Who can resist a puppy? Owning a dog is a staple of American life and has been a defining feature of many childhoods. Our canine friends improve our lives in many ways- providing companionship, fun, a reason to get out of the house, protection, not to mention unconditional love.
The perks of having a dog in the family don’t come for free, though. Certain homes- and lifestyles- aren’t suitable for dog ownership. The right dog with the right family? Bliss. The wrong dog with an unprepared family? Nightmare.
If you wonder if your home is ready for a four-legged friend, check your budget, space, lifestyle, and future.
- Questions to Ask When Adopting a Dog
- 1.Do I Have Money for a Dog?
- 2.Do I Have Space for a Dog?
- 3.Is My Lifestyle Suited for a Dog?
- 4.Can I Commit Long-Term?
- 5.What Kind of Dog Should I Get?
- A Cautionary Tale
Questions to Ask When Adopting a Dog
1.Do I Have Money for a Dog?
We’ll tackle the most obvious question first- can you afford a pet?
Cost of the Dog
We’re not just talking about the upfront cost of a dog, although that can be expensive. Purebred pups can go for upwards of several thousand dollars. Of course, adopting an older dog from a shelter might only cost a hundred bucks, but that won’t be the only money you’ll spend on your pet.
Cost of Food
Your dog will have to eat. Regularly. According to Rover.com, dog food can cost between $200-$1000 per year. That’s not comparing budget dog food to high-end stuff, either- if you have a big dog, they’ll need to eat more, and you will have to spend more on dog food. Your dog might have dietary restrictions which will require higher quality- and higher cost- food.
Cost of Supplies
In addition to food costs, you’ll have to buy supplies for your dog. Leashes, crates, and toys can be one-time costs but may need to be repurchased if your dog grows or items break. You can buy some of these things second-hand, but you may need to find them new. Other pet supplies will need to be purchased regularly, such as dog poop bags or shampoo.
Cost of Regular Veterinarian Care
Even if you have a very healthy dog, you will need to establish care with a vet. Puppies need a series of shots to protect them from deadly diseases, such as parvovirus. Until puppies have had all their shots, it’s not safe to allow them to play with other dogs or in public spaces. Most places require all dogs to have yearly rabies shots, which will require a vet visit. Like humans, dogs need checkups to make sure they are generally healthy and address any health concerns.
Cost of Emergency Veterinarian Care
No one wants accidents or illness to happen to their pet, but they still do- and such misfortunes cost money. If your dog gets cancer or gets hit by a car, how will you pay for their care? One of my dogs developed entropion at ten months old, which is a condition where the eyelid rubs against the eye. The vet told us that our dog would probably lose his eye unless we schedule surgery. The cost? Over $2000. We canceled our yearly vacation so we could afford to get our dog the care he needed.
Cost of Pet Insurance
If you don’t want to worry about costly surgeries and vet care, you might consider getting pet insurance for your dog. Pet insurance rates will vary depending on your dog’s breed and can run between $30-$70 per month on average. Pet insurance will save you money in the long run if your pet has a costly health need but will increase the amount of money you spent monthly.
2.Do I Have Space for a Dog?
Take an honest look at your home. Do you have a fenced yard? Are you an apartment dweller? There are a million types of dogs, and they all have different needs. Your dog should fit your space.
Permission for Pets
First on your checklist? Your lease. If you don’t own your home, you might not be allowed to have pets, or there might be size or breed restrictions on the types of pets you can have. Any dog you could adopt deserves better than having to hide inside whenever the property owner might drive past.
You don’t have to have acreage to have a happy dog- but you do need some space. If you want a big, active dog, you’re going to need either a large yard or access to outdoor space. Some dogs, like Huskies, need very secure backyards because they are prone to running away. At the very least, you should have enough easily accessible outdoor space for your dog to relieve themselves.
Where will your dog spend most of its time? If you have expensive furniture, you’ll need to consider how to keep things from getting ruined or broken. Most dogs shed, too, so you’ll have to vacuum. Some dogs do best in a smaller, designated room when you have to run errands. A laundry room or bathroom might do the trick. Otherwise, you might need to invest in a crate to keep the dog when they are unsupervised.
Some dogs bark a lot. If you live in close quarters with other people, you will need to choose a quiet breed. Of course, barking is a trait that can be addressed through training- mostly. Some dogs will always bark to a certain extent. Don’t plan on getting a bark-prone dog to stay quiet all the time.
3.Is My Lifestyle Suited for a Dog?
You’ve got the money. You’ve got the space. Now you need to ask yourself if the way you live your life is appropriate for dog ownership.
Dogs require regular walks. And by “regular,” I mean every day, not a couple of times a week. Some dogs need a lot of activity, or they will be miserable- and they will make your life miserable, too. The pent-up energy of unexercised dogs can often turn destructive. Depending on the breed, you may need to plan on being home to take your dog out several times a day.
Some more intelligent breeds need mental as well as physical exercise. Usually, this means training beyond your basic “sit” and “stay.” You might need to help your dog exercise mentally by teaching it special tricks or participating in obedience shows. There are games you can play with your dog, or you can teach them to do specific simple jobs around the house. By giving dogs a job to do, you can channel their energies into productive activities. Otherwise, they might find things to do on their own- and chances are you won’t like their ideas.
Dogs can cramp your traveling style, too. You’ll need to make sure you have a dependable dog sitter every time you need to leave town for more than a few hours. Dogs aren’t like cats- you can’t just leave them alone with a full bowl of food and a clean litter box. If you work long hours or have a job that requires travel, a dog might not be the best companion unless you can afford a regular sitter.
Becoming a pet owner is similar in some ways to becoming a parent. It brings a lot of new joys but also a lot of messes. Are you comfortable with urine, excrement, and vomit? As a pet owner, at some point, you will need to clean these up. Unless you’re wealthy enough to pay someone else to do it for you, potty training a puppy is going to involve a lot of paper towels and gross smells.
If you want a dog who can join you for your weekend hikes, you need to make sure that you choose a breed that can keep up with you. If you prefer to stay home and read a book, your options will be fewer in terms of breeds- most dogs like to get at least some exercise. Make sure you have a plan. Are there dog parks near your house? If you won’t be home from work until after dark, do you feel safe walking in your neighborhood at that time?
If you have kids or a spouse, they need to be on board with the plan for your dog. Make sure everyone knows who is responsible for your dog- who will do weekday walks? Who will feed the dog in the mornings? What about the evenings? If you work most of the time, don’t assume your kids or spouse (or roommates!) will pick up your slack. The same goes for training- if you want a well-behaved dog, everyone in the family will have to participate. If your dog has to follow different rules depending on who is home, they won’t ever learn how to follow them.
Does anyone in your house have allergies? If so, you’ll need to make sure to get a hypoallergenic dog, such as a labradoodle. Sometimes people can manage pet allergies with medications or allergy shots, but not always. It’s a good idea to make sure no one will be allergic to your new family member before bringing them home.
4.Can I Commit Long-Term?
On average, a dog will live around 13 years, but some can live to be 18 years old. When you adopt a pet as a member of your family, you’re making a commitment that may last several decades. Think about what your life will look like in 5, 10, or even 15 years. Do you plan on moving around a lot? Joining the military? What about kids? Your dog will be there for all these potential changes. Adopting a dog knowing you can only keep them for a few years is like getting married with a plan to break up.
If you’re not sure you can commit to a pet for 15 years, there are still some options for you. You could adopt an older dog from a shelter. Older dogs are frequently passed over by families hoping for a puppy. They may have fewer behavioral issues and are often already housebroken.
Alternatively, you could become a foster home for dogs waiting for their “forever families”. This represents a shorter commitment without abandoning the idea of having a dog in your home. Fostering dogs would also give you experience with pet ownership, dog training, and different breeds. When you’re finally ready for a dog of your own, you will go into the experience much more prepared.
5.What Kind of Dog Should I Get?
With all the above questions in mind, do your research when it comes to breeds. If you know that you won’t want to take a dog on a run every day, don’t get a border collie. If you want a dog that will be friendly to all strangers, don’t adopt a german shepherd. Huskies need extra tall fences. Anatolian shepherds need big backyards. Choosing the right kind of dog can mitigate a lot of lifestyle barriers. The dog that fits your life might not be the dog you think is cutest, but that’s okay. You’ll both be much happier with a close match.
A Cautionary Tale
I grew up with dogs. My family home always had at least one (but sometimes more) big, slobbery dogs in it. They were family dogs, but they loved my mom and dad the most. I looked forward to the day that I had my own space and could have a dog who was just mine. That day finally came when my husband and I purchased our first home.
We did our research. My husband is a runner, and he wanted a pet that could accompany him on his daily jogs. We both enjoyed weekend adventures of camping or hiking. I also wanted a big dog that would protect my house when my husband worked the night shift. We knew we eventually wanted kids, so we needed a breed that would be good with children. After much consideration, budgeting, and studying, we decided that a Chesapeake Bay Retriever would be the best match for us.
We were right!- at first. We adopted Murphy, a 12 week old Chesapeake puppy who quickly become an integral part of our lives. He was high energy, but we had the money, the time, and the lifestyle to suit him. He was our buddy, joining us for road trips and camping and hanging out with us around the house.
When Murphy was three years old, we found out we were expecting our first child. We were thrilled to see our family grow and thankful that we had chosen a dog breed known to be good with kids. When my daughter was born, however, Murphy didn’t seem to care for her. He was never aggressive; he just pretended like she wasn’t there. As she grew, they never bonded the way we had hoped. He only had eyes for us, and he was so energetic he often knocked her over with his exuberance.
Parenting took up much more of our time than we’d expected when our daughter had a slew of health issues. Our active lifestyle took on a much slower pace. No matter how hard we tried to get back into the swing of things, we couldn’t dedicate as much time to Murphy as we had before. He kept getting the leftovers of us, and we felt terrible. He was still the same sweet dog he’d always been, but he started to bark more and disobey more as we fell behind on his training.
It wasn’t until we became pregnant with our second child that we decided to face the facts- we were not Murphy’s ideal home anymore. He loved being an “only child.” He needed much more exercise than we could give him, and no one was thriving in the current situation. We contacted our local Chesapeake Bay Retriever Rescue, and within a few months, Murphy was once again an only child- in a different home with no human babies.
The moral of this story? Even if you ask all the right questions and make all the proper preparations, things don’t always turn out perfectly. The important thing is to keep the well-being of your (potential) dog at the forefront of your mind. Dogs are living creatures with emotions and preferences, not accessories or inanimate objects. Do the best you can to make sure your life and your dog are suited for each other, but if it turns out they’re not, ask for help. You are responsible for your dog’s quality of life and should always put their interests above your own.
You’re getting ready to adopt a dog, and you’re doing your homework. That’s a significant first step. It’s not just about what dog is cutest- you need to look at your budget. You need to make sure you have enough space in your home for a pet. You have to ensure your schedule and lifestyle have the flexibility to fit a dog, and you need to make sure you’re able to own a dog for the long term. If all these considerations check out, enjoy your life with your new dog!
Megan Cornish is a licensed clinical social worker in Washington State. She has worked in the field for 10 years after receiving her MSW from the University of Washington. She has experience working with children, teenagers, and families.