Rescuing a Dog – A Complete Guide

So, you’ve decided to adopt a rescue dog? Good for you! But, getting ready to welcome a new canine companion into your home is also a big decision!

If you are wondering how dog adoption works in Australia, you are in the right place. This guide will walk you through the process from start to finish. How to find and choose a dog to adopt? What are the requirements, how much does it cost and how long does it take? You’ll find answers to all those questions below along with everything you need to know in order to prepare for your new family member.

I will, of course, cover what you can feed your rescue dog, along with transitioning them from the food fed by the shelter.

Dog Adoption in Australia: How It Works 

There seem to be more pets waiting for a new home in shelters and rescue centres than ever before. For a variety of reasons, dogs of all ages, breeds, and characters are ending up abandoned.

Choosing to give one of these poor souls a new home is a wonderful act, but it’s not as simple as walking into a shelter and picking up a dog. In fact, it might take a while to find the right dog.

Here is how to start searching:

Where to Find a Dog to Adopt

Rescue Centers

As you’ve probably guessed already, the most common way to adopt a pet is by getting one from an animal shelter / rescue organisation.

There are many of those in Australia, and the best way might be to start with those in your local area. You can also browse the RSPCA Adopt A Pet Platform, which is a great resource for finding a rescue.

Note that adopting from a shelter might come with various criteria and requirements regarding your lifestyle and the environment you can provide for that dog.You might need to fill out a questionnaire or provide photos of your yard, for example.

These criteria might feel cumbersome, but they are not unreasonable – a responsible shelter will try to match you with a dog whose character matches your lifestyle, and that’s definitely a good thing.

Rescuing a dog - Australian working dog rescue
Smudge was adopted from Australian Working Dog Rescue.

Shelters do want to make sure those dogs get appropriate homes and not end up abandoned again. Sometimes, rescue dogs might really have very specific requirements – such as not being able to live with other pets, having a hard time being left alone etc.

The adoption process can get competitive too. Some dogs can be in high demand with multiple people looking to adopt. Puppies and smaller dogs, for example, tend to be more popular than older dogs.

Some shelters will put you on a waiting list due to this and let you know when there is a suitable match.

But don’t let this discourage you! Finding the right pet to rescue is definitely possible, it just takes a bit of effort.

Online / Word of Mouth

Many adoptions don’t actually happen through official pet rescue organisations, but through informal arrangements. When somebody can’t take care of a dog anymore (for whatever reason), the care is sometimes taken over by family, friends, or someone from the wider community.

You can’t really predict such things, but you might be lucky and your new canine companion might walk into your life that way – it happens to a lot of people.

Another option is to look online on platforms like Facebook or Gumtree. Owners who can’t take care of their dogs anymore (for whatever reason), will sometimes put up ads online.

While this can be a good, simple way to find a new canine companion, keep in mind you are on your own if you decide to do this. There might not be anyone to help you through the adoption process and the adaptation period.

Rescue organisations, on the other hand, are usually more than willing to provide you with guidelines and advice throughout the process, which most people find really beneficial.

Note of Caution: Beware of Scams

No matter which way you choose to go when searching for a dog to adopt, make sure to keep your eyes wide open and gather as much information as you can about the rescue organisation/person you are adopting a dog from.

Unfortunately, scams involving puppies are more common than ever, including fake ads and even fake rescue websites that are designed to extort money from unsuspecting people.

This can be avoided by taking simple precautions, though. Just do your own research and never transfer funds before seeing the dog and meeting up with the people who are currently taking care of them.

How Long Does It Take to Adopt a Dog?

It’s hard to say, the process can last anywhere from a couple of days (if you are lucky) to a year or more.

If you aren’t looking to adopt just any dog (and you shouldn’t be – finding the right match is important), there is a good chance finding the right one will take a while. Smaller dogs and puppies are typically much more sought after, so if that’s what you are looking for the search might take longer.

How Much Does It Cost to Adopt a Dog?

The costs of adopting a rescue vary greatly, but you should definitely be prepared for adoption fees. When getting a dog from a rescue centre, the fees can vary from $100 to over $1000, with somewhere around $500 being the most realistic expectation.

Why do I have to pay to adopt a dog, you might ask? Well, shelters charge these fees to help pay for medical & other expenses these dogs inevitably incur while in the shelter, such as desexing and vaccination costs. The fees might be surprising, but they are still typically a lot less than what buying a puppy from a breeder would cost.

Adoption Process Step By Step

Not every shelter is the same, but each of them has a set of policies that regulate the adoption process. The timeline and the steps involved can differ, but here is a quick outline of how rescuing a dog looks:

Step 1 – Find the Dog

First things first, once you’ve decided what kind of dog you are looking for, you should start searching for the right candidate.

These days, most rescue organisations will list all the dogs ready for adoption on their website. This is great, because it makes the first part of the process much easier. These websites will usually list quite a bit of info. Besides the basics like breed, age & photos, you’ll often see descriptions of character traits and everything else that’s important to know in order to understand whether the dog will fit into your lifestyle.

If you don’t find a dog that fits your needs right away, don’t give up. Keep checking different rescues and check frequently, because new dogs become available for adoption all the time.

Of course, not all dogs are listed online. Visiting the adoption centre in person is often a good idea, and some organisations actively encourage it.

Step 2 – Apply

Once you’ve found a dog you might be interested in, you’ll need to get in contact with the rescue organisation. Many of them will require you to fill out an online application or some sort of questionnaire. It all depends – some rescue centres welcome walk-ins, while others require you to apply and set up an appointment first. You’ll usually find all the relevant info on the website of the organisation in question.

At some shelters, the application process might require an interview and even property checks to ensure your home is a safe environment for the dog. 

Step 3 – Meet the Dog

Meeting the dog is a very important part of the process in order to find the right match. You’ll simply never know if the dog is meant for you until you meet them in person.

Visiting the shelter to meet the do(s) will be a part of the process in any reputable rescue organisation. If you have other pets in your home, it is a good idea to have the meet with the prospective rescue. Most shelters will let you do this, so don’t hesitate to ask and make arrangements.

Even if you are adopting a dog from a private contact and not a rescue centre, it’s always a good idea to spend some time with the dog before making the final decision.

Step 4 – Bring the Dog Home

Once you are happy with your choice, and the shelter is convinced you can take care of the dog, it’s time to finalise the process.

You’ll likely sign an adoption agreement, pay the adoption fee, and be ready to take your new canine companion home.

Congratulations, you’ve just adopted a dog! But the saga is only starting – now you’ll need to focus on helping your furry friend settle in

Are You Ready to Adopt a Dog? Things to Consider Before Making a Decision

So far, we have covered the basics of the dog adoption process, but now it’s time to take a step back. Are you absolutely sure you are ready to adopt a dog? You’ve probably heard this before, but welcoming a dog into your life is a big responsibility, and one that you’ll need to commit to for years to come.

If you are 100% sure you want a dog, you might as well skip this section, but we do recommend you go through the questions below if this is your first time rescuing a dog.

Here is what to consider before signing the adoption papers:

Do you have the time for a dog?

Taking care of a dog takes a lot of dedication, and, yes, simply a lot of time. When you welcome a new dog into your home, the adjustment period will require that you give the dog a lot of attention.

It is often recommended that you take at least a week or two off work when getting a new dog. If the dog in question is a puppy, it might take quite a bit longer before the pup can be safely left at home alone. This is something you simply need to be ready for.

During the first months, your new dog will need extra attention and time, but that doesn’t disappear later. Walking a dog multiple times per day plus taking care of their needs quickly adds up – and you will need to put that time in every day no matter what.

On the same note, also consider how much time you typically spend at work or otherwise out of your home. How much of that time will the dog spend alone? Is there anyone else who can jump in to help you with the care when you are away most of the day? Take your time and seriously consider these questions.

Have you accounted for the cost?

Having a dog can get expensive! As we’ve mentioned, just the adoption fees will set you back a couple of hundred dollars at least, but that’s just the beginning. At the very least, your dog will need food and yearly checkups at the vet, but there are also a lot of extras you might choose or be forced to pay for.

Once the dog is in your home, you’ll surely want to spoil them with treats or fancy food and you might find out you need all sorts of gear. And on top of that, you never know what can happen, so it’s important to have an emergency budget: health problems, accidents, behavioural issues that require a trainer… All of this can happen to anyone, even if you do your best to take care of your dog.

This is all not to discourage you, but it’s definitely a good idea to try to calculate the approximate cost and make sure you are ready for it.

What are your travel plans?

Do you travel often and how long do you stay? What do you plan to do with your dog during this time? It might sound basic, but do think about it seriously. Yes, boarding services & sitters are an option, but there is a considerable amount of money and planning that goes into that too. Travelling with a dog is entirely possible, but always requires some extra planning.

On a similar note, do you own your home or are you renting? Do you plan to move in the next couple of years? If you do, do you feel confident you will be able to find a suitable place for your and your dog?

Are you ready to learn?

Being a pet parent is always a learning experience. If this is your first dog, you’ll need to do a lot of research beforehand. Proper training is incredibly important, and it can save you a lot of time later. This is especially true in the case of rescues, as they often require more support while they adapt to life with you. You’ll be surprised by how much there is to learn about dog health and behaviour.

Is your home ready for a dog?

Your home needs to be a safe space for your dog. We’ll talk more about that below, but take the time to consider how you plan to ensure that. It’s not rocket science, but making a home dog-friendly takes some effort. Does your canine companion have enough space to chill in your home? If there are outdoor areas, are they fenced-in and escape-proof? These are the types of things you should be thinking about.

Also, make sure that everyone is on board. If you are living with other people, take their opinions and concerns into consideration. If you have other pets, make sure they will get along with the new pet, possibly by arranging a meeting beforehand.

Consider Fostering as an Option 

If you are not sure whether you are ready for a pet or not, there is actually a free trial option – it’s called foster care. Most shelters will be more than happy to let you take care of a dog for a while or until a permanent owner appears. Often, these are dogs who are not handling the shelter environment very well, or are waiting for or recovering from a medical procedure such as desexing.

The main problem with fostering often ends up being that you need to give the dog back after the agreed-upon period is over. People fall in love with their foster dogs all the time. Luckily, you’ll often be able to actually keep the dog if you want to (though not always, it highly depends on the situation).

Either way, fostering is a great way to find out if having a dog is the right thing for you. If you’ve never had a dog before, you’ll never know if the lifestyle suits you until you try it out. And you get to help a poor soul along the way? There are hardly any downsides.

How to Choose a Rescue Dog

OK, so you definitely know you want a dog. But how does one choose a rescue dog? How do you know it’s the right decision? Why choose one rescue over another one when they all look so adorable? Let’s consider        

Setting expectations

First things first, you’ll need to keep your expectations in check when looking for a rescue. When looking for a rescue, you can’t just imagine what kind of dog you want and then go out looking for that. Actually, you can, but you might never find a dog that matches the description.

Finding a rescue can take time, and the more specific you are with your criteria the more time it will take. That is not to say you should take in the first dog you see – it’s definitely a good idea to look for a good match. Just be aware that it might take some time.

Find out what you want

What kind of companion are you looking for? More than anything else, it’s important to find a dog that matches your lifestyle. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • How much time are you willing to spend playing with or exercising your dog? If you have an active lifestyle, by all means, get a high-energy dog that can follow you. But if you don’t, don’t get a dog that needs hours of exercise every day.
  • How much time (and $$$) are you willing to spend on grooming? Some dogs are much more demanding than others.
  • How do you feel about shedding in general? Don’t get a double-coated fluffy dog if you aren’t ready to deal with the hairs.
  • Are you willing to train a puppy?
  • Are you willing to take in a dog with existing behavioural problems and try to work on them?

There are more questions you could ask and there are many fun quizzes online about getting a dog, so maybe take one of those just to get an idea of what you want from a dog.

Keep in mind that a dog’s breed doesn’t always reflect its character. Yes, genetics do play a role, but there are always outliers. So, at least when it comes to rescues, look at every dog as an individual and consider giving them a chance, even if the breed is not what you imagined at first. 

Can you teach an old dog new tricks?

Another important question when adopting a dog is the question of age. When people think of getting a dog, they mostly think about puppies, but there is a case to be made for giving older dogs a chance.

When buying a dog, it is recommended to move puppies to their new homes while they are quite young (usually 6 – 8 weeks of age). That way, the puppy can bond with you and you can (at least in theory) train it to be the dog you want it to be.

However, the puppy and ‘teenager’ period – until about 1 year of age – is also the most stressful time when it comes to taking care of a dog. Caring for a growing puppy comes with its own set of challenges: almost every pet parent has had to deal with chewed-up shoes, destroyed furniture, and/or pee inside the house at least once.

So what happens when you adopt an older dog? Yes, you skip those stressful years. And older dogs deserve a chance too.

The most common argument against adopting an older dog is the idea that they cannot be trained. However, that’s simply not true. If you look around yourself or the internet, you’ll easily find testimonials to that.

Older dogs can be a joy to care for, because they are more mature and often already have pretty good manners. Of course, that’s not always the case, and many dogs that end up at the shelter have fairly serious behavioural issues. In short, do your best to understand the individual dog you are interested in and the potential problems they might come with. If you are feeling up for the challenge, don’t rule out a rescue just because he or she is older.

Getting to know each other

People that work in rescue organisations typically care about making both you and the dog happy. After all, if the owner & dog are a good match, there is a much lower chance the dog will be returned to the shelter. That’s why they will usually do their best to help you find a dog that suits your lifestyle.

And it’s always a good idea to listen to the info you get from the shelter. Sometimes you’ll see notes in a dog’s bio like “cannot live with children”, “cannot live with other pets” and we recommend you abide by them..

Once you’ve found a dog that seems to fit your lifestyle, try to spend some time together. If you can, try taking the dog for a walk. The environment dogs are exposed to in rescue centres (lots of dogs, noise exposure, lack of human attention) can cause a lot of stress, so you might not be able to see the true character of a dog until you spend some quality one-on-one time together.

Preparing Your Home for a Rescue

You’ve found a dog you want to rescue, everything is going great and the day you bring them home is approaching fast? If you are starting to panic, that’s completely understandable. But trust yourself and know that there is no such thing as being perfectly prepared. You’ll figure out things along the way!

Still, here is a basic list to go through before you get a new dog into your home:

Dog-Proofing Your Home

  • Start with planning dog-friendly spaces. Is your dog going to be allowed everywhere around your home or will there be limits? Start by making decisions about the zones, and then plan how you are going to enforce the rules. Is the bedroom off limits? What about the couch? What about the garage or the basement?
  • If you have a yard/outdoor space make sure it’s safe. Dogs are most likely to run away early on, before they are used to your home. Make sure there is appropriate fencing to prevent that.
  • Keep dangerous items out of reach. Medications. Cleaning products. Sharp and fragile objects. Food your dog shouldn’t get into. All of this should be kept out of the reach of your dog. Go through your home and take inventory.
  • Make sure your home is dog-friendly. That means, once again, keeping dangerous items out of reach, but not only that. Consider how your dog is going to move around. Try to keep things like electric cables or drapes your dog can get tangled into. Don’t make it easy for the dog to get in trouble.

Things Your Dog Will Need on the First Day

  • Bed (+ crate if you are using one). Your rescue needs to sleep somewhere. Dog beds are easy to improvise with old blankets or a pillow, but you might as well just get a proper bed right away. Your dog will definitely need one. If you plan on using a crate, then get this too and try to set up the bed inside.
  • Food & water bowl. There is not much explanation needed here. We recommend you get food and water bowls with a stand or with non-slip backing so they don’t end up sliding around your home.
  • Food. Your canine companion needs to eat. Make sure you have something to offer. It’s a good idea to feed the same thing the dog has been eating at the shelter for a little while, so not everything changes at the same time.
  • Collar with ID tag. Every dog needs a collar. It helps you handle the dog, and you can attach an ID tag to it immediately which helps in case your pup runs away / gets lost.
  • Harness. Collars are great but harnesses are better, at least when it comes to walking and leash training.
  • Leash. You’ll need a leash to bring your dog home and start going on walks. At this point, you might not be sure what type of leash will work best for you, so get something basic and affordable for a start.

Other Things You Might Want to Get

  • Treats. Tasty treats are a great way to improve a dog’s mood. And they are great for training. Not essential to have on the first day, but definitely helpful.
  • Toys. Dogs need entertainment and having a few toys on hand can help them feel at home. A ball for playing fetch and a chew toy to enjoy at home can be a great start.
  • Grooming supplies. Different dogs have different grooming needs, but every dog needs some care. At the very least, you’ll need a dog shampoo and a brush that fits your dog’s coat type.

Bringing the Dog Home

Once everything is set up, it will be time to bring your new dog home. This can be an emotional time for everyone involved, so here are some tips for the first day (and the first couple of weeks):

  • Be prepared to take some time off work. This is a piece of advice that’s commonly given to new pet parents. It might seem like an overkill, but it’s definitely a good idea. If you can, spend the first couple of days with your canine companion by your side. It’s good to see how they are settling in first-hand and be able to explain the rules of your home.
  • Give the dog a tour of your home. During the tour, you might want to keep the dog on a leash and let them slowly explore every corner. Most dogs like to sniff around for a while when they get into a new space. Show the tog his or her spot (bed or crate) and try to get them comfortable with it.
  • Be mindful of the introductions. Your rescue needs to be carefully introduced to anyone who lives in your home – no matter if they are adult humans, children, or other pets. If you already have a dog, it’s a good idea to let the dogs meet outside, on neutral territory.
  • The first night might be difficult. First nights can be difficult, for puppies and adult dogs alike. Remember your pooch is under a lot of stress right now. Whatever they do on the first night, don’t take it personally and just be patient. For example, it’s not uncommon for dogs to spend the night whining and barking.
  • Don’t forget the technicalities. This depends on where you live, but you’ll probably need to register your dog at the local council. It’s also a good idea to take the dog to the vet for a checkup. Also make sure that the microchip details are up to date.

What to Feed Your Rescue Dog

The food you choose to feed your new dog is one of your most important considerations, and will be key in their future health and wellbeing. In Australia there are many brands of dog food which range from affordable to very expensive, and the brand (or brands) you choose will be largely dependent on your budget.

The rescue will likely inform you what brand they’ve been fed until this point, and a good idea is to read the respective review for the brand so you know exactly what it is made from and why.

You may be keen to change to a different brand which you’ve heard is much better, but make sure you consider the following:

  • A dog which has been fed a single brand of dog food may react when a different type of food is introduced. There are many reasons for this, but these can often be attributed to the previous dog food rather than the new food being problematic. Dogs develop intolerances when fed a single brand of dog food, which means a new food can trigger these intolerances in the form of vomiting and diarrhea. It may be necessary to introduce a new food gradually, and of course make sure the new food is a decent quality and not a cause of issues (read the reviews!)
  • When a dog has been fed a previous diet which wasn’t ideal for their carnivorous roots, then the effect on their gut can take a long time to fix. A dog food made of wheat or cereal grains should be of particular concern, especially if the rescue dog has a dull coat or overweight when you adopt them.
  • You may be tempted to continue feeding what the rescue was feeding the dog, but if this wasn’t a good brand then it’s worth persisting with a change to a new variety of healthier foods even if they turn their nose up at a new food – it takes time and patience!

If you want good recommendations of foods to feed your new rescue dog then there’s a list of affordable brands if you’re on a budget (like most of us), or some really top-end brands here.

Challenges With Rescue Dogs

Some rescue dogs have been through a lot, so it’s reasonable to expect they come with a set of (big or small) behavioural issues that need to be worked through. Not all dogs, of course – some rescues are so well-behaved that it’s hard to believe. But it’s better to be prepared.

Most behavioural issues with rescue dogs are caused by anxiety and/or lack of training. These can include leash reactivity, general aggression, as well as separation anxiety. It’s also fairly common for rescue dogs to guard their food and toys – out of fear they will be stolen.

It’s important to have some patience with rescues. After a couple of weeks, they might start feeling more comfortable and their behaviour can improve greatly. But it’s also important to nip serious problems in the bud.

When you are unsure what to do, your first point of contact should be the rescue centre the dog came from. They are often happy to chat with you and provide support, and they might help you understand the problems your dog is going through. They’ve probably seen something similar before and know what to do.

If you are having trouble dealing with your dog, don’t let that get you down. It’s more important to be proactive, so don’t be afraid to consult with your vet. You might also need help from a trainer or dog behaviourist, and that’s OK.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, there is a lot to think about when rescuing a dog. One can easily get overwhelmed, but don’t let that discourage you. Getting a new canine companion is the start of a wonderful chapter of your life, so don’t forget to celebrate the good things too!

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David D'Angelo

David D'Angelo has worked as a scientist since graduating with a BSc (Hons) in 2000. In addition, David holds a CPD accredited Diploma in Pet Nutrition as well as being CPD accredited VSA (Veterinary Support Assistant). However, his experience and involvement in the pet food industry for 15+ years has given true insight into pet food, formulations, science, research, and pet food marketing. Facebook | LinkedIn | Instagram | Pinterest

1 Comment
  1. This is a nice overview of the adoption process. Some other good resources to search for available dogs at Savour Life and Pet Rescue, who both offer a platform for rescues to promote pets they have available for adoption. The link to Sale Life is

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