This article is from the Your New Dog FAQ, by Cindy Tittle Moore with numerous contributions by others.
There are a good many places you can find a grown dog. Besides the
obvious, like shelters, there are other sources. For example, breed
rescue organizations have many suitable adult dogs. Breeders often
have dogs that they have retired from the show circuit and are not
breeding; they also have younger dogs that simply never fulfilled the
potential that they showed as a puppy and thus cannot be shown or
bred. Both are otherwise perfectly good dogs.
Sometimes people give up their dogs because of death or divorce or
other personal upheaval. Perhaps the dog was intended for work, but
was injured and rendered unfit. An adult dog in need of a home is not
necessarily an abused dog with an unknown background.
Ask local veterinarians. They often know of dogs that need adoption.
Shelters, of course, are a very obvious place to get adult dogs, but
it can be hard to get an idea of the dog's true behavior and
potential. Some breeds, like Shelties, may absolutely shut down in a
shelter and will appear to have behavior problems when they really
don't. Find out how much time and about the physical space your local
shelter is prepared to give you for evaluating dogs--beware of
shelters that won't even let you take the dog out of the kennel run to
see it! If the shelter will let you take the dog out on a lead and
spend some time playing with it you can generally get a good idea of
the dog's potential. Count on spending some time working with the
shelter staff to find the right dog for you.
Keep in mind that many dogs are at the shelter because their owners
couldn't or wouldn't keep the committment they had made by getting the
dog in the first place, not that the dog was at fault. Reasons include
"not enough time for the dog," "moving to another place," "dogs not
allowed where living," "divorce," and "not enough space." Frequently
dogs with behavior that the previous owners could not handle are fine
in new homes. As long as you scrutinize your potential dog carefully
_and_ you are prepared for the work of owning a dog, you are not
likely to wind up with a problem dog or a problem situation.
About 25% of the dogs at shelters are purebred! If you have a specific
breed in mind, you can check your shelters regularly in case one comes
in. Keep in mind that even if the dog arrives at the shelter with its
papers, many shelters will withhold the papers since they don't want
to see people take such a dog and then breed it. You might get its
pedigree without the registration, but even that's uncertain. Many
shelters will take down your name and the breed you are interested in
and call you when one comes in.
If you don't care about the breed, you can check your local shelters
for a dog that you want. You _should_ have some idea of what size and
coat type you prefer before going in.
You can contact a local breed rescue organization. These organizations
will scout shelters for dogs of their breed, take them in, evaluate
them, and put the adoptable ones up for placement. They can give you a
good idea of the dog's temperament and known background.
Most major breeds are represented in most major cities. You can always
contact AKC for the address of the national breed club which you can
in turn ask about local addresses.
Or, you can contact local breeders and see if they have older dogs
that they are trying to place. Sometimes a puppy that is kept as a
show prospect does not fulfill it's earlier promise and is
subsequently placed. Sometimes a brood bitch or a stud dog is retired
and the breeder looks for a suitable home for it. Some breeders do
keep their older pets, but in many cases find that a loving home for
it is in the dog's best interests. Breeders too have dogs that are
returned to them for any number of reasons: dog turns out to not be
show-quality, people are moving and can't keep the dog
Go to dog shows and ask around, or contact a breed club (note: for
some clubs, referrals to "rescue" dogs are handled by one volunteer,
whereas the puppy referral service also handles dogs that were
returned to their breeder--so when contacting a breed club, make sure
you've made contact with all the appropriate people).
Vets and kennels sometimes have abandoned dogs they are happy to place
into good homes; call around.
People sometimes give away or sell dogs through the newspaper: ask
carefully about why the dog is being given up. Many people are not
very knowledgable about dog behavior and will not be aware of if
problems are the result of heredity or the result of their own
mishandling. There is an advantage here of being able to see how the
dog was kept and get an idea of relationship between previous owner
and the dog. Sometimes the family is moving, or has lost some income,
or there have been deaths or other upheavals where the dog's behavior
is not an issue. Do make sure you don't feel pressured into taking the
dog just because the person wants you to take it.