rescue dog for you! While learning how to teach basic obedience, manage behaviors such as dog reactivity, food guarding,properly introduce dogs, and set up meet and greets, and so much more!
      The best part of volunteering is the relationship you form with each dog. The love and pride you feel with the smallest achievement. Getting to know them and figuring out there personalities. The joy of watching a long timer walk out with his new family.
      The only thing sadder then seeing a great dog sit for months, is a dog who got adopted brought back a few weeks later. Because someone made a decision before thinking it completely threw. Without asking all the questions right questions!

  12. Wow, I wish I had had this list or atleast common sense! My jackrussell mix is a mess when we venture outside. She chases toddlers, squirrels, mice, cats. He was turned into the shelter because of bitting a toddler and does chase after kids that holler at her. Alas she will never be off the lease unless in a fenced in situation. He would rather run with the big dogs at the dog park, but is antagonistic and has been “laid down” by bigger dogs. I am his 3rd owner and cannot bear to return him, but i hate that he cannot be off the lease like I see other dogs. When I get some extra money I will see about getting possibly his aggressive trained out of him. He intimidates other people, but I have always stood up to this little dog. I am praying on it, hate to have him put down, it would break my heart, but I don’t want him to hurt little kids, dogs that can be bullied or run out in front of cars (he chases trucks and bites their tires) Any ideas anyone?

  13. In my experience, a lot of shelters would have trouble answering some of those questions. For example, the questions about barking and vocalization: When a dog is in a shelter environment it is in an unfamiliar and stressful situation. Of course it barks.

    And it is very common for dogs in shelters to urinate in their runs. Shelters are staffed by volunteers for the most part, and dogs in shelters don’t always get walked as often as we would like. They often don’t have the chance to go outside to relieve themselves.

    With regard to interaction: In my experience, shelters deliberately don’t let dogs interact.

    These questions would be very fair to ask someone who’s fostering a dog for adoption. But a lot of them wouldn’t be suitable for adopting a dog directly from a shelter or pound.

  14. I asked many of these questions and the answer to all of them was “we don’t know”. I ended up with an insecure aggressive dog. Quincy was abused and the rescue organization I got him from literally just rescues unadoptable dogs and tries to get unsuspecting people like me to adopt. When I pushed on the questions I was told either adopt or don’t. I took him home since he was 12 years old and clearly needed help. As a result, I can’t let him near other dogs or my family/friends. He trusts me but that’s it. It’s a lonely existence for me. If a rescue organization doesn’t answer these questions, walk away and find another organization.

    1. We are a family who adopt.
      After the Death of my best bud, I chose to use a specific Rescue Agency for spe
      Certain breeds.
      The process involved reviewing pics & commentaries.
      Similar like Dating on Line.

      What seemed like a great decision has left me with odds about my knowledge on smaller dogs (Daschunds).
      One dog is aggressive with other dogs/people & the other is aggressive toward people.
      BOTH animals PISS one the Floor DAILY! I spend at least 1/hr a day cleaning up DOG PEE Each & Every Day!
      This has become my Daily Excercise…..Cleaning up DOG Piss!
      I truly love them, but after 2/yrs….im growing tired. I’m 70 yrs.
      Help!

      1. How frustrating. I would go back to the basics with potty training. Pretend you just adopted them both today and that they are puppies. Take them out to go potty often, like every hour and reward for going in the right place. Then, in the house, prevent them from having accidents by keeping them leashed and near you at all times or in a kennel/crate when you can’t supervise. Or perhaps in a small, gated off area. That would be my suggestion, taking 3 months to go back to the basics. Start over with them.

        Here’s a post that might help:

        https://www.thatmutt.com/2012/12/19/how-to-potty-train-an-adult-dog/

  15. So sorry to read that Ace has passed away, our dog passed just two weeks ago. I was reading this, in hope that one day, we could adopt another. We’re a long way off yet, we have some healing to do. You have some really good suggestions on what to look out for. Have you been able to take another chance?

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      We got a weimaraner from a breeder while Ace was still alive. Not sure yet where our next dig will come from. It will be a while yet. So sorry to hear your dog has died. Take care.

  16. I feel sorry for the poor dogs it’s hard enough as it is getting adopted. Very few dogs would meet that criteria. I adopted a dog that had been abused. Found he growled at people and other dogs. Had a few toilet accidents in the house. 10 months later and with training he is the most lovable and loyal dog. If I had asked all those questions I probably would have missed out on adopting a great dog.

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