The Pet Parent's Guide to Adopting an Adult Dog

You don't need a puppy to fall in love.

adopting an adult dog

When pet parents are ready to add on to their fur fam, they often hope to adopt a puppy. But if you’re limiting yourself to adopting only puppies, you could be missing out on many fantastic adult dogs who would love to come home with you. Many potential adopters don’t give adult dogs a chance. According to the ASPCA, puppies have a 60% adoption rate, compared to adult dogs, who only have a 25% adoption rate. 

There are many benefits and things to consider when adopting an adult dog. Before you head to your local animal shelter, you might want to consider whether an adult dog is the right fit for your family. 

When is a dog considered “adult”? 

Typically, puppies are considered to be adult dogs once they are one year old.

At this age, most puppies have fully grown, though large breed dogs may continue to grow for another two to six months. Very large breeds like Mastiffs may even continue to grow until they’re 24 months old. Despite popular belief, “dog years” are not a full-proof method of determining a dog’s aging.

Adult dogs reach emotional maturity at different times. Most dogs are emotionally mature by the time that they’re two. At this point, they’re  generally better at listening and are calmer overall than puppies. 

Dogs are considered adults until they reach their senior years, and when exactly that happens breed-specific. Giant breeds like the Mastiff and Irish Wolfhound are considered to be seniors once they are seven, while large breeds are seniors at age eight. Medium-sized breeds are considered seniors once they are 10 years old, and small dogs, with the longest average lifespans, are only considered senior dogs once they are 11 to 12 years old. 

Welcome to adulthood, Scout!

Why you should consider adopting an adult dog vs. a puppy 

There are many reasons to consider adopting an adult dog instead of a puppy. Every dog is different and comes from their own unique background, but there are plenty of reasons to opt for a more mature pup.

  • Less puppy behaviors. Older dogs have usually grown out of puppy habits of chewing everything, including your brand-new pair of shoes or the cord to your laptop. 
  • Less surprises. Adopting a mixed-breed puppy can mean that their full-grown size is a total mystery. With an adult dog, you know what you’re getting.
  • No potty training. Many older dogs are already house trained. Some may have experience with crate training, too. 
  • Obedience training. Many older dogs already know their manners, including basic commands like sit and stay. And yes, you can absolutely teach an old dog new tricks, too! 
  • Details about the dog’s personality. A previous owner may have been able to give the shelter information on the dog’s personality and traits. You’ll often have a better understanding of the behavior to expect when you adopt an older dog compared to a puppy, whose personality is yet to fully develop. 
  • Socialization. Many older dogs have already been well-socialized. You may be able to find a dog who has previously lived with kids and pets, which makes it easier to choose a dog who will be a good fit for your family and home. 
  • Fewer vet appointments. Caring for a young puppy requires multiple vet visits, and you’ll need to keep up with the puppy vaccination schedule. With an older dog, you’ll have fewer vet visits, and that can keep your cost of dog ownership down (although, of course, any dog is going to be a financial investment).
  • Lots of choices. Shelters tend to be full of older dogs, so you’ll have plenty of pups to choose from. These dogs often represent a wide variety of breeds, so you can think about which breed is right for your home. 
  • Lower adoption fees. Because puppies are in such high demand, many animal shelters lower their adoption fees for adult dogs. You can save money and still get a fantastic pet. 

The challenges of adopting an adult dog

While there are many benefits to adopting an adult dog, you will likely run into some challenges, too. Older dogs who spent years living in their previous home may have a hard time adjusting to a new home. They may exhibit symptoms of separation anxiety, including barking and pacing when you aren’t present. Getting these dogs right into a new schedule within your home can help to make that transition smoother. 

You might also encounter behavioral issues, especially if a dog received limited or inconsistent training, or even abuse in a previous home. If you’re thinking of adopting an adult dog, ask the shelter how long they have had the dog and what behavioral and training assessments they’ve done. Many shelters will carefully observe and work with dogs, so they should be able to inform you about any behavioral issues they’ve found. 

Adult dog medical care

Older dogs, particularly those nearing their senior years, may have more health issues than puppies will. These health issues can range from arthritis to kidney diseases to urinary incontinence and more. Ask the shelter if the dog has received a thorough veterinary examination. A shelter should be willing to share all the results of that exam with you. 

If you plan to adopt an adult dog, you might want to get them hooked up with dog insurance. A base Lemonade pet insurance policy can help cover the veterinary costs associated with unexpected accidents & illnesses. In addition, you can add the Lemonade Preventative or Preventative+ package which can help cover the costs of vaccines, tests, dental cleaning, and even your pup’s annual wellness exam. 

Keep in mind that treatments for medical conditions your pup showed signs of or was treated for before you applied for a policy would not be covered by a pet insurance policy, since they would be considered pre-existing conditions


What questions should I ask my vet when adopting an adult dog?

Your vet will be your partner in caring for your new dog. Once you’ve adopted your dog, schedule an appointment with your vet. Asking the following questions can help you work with you vet to give your pup the care they need: 

  • What type of diet should my dog eat? 
  • How much exercise does my dog need to maintain their weight and overall health?
  • What health conditions does my dog have, and how do I care for or manage them? 
  • Are there any types of tests that we should perform to check for health issues? 
  • Is my dog up-to-date on all necessary vaccines, and are there any additional vaccines that you would recommend? 
  • What flea and heartworm treatment would you recommend for my dog? 
  • When should my dog come in for their next appointment

If your dog’s age isn’t documented, your vet can help to estimate the age by physically examining your dog. Your vet will look for dental tartar, the wear on your dog’s teeth, and other signs like cloudy eyes and gray hairs in the coat to determine your dog’s approximate age. 

Before we go… 

By adopting a dog, you’ll be bringing home a new best friend. And when you choose to give an older rescue dog a forever home, you’ll also have the satisfaction of knowing that you’re helping out a dog in need. 

Adding an older dog to your family can be highly rewarding, and soon you’ll wonder how you ever lived without your new best pal in your life. Age is just a number, especially for a love that will last a lifetime.

Paige Cerulli

Paige Cerulli is a lifelong animal lover and a certified equine massage therapist. She works as a copywriter and content writer, and her work has appeared on American Veterinarian, Northeast Equestrian Life Magazine, Business Insider, and more. Paige lives in Western Massachusetts where she shares her life with three cats, three horses, a flock of ducks, and several foster animals.


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