First, be prepared at home. Make sure you have the time and space for a dog. If you are adopting a large dog, be sure you have a yard with a fence. And, that your fence is in good shape with no holes for escape and high enough to prevent your newly adopted dog from jumping over it.
Newly introduced dogs may panic and will “bolt” with noises, strangers or at the least provocation. It takes a dog a while to understand that this is it’s new home. Do not adopt a dog with the intention of tying or chaining it up in the back yard. This is cruel to the dog and they will develop behavior problems.
Outdoor dogs need a warm dry dog house to get out of the weather and away from the sun. They need a cool place in summer, just as much as they need a warm place in the winter. Summer can be more deadly than winter for large long haired dogs, which are not suited for hot weather. Imagine wearing a long fur coat in the heat of summer! Be sure there is shade, plenty of water and a cool place, preferably with a breeze for your dog in the summertime.
If adopting a small house dog, make sure you have a private space for them that is quiet and secluded. Puppies need nap time and a place to go for time outs. A crate is a must and should be utilized from the first day of adoption for time out, sleep and when you are away for short periods. Do not allow them to roam the house, place them in the crate for short periods.
Second, know what type of dog you want to adopt and be patient. Patience is very hard, especially when you see how many dogs need and deserve a home. Touring a shelter can be very emotional and easily lead to guilt if you find a dog that seems scared and overwhelmed by their experience.
I have a very hard time touring a shelter and not wanting to save them all. But start with one and one that will work out for your situation, so that it is a long lasting relationship and not one where a short term emotional decision leads you down a path of a bad pet relationship and eventually returning the pet. Remember, your selection will be one you live with for years.
If you live in an apartment, it is best not to adopt a large or active breed that requires space, unless you can commit to long walks at least twice a day. Different breeds have different requirements for space, activity and companionship. Adopt a breed that is more suitable for an apartment and avoid a huge, future problem. Understand that adopting a puppy will require much more time and management than an older dog for at least a year or more in large breeds.
Third, observe the dog in their surroundings before selecting which dog to adopt. Watch how they play or interact with other dogs. What happens when you approach? Do they eagerly come up and want to be petted? Or do they cower away into a corner? The one that cowers away will require much more work and understanding of behavior to overcome. Are they unruly, jumping up on you and everyone? If so, an obedience class is a necessity and possibly some home training in-between classes. This will be the best time you ever spend with your dog in having a long lasting and wonderful relationship.
Understand that if you are unwilling to commit the time to an obedience class and the needs of your new dog, you are not ready to adopt a dog.