So you’ve decided to adopt a rescue dog into your family. It is extremely important to make sure your new family member will live in an environment best for them and to be prepared to ask relevant questions when adopting a rescue dog.

You’ve discussed all the questions with yourself and your family about the responsibilities of giving your new rescue pup their best life. Any dogs or pets you currently have to get along with others. Here are essential questions to ask when adopting a rescue dog when you are at the shelter. This will help determine if the potential dog is going to have the greatest chance of receiving the happiness they deserve with their new family.

What type of mix and age is the rescue dog?

This is one of the first questions to ask about a shelter dog. I am going to caveat with this – a LOT of times this is just an educated guess. Rescue shelters typically do not have the dog’s family tree to bark up. However, by understanding any part of the breed and age could help offer guidance into the personality of the pup as well as how big they will get. Veterinarians can typically provide the best guess during their first check-up you bring them to by examining their teeth, eyes, coat, etc. When using adoption websites like Pet Finder, these are characteristics that you can sort by when searching for your new forever family member.

My dog Penny was definitely some type of chihuahua mix. I later discovered she was a Chiweenie (so a mix between a chihuahua and dachshund) but it was interesting how she indeed had characteristics from the chihuahua. She’s fearless, bold, and hard to train because of her strong independence.

And then my other pip, Harvey, is a blue heeler/Australian cattle dog mix – and with this breed, it’s essential for them to have a family that will make sure their endless amount of energy can get out of their system. Every. single. day. So understanding the dog’s background and what personality traits are common amongst the breed is valuable when deciding what dog will be the best fit for your family.

If you want to take your pup on runs and hikes, make sure the rescue shelter feels the pup is a good candidate for that. Breed characteristics aren’t going to apply 100% to every dog and there may be a physical or medical condition or rationale why not so it’s vital to discuss.

Will the rescue dog get along with your other dogs or pets?

I have gone to rescue centers with my current dog to give them a meet and greet to the potential addition. Make sure you are informing the rescue center about your other pets and asking the shelter to determine if the dog is interested in playing and interacting with other dogs. Questions to ask when adopting a rescue dog with another dog in the house include if they have had play sessions or love to initiative play with other pups when they have had the option. If permitted, take the pup on a short walk with your other dog as well.

Is the dog spayed/neutered, current on vaccinations, microchipped, and have any medical issues?

These are essential items to both know and ensure you have all the records and documentation for. Many shelters will have the dog spayed/neutered if they are old enough. However, this also isn’t an official rule or mandate of shelters so this absolutely needs confirming. Spaying/neutering your dog prevents it from breeding, which prevents future dogs from being euthanized and abandoned. All dogs need to be microchipped so if your dog has already been microchipped find out exactly what needs to be done to transfer the contact details to you. If the dog hasn’t been, many times the shelter will provide a recommendation for this, or you can ask your vet during the evaluation.

It is essential to ask if the pup has any witnessed anxiety or emotional distress behaviors. I found out from asking the foster family for my pup Harvey that she got extremely anxious in car rides and would vomit most of the time. Being aware of this, I focused on easing this anxiety of hers by speaking with her vet. This also helped me prepare for the messes!

Where and why was the dog taken to the rescue?

The animal shelter will at least be able to tell you something about where the dog came from before it was in the rescue shelter. The dog could have been found on the street and dropped off by a random person. Or the dog could have been surrender and they may know more insight into why that is. Unfortunately, many pups come to animal shelters that were abused previously. The pup could have come from a puppy mill. The owner may have passed and the shelter received information about what a wonderful companion the pup is. It could even be a financial situation where the family could no longer have the means to support their dog in the way they deserve. Just understanding some type of history of the dog’s past can help you understand insecurities or issues that may arise. Some dogs are even ‘retired’ running or tournament dogs.

Has the dog been in a rescue shelter or a foster home and for how long?

This can be helpful if the dog is in a foster home because they have received more individualized attention. My pup Harvey was evacuated during Hurricane Harvey and then was in a foster home until we were brought together. The foster mother was able to tell me that she was consistently around 4 other dogs and they all got along. She told me that Harvey needed some time to herself sometimes and would crawl under a bed to have her time alone. She was also a very smart and energetic pup. Because she came from a good foster home, I was able to prepare myself more with this additional personality insight.

It also is important to know how long they have been at the shelter, foster home, or a combination of both. The longer they have been at the foster family or rescue shelter, the more information you will hopefully be able to gather about the dog’s personality.

Is the rescue dog a good fit for children?

This is obviously pertinent to know because you don’t want to bring a dog home that isn’t projected to get along with children. The dog may be scared by the child’s sudden movements and unpredictable behavior such as grabbing their tail. It’s also not a good idea to bring your children with you for the first visit. This could provide an unbiased opinion based on the dog’s behavior. Discussing this factor with the shelter will help mitigate any future issues with your new pup’s environment.

Is the rescue dog possessive with food or toys?

Rescue dogs all have different environments and pasts that may make them possessive with food and/or toys so this is important to know. They may not have known where their next meal was coming from so survival instants may kick in if a person or another dog gets close to their food. This obviously isn’t their fault, and knowing this will help you work on that behavior. Make sure to confirm any territorial tendencies that the rescue has noticed.

Is the rescue dog house-trained or leash-trained?

There is going to be an adjustment period no matter what, but if the dog has any house-training just to know that will be helpful. Don’t be deterred by a dog that isn’t house-trained! Same with leash training. Many dogs have never been on grass or a leash and it will take training and time to adjust. Having a rescue is going to be work, but the payback is immeasurable.

Check out 6 of the countless reasons to adopt a shelter dog.