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  • Dog Adoption in DC: Your Complete Guide to Getting Started

    by Emily Bergquist

    By Sarah Swan

    woman sitting on gravel next to golden retriever puppy and they are high fiving each other

    With plenty of dog friendly amenities, open greenspace and access to hiking trails, the D.C. area is one of the top ranked places to own a dog in the country. The decision to adopt a dog is certainly one of the most rewarding choices a pet lover can make. However, knowing where to start can be overwhelming. We’re here to help give you the best tips on dog adoption in D.C., including bonus tips for close-by spots in Virginia and Maryland.  

    Below, we’ll include all the information you’ll need to know about dog laws and regulations in the District, various recommendations of animal shelters and pet adoption websites. We’ll also highlight other resources for new dog owners such as dog friendly trails, dog parks, play groups, vet clinics, local trainers, and retail stores where you’ll be able to find all the items your furry new family member may need.

    D.C. Dog Adoption: Laws and Regulations

    Now that you are seriously thinking about getting a dog, let’s take a look at some of the laws and regulations in D.C. surrounding dog ownership. 

    According to the District of Columbia Municipal Regulations for Animal Control  all dogs must wear a collar with their rabies and registration tags, and must be on a leash that is no longer than four feet. Dogs are not allowed inside public facilities such as restaurants or shops unless they are guide assistant dogs. Dogs cannot be on private property without the consent of the occupant of the property, and dogs aren’t allowed to defecate or urinate on public parking and sidewalks without the owner immediately removing it. If you’re caught not picking up your dog’s waste, you can be fined up to $2,000.

    Rental Agreements

    If you live in an apartment or a residence that is owned by someone other than yourself, most places require fees for animals, and may have their own rules regarding pets. Make sure to check with your apartment rental company or landlord for any additional requirements. 

    Pet Safety Regulations

    In most cities in the country, there are laws that regulate the safety of your dog and other people. Remember to never leave a dog alone in a vehicle that endangers their safety or others. Dogs that are left in yards and other enclosures, or on private property are permitted as long as they don’t pose a danger to people using any public street, highway, or public space.  

    D.C. Dog Breed Regulations

    It’s important to note that DC temporarily banned Pit Bulls and Rottweilers without proper licensing. While the ban no longer exists, private owners and organizations are still allowed to restrict certain breeds from their property. 

    Dog Vaccination Laws in D.C.

    Newly adopted dogs that are 3 months and older are required to be vaccinated against rabies and distemper. Most adoption places provide basic care such as vaccination shots, spay/neutering, and some even provide a complementary first check-up exam with a local vet associated with the adoption center. Your dog will need to be re-vaccinated 12 months after their previous vaccination, and then every three years afterwards,  

    Remember to keep proof of your dog’s vaccination records. You can request a free vaccination record retrieval through Pawprint, a popular app dedicated to keeping your pet’s health information in one, easy-to-access place. Through the Pawprint app, you can request vet records, store and manage records, connect with veterinarians and caretakers, set appointment reminders, and more! For record retrievals in the app, you can request vaccination records for free, or full vet records for $9.99.

    Licensing Your Dog

    After you’ve vaccinated your dog, D.C. also requires dogs over the age of 4 months to be registered within ten days of your adoption. After your pup turns 4 months old, you also have ten days to get them registered. Most adoption places include the registration of a pet license when you adopt, but you can also register your pet on your own if it’s not included in the adoption process. 

    Licenses are required to be renewed annually. You can register your dog by mailing an application to DC.gov, or visiting an approved dog registration location such as the D.C. Animal Care and Control, the D.C. Health/Health Regulations and Licensing Administration, or the Olglethorpe Street Adoption Center and Medical Center. The average cost of registration is $50, however if your dog is spayed or neutered already, the cost can be discounted as low as $15.

    Woman in blouse hugging her black lab while he smiles at the camera

    Dog Adoption in D.C.: Where to Look

    When deciding where to adopt your dog, you’ll want to consider the location, prices, and the adoption process. Some dog adoption locations in D.C. allow you to foster to adopt, giving you the opportunity to care and bond with a dog for a limited time to see if they’ll be a good fit.  This is a perfect option if you have other animals or children, and you’d like to see how well the dog fits in with your family.  

    The D.C. area often has dog adoption events most of which are associated with many of the dog shelters described below. 

    Here is a list of some great local dog rescues and shelters:

    Animal Welfare League 

    Location: Alexandria and Arlington

    Arlington website: https://www.awla.org/ 

    Alexandria website: https://alexandriaanimals.org/

    Overview of Adoption Process:

    Both the Arlington and Alexandria locations have similar adoption processes that begin with an online application. Once your application has been approved, you’ll select the dog you’d like to meet, they’ll place a hold on them, and then you’ll set up a date and time to meet the dog and staff. A home check is not required. You can use the Animal Welfare League’s website search engine to filter specific requirements such as breed, size, gender, age, and color. All of the dog’s information and photos will be displayed on their profile. When you’ve met with your new furry friend, you’ll pay the adoption fees, complete the paperwork, and take your new companion home! 


    The prices for the Alexandria location are $150 for senior dogs, $250 for adults, and $350 for puppies under 6 months. The Arlington location prices are $175 for senior dogs, $200 for adults, and $275 for puppies under 6 months. Adoption fees include a vet visit, vaccines, spay/neuter surgery, heartworm test, microchip. The Arlington location also includes personal I.D. tags and a training service from Fur-Get-Me-Not. 

    Covid-19 Protocol:

    Due to Covid-19, both locations are only offering appointment-only meetings which can be virtual or in-person. When on premises, you must wear a mask at all times. 

    Humane Rescue Alliance and Medical Center 

    Location: D.C.

    Website: https://www.humanerescuealliance.org/.

    Overview of Adoption Process: 

    This D.C. dog rescue has virtual options to adopt as well as virtual behavioral classes. They have a database where you can select an animal, set-up a virtual meet-and-greet, and even conduct an adoption counseling service.  


    Adoption fees are $50 for senior dogs 10 years and older, $100 for dogs 7-9 years, $200 for dogs 6 months to 6 years, and $250 for puppies under 6 months, plus the $15 registration fee.  

    The rescue does offer a discount program for people who qualify. If you are at least 50 years old and adopting a dog 5 years old or older, they’ll waive your adoption fee, though standard adoption procedures will still apply. If you are military and have a military I.D., you’ll receive 50 percent off your adoption fee.

    Covid-19 Protocol:

    The rescue normally offers vaccine clinics, spay/neuter services, dog licenses, and pet medical documents but due to Covid-19 they have all been postponed.

    Rural Dog Rescue 

    Location: in D.C.

    Website: https://www.ruraldogrescue.com/.

    Overview of Adoption Process: 

    This dog rescue in D.C. is dedicated to saving the lives of high-risk dog breeds, senior dogs, sick or injured animals, and rescues from high kill-shelters. Their adoption is completely foster-based, which means when you adopt, the dog will be with a foster family rather than at a shelter. All dogs will be up-to-date on shots, heartworm, and flea/tick prevention.  

    To adopt, you’ll begin by filling out an online application. Once your application has been approved, they’ll conduct a phone interview, check your references, do a background check, and conduct a home visit. After you’ve completed the checklist of requirements, you can either get matched with a dog or select a dog of your choice.


    Adoption fees for all dogs are $400, which includes the adoption contract, and receiving the full vet records. 

    Covid-19 Protocol:

    Due to Covid-19 they are only offering virtual adoption events on Saturdays at 12pm. For more info, you can check out their events calendar:


    Pet Rescue Alliance 

    Location: D.C. Northern Virginia, and Maryland

    Website: https://petrescuealliance.com/.

    Overview of Adoption Process: 

    This shelter’s mission is to rescue dogs that are homeless or found living in poor conditions. They help dogs escape neglect and abuse by placing them in homes that can provide them with the unconditional love they deserve. Since some of these dogs have experienced abuse or neglect, they do require applicants to fill out a questionnaire on their website to make sure you’ll be a good fit. The application process consists of a phone or video interview and a home visit.  


    The adoption fees are $500, which includes their medical expenses, shots, heartworm, and a check-up. 

    Lucky Dog Animal Rescue 

    Location: Arlington

    Website: https://www.luckydoganimalrescue.org/home.

    Overview of Adoption Process: 

    This Virginia dog rescue has weekly virtual adoption events with the goal of making adopting your dog simple and easy. They have a database on their website with available dogs and you can search for specifics such as breed, color, age, and size.  

    After filling out a questionnaire, they’ll do a phone screening with you, and then they conduct a home visit. Once approved you can be matched or you can select a dog of your choice.  


    Prices are $250 for seniors 9 years and above, $350 for dogs 7 months to 8 years, $400 for puppies under 6 months, and $450 for dogs receiving heartworm treatment. Adoption fees include a leash, I.D. tag, and collar.

    K-9 LifeSavers 

    Location: Maryland and various locations in the DMV

    Website: https://www.k-9lifesavers.org/.

    Overview of Adoption Process: 

    This Maryland dog rescue saves dogs from high-kill shelters and other high-risk situations.  They have a list of adoptable dogs online, complete with all the dog’s information and pictures.  

    Their adoption process consists of a questionnaire, a review with an adoption counselor, an interview, review of references and landlord, and a home visit.  If you live in D.C. you don’t have to worry about having a fence, but they do recommend that higher energy dogs receive 3-4 walks a day.  


    Prices are $200 for senior dogs, $300 for young dogs, $375 for puppies under 6 months, and $375 for dogs receiving heartworm treatment. All dogs are spayed/neutered. 

    Covid-19 Protocol:

    They normally have adoption events typically held at various PetSmarts which are posted on their website calendar, however due to COVID-19, all in-person events have been postponed until further notice.

    Lu’s Labs 

    Location: Alexandria

    Website: https://www.luslabs.org/.

    This is the place to go to if you’re looking to adopt a Lab! They are known for going the extra mile for their pups, and have a list of trainers available for all dogs.

    Their website contains a database of all of their available Labs complete with a bio. If you are interested in adopting a dog, you’ll fill out the application online which will ask you about your preferences, your yard set-up, and other information. Then they conduct reference checks, a phone interview, and a home check. Once your information is approved, you can choose the dog that will be a good fit for your life. The adoption process can take up to several months to complete.  


    Prices are $275 for senior dogs, $375 for adults, and $425 for puppies. There is also a $25 application fee on top of adoption prices. 

    Covid-19 Protocol:

    To adhere to social distancing guidelines, home checks will all be virtual for the time being. They also now have the option for virtual training sessions as well. 

    Online Websites

    For those who prefer browsing for your pet options online, Petfinder is a great website that connects people with local rescues and shelters. You can search for animals and filter specifications such as age, breed, size, gender, color, even behavior. Each dog available for adoption has information about them along with the basic adoption process for the local shelter they are located at, including price and contact information for the shelter.

    Washington D.C. Pet Resources

    Yellow lab mic boops nose to camera

    Now that you’ve committed to adopting a dog, you might be wondering about available pet resources such as pet stores, dog parks and trails, local trainers, play groups, and veterinarians.

    Pet Stores and Groomers

    Of course, there are retail stores such as Petco, Unleashed by Petco, and Petsmart. These are big-name stores that will have everything you need.  But if you like speciality stores here is a list of our favorite pet stores in the D.C. area. 

    Location: D.C.

    They have any supply you could need for your new dog along with handcrafted dog treats!

    Location: D.C.

    They have a friendly atmosphere and great selection of goods. Plus, they have adoptions as well.

    Location: D.C. 

    They are a must if you love organic and natural goods! They have raw, organic, premium foods, along with eco-friendly grooming! 

    Location: Alexandria

    They are currently having curbside pick-ups and delivery and have a lot of great doggie goods! 

    Location:  Bethesda, MD

    They offer premium goods, have hand-picked products, and have local involvement. They also offer grooming and delivery of goods! 

    Dog Parks and Trails

    Man hugs golden retriever and looks out onto a beautiful ridge while the golden retriever looks at camera and smiles

    Here are a few popular dog parks and trails in Washington, D.C. that you can check out with your new furry friend:

    • Newark Street Dog Park

    Location: D.C.

    This one is a little smaller but it’s located next to a children’s playground. 

    • Guy Mason Recreation Center Dog Park 

    Location: D.C.

    This one is a big and beautiful place for your pups to play! Plus there is a small trail and playground nearby.

    • Swampoodle Dog Park and Playground 

    Location: D.C.

    This is worth a check-out! They have really cool structures that your dogs can play on, plus it’s huge! 

    • Shirlington Dog Park

    Location: Arlington

    This one is next to an Arlington trail and stream, located near Shirlington. It is great for dogs that like to go into the stream, and they have sections for big and small dogs. 

    • Glencarlyn Dog Park 

    Location: Arlington

    Like the Shirlington Dog Park, this one has trails nearby (and connects to the Four Mile Run trail) and has a pretty great space for your dogs to play. Plus the stream is nearby. 

    Dog Training 

    Here is a short list of local dog trainers in Washington, D.C. to check out:

    • WOOFS! Dog Training Center 

    Location: NoVa

    Website: https://woofsdogtraining.com/

    Woofs! is a great choice for the Northern Virginia area. They are professional, use science-based methods, and believe in real-life results. 

    • Building Bloch Dog Training, LLC 

    Location: Maryland

    Website: https://www.bbdogtraining.com/

    They focus on establishing a good relationship with your dog in order to get the best training results. 

    • Spot On Training 

    Location: D.C.  

    Website: https://www.spotondogtrainingdc.com/

    They believe in using positive motivation to get desired behaviors, which sets your dog up for success.

    Doggie Meet-Up Groups 

    Getting your dog properly socialized with other dogs and people is important in establishing good behavior. There’s an excellent app called Meetup, which has many doggie meet-up groups on it.  

    Another great website for local pet parents groups is the Daily Barker, which also has a link to Meetup. Some of the groups on Meetup in the D.C. area include:

    • DMV Small Playgroup- DC
    • DC Area Dog Happy Hour FUn and Playgroup
    • Friendly Dogs walking on-leash with their humans in N. VA
    • Georgetown Little Dogs Meetup
    • DC Bark Happy Dog Meetup
    • Alexandria/Arlington Dog Playgroup Meetup
    • Silver Spring Active Dogs Meetup Group

    D.C. Veterinary Practices

    Whether it’s a regular check-up, vaccination update, or health emergency, you’ll want to choose the vet who will provide the best care for your pet. Here is a short list of great local vets and animal hospitals:

    Vets in Washington, DC:

    Vets in Alexandria, Virginia

    Vets in Arlington, Virginia

    You can find more information and read reviews on these veterinarian clinics in the Pawprint app. 

    Red haired woman holds up beagle and kisses him while the beagle licks his nose

    Ready Set, Bring Home Your New Pet!

    Once you know the basics of how to adopt a dog in D.C. , you’ll be able to find your furry family member in no time. Barkly is here to help you with your petcare needs from daily walks to overnight pet sitting and training. Sign up today to find reliable pet care professionals in your neighborhood!

    About the Author

    Sarah Swan is an avid dog lover who has been with Barkly over three years and loves taking care of and walking dogs.  When not walking dogs, she loves drawing, painting (even dog portraits), writing, graphic design, playing the ukulele, and pretty much anything that is creative.  She is currently working with children but loves to walk dogs in the evenings, weekends, or whenever she is free!

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