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How To Adopt a German Shepherd: Step-By-Step Guide

Last Updated: February 20, 2024

Adopting a German Shepherd should be straightforward, given their status as one of the most beloved breeds worldwide. However, navigating the adoption process from start to finish might initially seem intimidating.

It doesn’t have to be a challenge, though. Bringing a German Shepherd into your home can be a smooth and rewarding experience with the right knowledge and approach.

To adopt a German Shepherd, research reputable shelters or rescue organizations. Apply, providing details about your living situation and experience with dogs. Attend a meet-and-greet with the dog, and if it’s a match, complete the adoption paperwork and pay any fees. Ensure your home is prepared to welcome your new pet.

A German Shepherd can make a wonderful addition to your family. But, as with any significant decision, the path to adoption is paved with considerations and steps vital for ensuring a successful integration into your home.

In this guide, I’ll share insights and practical advice to navigate the adoption process smoothly. From selecting the right rescue organization to preparing your home for its newest member, we’ll ensure you’re well-equipped to welcome a German Shepherd into your life.

Key Takeaways:

  • Understanding the adoption process is paramount for a smooth experience welcoming a German Shepherd into your home.
  • Knowing where to find reputable shelters or rescue organizations can significantly ease the adoption journey.
  • Preparing your home and lifestyle for a German Shepherd is essential for a successful integration into your family.
A German Shepherd in a kennel peering out and hoping to be adopted.

The Journey to Adoption

Embarking on the journey to adopt a dog is an adventure filled with anticipation and preparation.

Here, we’ll outline the essential steps to navigate the adoption process, ensuring you’re ready to welcome your new loyal companion with open arms.

1. Deciding to Adopt a German Shepherd

Adoption comes second after purchasing among the methods of owning dogs. But why do dog owners seek to adopt rather than buy?

The most obvious reason is that people seeking to adopt a dog are concerned about animal rights and their need for a caring and safe home.

It is a fact that the number of dogs in rescue shelters and needing a home is decreasing.

According to an article in Animals Journal, this downward trend is linked to responsible dog ownership, spaying and neutering practices, increased adoption cases, and lost dogs being reunited with their owners. 

Despite this decrease, many dogs in public and private rescue shelters still look out of their cage mesh every day, hoping that someone will turn up and decide to take them home.

Young GSD Chewing Stick

Another significant number is at risk of being euthanized because they are aged and sick and cannot find someone to adopt them.

To get a clear picture of the situation, consider these statistics from the ASPCA regarding the population of pets/dogs in shelters, their adoption or reunion with their owners, and their possibility of being euthanized:

  • Among the 6.3 million pets that end up in shelters in the US, 3.3 million are dogs. This is a decline from 3.9 million dogs in 2011.
  • Around 1.5 million pets in shelters are euthanized each year in the US, and among these, 670,000 of these are dogs. This is also a decline from 2.6 million total pets euthanized in 2011.
  • About 3.2 million pets are adopted from shelters each year in the US. Dogs account for 1.6 million of these.
  • Approximately 710,000 pets from shelters are reunited with their owners every year in the US. Six hundred twenty thousand of these are dogs.

It is clear that many dogs end up in shelters each year, and some miss out on the possibility of adoption.

Providing a secure and loving environment is the foremost motivation for dog adoption. Highlighted below are three pivotal reasons why adopting a German Shepherd might be the right decision for you:

  • Adopting a German Shepherd reduces the number of dogs waiting for a safe and loving home.
  • Like all other dogs, German Shepherds impounded in public shelters risk being euthanized in 5-7 days, according to most state holding period laws. 
  • Every German Shepherd that is adopted leaves room for another dog that needs shelter, and the adoption cost helps care for other dogs in the shelter.

You would expect the most popular dogs in US homes, like the German Shepherd, won’t be in rescue shelters.

GSDs are often listed among rescue shelters’ most common dog breeds. This reason alone would be good enough to adopt a German Shepherd. 

Nevertheless, there are also breed-related reasons for which you can decide to adopt a German Shepherd.

Consider these two:

  • German Shepherds are intelligent dogs, and even though you usually adopt them as adults, they can still adapt and learn new skills. Check out my article, Is It Ever Too Late To Train a German Shepherd?
  • German Shepherds are loving and loyal. As soon as they realize you are their new companion, they will bond and be devoted to you. 
Sad German Shepherd waiting for adoption. Adopt a German Shepherd

When researching how to adopt a German Shepherd and subsequently deciding to adopt, you should also assess your suitability. Go on to step 2.

2. Assessing Your Suitability for Adopting a GSD

A survey by the AKC rescue network indicated that the three top reasons people surrender their dogs are…

  • They discover that the breed is not the right one for them.
  • They lack time to dedicate to the dog.
  • They have changed their lifestyle.

These reasons underscore why it is important to understand if you will be a good parent to your adoptive GSD before proceeding with the adoption process.

One way to assess your suitability for a German Shepherd is to understand the key breed traits and needs and your readiness to adapt and meet these needs.

For a quick overview, here are 5 GSD traits that can help you gauge if you are a good fit for the breed.

Lonely German Shepherd with sad eyes behind bars in animal shelter waiting for new owner.

High-Energy Dog 

The German Shepherd needs 2 hours of exercise daily as a high-energy dog. Lack of exercise can cause them to become destructive.

Ask yourself the following questions to see if you can meet your GSD’s daily need for exercise:

  • Do you have the time for an hour of exercise in the morning and an hour in the evening every day?
  • Would you consider signing your GSD for agility classes? 
  • Would you pay someone to meet your dog’s daily exercise needs if you cannot?

Leash walking alone will not be enough for your German Shepherd. You must vary his exercise needs with off-leash running and play, frisbee, fetch, flyball, or agility.


As a smart dog, the German Shepherd needs constant mental stimulation. This can be done through games or by teaching your pet new tricks and advanced commands (beyond the simple “sit” and “come”).

Ask yourself:

  • How much time and patience would you devote to teaching your adoptive dog new commands, games, and tricks daily, considering the dog may already have learned different behaviors in the shelter or with a previous owner?
  • Are you willing to hire a professional to help with training if you cannot accomplish the same?
  • Would you enroll your adoptive GSD in dog sports or obedience classes? 

Costly to Own

German Shepherds can be costly to own.

Let’s take food, for example. If you have a medium energy, smaller sized GSD with a weight of around 66lb (30kg) and you choose to give a top-quality food like Royal Canin German Shepherd Adult Dry Dog Food, the suggested daily amount is around 4 cups a day (given in two servings).

Each cup is 0.5lb (0.22kg), so your dog takes 2lb (0.9kg) a day, equivalent to 60lb (27kg) in a month. If you buy the 30lb bag that sells for around $75.00, you’ll need two bags per month, costing $150 monthly and $1,800 for a year. The key question to ask here is:

  • How much are you willing to spend to own a German Shepherd?

Food costs are only the start, as you must consider veterinary fees, vaccination costs, deworming and flea treatments, toys, beds, pet insurance, and other equipment.

For the full costs of owning a German Shepherd, I have an in-depth article here that will give you a far better idea of what you will be looking to pay.

Health Conditions

Even though German Shepherds are generally healthy dogs, they can be prone to some health conditions, such as hip dysplasia and Degenerative Myelopathy.

For example, a study found that German Shepherds were 4.95 times more prone to hip dysplasia when compared to Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and Rottweilers, and the condition worsened with age for all breeds.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you ready to offer the best health care for your German Shepherd dog by ensuring regular vet visits and the recommended nutrition for better health?
  • Can you afford to take out a suitable dog insurance policy? This is highly recommended for both your budgeting and peace of mind.
  • Would you still be dedicated to caring for your German Shepherd if he developed a health condition? 

Heavy Shedding

German Shepherd being brushed with a de-shedding tool.
My German Shepherd Willow

The German Shepherd is a heavy shedder who molts all year round. Their level of shedding is also higher in spring and fall in preparation for the summer heat and the winter cold.

This is known as “blowing their coat” and means you must regularly brush your dog’s fur and be ready to put up with quite a bit of mess around the house! 

The questions you should assess yourself on are:

  • Do you have time for regular grooming of your German Shepherd, especially in the spring and fall, when they shed more than in other months?
  • Are you willing to spend on grooming products for your German Shepherd?
  • Would you hire the services of a professional groomer if you can’t meet your dog’s regular grooming needs?

If you consider yourself willing to adapt to these traits and dedicate yourself to a German Shepherd’s needs, you are ready for the third step in the adoption process. You can now find a reliable rescue or shelter.

3. Find a Rescue Center to Adopt From

One of the easiest ways you can find a German Shepherd Dog to adopt is to talk to vets, groomers, and trainers who have worked with owners of adoptive GSDs. You can also talk directly to GSD owners who have adopted pets.

If this does not give you the answer you’re looking for, contacting animal welfare societies, rescues, and shelters or searching online for German Shepherds listed for adoption will surely bring a good outcome. 

One advantage of seeking to adopt in shelters and rescue centers is that they usually have information about the dog’s history. You can use this to judge if the German Shepherd you identify is right for you.

Learn More on Adopting a Dog From a Shelter…

You can contact German Shepherd Rescue and Shelters through national or regional breed clubs or search the internet for possible contacts. I give you an overview of these options. 

Search the AKC’s Rescue Network 

The American Kennel Club rescue network is the largest in the US and consists of unique groups whose rehabilitation/fostering is ensured until dogs can find a new home.

Volunteers in the rescues and shelters will give you complete information about the German Shepherd’s history and any behavioral or health issues so you can make an informed choice about bringing your adoptive GSD home.

The AKC rescue network contact list names around 40 rescues and shelters specializing in the German Shepherd Dog. You can contact all these rescue centers and seek information regarding the possibility and terms of adoption.

I highlight the uniqueness of 5 randomly sampled rescues/shelters:

  • Shepherds Hope Rescue is a unique initiative that does not operate as a shelter. Instead, volunteers house the German Shepherds in their homes or foster homes. They may also board them with kennels or dog sitters until someone can adopt them and take them home. 

Dogs from this rescue are tested for health issues, vaccinated, neutered/spayed, and observed for behavioral problems.

You can initiate the adoption process by applying online from the rescue’s website. The rescue serves the Greater Metropolitan New York and Long Island area.

  • Greater California German Shepherd Rescue is a public charity non-profit and all-volunteer rescue that works to rescue dogs from risky situations and find them a loving and safe home. They are not a shelter but keep the dogs in foster homes.

This rescue initiative does not take in stray dogs and will only take GSDs surrendered by their legal owners.

The rescue serves communities around Greater Sacramento, Merced, Modesto, South Lake Tahoe, and parts of the East and North SF Bay area.

  • BrightStar German Shepherd Rescue is another all-volunteer non-profit organization working to save German Shepherd Dogs by caring for them or finding them foster care until they can be adopted. The rescue shelter is based in Rochester, New York. 
  • Bay Area German Shepherd Rescue, a non-profit organization, works with German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois. They receive dogs from shelters or owners who can no longer care for their dogs and place them in foster homes. They also study the GSDs for some time before making them available for adoption.
  • Mid-Atlantic German Shepherd Rescue works for the rehabilitating and rehoming of German Shepherds and Shepherd mixes. They welcome stray dogs and receive those transferred from other organizations and those from shelters and owners who surrender their dogs.
Two female German Shepherds playing together.

Search Pet Adoption Websites

Apart from the rescue groups listed in breed club networks, you can also search adoption sites, filtering your search to focus on the German Shepherd breed. Here are three examples of adoption sites you can target:

Petfinder is an online directory of adoption organizations and animal shelters across the US, Mexico, and Canada and a database of animals needing a home.

On its “dogs for adoption section,” the Petfinder website lets you search for a dog of your preference by specifying details related to the breed, age, size, gender, coat type, and color, and your preferred rescue or shelter, among others.

Adopt a Pet is a non-profit adoption advertising charity site headquartered on Indian Hill Blvd., Claremont, CA. The site helps homeless pets in shelters find a new owner and home.

You can search the site by specifying the breed, location, and distance you are looking for the pet, sex, and age.

Dogtime has its headquarters in Los Angeles and has a long history of rescuing pets, among other initiatives. The website features an “adopt a dog tool finder” that can help you filter your search according to the breed and the area you are in. 

Adopt Through Animal Welfare Societies 

Animal welfare societies are non-profit organizations working for the welfare of animals in the light of animal rights and ethics.

Two of these organizations that facilitate the adoption of dogs are the Best Friends Animal Society and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). 

On the “adopt a pet” section of the Best Friends Animal Society, you can search through available dogs to see if you find your desired German Shepherd and, consequently, apply for adoption from the website.

The ASPCA website also has an “adopt a dog” section, and you can visit their adoption center on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, NY, or at local Petco stores and foster homes in LA.

With a shelter or rescue where you can adopt a German Shepherd, you can now proceed to step 4 – making contact by phone and visit.

4. Visit the Chosen Shelter or Rescue Center 

Your search for the right place to find your adoptive German Shepherd will probably conclude with a phone call and a visit.

This should determine if it is the right place to adopt from and if a German Shepherd you have identified through your search is the right dog for you.

When you visit, you should be keen to notice signs of unreliable rescues or shelters.

German Shepherd Waiting to be Adopted

Here are a few indicators to determine if a rescue or shelter is reliable.

As entities interested in the welfare of homeless dogs, reliable and genuine dog rescues and shelters should be legally registered as 501(C)(3) organizations.

This means that these organizations are exempt from federal tax by the US International Revenue Code.

A Long History of German Shepherd Rescue

Without implying that new shelters and rescue centers cannot be reliable and reputable, one with many years of existence has made valuable experiences about adoption and separated the best practices from not-too-good ones.

For example:

  • A shelter with years of experience may want to visit your home and ensure the German Shepherd will have a safe and loving home before letting you complete the adoption process. 
  • With long years of experience, shelters will study a new dog to ensure it’s ready for adoption before placing it on their adoption list.

Knowledge of the Dog’s History

A reliable place for adoption should be run by people who can answer all your questions about your prospective German Shepherd’s history. These questions may cover issues such as:

  • Whether the dog was a stray or surrendered by its legal owner and why.
  • If the dog has undergone all the recommended vaccines and tests.
  • If the dog has any health and behavioral issues.

Adoption Commitments

Like you, those in the rescue or shelter where you intend to adopt your GSD should have the dog’s welfare at heart.

As such, they will require you to follow certain procedures and sign an adoption contract. Reliable shelters and rescue centers:

  • Will not allow you to adopt a dog without any written contract. Giving you a German Shepherd without a written contract should be a clear red flag.
  • Will not require you to commit to a certain dog before you have visited or expressed your willingness to commit to it. 
  • Clauses like “I will not return the dog under any circumstance” are not included in an adoption contract. Instead, some may grant you a trial period and require you to return the GSD if you cannot take care of it.

Adoption Cost

German Shepherds can be costly to buy, but not so with adopting. Usually, animal welfare societies, shelters, and rescues cover all the costs of caring for the dog, even though some will ask you for a minimum adoption fee.

Any rescue or shelter asking you for an adoption fee equivalent to a buying price would breach its non-profit status.

For example, the Mid-Atlantic German Shepherd Rescue mentioned earlier indicates that they spend more than $300 for every rescued dog.

This means heartworm and tick/flea control expenses amount to around $145, and the expenses to kennel the dog may go up to $600. The rescue asks for an average adoption fee of $335.

Older dogs are generally adopted for less than younger ones. This implies that you may pay a little more if you adopt a puppy and less if you adopt an adult GSD.

Some rescues may ask for a little more in adoption fees. For example, the Bay Area German Shepherd Rescue asks for $400 for puppies and adult German Shepherds.

Your move to contact or visit a shelter or rescue will presumably conclude with identifying a GSD for adoption. You can now proceed to step 5 – completing your adoption application.

5. Completing the Adoption Procedures

In this adoption step, the animal welfare society, rescue, or shelter where you intend to adopt your German Shepherd Dog will require you to complete the following final adoption procedures.

Make an Application

An application is a written expression of your intention to adopt a German Shepherd. Most organizations will ask you to fill out an application form (online or otherwise) with details related to the following areas:

  • Personal and contact details (names, sex, age, address, home, work phone numbers, email, etc.)
  • Reasons for adoption
  • Plans for training your German Shepherd
  • Nature of family and lifestyle
  • Previous pet ownership
  • Reference to a veterinarian
  • The declaration of having a certificate of good conduct
  • Your occupation
  • Your knowledge and involvement with dogs and dog clubs (may be specific to the breed)
  • Your willingness to sign and be bound by an adoption contract

See examples of the BrightStar German Shepherd Rescue and the Bay Area German Shepherd Rescue application forms. 

Visit the Center

Visiting a center with dogs for adoption may be done during the previous search step. However, some centers will only allow you to visit once the application has been made. 

This is the case with the Bay Area German Shepherd Rescue, where you first apply, wait for a response from the rescue, then identify a dog on their website before contacting the adoption counselor.

A meeting with the prospective adoptive GSD is only arranged after that. 

In whichever step you visit the center, the expectation is that you will identify your future dog. 

Introducing the Dog to Your Family

Introducing your adoptive German Shepherd to the family (including other pets you may already have) can be done in two ways.

The shelter may require you to visit the center first to meet the dog before bringing him/her to your home for a visit. Some shelters will proceed with a home visit. 

Once this is done and they are sure that the GSD and you are a good fit, then signing the adoption contract follows.

Sign an Adoption Contract

The adoption contract gives you ownership of the German Shepherd, entrusting the pet’s welfare to you and your family rather than the rescue or shelter.

Adoption contracts may have clauses requiring you to return the dog to the shelter if, for any reason, you are unable to take care of it. At last, you can now move to the final exciting step – bringing your dog home!

6. Bring Your German Shepherd Dog Home

With the contract signed, you can now pay the adoption fee and bring your German Shepherd home.

Ensure you have purchased everything you need, such as a comfy bed or crate, toys, leash, collar, harness, bowls, food, and treats.

Depending on your experience, you can hire the services of a professional trainer to take care of your dog’s obedience classes. This will create a solid basis for a loving, loyal, and long-lasting bond between you and your new friend. 

To do list

Final Thoughts

Adopting a German Shepherd Dog is not for everyone; however, if you have decided to adopt and are suited to the breed, at least you know how to go about it.

You can now find a shelter or rescue center with GSDs for adoption, visit the center, and eventually complete the adoption process by making an application and signing the contract.

Before you know it, your new, gorgeous companion will be ready to come home. Good luck!

Sharon Waddington
Sharon Waddington is the founder of World of Dogz. With over 30 years of experience working with dogs, this former Police Officer has seen it all. But it’s her trusty German Shepherd, Willow, who steals the show as the inspiration behind this website. As Sharon’s constant companion Willow has played a pivotal role in shaping her passion for dogs. Recently, Sharon has become deeply passionate about the plight of rescue dogs and is an active advocate for dog rescue, striving to make a difference in the lives of dogs in need.

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