Best practices for marketing dogs for adoption
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Adoption marketing

We’ve worked with the amazing people from HeARTs Speak to put together the following toolkit for marketing shelter dogs for adoption. HeARTs Speak is a global nonprofit organization uniting art and advocacy to increase the visibility of shelter animals.  

Check out HeARTs Speak’s line of free downloadable resources for more tips, tricks and tutorials on photography and creative marketing. Visit for more information!

Marketing in the animal rescue world isn’t the same as it once was. The internet has changed everything about how we communicate with our communities. It’s also changed how people react to the information we share.

It’s not enough to put up a list detailing a dog’s physical attributes and personality. You need to take those things and craft them into a story in order to gain the public’s interest. You also need to pair that story with great photographs and maybe some videos. 

For an understaffed and/or busy organization, all of this change can sound overwhelming. It’s actually really easy and fun.

The change doesn’t mean that you abandon traditional methods either. On the ground community outreach and shelter promotions are all part of a great adoption marketing strategy. 

Adoption marketing is about telling an engaging story about each individual dog.

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framing a dog's story

Promote Happiness,
Not sadness

Once a dog in your care becomes available for adoption, it’s important to think about how you want to frame their biographical information. That framing will carry through all of your marketing about that particular dog. “Framing” is the tone of the story and the emotion it evokes.

While it may be tempting to focus on the heartbreak of a dog’s story, such as some of the larger well-known organizations do, it’s not something that works for smaller organizations. These large campaigns that utilize sadness typically are designed to raise funds and don’t promote specific pets who are in need of homes. 

Remember that you’re in the business of making people and pets happy. Don’t let a dog’s background overshadow their personality. 

Don't Confuse adoption marketing
with adoption counseling

Focusing on happiness vs. sadness doesn’t mean that you hide a dog’s past from potential adopters. Remember that framing a dog’s story in a purely positive light only relates to marketing. Marketing is not adoption counseling. When that in person meeting happens, that is when you disclose everything you’ve observed, assessed, and know about a particular dog. 


Don’t include every single detail about a dog’s entire life or explain every possible flaw/challenge in a bio or social media post.


Don’t focus on restrictions


Don’t feel bad if the marketing doesn’t lead to the right match


Don’t use industry language or “shelter speak” in your marketing efforts


Do tell a story! A short anecdote about a dog helps to engage potential adopters.


Do stick to positive marketing


Do see this as an opportunity to make the right match


Do use everyday language 

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Photography 101: using your cell phone


Flip Your Phone For Landscape Mode

Almost every online platform is optimized for square or horizontal photos. Vertical images might end up being cropped in odd ways and/or may appear smaller than they are.

Include People In Your Photos

Having people in photos with your shelter dogs sends a message of connection and care. Even if it’s just a hand, arm, or a pair of shoes, it makes a difference with potential adopters. 

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Find the Light: Understanding Your Light Source

Seek out good lighting as opposed to using the flash for a better quality image. If outdoors, wait until the sun goes behind a cloud or find an area of open shade to avoid direct sunlight. This will prevent your image from losing detail and getting washed out. 

Social Media

Which social media network should you use?

The internet has changed everything about our lives, including the way we market and talk about the dogs in our care. Sites like Facebook and Instagram give us the chance to directly and consistently communicate with the members of our community. We can share information about our dogs and our work in real time.

That real-time nature means we’re not only sharing with our community, but we’re buildingcommunity around the dogs in our care. That means more people will care about the dogs, talk about the dogs, and, consequently, more dogs will find homes.

Figuring out how to manage all of the various social networks out there can be stressful. The good news is that you don't have to manage all of them. You only have to manage ONE of them really well.

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Adoption Marketing Toolkit

Find out more on how to market your shelter dogs for adoption by visiting our Marketing Toolkit.

More Shelter Resources

AFF's Complete Resource Library