The most responsible way to get a dog is to adopt one, so if you've already made the choice to save a shelter dog's life, you're off to a good start. But before I get to the one thing you should never do when adopting a dog, let's start with some cold facts. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, 3.3 million dogs end up in animal shelters in the United States, each year. About 1.6 million of those dogs get to go to forever homes, while about half of those dogs are euthanized because no one wants to adopt them. And of the dogs that are adopted, one in ten will end up being returned to the shelter due to the owner's dissatisfaction or other unforeseen issues. A dog's chance of having a successful adoption after being returned to the shelter is grim. For this reason, the number one most important question you should ask yourself about before getting a shelter dog is this: am I up for the challenge? You should never adopt a dog unless you are 100 percent committed to a successful adoption, at any cost.
Adopting a dog that's either been surrendered by its owner, or collected as a stray means adopting a dog that has a history. Either it came into the shelter system from an already stressful and unloving environment, or it came from a loving environment that it's been torn away from. In both scenarios, you have a dog that's going to need a readjustment period. In both scenarios, you have a dog that's going to need a lot of patience, consistency and flexibility on your end.
There's a good chance that the calm and stoic adult dog you see in the shelter, or the tail-wagging silly puppy you see in a shelter is going to turn into something else in your home. Shelter dogs have a high chance of showing aggression around food and another dogs. If you're not aware of these possibilities and ready to face them head-on, you're not prepared to adopt a dog.
Some of the reasons why owners surrender their dogs in the first place have to do with allergies, children, behavioral issues, housing conflicts, and time. Before you adopt a dog, check with an allergist to make sure that you and anyone else that might be living with this dog, do not have a dog allergy. If having a child is in the realm of possibilities, make sure that the presence of a baby would not hinder your dog-related responsibilities. Understand that your dog might have or develop behavioral issues and understand that it will be your responsibility to train your dog or work with a professional to rehabilitate them. Before you adopt a dog, check with your landlord and make sure you're allowed to have a dog. If you're planning on moving, make sure that finding a dog-friendly home is paramount. And maybe most importantly, really ask yourself if you have the time to take care of a dog.
If you work late hours, enjoy your busy social life, travel often, and will be leaving your dog in day care most of the time, you might want to reconsider adopting. You will need to allot a significant amount of time to get your dog acclimated to your home, especially in the beginning. And if you don't have a job or lifestyle that will allow you to be around for the dog, it might be better off with someone who has a life more suited to being a dog owner. But if you've decided you want to make room in your life for a dog, make sure you also find the room in your heart to be open-minded about the process. Be ready for a complicated transition, be ready for unforeseen complications, have a behaviorist on call, dog-proof your home and brace yourself for the impact of having a dog — it's one of the most rewarding, soul-quenching, stressful, wonderful experiences you can have in this life.