Cuddles after a long day, unconditional love, and playtime are just a few aspects of dog ownership to look forward to. The other, less lauded part of responsible dog ownership: picking up poop, walking them on cold, dark nights, and vet visits.
As any dog owner would tell you, taking care of a dog requires a lot of time and responsibility. Your dog’s well-being, safety, and happiness will fall on your shoulders. So, are you ready?
Here are 8 things to consider when deciding if it’s time to get a canine companion and how to find the right one for you.
How to know if you’re ready to get a dog
Factor in your lifestyle
Getting a dog will change your life in a number of ways, so it’s important to factor in your current lifestyle to see if you’re ready to commit. Having a dog will alter your daily routine with lots of playtime and frequent potty breaks (no matter the weather!) so you should have some flexibility in your schedule. If you’re getting a puppy, expect to spend double the time on obedience training and potty training. If you like to travel frequently and spontaneously, you’ll have to either bring your dog along, board them, or have a trusted friend dog-sit.
Consider your living space
Will a new pooch jive with the size of your space and the people living in it? You don’t need a backyard to get a new pup, but you should have ample room for your dog and a safe area nearby to walk them. If you’re living in a small space, small breeds like Pugs and Brussels Griffons might be a better choice than a Husky, for example. If you have kids, you’ll want a dog that’s known for being affectionate and friendly like Greyhounds or Golden Retrievers.
If you’re renting, be sure to check the pet policy to see if you’re permitted to a) have a dog and b) have the type of dog you want. Some pet policies specify a size restriction, so you might have to put your dog plans on hold if your living situation doesn’t accommodate them.
Review the cost of owning a dog
The cost of owning a dog for the first year can be as high as $3,221, according to the ASPCA. When you own a dog you’ll be responsible for paying for supplies and services like:
Dog food and treats
Toys for physical and mental stimulation and teething toys
Dog training, dog daycare, or a kennel
Dog walker or sitter
Routine vet visits
Professional grooming or grooming tools
Dog beds, blankets, sweaters, and jackets
Cleaning and hygiene supplies like new puppy pads, poop bags, diapers, wipes, and carpet cleaner
Take some time to tally up any foreseeable expenses along with your cost of living to see if you can budget for a new dog. You can save a few bucks here and there by thrifting basic pet accessories like toys, blankets, and a bowl at first, but these costs will often be reoccurring.
You should also consider the cost of getting the dog itself. For instance, adopting a mixed breed from an animal shelter or rescue will be cheaper than adopting from a breeder.
Consider socialization and behavioral issues
While every dog needs basic obedience training and socialization, there’s still a chance they can develop behavioral issues like aggression and anxiety. Some dogs overreact to environmental factors like sounds, people, or other animals and will need reactivity training. Bear in mind that every dog is different, so you should think long and hard about whether or not you have the time and resources to give your dog the help they need. If your dog does develop behavioral issues, they may require a dog trainer, training classes, or even alternative therapies and medications.
Speak to your family or roommates
Before bringing home a four-legged friend, you’ll want to sit down and discuss owning a dog with the people in your life. Talk about what kinds of changes a dog will bring: Who will be in charge of their feeding schedule? Who will take them out for exercise? You’ll want to make sure everyone’s on board and there’s agreement around how responsibilities will be shared.
If you have kids, you’ll want to educate them on responsible pet parenting. Regardless of their age, your child will need constant supervision around a new dog. Dogs are a child’s best friend – but young kids can unintentionally hurt dogs, and vice versa.
This is also a good time to determine if anyone in the household has allergies, as this could bring your “Should I get a dog?” debate to a screeching halt.
Try fostering first
Instead of jumping right into dog ownership, consider fostering a dog through your local animal shelter first. Fostering a dog is not only the perfect test for prospective pet parents, but it also reduces overcrowding in shelters and prepares dogs for their future home. As a foster dog parent, you’ll provide a loving home, take them to and from adoption and veterinary appointments, and in some cases, participate in training or socialization classes. You won’t make money fostering dogs, but the animal shelter you work with will provide many of the basic necessities you need, and take care of any veterinary bills. If all goes well, who knows – you might just end up keeping your temporary bundle of love!
How to find the right dog for you
Consider canine age
Raising a puppy is very different than raising an adult or senior dog, so it’s important to consider canine age. Puppies are lots of fun and full of life – but the same traits that make them so adorable will also require a high-level of attention. They can also be destructive while they’re in the teething phase: often biting at your ankles and chewing up any furniture, clothes, and toys in sight. They’re also not used to being left alone, which can induce separation anxiety and exacerbate this behavior. Not to mention, you’ll have to deal with housebreaking, basic puppy training, and behaviors like barking and whining.
Some adult and senior dogs still act like puppies, but most will be more subdued. You might not have to deal with housebreaking and training, but older dogs will eventually begin experiencing health problems or even cognitive issues, which can turn into expensive vet visits. This is why it’s so important to understand the value of pet insurance before adopting or purchasing a dog.
Consider dog breed characteristics, not just looks
Many people get lost in the idea of cute eyes and fluffy fur, without ever thinking much about their dog’s characteristics. And while cuteness is always a factor, you should choose your future canine companion based on their personality and demeanor. Do you need a good family dog? Or how about an exceptionally smart dog that can learn lots of tricks?
If you’re active, you might want a dog that’s perfect for hiking trips, like an Australian Shepherd. But if you prefer cuddling on the couch, a French Bulldog might be a better choice. At the end of the day, whether or not your dog breed’s characteristics gel with your lifestyle will matter most. With so many amazing dog breeds to choose from, you’ll need to do lots of research before bringing one home.
Bottom line: Should you get a dog?
If you’ve been indecisive for a while and need to cut to the chase, here are a few good questions to ask yourself:
Do you have time to take a dog on daily walks?
How much time do you have to spend at home with your dog?
Will you need professional pet sitting or boarding services?
Are you willing to change your lifestyle to accommodate a dog?
Can you have dogs where you live? Will the type of dog you want have enough space?
Are you willing to work your dog’s needs into your budget?
Envision yourself a few years down the road – Does a dog fit into your future plans?
Ultimately, you must ask yourself if you’re ready to love a dog unconditionally. If your answer is yes and the rest of the stars align, it could be time for you to get a dog. *Cue happy dance*
And if now’s not the right time, that’s okay too. The important thing is to not act with haste and be honest with yourself in the best interest of you, and your future best friend.
If you do decide to get a dog, it won’t be long before they feel like family, so you want to make sure they live a long and healthy life – and the best way to ensure that happens? Plan ahead, have a saving account or a credit card, and consider pet insurance for your new dog.