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What to Look for When Adopting from a Shelter or Rescue

This week, a new trainee arrived from a rescue group in New Jersey. Her parents were excited to learn all that they could about the process, and came to Positively Puppy to find out how to be best prepared in working with rescues and shelters in choosing a new puppy. Here are some excellent tips and questions to ask when you are adopting from a shelter/rescue!

Questions to Ask a Rescue Organization

General Questions:

  • Where do the dogs come from?

  • How do you process them?

  • Are they health tested?

  • What are your parvo protocols?

  • Are they socialized in any way? How?

  • What is your rehoming policy?

  • Do you de-worm?

  • What is your spay/neuter policy?

  • Where/how are the dogs kept while waiting for adoption?

  • Do you have a no-kill policy?

  • How do you approve foster homes?

Dog specific questions:

  • How many homes has this dog had?

  • How long has this dog been in the shelter?

  • Why was he/she surrendered?

  • What is the current and past health status (vaccines, deworming, microchipping, Parvo, Giardia, Coccidia, etc.)?

  • What breed or mix of breed is this dog? What kind of documentation backs this up?

  • What is the personality like when alone, with other dogs, or with kids, adults, teens, and the elderly?

  • Any sensitivities? (i.e. can’t touch ears, tail, paws, doesn't like loud noise, hats, etc. )

  • Is the dog house trained?

  • Does the dog have any training?

  • Has he/she ever nipped or bitten anyone?

  • Are there any triggers for aggressive behavior (bikes, loud noises or fast movement)?

  • If we find a severe illness such as heartworm or parvo, will the rescue assist?

  • When was the last vet visit?

  • Is the dog on parasite prevention?

​Tips on meeting a potential adoptee

  • Observe without interacting if at all possible within whatever situation they are in (within a pack or litter or its current living environment).

    • Look for fearful behavior such as ears and tail low, whites of eyes showing, hiding

    • Signs of aggressive behavior, overly aggressive play, stiff body, stalking type behavior (not playful stalking)

  • Check the dog’s physical condition

    • Clear eyes

    • Pink gums

    • No discharge from eyes or nose

    • Teeth should be clean and free from tartar

    • Fur should be clean and free from lesions or infections

  • Actual meet and greet

    • Let the dog approach you

    • Do not stare into the dogs eyes as this can be seen as a threat to a dog

    • Pet at the shoulder. Do not try to pet the dog’s head or ears at first

    • Sometimes, walking up next to the dog rather than head on is more acceptable to a dog

    • Try to play a little fetch with the dog

    • If approved by the rescue, toss some kibble on the floor for the dog to eat if you are visiting in a private room, this should not be attempted if there are other dogs around. Ask the current handler if it is ok to try to hand feed the dog or puppy a few pieces of kibble, open palm. Do not try if there is a bite history.

    • If meeting a young puppy, you may ask the rescue what is acceptable, for example picking up the puppy, or cradling it (most do not enjoy being on their backs especially with strangers), or touch the paws, tail, or ears. A young puppy that has been socialized should not snap at these but may be sensitive to being touched in those areas.

      • Children should not pick up dogs or puppies. If the child is sitting the parent may place a puppy in their lap to hold. Puppies are unpredictably wiggly and are easily dropped and injured by children…even adults can accidentally drop nervous pups. It is best to stay seated on the ground to avoid this.

  • Puppies can be clumsy, but if you are alarmed at the pups gait, ask about it.

  • Your puppy should be alert and lively, clear eyes and somewhat happy tail. Beware of extreme lethargy although understanding that puppies do sleep a lot and may be tired from their journey, environmental stimulation and visits throughout the day. Ribs palpable(malnourished) or pot belly (possible overload of worms) Most things can be overcome with proper care, nutrition and training, just being aware of the condition of the puppy and the puppies littermates is important information going forward.

Are you looking to adopt from a shelter or rescue? Would you like to learn more about what to ask/look for? Send us an email at and we would love to help you get started!

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