Should you get a dog?

I presume many of you are like this: People in your everyday life start to figure out that you’re kind of… dog crazy. And so they ask you lots of questions (even if you’re, like me, not the most experienced dog owner). Lately, I’ve been getting lots of questions along this line: “Should I get a dog??”

Obviously, this is a big, personal decision, and it should be made with careful deliberation, but here are some of the things I tend to tell people when they say they want a dog.

Watching bugs
Baby Laszlo! Our former foster.

Instead of making a negative list (don’t get a dog if you’re X, Y, Z), here’s a positive spin on the question:

You should go ahead and adopt that dog if…

You have some ample room in your budget.

Dogs are expensive. Beyond the cost of the puppy or the adoption fee, prepare yourself for about 10–15+ years of care, including food, general accessories, routine vet care, emergency vet care, monthly preventives, boarding, grooming, etc. Seasoned dog owners can regale you with eye-popping stories of how much their dogs have cost them, and the super-organized ones can even share monthly budgets with you (e.g., the House of Two Bows). Also keep in mind that the bigger the dog, the more costly it will be.

You are OK with being (relatively) tied down.

Late nights on the town and spontaneous trips are not going to happen as much for you anymore. You have a dog that you have to get home to! Even just planning for vacations takes much more effort. If you’re like us, you will strive to mainly travel to places that are dog-friendly, and if they’re not, you’ll coerce generous family and friends to dog-sit for you (or cough up a hefty sum for a reputable, non-terrifying kennel).

Your children don’t require a ton of maintenance.

This might sound callous, but I am always a bit flabbergasted by people who adopt puppies or dogs when they have very young children at home. (I recently saw an acquaintance on Facebook announce that she was adopting a puppy, and she has three kids under the age of 5. MADNESS!) It is a pleasant, all-American image — little kids playing with a puppy who will grow up with them and be their lifelong friend — but in reality, adding a puppy to the mix is kind of like adding another baby. Are you ready for that? Granted, some people might be, and that’s great, but don’t underestimate the amount of work you are creating for yourself. And speaking from childhood experience, your cute, persuasive kids may PROMISE you that they are going to do EVERYTHING for the new puppy, but that sheen will wear off in a few weeks, and then you’ll be the one doing all the walking, feeding, training, and poop-scooping for the next 10–15 years…

You are ready and willing to spend time training (and then re-training).

Dogs aren’t born knowing what humans expect of them. They are very smart and adaptable, yes, but they have to learn what you want them to do. And this, naturally, takes LOTS of repetition and patience. Are you willing to work on teaching your dog on a daily basis? Are you willing to go to an obedience class or seek the help of a trainer or behaviorist for more serious issues?

Look at that face!
Baby Georgia, my in-laws’ puppy.

You are ready to do everything to help your dog succeed.

A dog is a serious commitment and should be treated as such. These fluffy animals see us as members of their family, and we often do the same. Don’t get a dog if you aren’t ready and willing to do everything in your power to help them have a happy, stable, and full life. Does your dog have fear issues? Leash reactivity? A seemingly insatiable desire to eat furniture? Are you ready for the patience and training that curbing these behaviors requires? Or is your instinct to return the dog to the breeder or rescue when problems arise? Think long and hard about this one. This question is one that I don’t think my husband and I were even prepared for; we assumed that dogs were dogs and that they’d be, for the most part, fairly straightforward (and then we rescued a neurotic German shepherd with a lot of background issues). Every dog is different. Know what your prepared threshold of care is.

What do you think? What would you add to this list of things to think about for the potential dog owner?

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4 thoughts on “Should you get a dog?

  1. This is really great advice, especially the last point! We were entirely unprepared for the commitment of taking care of a fearful, leash-reactive dog. We still would’ve adopted him, I’m sure, but if we had thought through what was required of us, those first few months might not have been SO hard! Ah, well… Live and learn! 🙂

  2. I love the positive spin you put on the question. As a dog crazy person I’d add another one:

    Can you absolutely not live one more day without a day in you life? Because that’s what it comes down to for me.

  3. You have a great post today! I think a lot of people are also unprepared for the emotional toll that adopting a dog can have on you. When they get old and fragile, you will lose sleep over them. And I think it’s important to decide just how far you’re willing to go when your dog gets sick or injured. I know a lot of Greyhound people who spend thousands of dollars amputating a leg when the dreaded osteo diagnosis comes up to buy a few more months together. I would never say that trying to keep a pet with you longer is wrong, nor would I say that it was wrong to decide not to put your dog through invasive procedures and to keep them comfortable as long as possible. It depends on a lot of variables for you and the dog and your pocketbook. But I do think it’s important to make that decision before you’re in the situation when you have to decide what to do. That’s probably slightly off topic for what you’re talking about, but I think it’s something that a lot of people overlook.

  4. I think people should be prepared to walk the dog for an hour every day. If it turns out the dog needs less exercise, great. But initially, people should assume the dog will need more exercise than they think. And playing in the backyard (or standing around in the yard) is usually not a form of exercise.

    I’d also recommend at least one round of obedience classes.

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