Sadly, the number of animals being abandoned in the UK is on the rise. The RSPCA tells us that in the first six months of last year, there were 22,908 reports of abandonments – with dogs making up the largest proportion of this number.

This is a sharp 24% rise compared to the same period of the previous year – meaning that more and more puppies are in need of adoption.

So if you’ve been thinking about taking on a four-legged friend, then it’s worth speaking to your local animal shelters or rescue centres before buying a puppy from a breeder.

Plus, adopting a dog means that you won’t be at risk of supporting puppy farms, so you can feel safe in the knowledge that you’re getting a pet in a responsible way.

The benefits of owning a pet are huge, so we can understand why anyone would want to open up their home to a loveable companion. However, owning a dog is a long-term commitment, which comes with a great deal of responsibility, so it’s important to make sure that you’re prepared.

This quick guide will explain everything you need to know about adopting a dog; practically, emotionally, and financially.

Applying to adopt a dog

If you’ve spent some time considering all of the points above, and you’ve arrived at this next stage, then hopefully you’re feeling positive about the idea of adopting a four-legged friend.

While it can feel as though there’s a lot to think about before taking the leap, it’s important to do so to make sure that firstly; welcoming a dog into your life is the right decision, and secondly; that you have a good idea about what sort of dog would be a good match for you, and vice versa.

The next stage involves applying to adopt a dog. We’ll outline this process below…

1. Narrow down a list of your nearest animal shelters, or dog rescue centres

The best way to start your search is to look online for a few animal or dog rescue centres that you can reach easily. It’s worth having a shortlist of places, as this will give you more options and increase your chances of finding the right dog for you.

Large organisations that have shelters and rescue centres nationwide, like RSPCA, Dog’s Trust, Battersea Cats and Dogs Home, and Blue Cross are often good places to start your search.

CareDogs also facilitate the adoption of dogs aged 7+, so if you’re looking to welcome an older dog to your home, then you might find this organisation to be particularly helpful. It’s also worth having a look at this list of animal shelters and rescue centres, which is organised by county – as it includes smaller charities and organisations too.

You should always make sure that an animal shelter or rescue centre is reputable and genuine before giving them your details and agreeing to adopt. A reputable rescue centre will usually:

  • Make sure that all dogs are assessed and safe for rehoming
  • Vaccinate, neuter, and microchip dogs
  • Carry out a home check and ask you about your circumstances
  • Offer you guidance, support, and advice during the application process, and even after you’ve taken your dog home

2. Submit your application

You might want to make an appointment to visit your local rescue centre or animal shelter, where you can have a chat with staff about the possibility of adopting a dog. However, you can also register your interest online.

Registering your interest online usually involves filling out a form with details of who you are, where you live, what your living situation is like, how many hours a day you’ll be away from your home, and what sort of dog you’re looking for. You’ll also usually be asked about other pets and people living in your household, as well as whether they get on well with dogs.

If a rescue centre or an animal shelter feels that you could be a suitable candidate to adopt a dog, then someone will get in touch with you fairly quickly to take a few more details and formally assess the suitability of your home to get you adoption-ready.

This means that if a suitable dog comes along, or they already have one that might be a good match, you’ll have had all the necessary checks and will be able to welcome a dog into your home as soon as possible.

Other shelters and rescue centres that experience high volumes of dog adoption applications may only contact you to arrange a home visit and take things further if they feel they have a dog who could be a good match.

3. Prepare for a home visit

Home visits will usually consist of a person from a rescue centre or animal shelter visiting your home to check that it would be suitable for a dog to live in. They’ll generally be looking at the size and security of your property, including a garden, if you have one.

They’ll also check the cleanliness and hygiene levels of your home, and make sure you don’t have anything in your house that could be particularly hazardous to a dog. Your assessor might ask you where the dog will spend most of its time, and then pay closer attention to those areas.

Some organisations might ask to see written documentation from your landlord (if you have one) to prove that you’re allowed to have a dog in the property.

It’s important to remember that home checks aren’t designed to catch you out or pick holes in your home. They’re simply put in place to make sure that each dog that leaves an animal shelter or rescue centre is heading into a safe and caring environment that’ll cater to their needs.

4. Work with shelter/rescue centre staff to find a dog that's right for you

If your home visit or check goes well, an animal shelter or rescue centre will try to match you up with a suitable dog.

All dogs who get brought to these centres usually undergo an assessment, where staff can learn more about their behaviour and needs. Many of them spend a great deal of time in these centres before they’re adopted, so staff often get to know them well and will be honest with you about whether or not a dog would be a good match for you.

It’s important not to take it personally if they don’t believe you’re a good fit. Sometimes, it might be something as simple as a dog needing someone to be home with them for most of the day because of their complex needs – something which can be tricky for a lot of people due to other commitments. And, at the end of the day, this decision is for the good of both you and the dog.

Some shelters and rescue centres might want you to meet a dog on several different occasions, to make sure that the dog feels comfortable with you, and vice versa, before the agreement is made that you will take him or her home. 

The shelter or rescue centre should always talk you through everything that you can expect from a dog in terms of behaviour, size, activity levels, dietary requirements, and so on, before any adoption agreement is made. You should also ask the centre to confirm that the dog has been vaccinated, neutered, and microchipped, and provide you with proof of this.

It’s important that you feel comfortable and confident about your decision, and that you’ve had enough opportunities to ask any questions. If you’re ever in any doubt about anything, always be sure to ask and make sure you’ve gathered as much information as possible about the dog you’re adopting. This will help you to build a clearer picture of what behaviours to anticipate.

The animal shelter or rescue centre will usually be there to offer you ongoing support in the first few days, weeks, or months of your dog coming to live with you. If you’re concerned about your dog’s behaviour during this time, or have any questions about things you could do to help settle them in, then it’s worth getting in touch – as they may be able to help.

Bringing your dog home

Preparing your home

Congratulations! You’ve decided to adopt a furry friend. The next step is to get your home ready for their arrival. So what do you need to prepare?
you bring your dog home, it’s a good idea to make sure that you have:

  • Dog food (+ food and water bowls) – It’s best to ask the rescue centre or shelter for advice on what sort of dog food to feed your dog so that he or she doesn’t end up with an upset stomach. If you plan to change your dog’s food, then you should always do this slowly.

  • A dog collar, lead, and maybe a harness– You won’t be able to take your dog out for a walk without these things, so it’s best to have them ready from the get-go.

    Some rescue centres advise that dog owners purchase a proper-fitting harness for their new companion, as it’s much harder for them to slip out of these if they become spooked when out on a walk.

  • An ID tag – It’s a legal requirement (under the Control of Dogs Order 1992) for any dog in a public place to wear a collar with the name and address of the owner on it. This is so the owner can be contacted in the event that the dog goes missing.

    You don’t have to include your telephone number, but it’s advisable so that anyone who finds your dog can reach you quickly. You can get metal ID tags – which clip onto your dog’s collar or harness – at a lot of large pet shops like Pets at Home.

  • A dog bed – This should be placed in an area of your home where your dog can retreat to for some space if he or she needs it. A dog’s bed should be a space where they feel safe and comfortable, and can rest without being interfered with.

    It’s a good idea to place the bed somewhere you’ll be happy for it to stay for the foreseeable future. For instance, placing the bed in your bedroom might seem like a nice idea, but will you be okay with them sleeping in the same room as you long-term?

    Dogs are creatures of routine and habit, and you trying to convince them to be parted from you at night further down the line could prove challenging.

  • Toys – Some dogs will like to play more than others, and you might even discover that your dog doesn’t play with toys at all. But it’s a good idea to give them the option of having something to play with should they want to.

    If you’re in doubt about what to get, then consider getting a small selection, like a ball, a soft toy, and a rubber-type toy.

    If you already know that your dog is a chewer, then be careful not to buy them anything they could rip to bits and swallow. There are plenty of tougher dog toys out there, which are usually made of strong rope, rubber, or plastic. These are designed for dogs with chewing habits and are more likely to remain intact.

  • A car harness, restraint, or crate – If you’re a driver, then it’s important to purchase something to keep your dog safe and secure when travelling in the car. This will mean that they don’t go flying if you have to stop suddenly or are involved in an accident – which can be crucial for your own safety, as well as theirs.

If your dog will sit in one of the car seats, then you can secure them to the seat using a harness or a restraint. Or, if you intend for them to travel in the boot, then you could consider securing a strong, good-quality crate in your boot space.

You’ll need to make sure that you have one of these options in place prior to collecting your dog from the shelter or rescue centre, if you’re picking them up yourself

The first day home

Depending on what you agree with the animal shelter or rescue centre that you are adopting your furry companion from (and on government guidelines at that time), you might either be collecting your dog or having your dog delivered to you by centre staff. In both scenarios, staff will aim to make the transition as smooth as possible for both of you.

When your dog first arrives at your home, it’s likely that they’ll feel confused or overwhelmed. Their whole world has changed yet again, and they’ll need some time to adjust and understand that they can trust you.

If you live with other people, then it’s a good idea to introduce them to their new family member slowly, rather than all at once, so that the dog doesn’t become overwhelmed.

When it comes to gaining your dog’s trust, patience, and consistency are key. They might not appear warm and loving to start with, perhaps because they’re trying to suss everything out, finding it difficult to cope with the change, or aren’t sure whether they can trust you yet.

Some rescue dogs have also been shown such little love and warmth in their lives that the idea of it might be somewhat alien. However, if you help to get them into a routine where they get fed at regular times and have somewhere warm and safe to sleep, then they should hopefully start to feel more relaxed and begin to bond with you.

It’s best not to smother dogs with affection to start with, as again, this can be overwhelming. Often, the kindest thing to do is to let them come to you when they’re ready, and if you do stroke them, aim to stroke them under their chin, rather than on top of their head – as this can feel less threatening.

It’s best not to walk your dog too soon, and to let them get used to your home environment first. Being forced to adapt to new indoor surroundings can be overwhelming enough, without forcing them to have to get used to a lot of new outdoor surroundings too.

Settling in – common issues that you might encounter during the first few days or weeks

As you and your dog settle into your new life together, there are a few things that are worth paying attention to – especially in the first few weeks or months. These include…

  • Sleeping a lot – Your dog might sleep a lot in the first few weeks of being with you because they’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed by the change to their environment. It can be their way of coping.

    However, if you’re concerned about your dog’s motivation and activity levels, then always seek advice from a vet.

  • Disinterest in food – If a dog is feeling anxious and unsure, then they might not feel like eating much to start with. However, it’s important to keep putting food out for them at regular times so they can become familiar with their meal times.

    It’s also a good idea to get them checked out by a vet to make sure that the lack of eating isn’t to do with anything medical. If it’s not a medical issue, there are a few things that you can do to offer your dog some gentle encouragement at mealtimes. Have a read of this advice from Battersea Canine Welfare Trainer, Nathalie Ingham.

  • Separation anxiety – Your dog might have been abandoned in the past, or might still be pining for their former family or shelter staff who were kind to them. Then, as they start to trust you, they might feel worried every time you leave them to go out or go to bed.

    When this happens they might bark, whine, or become destructive simply because they feel stressed and want you to come back. For tips and advice on how to tackle this issue, check out this guidance from Dog’s Trust.

  • Poor recall – It’s not uncommon for dogs adopted from animal shelters or rescue centres to have little or no recall. Have a read of this guide from Dog’s Trust to find out how to train your dog to come back to you when called.

  • Lack of general training – You’ll usually be able to gauge fairly quickly how much training a dog has been given in their former home.

    Shelters and rescue centres often practice some basic training with dogs (although this is more common with puppies). However, it’s likely that they will need some level of training when they arrive to live with you.

    You might feel confident working on this by yourself, or you could consider taking a few dog training classes. Dogs Trust usually offer Dog Schools across the UK. You can find out more here.

  • Being destructive – Some dogs might chew and scratch things when they’re left alone, or feeling bored, anxious, or stressed. This is something that can be managed with some time and patience. Have a read of this guide from Blue Cross to learn more.

Tips on how to get your rescue dog to trust you

Trust isn’t something that’s built overnight, especially if your dog has complex issues, however, there are several things that you can do to help develop the bond between you. These include…

  • Being consistent – Your dog will slowly start to see that you’re reliable and won’t let them down if you keep to a routine of regular feeding, walking, sleeping, and so on.

    After having such a turbulent time, some dogs will need a stable, loving environment – and as time goes on they should start to trust you for providing that.

  • Feeding them – Dogs tend to have a lot of love and respect for the person (or people) who feeds them.

    If they aren’t particularly food-oriented, then giving them their daily food will usually be enough. Although, if they are, then you can also offer them tasty treats regularly and gradually, to help them trust you. It’s important that others in your household also take the time to do the same.

  • Walking them – The majority of dogs love their daily walk and will quickly become a fan of the person or people that they associate with their favourite time of day.

  • Playing with them – Not all dogs like to play, but the ones that do will learn to see you as a source of fun and enjoyment if you spend time throwing their ball for them or playing tug of war.

    Dogs play in different ways, so it might take a bit of time to work out what your dog likes to do. But once you’ve cracked it, try to play regularly, as this will really strengthen the bond between you.

  • Giving them space – It’s important that you don’t crowd or smother your dog, as this can make them feel claustrophobic, which won’t foster trust. When you’re getting to know one another, try to give them some space and let them come to you when they feel ready.

  • Not leaving them alone for too long. Your dog will often trust you a lot faster if you don’t leave them alone for prolonged periods of time. Try not to leave them for any longer than four hours in one go. Otherwise, they might become very anxious, as they’ll wonder whether you’re coming back.

  • Doing some basic training – Dogs are intelligent creatures that tend to respond well to obedience training. As you train together and praise your dog for their progress, they’ll start to associate you with a positive feedback loop, and will also become better at reading your tone of voice and body language. If you’re looking for somewhere to start then check out this factsheet on basic training from Dog’s Trust.

Alternatives to adopting a dog

While adopting a dog can be an incredibly rewarding experience that’ll provide you with a loyal companion for many years, we also understand that there are plenty of us that (as much as we’d like to) aren’t in a position to become a dog owner.

However, the good news is that there are still plenty of ways that you can enjoy the company of a furry friend, without making a long-term commitment…

Dog fostering

If you cannot commit to becoming a dog’s owner for the rest of its life, but would still like to look after a dog in the short term (from a few days to a few months), then you could consider becoming a foster parent for a four-legged friend.

In a nutshell, this involves a dog living with you while it awaits its forever home with its adoptive family. The costs associated with looking after the dog (food, vets bills, etc) will usually be covered by the animal shelter or rescue centre.

Fostering can be immensely fulfilling, but can also present many of the same challenges as adopting. Sometimes, animals who have been rescued from abuse or neglect may have behavioural issues. However, the shelter responsible for the dog will be able to give you tips and advice on how to best look after them.

Many people who decide to foster a dog will form strong bonds with them, which can make saying goodbye difficult. However, it can be incredibly rewarding to know that you have given a dog a safe, loving home at a time when they needed it most.

If you want to find out more about dog fostering and how to apply, it’s worth getting in touch with charities like Dog’s Trust or RSPCA. You might also want to consider contacting some smaller, independent animal shelters and/or dog rescue centres near you to find out whether they have any fostering opportunities available.

Borrow a dog

If you fancy some canine company every now and then, but don’t want to (or can’t) commit to a dog moving in with you, then you could consider borrowing a dog from a willing friend, neighbour or family member for a few hours, a day – or even a weekend.

Alternatively, if you don’t know anyone who owns a dog, you could find people who are willing to share their dog through websites like BorrowMyDoggy. It’s free to set up a profile, but you’ll need to become a premium member to swap messages with the dog owners.

Borrow My Doggy allows you to borrow someone else’s dog for cuddles, walks, and play, for an agreed amount of time. Once you become a premium member, you’ll be covered by Borrow My Doggy’s insurance policy, which means that if a dog becomes injured or unwell in your care, Borrow My Doggy will cover vet fees up to a certain amount.

Dog walking

Another option, if you just fancy hanging out with a furry friend every now and then, is to do some dog walking in your spare time.

Again, you might have a friend or family member who’d love you to take their dog out for an extra walk every now and again.

Alternatively, you could meet dog owners through sites like Tailster* (this is a free website, where you can get paid to walk dogs, and will be covered by Tailster’s insurance policy), or Borrow My Doggy (which, as mentioned above, is free to set up, but will cost you to swap messages with dog owners).

Final thoughts…

If you love animals, have been contemplating getting a dog for a while, and want to make a real difference to a life, then choosing to adopt a dog could be a rewarding and fulfilling experience.

With so many dogs waiting for their forever home in animal shelters and rescue centres, it’s always a good idea to check these first before purchasing a dog straight from a breeder.

Many dogs in animal shelters and rescue centres haven’t had the start to life that they would have hoped for, but by providing them with a safe and loving home, you could help to turn that around and give them a second chance at finding happiness.

However, becoming a dog owner is a huge commitment and is never something that should be entered into lightly. It’s important to always do your homework, ask questions, and request to meet a dog as many times as you feel you need to until you’re content and comfortable about the idea of bringing them home.