Part 1: Are You Ready to Own a Dog?

So you want to get a dog. You probably have an image in your head about your ideal canine companion, running alongside you in the park and waiting for you when you return home every day. Maybe you’ve just seen an adorable puppy that you want to bring into your house and play with and raise into adulthood. No matter what your reasons, it’s safe to say that at this stage, you’re focusing on what’s great about having a dog around. And it’s true — dogs are great!

But before you actually go out and get a dog, you have to rationally and honestly figure out if you are ready for a dog. Pet ownership is completely voluntary, of course, and yet every year millions of pets are abandoned and unable to find a new home. Owners desert pets for many reasons, but in most cases the reasons are both foreseeable and avoidable. Be it a ‘flaw’ in the dog or a circumstance in the owner’s life, it’s the dog who suffers. As a prospective owner it’s your responsibility to make sure that you are ready to own a dog and then figure out what type of dog would be best suited to your needs and circumstances. Without this preliminary work, dog ownership becomes impulsive and, in too many cases, problematic.

So are you ready to own a dog? The following are some questions to ask yourself before you decide:

Can you afford it?

Buying a dog can vary wildly in cost, depending on a number of factors such as the breed’s popularity and purity, where you buy it from, and your particular dog’s background. In most cases the cost of spaying/neutering your dog will be included in this figure.  If you are on a limited budget, it’s best to go for a mixed-breed or rescue dog. Vaccinations and dog accessories are other one-time expenses that you can factor into your budget right at the beginning.

But far too often, prospective owners fail to take the cost of raising a dog into account – costs which are not only ongoing but can spike due to illness or special needs. Some of the regular costs of owning a dog include: food, veterinarian bills, grooming, training (if you avail the services of a professional trainer), dog coats, collars, leads, shampoos and toys. It’s important to budget for these things and also to have some flexibility for cases of illness, injury or special dietary needs.

How long are you gone each day?

Puppies need a lot of care and supervision during the day, especially while in training. Puppies also need daily exercise. Even if you get an adult dog, it will need to be walked and fed on a routine. No pet likes the experience of spending most of the day alone, waiting for his owner. Dogs that spend large periods of time alone can also develop separation anxiety or other behavioural problems.

If you want to get a dog but will be at work for a large part of the day, you can hire a dog walker to make sure that your pet gets sufficient and regular exercise. If you ever go out of town and do not know where to leave your puppy, I recommend you look in to a great dog dog daycare. Do the required research before making your decision. Another alternative, if you have a fenced-in yard, is to build an outdoor kennel for your dog, but that will also limit your options to already-grown dogs and it may not be a year-round solution if you live in an area with very hot summers or cold winters. If you ever go out of town and do not know where to leave your puppy, I recommend you look in to a great dog daycare facility.

Do you have children?

Children are often the reason for getting a dog, but dogs are not always ideal companions for children younger than 8 years of age. Young children don’t always understand that a pet is not a toy and can inadvertently injure or provoke a dog. Your readiness to get a dog will depend not only on your children’s ages and maturity level, but also your own ability to supervise them when they are together. And remember that if you get a puppy, it will require a lot of attention and care — time that you would not want to take away from your children. A cute puppy might also grow up to have unexpected physical or temperamental characteristics that don’t gel with children.

Bringing a dog into a house with children requires research into child-friendly breeds. You should also consider getting an adult dog, since he is likely to be housetrained and less needy and unpredictable than a pup.

How often do you travel?

Do you travel a lot, for business or pleasure? If so, who will take care of the dog in your absence? Don’t assume that you will be able to travel with your dog, whether on business or otherwise — generally speaking, travel is not a great experience for dogs, and most hosts (and hotels) don’t appreciate or allow the inconvenience.

If you’re a frequent traveller, research your available options, their cost and quality, in case you cannot take your dog along. Will you count on family, a kind neighbour or another volunteer? Do you have access to a pet boarding facility that can provide reasonable and high-quality care and pet boarding services? Whether you plan on leaving your pet with a neighbour, a professional dog sitter, or in a pet boarding facility, remember that it will require aligning schedules and/or checking references beforehand. It’s best to have more than one dog boarding or pet boarding facility options to choose from when the time comes.

Can your living space accommodate a dog?

The size of your living space is not a deal breaker, but it’s a crucial factor in determining what breeds will work best for you. Having a large outdoor area, such as a fenced-in garden, where your dog can run and play around means that you will have your pick of breeds to choose from, but as the space becomes smaller, so do the number of breeds that can thrive in it. Many breeds do well in apartments, but they still need to be taken out several times a day.

All breeds need some regular exercise, so if you don’t have a play-area for your dog, find out how close the nearest dog park or dog-friendly space is where you can let your dog off-lead and whether the distance will be feasible in all seasons.  If your house has a lot of fragile or breakable items, factor that into your search by going for small dogs that don’t have high energy levels. Finally, if you are a renter, make sure that your landlord is okay with you having a dog in the house.

Do you have allergies or asthma?

Dog hair can aggravate existing allergies and asthma in you or your family members. You may also have breed-specific allergies that will need to be tested before making the final decision. Dogs with thick coats can also bring in irritants like pollen. Single-coated or short-coated breeds that don’t shed much hair are best in such case, although some extra dusting and cleaning will still be required to protect yourself and your family from problems.

Can your household handle the shared responsibility?

So many dogs that end up at rescue homes were adopted in the first place because children promised to do all the work and their parents expected them to. Don’t make the same mistake. Even if you’re getting a dog to appease your children, and even if they solemnly swear to take care of him, you’ll be the one doing most of the work — be it training, making sure he has the right food or taking him to the vet. If you are a parent, you have to be prepared to handle the work.  If not, it’s much better — for you, your kids and the dog — to firmly say no to your children.

But dog-owning really is a shared responsibility when it comes to the adults of the house. A new puppy and his numerous needs can put stress on a relationship, so make sure you and your partner are on the same page right from the beginning regarding responsibilities and finances. If you are a single parent or planning to add to your family, wait for your children to be an appropriate age and make sure that you have the time and resources required to own and care for a new pet.

Can you make a life-long commitment to your pet?

Adopting a dog means taking responsibility for its care for the rest of his life. As much as we want to be, not all of us are in a position to make such a commitment. College students, for instance, often adopt a dog when they first move out of dorms into independent housing, but then a job comes up or they have to share an apartment in the city, and the dog has to go. Of course there are unforeseen circumstances that can come up in any pet ownership, but you should do everything you can to make sure that you will be able to provide your pet a stable and loving home throughout his life.

Finally, can you find the right dog — given your needs and limitations?

By now you know your own limitations when it comes to getting a dog and the importance of researching breeds based on those limitations. How does that change the picture you began with? You might have your heart set on a toy dog, but if you have young children, you know you shouldn’t. You might love the idea of competing in dog shows, but unless you have the space to raise and practice with your dog, it won’t work.  Given what you now know, can you find a breed that works for you?

It’s hopefully clear that owning and raising a dog is a lifelong, somewhat expensive and unpredictable responsibility. If you are not ready for it, or find yourself in doubt, it is really okay to wait until you feel better suited to it. This is a hard reality for dog lovers to face, but remember that it’s much better not to have a dog than to have one and then neglect or abandon it due to foreseeable conditions.

If you are indeed ready, the above questions will have given you a clearer idea of what to look for as you dive into the next stage of getting a dog: choosing a dog!

Buying Guide

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2 Responses to “Part 1: Are You Ready to Own a Dog?”

  1. Purebred vs. Mixed Breed - says:

    […] that you know you are ready to own a dog, it’s time to start educating yourself about dogs and make some important decisions. The […]

  2. Questions to ask before buying a dog - says:

    […] Making the decision to get a dog, finding the breed that is right for you and deciding where to get your dog from has prepared you for the next, exciting step: finally choosing a dog! By now you not only know what you are looking for in a pet, you are also ready to answer any and all questions that you may be asked during the process, whether by your breeder, shelter or rescue group. At a rescue society or shelter you will be asked to fill out a form which will have questions regarding your lifestyle, past pet history and experience with the breed. […]

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