Adopting a dog is a major life commitment in terms of time, lifestyle, and finances. And it can be one of the most rewarding things you can do for yourself, your family, and for the dogs. But preparation is key. If you aren’t prepared, things can go bad quickly. That may lead to giving up a new dog soon after bringing it home. One of the biggest reasons that people bring pets to shelters – or bring them back to shelters soon after adopting – is because they have unreasonable expectations for having the “perfect” dog immediately upon getting him home. They were not prepared for all the changes to their lifestyle. Or they don’t have the time or patience to cope with unexpected behavior issues or training. Maybe they lack the financial resources to handle the expenses of owning a pet.
Here are some things to consider when bringing a new dog home:
Why do you want a dog?
Seriously consider the reasons you want a dog. If you want a dog to get you up and moving, can you commit to the time and energy it takes? Most dogs require a minimum of an hour a day of exercise in addition to regular walks. If you choose a high energy breed, they need frequent (if not constant) mental and physical stimulation. They also need to learn when to be still and quiet, and for an active breed, this is a challenge.
Regardless of breed, training will be paramount to controlling behavior issues that can arise. Don’t ignore this, or it will get worse. If you want a dog that will hang out with you on the couch, a low-energy dog might be more your speed. But even they still require at least an hour of exercise a day to stay healthy, and brain games to keep their minds sharp.
It’s a good idea to do your homework before getting a pet. When considering getting a dog, choose a breed that will fit your lifestyle. Be clear about why you want to have a dog in the first place. If you prefer a calm, sedentary lifestyle, you probably don’t want a high energy breed like a border collie, labrador retriever, or pit bull. And if you live an active lifestyle? You’ll want to take your dog everywhere with you on your outdoor adventures. You probably don’t want a miniature breed like a teacup poodle, or a brachycephalic (short-nosed) breed like a pug or bulldog. A short-nosed dog comes with its own set of breed issues, particularly breathing problems. Make sure that your pup will fit in with your lifestyle. It will make training easier, and both you and your new pal will enjoy your time together much more.
Can you afford the time commitment?
Bringing home a new puppy will require time, training, consistency, and lots of patience. If you choose to adopt an adult dog from a shelter or rescue organization, there could also be more issues to consider. Things like reactivity, separation anxiety, possible aggression issues, resource guarding, and various other behavior problems. Training is not as simple as teaching your dog a few commands; it’s a lifetime commitment to a lifestyle of constant training and reinforcement. If you choose to hire a professional trainer, there will be those fees to consider – as well as the time and effort to work with your dog to reinforce what he learns.
Can you afford the vet bills?
Regular shots and exams can run anywhere from $400 to $3,000 per year depending on your vet and what kind of tests he considers standard for annual exams. And that’s not counting anything that might come up: gastrointestinal issues, emergency surgeries, and other possible injuries or health problems. And then there’s flea and tick control and worming medications. Keeping your dog healthy is expensive. And necessary.
Can you afford to keep your dog groomed?
Grooming is an important part of keeping your dog in good codition. A dog’s nails grow pretty fast, and can get so long that they curl under. That can cause injuries to his footpads. Not to mention, if they are too long, you will get scratched when you play with him or when he tries to get your attention with a paw on your arm or leg. Regular bathing, brushing, and coat trims will keep him clean and keep the shedding under control. It will also prevent skin problems. If you choose not to groom your dog yourself, there are regular monthly costs for that too.
Grooming alone can run as much as $100 a month, depending how your groomers charge. Most charge per service, and many add on extra costs based on weight, size, and behavior difficulty. So if you have a large dog that doesn’t cooperate or is afraid, or a tiny dog that bites, there may be an upcharge for that.
Can you afford to feed your pet properly?
Sure, plain ol’ dog chow will work as long as it meets the FDA and AAFCO nutritional requirements. You can find those on the pet food label. It’s inexpensive, running around $300-$400 a year. Premium diets can run anywhere from $60 – $150 per month. But if your dog requires a special diet due to health issues, age, or digestive issues, the costs could be even higher. Feed your pet the best you can afford and consider the overall costs of keeping your pet healthy. For more information about labeling and nutritional requirements, start here: FDA labeling requirements and AAFCO.
Is everyone in the household on board with this decision?
One of the biggest reasons that pets end up back at the shelter is because the whole family isn’t ready to make the lifestyle changes that are inevitable when getting a dog. That can lead to even more behavior issues for Fido. This is a major life commitment for the whole family. Everyone should be involved in training and caring for your new family member.
If you end up being the only one taking care of the dog while everyone else is just overfeeding with treats and playing with Fido in ways that undo all your training work – like encouraging him to jump up on people to play, or letting him on the sofa, while you are trying to train him not to do these things – this will be overwhelming for you and confusing for poor Fido. You will have to work harder to keep him on track with his training. You will both end up frustrated, and you may see some bad behaviors get worse.
Everyone must be on the same page when it comes to training methods and commands, acceptable levels of play, feeding schedules, treat freqency, potty schedules, and crate training. Otherwise not only will your relationship with your dog suffer, but it may make you resentful of him and of your family members.
You’ve thought it through. Now what?
You’ve taken all these things into consideration, and decided that the time to own a dog is not quite yet. Well, there’s still one more thing to consider. Think about fostering. You can have all the joys of working with a dog, and all the trials and tribulations of training. And you won’t be making a permanent commitment. You’ll get to work with different breeds, and figure out what would work best for you and your family. And you’ll be helping a dog get ready for his furever family. Fostering can be a very satisfying option.
If you really feel that the time is right, do one more thing. Consider the impact getting a new dog will have on your and your family’s life, and talk about it. Make sure that the kids know what they need to do. Be prepared to follow through with consequences if they don’t. But keep it reasonable and age-apropriate, just like any other household chore expectations. Be prepared to follow through with your spouse or partner, don’t let them slide. Even after you’ve had a hard day at work, the dog still needs to be walked, fed, and played with. Everyone should take a turn or go on walks as a family. And above all – be prepared to accept and love your dog the way you find him, for the rest of his life. Work every day with him and build a stronger bond.
Is it worth the time and money?
Absolutely. If you keep your expectations for everyone, including Fido, reasonable and your training consistent. You’ll be richly rewarded with a loving, loyal companion for the rest of his natural life. You won’t regret it.
*For more information on adopting or fostering a dog, contact the Jackson County Animal Protection Society.