What questions should I ask when I adopt a dog?

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Q: I've never adopted a dog before, but am thinking about adopting from a shelter soon. What kinds of questions should I ask about the dog before adopting one? -- Tracy S.

A: Hi Tracy! We're thrilled to hear that you are considering adopting. Here are the questions we suggest anyone ask their local shelter or rescue group, whether it's their first or fifteenth adoption:

What type of medical care/vetting has the pet received? At a minimum, dogs should have received age-appropriate vaccinations, a heartworm test, fecal test and/or deworming and spay or neuter surgery. Some organizations also microchip their pets and provide other basic medical care such as dental exams and flea and tick preventative.

Does the dog I'm interested in have any medical needs? There are some wonderful adoptable dogs who have special medical needs. These pets make excellent companions and we commend shelters and rescue groups that adopt out medically complex pets. However, the organization should always fully disclose any medical issues a pet may have, and it is at the discretion of the adopter whether to take on this responsibility.

Was the dog behaviorally assessed and can I view the results of the assessment? Reputable shelters and rescue groups behaviorally assess their dogs to help ensure they are placing safe and social pets with families in their community. Thorough assessment goes beyond determining whether a dog is adoptable, and can provide great insight into whether the dog is right for your home. For example, if a dog is super-playful with toys and extremely outgoing and energetic with people and you are looking for a docile lap dog, this dog may be a great candidate for adoption but not the right fit for your home.

A comprehensive assessment can determine the dog's degree of sociability with other animals, his level of independence and whether he is suited for a home with children or may thrive most in an adult-only home.

What is your organization's policy if I need to give the pet up? Though shelters and rescue groups hope all adoptions are permanent, well-regarded organizations accept back, at any time, any animal adopted from them. Some pets may be returned for seemingly ridiculous reasons and others due to major, unpredictable life changes. The shelter or rescue group should accept the pet back regardless of circumstance.

Do you offer any post-adoption support? If the answer to this question is "no," that doesn't necessarily mean you should rule out adoption from this organization. However, many shelters and rescue groups offer discounted training sessions, a free or discounted initial vet appointment, coupons to area pet-supply stores and support via phone or email as a pet transitions to his new home environment.

Please note that there are many questions you may ask that shelter staffers or volunteers may not be able to answer. This does not mean they are trying to be vague or evasive. For example, unless you are adopting from a foster-based rescue group, it may be difficult to determine whether or not a dog is housetrained.

Your questions should always be answered with respect and with as much information as is available, but some things may not be apparent until your new companion has joined your home -- and that is all part of the fun!

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