Applying for a Dog: What They Really Want to Know

So, you’ve found a dog (or dogs) that you want to adopt on Petfinder, or at your local animal shelter. Now, chances are they are going  to give you a very lengthy application to fill out. Here’s why they do it, and what they are actually looking for.

Previous Experience

All applications are going to ask you for your previous experience with other dogs. They want to know how many dogs you have had responsibility for, how long you had them, and why you no longer have them. Our advice to you is to tell the truth. Red flags go off if an applicant misrepresents or doesn’t include an animal they owned on an application.

If you had to rehome a dog, please be honest; good rescues and shelters understand that sometimes this happens. If you can make it clear why it happened and why it’s not going to happen again, it shouldn’t make any difference.

If you’ve had a dog that died early, even if it’s due to an accident, again, just say so. We know that sometimes doors get left open, or that some dogs will simply seize any opportunity to make a break for it, and that bad things can happen as a result. That’s how the world works, and a reasonable organization won’t hold that against you if you explain why it happened and show the steps you have in place to prevent a re-occurrence. Another thing good rescues understand: really old dogs who have never shown a sign of escape artistry will sometimes find a way to get out of the yard so they can find a place to die. It’s extremely traumatizing to the family, but it’s also what dogs do, and telling us this will engender nothing but sympathy for you.

Vet Information

Your application will also ask you for your vet information. This is to see that you have a proven track record of taking your dog in for care. Make sure that you provide all of your vet information, including the phone numbers, to the rescue, and that you call your vet(s) to alert them that a rescue will be contacting them. If you don’t, then your application might be moved down the list. Again, be honest. For example, if you prefer to do titers rather than annual vaccinations, mention that. If you decided to do only palliative care for your senior or ailing dog, explain this. Rescues understand that you have chosen a path of care; what they don’t want to see is that you have neglected to address vetting issues.

Exercise Plan

Rescues will want to know how you plan to exercise your dog. Do you have a dog park nearby? A fenced backyard? Do you plan on regular walks? The goal here is to see if you’ve put some thought into how your new pet will be exercised. If you plan on waiting to see what your dog’s energy level is, that is fine, but you should still indicate you know the options. This will also help you avoid a mismatch between your needs and the dog you’re applying for. It’s even possible the rescue will have a few better options for your situation and point you to them.

These dogs enjoy burning off some energy in a snowy dog park.
These dogs enjoy burning off some energy in a snowy dog park. (Photo Credit: Sarah Naegels via Wikimedia Commons)

Amount of Time Away from Home

Think about this one carefully. You might work an 8-hour day, but what does that turn into when you factor in your commute and things like running errands? The rescue will be able to figure out if you haven’t been realistic. This question falls into the category of questions that are designed to make you think about whether you are ready to adopt a dog. Again, this also helps the rescue prevent you from adopting the wrong dog for your situation. Sometimes great dogs have small bladders or other issues and just can’t deal with too much alone time. It’s better to find that out before you bring one home.


Sometimes you’ll get questions about how large your yard is, and what kind of fencing  you plan to use. Be as specific as possible. You don’t need to know exactly how large your yard is, but an approximate acreage is good.  Also, know what kind of fence you have. Is it chain link? Agricultural? Barbed wire? Electric? What’s the height? How are the gates secured? Some fences don’t work with some dogs, so this is important in making sure that you have found a good match.

A New Guinea Singing  dog is cute next to a chain  link fence. (Photo credit:  Oldsingerman20 via Wikimedia Commons)
A New Guinea Singing dog is cute next to a chain link fence. (Photo credit: Oldsingerman20 via Wikimedia Commons)

Other Dogs in the Home

Hopefully, the shelter will require you to introduce your old dog to your new dog before you bring the new addition home, and it’s something you should insist on if they don’t. Even if all goes well, personality mismatch can still be an issue. Adopting dogs with drastically different energy levels might cause an issue if you aren’t ready for it, and some types of fragile or small dogs might not make good companions for an athletic dog that prefers to play rough. For instance, Greyhounds are fairly large dogs, but they’re frequently injured playing with other breeds because they have fragile skin and relatively delicate bones and joints for their size. Answering questions about your current dog(s) can help the shelter evaluate the situation for potential pitfalls.

Training Plans

This is exactly what it sounds like. How do you plan to train your dog? Classes? Personal trainer? By yourself? What methods do you like, or did you use with previous or current dogs? Do you believe in the philosophy of a specific trainer or expert? Which one(s)?

Why Did you Choose This Particular Dog?

Our rescue asks this, and it has been invaluable in helping to make sure that the adopter has a realistic portrait of the dog. If we have described a terrified dog and you say you want to take him with you everywhere, then it’s possible you have misunderstood what we’ve written.


Some applications will ask you about how you plan to keep the dog secure, or where the dog will be kept in your absence. The goal of this question is to find out if you have considered the fact that your dog might be destructive or otherwise need to be kept in a limited area (e.g. one room) if you aren’t home. Keep that in mind when you answer.

Other Questions About Applying

Should I only apply for one dog at a time? It can take a few weeks for an application to be approved, so if you only apply for one at a time, you could find yourself waiting a few months to get a dog if your application isn’t approved. We recommend applying for several at a time, but make it clear to each group that you are doing so. I would also make sure to keep my information straight. There is nothing less comforting for a rescue than calling about an application for a specific dog only to have the applicant unsure about which dog you are talking about.

What if I’m not approved? This could be because of the specific requirements of the shelter or foster, such as requiring a fenced in yard or wanting a dog to go to a home with children. It could be because the shelter simply feels you’re a bad match for this particular dog. If you travel frequently, and the dog you’re interested in is nervous around strangers or doesn’t board well that would make you a bad choice for that particular dog, but not prevent you from adopting a better fit. If the blanket requirements of one shelter don’t work for you, remember that they vary widely between organizations, so don’t be afraid to try again. Even long time fosters or vets sometimes don’t get the first dogs they apply for.

By Moretta

Moretta will take that applause. Her Twitter is

Leave a Reply