Dogs are referred to as “man’s best friend” for a reason: they enrich our lives. Dogs provide a loving, loyal companion to play with, go on adventures with, and share our lives with. Owning a dog as a pet is very rewarding. Dogs are loving, loyal, funny, and everything is better when a dog is around. But, there is a lot of important information you should know before adopting your own.

You may already have a dog and are looking to add a friend for them or maybe you are looking to adopt a dog for the very first time. Regardless of your situation, this dog adoption guide will help you through the process with important information and tips for being a properly prepared dog owner.

Figuring Out if You’re Ready

The information in this guide is meant to make sure you are prepared for everything that comes with owning a dog, but it is also meant to help all the dogs up for adoption out there. If you read this adoption guide and are a little overwhelmed, good! There will be plenty of times where you will feel that way once you own your dog. With the information laid out in this guide, however, you should have a more complete understanding of all of the commitments that go into pet ownership.

If you realize owning a dog might be too much for you, that’s good, too! Dogs are a lot of work and you truly have to be committed to caring for them every day. There are too many dogs that are surrendered or abandoned every year because their owners didn’t know exactly what they were getting into or how much work it would be. It’s so important to be prepared with this knowledge, not just for yourself, but for your future dog so you can give them the best life possible. There are also plenty of other pets that you can adopt that require much less maintenance, time, space, and money than a dog.

Here are some important questions to ask yourself before deciding to adopt a new dog:

  • How is this going to change my daily life and routine? Will I be able to balance the requirements of owning a dog with my social life?
  • What do I want out of a dog as a pet?
  • Are there other people living in the house? How do they feel about a dog?
  • Are there any people with health issues in the house? Is anyone allergic to dogs, hair, dust, etc.?
  • Who will be the dog’s primary caretaker?
  • Do I want a younger or older dog? If a get a younger dog, will I have the time and patience to deal with a higher energy level, house-training, chewing, etc.?
  • What size dog is best for me? Does my house offer enough space for them?
  • What breed do I want? (Check out this breed directory to learn more.)
  • Will my dog need to be kid-friendly? Do I need to be able to easily travel with my dog?

It’s also important to know the full extent of time and money you will be committing to your dog before you adopt. Dogs are expensive and need a lot of love and attention.

Here is the breakdown of some estimated costs:

Initial Costs:

  • Adoption Cost: $0-$600
  • Spay/Neuter (if not already): $0-$400
  • Microchip: $30-$60
  • Crate/Kennel: $20-$150
  • Bed: $15-$80
  • Collar, Leash, Harness: $30-$100
  • Food and Water Bowls: $10-$50
  • Brushes, Shampoo, Nail Trimmer: $10-$50
  • Poop Bags: $5-$20

Total Initial Costs: $120-$1,510

Monthly Costs:

  • Food: $20-$200/month
  • Treats: $10-$50/month
  • Toys: $0-$30/month
  • Grooming: $0-$75/month

Total Monthly Costs: $30-$355/month or $360-$4,260/year

Annual Costs:

  • Vet Visits/Vaccinations: $75-$400
  • Licensing: $10-$30
  • Flea/Tick/Heartworm Prevention: $70-$400

Annual Costs Estimate: $155-$830

If we do the math, the estimated cost for the first year of owning a dog is: $635-$6,590

This is a very wide range for potential expenses, but the needs of each dog are unique, so they may need more vet visits, a special type of food, or professional grooming every month. These expenses also only cover the essentials. Here are some other costs you may end up having to pay depending on your circumstance.

Other Potential Expenses:

  • Pet Deposit: $50-$500
  • Boarding: $20-$50/night
  • Dog Walker: $15-$30/walk
  • Obedience Classes: $30-$80/class
  • Pet Insurance (if you get it): $300-$2,000/year
  • Emergency Vet Bills: $100-$2,000
  • Vitamins/Supplements: $15-$50/month

And here is the breakdown of your estimated time commitment:

  • Training: 10-30 minutes/day
  • This will be even more time-consuming if you adopt a puppy and need to train them completely
  • Walks: 20-40 minute walk 2x/day
  • Play Time: 30 minutes-2 hours/day
  • Potty Breaks: Every 2 hours for young puppies, every 4-6 hours for older dogs
  • Grooming/Hygiene
  • Brush coat once a week at least
  • Brush teeth multiple times a week
  • Bathe every few months (depending on breed and coat)
  • Trim nails once a month
  • Clean ears once a month

It’s a lot to deal with and keep track of, but if you’re prepared and know what you are getting yourself into, you won’t be as overwhelmed when all of your money and time starts going toward your dog. However, if it does seem like too much at this point, but you don’t want to give up on the idea of adopting a dog, consider fostering or volunteering at a shelter. This way, you can take your time and ease into the situation more, gaining hands-on experience without fully committing to owning your own dog just yet.

Preparing Your House for Your New Dog

So, you’ve decided that you are devoted to adopting a dog and you are willing to take on all of the financial and time commitments that come with it? Great! That’s so exciting that you’ll soon have a new best friend! So what do you do next? Prepare your home.

This is the point in the process where you “puppy-proof” your home. Even if you’re not adopting a young puppy, you need to prepare your house for a new, curious companion. Walk around your house and find anything that your dog could get into, break, chew, or be hurt by, and make the necessary changes so it won’t be a problem. Things like food stored close to the ground, cleaning products and other chemicals, fragile decorations, kids’ toys, etc. You’re essentially baby-proofing at this point. Your dog will be your new baby and it also won’t be able to tell you what it ate, broke, or got into. You have to make sure the house is safe for them, not expect them to be safe in the house.

This is also the time where you can start buying supplies for your new dog! The estimated cost breakdown earlier in this article listed a lot of the essential items you’ll need for your new pup, but we’ll list them out again here.

Here’s a checklist for your pup-tastic shopping spree:

  • Food
  • Treats
  • Toys
  • Bones
  • Crate/Kennel
  • Bed
  • Bowls
  • Leash, Collar, Harness
  • Poop Bags
  • Brush, Shampoo
  • Nail Trimmer
  • Toothbrush/Toothpaste

*Some things will depend on what kind of dog you end up adopting, so things like food may be best to buy after talking to shelter staff or your dog’s new veterinarian.

Picking Out Your New Dog

Once you’ve carefully considered everything that goes in to owning a dog and have properly prepared for it, it’s time for the most exciting part of the whole process: picking out your new best friend!

The most important part of picking out your new dog is to be patient. It’s very exciting going to your local animal shelters and seeing all of the cute dogs there, so it’s easy to get caught up in the moment and let your impulses get the better of you. Remember that you are picking out a dog that will be a part of your life for years to come. Don’t visit one shelter and decide that you’ve done all you need to do. Visit multiple shelters multiple times. This way, you’ll be able to meet more adoptable dogs and, hopefully, find the one that is perfect for you and your situation.

When you do find the pup for you, you’ll be certain since you have spent so much time visiting multiple shelters and meeting a wide range of dogs. As mentioned earlier, researching different breeds can help guide your search for your new best friend. Although most dogs from shelters are mixed-breeds, you’ll have a better understanding of different temperaments, characteristics, and health risks for all of the breeds you come across if you do your research beforehand.

Bringing Your New Dog Home (and Everything that Comes After)

Congratulations! You successfully adopted a new dog and finally get to bring it home. Now what happens?

First Things First: Visit the Vet for a Health Checkup

This will be the first of many visits to the vet, so make sure you already have a vet in mind. Just as you did with your new dog, do your research on the vets in your area and choose the one that fits your needs best. If you end up adopting a rare or uncommon breed, make sure your vet has experience working with that breed.

While you’re at the vet, you can also get any necessary vaccinations, make sure your dog is microchipped, and even get your dog’s flea/tick/heartworm medication for them. If your dog needs to be spayed or neutered, you’ll most likely have to schedule a separate visit for that. After your visit, you should have a better overall understanding of your new dog, their health, and any special needs they may have. Be sure to keep all records of your dog’s medical and vaccination history.

Introducing Your Dog to Your Family

Adopting a dog and bringing it home to meet your family is exciting for everyone… except maybe your new dog. Think about all of the changes your new friend has been through. They are probably scared, stressed, and overwhelmed. Throwing them right into a giant group of people is probably the worst thing you could do.

Once again, be patient. Allow your new dog plenty of space and time to acclimate to this big change. They’ll probably want to explore their new living space first before they really start feeling comfortable, so let them tour your house and yard right off the bat. Then, you can try introducing your dog to each of your family members individually. Your dog is more likely to be comfortable with just one or two people, not a whole group. Over time, they will become more and more comfortable in your home and around your family.

Licensing

Once you’ve brought your new dog home, it’s time to get them licensed. To do this, you’ll need to visit the website of your local animal care and control agency. Licensing usually requires proof of an up-to-date rabies vaccine for your pet. You will also have to pay a licensing fee of $10-$30. Once your dog is licensed, the agency will send you tags that you will put on your dog’s collar or harness. This helps with pet identification and returning your pet to you if it gets lost.

Training

Whether your adopted dog is still a puppy or is more mature, there are going to be some adjustments when moving into a new home. You have to train your new dog so it knows how you want it to behave, teach it what it can and can’t do in the house, and build a routine for things like going outside to potty, going on walks, and meal times. The first few weeks will be the most difficult and stressful, but you have to keep at it. If you adopted a young puppy, you’ll need to spend a lot more time crate training, deterring chewing, and focusing on overall obedience.

Traveling

You shouldn’t plan on traveling for the first few months after adopting your new dog because they may still be acclimating to their new life. Whether you plan to take them with you on your trip, leave them home with someone to pet-sit them, or board them while you’re gone, these are still new situations that your dog may not be ready for yet.

Eventually, after your dog is comfortable in their new life, you will have to figure out if your dog will be joining you on your vacations or if you’ll have to leave them at home with someone to watch them. Some dogs don’t do well in cars and flying with bigger dogs can be far too difficult and risky. This will all depend on your particular circumstance, but it is something you will have to figure out now that you are a pet owner.

This dog adoption guide may seem daunting, but it is crucial to know all of this information going into the dog adoption process instead of learning on the fly. Being prepared and being patient are the two most important parts of this entire process. Doing so will make sure you are fully ready for life with a dog and will help you give your new best friend the best life.