Congrats! You are finally in a place that you think you are ready to adopt a dog. You found an apartment that accepts dogs, or maybe you just bought your first home and can’t wait to add a dog to the backyard.
Or maybe your kids have been bugging you for a dog for years and you feel they are finally old enough to accept some responsibility for a dog.
But what do you need to know before getting a dog… it can’t be that difficult right? Just head to the pet store or shelter and bring home a puppy and live happily ever after?
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I was in college when I thought I was ready for my first dog of my own. A friend and I had an apartment together and we thought it would be a great idea to get a puppy. Wow, how I wish I could shake my younger self right out of that idea!
We were in no way ready to take care of a dog. Looking back, I have no idea why that person sold us a Siberian Husky puppy. Couldn’t they see we were just a couple of college kids, not looking at the bigger picture? Long story short, after graduation I moved back home and left the dog with my roommate. I later learned that the dog ran away to never return. I pray she found a better home.
Now many years later I have since adopted 6 dogs. Much more experienced and definitely more ready to take on the responsibility of a dog.
Whatever the reason you decided you want to get a dog, let’s make sure you are prepared in every way.
Dogs are social animals, they want to be with you. This doesn’t mean you have to be together 24/7, but you do need to plan on walking and feeding your dog before going to work.
And after a long day at work, plan on your dog wanting to eat and play with you for the rest of the evening.
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Young puppies need to be let outside every few hours, can you be home to do this? Even adult dogs need to go outside every 8 hours or so. If you work long hours, who will let your dog outside? Dog walkers are a great option but can be expensive.
No more last-minute weekend getaways. Vacations get more complicated, trying to figure out what you’ll do with the dog. You’ll need to plan and find a dog sitter or dog boarding or maybe take the dog with you.
Even if you aren’t the traveling type, what about the nights out with friends? You can’t expect to work all day, then go out at night… who will take care of your dog?
He doesn’t want to be left home alone all day and night. If you do, he will self-entertain… and trust me you don’t want that!
Think long term. What are your life plans? If you are in college, do you plan on moving back home with your parents? What is your life going to look like after college? 10-hour workdays? Going out with friends every night after work?
Do you see getting married and having kids in the next 10 or so years? Just because you have a new baby, doesn’t mean you can get rid of your dog. Make sure you find a family-friendly dog even if you don’t have kids yet.
If you are renting your home, does your landlord allow dogs? Will you need to move to a home within the next 10-15 years that does not allow dogs? Being a foster home, this is one of the most common excuses I hear for surrendering a dog! That doesn’t mean you can’t adopt a dog if you rent… it just means that you will need to be aware that the options of moving to a new apartment may be more difficult when you have a dog.
Can you afford a dog? I’m not talking just adoption fees. Even if you find a dog for “free”, you will have to pay for food, vet care, training and so much more. Here is a shortlist of some costs involved in adopting and owning a dog:
And it doesn’t end there. There are so many hidden costs of owning a dog. A few of ours are bigger cars; agility classes, extra carpets, cleaning products, dog massage therapy, baby gates, extra crates, special allergy products, playpens, cargo liner for cars.
Note: I order all our dog food and supplies online at Chewy.com. Their prices are equal and sometimes even cheaper than Amazon. Plus Chewy has awesome customer service with 1-2 day free shipping.
Shelter dogs need time to adjust to new homes. Don’t expect to bring home a dog that has been tossed from home to shelter to home to immediately be your best friend.
If you join our Facebook group and read the comments and questions for the community you will see many people struggling with their dog transitioning to a new home.
Plan on 3 months before the dog relaxes and trusts you. Not all dogs, will need this much time, but many wills.
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What energy level dog fits your lifestyle? Different breeds have different temperaments and exercise needs. Do a little research before falling in love with that adorable looking face.
For my family, we have found that Labrador retrievers are the best dogs for our lifestyle. They are energetic yet can curl up next to you at the end of the day. Labs are so popular for families, but it’s also important to realize that yes, they are great dogs… they do require a lot of exercise. Oh, and they shed like crazy!
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Compare your options for adopting a puppy vs. a young dog vs. senior dog. Puppies require a lot of work when it comes to potty training and obedience. They need to be let outside a lot! They chew and mouth. If you don’t want your things chewed up or don’t have the time or money to train a puppy, highly consider adopting an adult dog.
Young adult dogs (1-6 years old), are usually already potty and sometimes obedience trained. This is a great option if you still want a lot of energy in your dog and willing to exercise and train as needed.
There are a lot of senior dogs that need homes too! Senior dogs have so many benefits, they are usually already potty and obedience trained and requires less exercise.
Yes, even if you adopt an adult dog, puppy-proofing your house is a must. Cords, medicines, chocolate, plants, all can be deadly in the wrong situation. Check your house, crawl on your hands and knees and what do you see?
Lucky for you we have a Puppy Proofing Checklist.
Is adopting a dog better than buying a puppy? It doesn’t matter if you choose to buy a puppy from a breeder or adopt a puppy from a rescue, the first and important step is to find a reputable breeder or rescue. The keyword is reputable. I’ve heard several people recently comment that they wanted a puppy because they want to make sure it is good with their kids.
Just because you get a puppy, doesn’t guarantee it will be kid-friendly. The temperament of the dog is going to be very important and there are breeders and rescues out there that don’t care about testing the dog. So it’s your job to do your research, research, and more research.
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Some rescue dogs indeed have separation anxiety, resource guarding, potty accidents… but these same issues can occur in a purchased puppy from a breeder. Are you ready to deal with these issues? Seek professional help if needed? Don’t expect your new dog to be perfect, he may be perfect for you, but no one is ever perfect!
Just like people, dogs aren’t perfect. We all have our faults, and so do dogs. They may have potty accidents, chew your shoes, get sick, and have behavior issues! Are you willing to train your dog? And if necessary, work with a professional trainer or behaviorist?
If your dog gets bored, he will be mischievous! Plan to keep him busy! Also, plan on your dog shedding… unless you find a non-shedding breed, anticipate a house full of hair.
Dogs need to get outside of the confinement of your house and backyard. Even if you do have a yard, most dogs need a daily walk. Can you commit to walking your dog every day before and after work?
Every dog is different but be prepared to take at least a 30-minute walk each day. For us, before moving out to the country, we would walk 3-5 miles every day with the dogs.
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Training your dog is NOT an option. I think a lot of people that get a dog have an idea of how they want that dog to behave. TV shows and movies put this picture-perfect dog in our head, that runs around off-leash, comes when called, and never gets into trouble! But the fact is those TV dogs have been through many, many hours of training to behave that way. Dogs aren’t born to understand people, it’s our job to train our dog to understand us.
So please don’t expect to adopt a dog, walk through your front door, and be perfect. This doesn’t mean you have to attend expensive puppy classes. You may decide training your dog at home is a better fit. Even if you do attend dog training classes, the training doesn’t stop after those 6 weeks are done. Training occurs all day every day, with every action you take.
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Dogs need grooming. You may not need to brush your dog daily if he has short hair, but you still need to trim his nails, brush his teeth, give him medicine if he gets sick, and bath him when he gets muddy.
Trimming a dog’s nails can be one of the most challenging parts of keeping your dog healthy. So many people struggle with nail trimming, and I’m one of them. We have one dog that doesn’t care and another dog that would rather die than have her nails trimmed!
Yup. Dog hair everywhere. On your clothes, on your floor, couch, bed, food, and in your car. If you are a clean freak, a dog may not be the best choice.
I swear I can spend hours cleaning and the dogs walk across the floor and I wonder why I just cleaned. But I love them despite the balls of fur rolling across the floor.
Is having a green lush lawn important to you? Okay, so part of having a dog is NOT having a pretty back yard. I’ve tried over and over to make our backyard grass grow thick green grass. But with two dogs running around playing, it’s just going to happen.
Spraying chemicals are out of the question now too. I know some companies claim they are pet safe… but do you really want your dog eating those chemicals? Because dogs eat grass, and they walk in the grass, come inside and lick their paws.
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There’s no denying it, dogs are our best friends. They have a way of stealing our hearts in a blink of an eye. They love us unconditionally, will listen to your complaints about your bad day, lower your heart rate, lick your face, and curl up next to you when you aren’t feeling well.
With all, that love will eventually come heartache when you have to say goodbye. Dogs don’t live nearly long enough. Letting a dog go when it is his time is the hardest part of having dogs.
Having a dog has so many great benefits, but they also require a lot of preparation and care. It’s a lot like having kids. Dogs need you. You give them everything they need, and they will repay you with all the love in the world. Make sure you are ready to make the 15-year commitment because it wouldn’t be fair to that dog if you aren’t ready.
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Debi McKee is a mom of three kids, three dogs and the creator of Rescue Dogs 101... where she guides you in your journey of adopting and raising a rescue dog every step of the way. She also volunteers for a local dog rescue and Humane Society.