You’ve always wanted a dog and finally decided to get one. Or you already have one and are looking for a friend. Instead of going to a breeder, you’ve chosen to adopt a rescue dog. Great! 🐕
Maybe you’ve already found the dog of your dreams but got rejected by the rescue organisation. Wait, what?! Aren’t they happy someone wants to give that dog a loving home? Yes, but…
You would be surprised how many dogs get returned to the shelter. It’s sad, but it’s true. We foster dogs who have been adopted (after careful investigation by the rescue) and are no longer wanted by the adoption family. Dogs are often returned after not even a month; they don’t even get the time to adjust to their new home… 😔
The rescue doesn’t know you. They have to assess if you’ll be a good dog owner by just conversing with you. The dog’s life is on the line here. They want what’s best for the dog, and sadly sometimes that means they make the wrong decision… A dog goes to the wrong home or doesn’t get to go to people who are great.
Remember that most rescues work with volunteers (like me) and they don’t all have the same experience and good judgement. In some cases, you might be unlucky with who you have in front of you…
Having a lot of experience working with dog shelters, fostering dogs and doing house visits to assess if a family will be approved, I wanted to share some tips on how to ace your application. I’ve been told I set the bar quite high for adoption families*, so if you apply my tips, you’ll be well prepared. 😜
*This is because we often end up with foster dogs with severe issues and trauma. The person who did the adoption process for that dog needed to emphasise more how much work it would be for the family, leading to the dog getting returned. Better be well prepared for the worst and get the best than the other way around…
1. Why do you want a dog?
The first question you will probably get is why you want a dog and why this one in particular. Think about this for a second. Do you want a dog because you’re bored at home during covid? Then remember there will be a time you’ll be returning to work and hanging out with friends (hopefully).
If you’re applying for a Husky, do you want it because it suits your active lifestyle or because you fell in love with those blue eyes? 😍 Never choose a dog solely based on its looks.
Why are you applying for a rescue dog? What motivates you to save a dog instead of buying one from a breeder? And why this rescue?
The rescue will probably ask you about your experience with dogs. How many did you have, what breeds and most importantly: did they pass away or did you give them up? If so, what was the reason for that?
2. Research the breed
Do your homework. There’s plenty of information to be found on any breed. It might save you and the rescue a lot of time if you realise in time that a pug will not be the ideal companion for long hikes. Some breeds are prone to certain medical issues, such as HD. Be sure to check these as they might give you an indication about the vet bills to come. 💸
The rescue knows its dogs. If you tell them upfront what you’re looking for in a dog, they can point you to some potential suitable matches. Most rescues offer a detailed description of the dog’s personality and possible behaviour issues on their website.
3. Be aware of trauma
A rescue dog is not like a dog from a breeder. A pup from a good breeder has been socialised and has had nothing but good moments in his short life. A rescue dog most likely experienced trauma, physically and emotionally.
Dudu was found in a garbage container while still a tiny puppy. The rescue raised him and came to me when he was only three months old. You might think he doesn’t remember anything from what happened. Being separated from its mother at such young age leaves imprints on a baby dog. He has severe anxiety issues and doesn’t trust strangers at all. We’ve worked through it, and he’s come a long way, but the trauma never goes away.
Be prepared for the possibility that your dog has suffered trauma and be patient, this doesn’t go away overnight. Being impatient and pushing your dog will only make things worse.
4. Be prepared
When I visit a home, and everything still needs to be done to make it dog-friendly, I’m already hesitating. Some things take time and need to be done before applying for a rescue. Here are some things you can do to show them you’re serious about this:
- Fence your yard 🌳
No one is getting a dog with an unfenced yard. Make the fence high enough; dogs can be quite the escape artists. Want to make them really happy? Put up a 2m high fence.
- Doggie-proof your home 🐶
It’s like baby-proofing. If you don’t want your dog to go upstairs or you have a dangerous staircase – where a small dog could fall through, for example, get one of these little safety gates. If your front door opens on a busy street, is there a way to ensure your dog can’t just run off? Is there a little hallway with a double door, or could you put a safety gate there too?
- Get accessorised 🧸
Get some dog toys, a basket, and some things that will make your dog feel right at home.
- Find a vet 👩🏻⚕️
Could you do some research to find a good vet nearby? You can even meet them already. Having a good feeling with the person taking care of your puppy when he’s sick is essential.
- Check with your landlord 🏡
If you’re a homeowner, great! If not, check if you’re allowed to get a dog and the rules.
- Fun activities 🎾
Are there nice walking paths nearby? Is there a doggie field or playground? Will you be doing a fun sport together like flyball? Do you have friends with dogs with whom you can organise playdates?
5. Plan for the future
You might be working from home now, but what about when you’re spending your days at the office again? Your dog might have developed a severe case of separation anxiety if it spends every single day with you now and then has to stay alone for several hours.
Many rescue dogs already have separation anxiety because they’ve been abandoned before. Look into a doggy daycare nearby or get a dog walker or family member to check on your dog.
Are you planning on having kids? 👶🏽 How will the dog fit in that image?
Do you want to get more pets in the future? What will you do if they don’t get along?
Think about what you will do with your dog while you’re on holiday. Will he come with you? Do you have a friend who agreed to take proper care of him while you’re gone? Maybe a dog hotel? 🏝
6. What about your other pets and family members?
Recently I paid a visit to someone who wanted to adopt a puppy. When I entered her home, I noticed one dog was outside and asked if it could come in. She replied that the dogs can’t be together because the old one doesn’t like the younger one. When one is walking around, the other has to go in the kennel and the other way around…
Needless to say, I rejected the application. Think about the pets you already have. If you have an old dog that might be in pain, don’t get a puppy that will jump on her all day—some dogs just like their peace. Choose a furry friend whose personality matches well with those of the dogs you already have. If possible, the rescue will let the dogs meet to see if they get along. 🐾
Make sure that everyone is on board with adding a member to the family. If you have a kid terrified of dogs, introduce him to a friend’s dog before getting your own. If your kid is the whole reason you’re getting a dog in the first place, don’t expect him to take care of the dog. A child is a child. A dog is not something that you use ‘to teach your kids responsibility’.
7. Be willing to give it your all
People get a dog, and they want everything to go smoothly. They see all these cute dogs on Instagram, read heartwarming success stories and expect theirs to be the most beautiful. As someone with eleven dogs and who has fostered close to fifty, I can tell you that this will likely not be the case.
Every dog is different. Rescue dogs come with an extra backpack filled with baggage. 🎒 Maybe your dog will be the happiest pup in the world, with no issues at all, and you’ll live happily ever after.
But maybe your dog suffers from anxiety. Maybe he’ll try to bite you as you approach him with your best intentions. Maybe you’ll have to work years for him not to be reactive on the leash. And you’ll live happily ever after too.
Don’t give up when it gets tricky. It’s even harder for your dog. He’s already been through so much… Be patient. Go see a professional – five different ones if you have to.
8. Ask questions
- What does the dog eat at the rescue? What do they recommend? 🍗
- What’s his personality like?
- Is he afraid of anything? 😱
- What’s his backstory?
- How many owners has he had and why did they give him up? ☹️
- Does he have behavioural issues? How do they recommend you work on it?
- Are there any medical issues?
- How is he with other dogs, cats, children, …? 🐈
- Can he walk on a leash? Does he know any commands? 🐕🦺
Things that make me instantly say NO
Sometimes it just takes one thing to get rejected. Everybody has their own idea of how a dog should be treated, and I know not everyone sleeps with their pooch, but these things will make me say no without hesitation. 🙅🏼♀️
- The dog can never come inside
When I visit a family, and they have an inside Pomeranian but want an outside GSD as a guard dog… Get an alarm system instead, please. 🙄
- The dogs that are present don’t look healthy or happy
Pets that already live with you are a good indicator of how well you treat your animals.
- The dog has to stay alone for eight hours or more a day
No matter how fun it is for you to come home to a happy dog, there’s no fun in being left alone all day, every single day…
- Dirty house
My house is messy and full of dog hair. That’s not what I’m talking about here. I’ve been to places that made me want to bathe in Purell right after. 🤮
- Training by punishment
“If he pees, I’ll just rub his nose in it”, and more of this old-fashioned retardedness. 🤦🏼♀️ Hitting a dog is a big NO! Use positive reinforcement. And yes, I sometimes put my dogs in time-out when I’ve had enough. I don’t say it has to be all rainbows and butterflies, but the focus should always be on the positive.
- Lack of commitment
This can mean several things. Some people don’t seem to listen when I explain what it means to have a rescue dog. Others want a dog because it’s fun to have in the house but don’t want to do anything with it. Sorry but “we have a garden” is no excuse for never going on walks.
- Not being open to behavioural therapy
I’ve seriously heard the answer “then we’ll bring him back” when asking what they would do if there were any issues regarding the dog’s behaviour. For real? 😑
Have faith that the right one will come 💞
I hope this list helps and makes you think before applying for a rescue dog. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask them in the comments or DM me on Instagram @nayatribe!
Don’t be discouraged if you get rejected at some point. Maybe this just wasn’t the dog or rescue for you. You can always ask the rescue for their reasons. Believe it or not, I’ve been rejected for adoption twice! It just wasn’t meant to be. I’m sure your right match will come. 🤗
Do you have a rescue dog? Did your application go smoothly or did you get rejected at some point?