What Factors Should I Consider Before I Decide to Get a Dog?
Having a dog is a lot like adding a child to the family, when we first consider the idea we tend to think about the companionship, the love, the nurturing and forget that there are some very real consequences like time, cost, inconvenience and having responsibility for another living being.
There’s no question that dogs and puppies, especially when we first get them, take a lot of time and attention. Even a new adult dog will likely need more attention and time from you as they acclimate to their new surroundings and you begin training them. Puppies will obviously need lots of time and attention as they learn to be house trained and learn basic obedience and older dogs may need time to develop a bond with you and un-learn some bad habits.
Even as a dog gets older, there is still a significant time commitment to satisfy your dog’s basic needs for health and wellbeing, and your geriatric dog (as with a new puppy) needs more time and attention than a dog during their middle years.
Along with the obvious costs for food and preventive medical care you will also want to factor into your thinking costs associated with training, day care, kenneling, grooming, supplies as well as those non-routine medical expenses that always manage to come up. Here is an estimation of the average cost of owning a HEALTHY dog. Remember no one ever expects their new dog to NOT be healthy, but some are and even your healthy puppy can get sick, so understanding your baseline costs also means understanding that extraordinary circumstances can (and often do) occur. A new puppy (even one from a reputable breeder) can come with parasites or get common infectious diseases, a rescued dog may have unknown health issues, need more training or have behavioral issues that require expert help and any dog can have an accident that requires medical attention. Also, don’t forget as your dog ages there will be additional medical expenses associated with getting older.
These days we have the option of purchasing health insurance for our pets. This is a must have! http://www.petmd.com/centers/insurance
Yearly Expense Type of Expense
Food and Treats 250 - 700
Toys 25 - 150
Beds 50 - 200
Leashes and Collars 20 - 50
Grooming 30 - 500
Routine Veterinary Care (healthy dog) 600 - 1100
Preventive Medications and Supplements 100 - 300
Training Classes or Resources 25 - 600
Pet sitters or Boarding 100 - 300
Yearly Total $1500-3900
Average Monthly Cost of Owning a Dog $100-300
The AKC has their own cost estimates that you might also want to check out as well. http://www.akc.org/content/dog-care/articles/cost-to-raise-dog/
Fit with your lifestyle
This is also an important consideration, not only for picking out a new dog but to consider if getting a dog is right for you. If everyone in your family works, and there is no one home for 8-10 hours each day or you travel a lot or you have a busy family with many activities that are not dog friendly, you may want to consider an alternative pet, like a cat, guinea pig or fish. Dogs are pack animals and need lots of daily interaction and being left alone for long periods of time can be detrimental to their health and wellbeing. If you are set on getting a dog, you may want to consider being a volunteer for a local shelter or service dog organization that look for people to take their dogs on weekends. This is also a good way to ‘try out’ having a dog before you make the commitment.
If you think your lifestyle is compatible with having a dog, considering how that dog will fit into your life will help you choose the right type of dog, there’s more on that topic later in this article.
Family Rules and Expectations
Individuals in your family may have different ideas of what having a dog means. Some may think nothing of inviting the dog up onto the furniture, while others in the same family may believe all dogs should be floor bound. These types of disparate viewpoints should be fully discussed before you bring a dog in to a household.
One common misconception parents may have is the belief that their young children can be fully responsible for a new puppy or that having to take care of an animal will teach their children responsibility. The reality is that children really can’t shoulder the entire burden of dog ownership and the bottom line is the one that will suffer if we leave it entirely to our children is the dog.
The fact is, that these types of beliefs or conflicts in beliefs can result in confusion for the dog and/or major conflicts within a family, ultimately resulting in the dog being re-homed or harmed.
A discussion of what it means to have a dog, from where it’s going to sleep, what rooms it is and is not allowed in and what the house rules will be is essential to create a successful foundation for your new addition.
Division of Labor
Now let’s talk about who is going to do what? Dogs, like babies and small children can’t do for themselves, and having an open honest discussion with the whole family about who’s going to be responsible for the dog, including; daily walks/exercise (hourly outdoor trips for new puppies), training, feeding, keeping the water bowl filled with fresh water, going to the vet, brushing the dog or taking it to the groomer. Be honest about how much time you have in your current schedule and factor up the time you THINK the dog will need by about 50% because especially in the beginning, until your skills and habits are formed it will probably take longer than you think! Make sure all the parties in the discussion actually agree and are on board before you agree to get a dog!
A note on kids and dogs and responsibility. These days our kids tend to be involved in lots of extra-curricular activities, which means their time is as limited as their parent’s time. This and the fact that kids generally are not mature enough to truly take responsibility for another living being means that the notion of children under the age of 18 (or even 25 sometimes J) taking FULL responsibility for a dog is often a fallacy. Yes, they can help, small children can be given specific chores like making sure the dog has fresh water in their bowl, and with sufficient oversight (lack of water can lead to death in dogs!) this can work. Being realistic about your kid’s ability, availability and commitment and making sure there is a backstop (i.e. parental supervision and availability) is the key to success. When it comes to training, be aware that children typically don’t have the hand/eye coordination or understanding of the concepts to accomplish basic training and can often un-train your dog faster than you can train it!
Before you bring a dog or new puppy home, you should have a complete list of resources, including recommendations, phone numbers, and locations for the following professionals.
- Veterinarians – have an appointment made for your new dog/puppy within 72 hours of the dog coming home.
- Trainers – many good trainers have limited availability (particularly during busy seasons) so contact them before the puppy comes home to find out what their programs are, and what their availability is.
- Walkers/Doggy Day Care – again, the good ones are in short supply, if you are planning to use dog walkers or doggy day care, contact these people before you get your dog to understand their availability, age restrictions and vaccination requirements.
- Groomers – If you are thinking about getting a dog that needs to be regularly groomed, talk to your friends and neighbors about who they use, visit their facility to check them out.
- Kennels – At some point your dog is probably going to need to be kenneled, don’t wait, check them out ahead of time and be sure to make reservations for busy times (think school vacation) well in advance. BTW young puppies (under 6 months) are typically not accepted in kennels, so alternative arrangements will be necessary.
Having realistic expectations about getting a dog is key to your success. Very few if any dog come pre-trained, even ones from fancy breeders who claim to train the puppies before sending them to you, or older dogs that are being re-homed. The fact is training and creating a bond with your puppy or newly acquired older dog is a process that takes time and effort. Lassie wasn’t born that way!
Puppies need to be house trained, trained to certain cues (aka commands) so that you have a way to manage them, exercised, socialized and played with. Adolescent dogs, which is the majority of rescued dogs, often need even more training (even if they are house trained) than puppies, because they often come with undesirable behaviors they’ve already learned that now need to be modified. Also, adolescence is the time dogs most need lots of exercise. Even older (senior) dogs will need time and attention so that you develop a bond with them.
Are you ready? Here are a couple of on line quizzes you can take that may add some additional insights.
OK, I know I want to get a dog, what kind of dog should I get?
Pure Bred vs Mixed Breed
Pure bred dogs are available as puppies, through breed rescues and some breeders even place older dogs that they no longer need. Pure bred dogs may have certain behavioral predispositions based on what they were bred for which may make them more predictable in terms of what you are getting. For instance, hounds are often bred for using their nose or eyes to track game (beagles, blood hounds, greyhounds) so by and large people believe that hounds tend to have a stronger scenting tendencies than other dogs. Herders are bred to herd or guard flocks and often that breeding comes with specific behaviors that may or may not be desirable to you, like a stronger prey drive. All that said, each dog is an individual and breed generalizations may help us to narrow our search but aren’t necessarily a good predictor of behavior for a specific individual puppy or dog.
Many people believe mixed breed dogs are healthier as they are created from a mixed gene pool and to some extent that may be true, but also true is that many of these dogs are the product of inferior or inbred parents, puppy mills or feral mixes which may cause both behavioral and health issues.
No matter whether it is a purebred puppy or a “Heinz 57” variety, you need to remember that you are picking and individual. Observation of the individual’s temperament, structure, response to stimuli, surroundings and/or history may be more important than bloodlines or a sad story about what the dog has had to endure already in life.
Puppy vs Older Dog
Puppies are a lot of work, BUT they are a blank slate (provided they are sound to begin with), this means you will shape the dog to be the best that it can be. There are obviously some affects from a dog’s basic genetics, but puppy’s offer us the opportunity to create the dog that we want.
Older dogs may come with behaviors already instilled that need to be corrected. Many dogs are rehomed between 11months-2years because their original owners never trained them, so they have become too much to handle. Many can still be trained and become good dogs, but this takes as much and sometimes more time and effort than a young puppy.
Senior dog – some people re-home their senior dog because they can’t afford the pet bills, these dogs can be some of the best dogs as they have often lived a good life, often are relaxed and their only ‘crime’ is they are old and need medical care.
What Type (breed) of Dog
OK, let’s talk breed matching. When you have decided whether you are going to target a purebred dog vs a mixed breed, and then decided on a puppy vs. an older dog, now let’s narrow the search down a bit more and decide which characteristics you want in a dog. Yes, we can and will use breed as a guideline but remember there are plenty of individual dogs out there who don’t act anything like their breed descriptions, so once you narrow your search to a particular breed or group of breeds, and you begin visiting breeders or shelters then you must focus on the individual dog.
There are lots of breed selector tools on line. I’ve filled many of them out and gotten so many different answers that even I was confused as to how they were picking a breed for me. The one good thing I will say about them is often they work to educate people on what types of dogs are actually out there. One caveat is, rare breed dogs, (those that are hard to come by) are typically not popular for a reason! If you want to get something that no one else has, be sure you know what you are getting into! Also, just because you neighbor or friend has a great XXXX breed of dog, doesn’t mean every dog of that breed is going to look or act like it! Have I said you need to look to the individual dog yet?
Most of the breed selectors are going to try and match your lifestyle with the dogs that will fit that lifestyle the best, but some look at ‘looks’ – which in my humble opinion should be the LAST thing you consider. Be warned, these tools are a starting place, once you fill them in you may get a short list of breeds to look at but don’t rule anything out!
Here is a listing of some of the breed selector quizzes available:
Now that you have a few breeds on your list, look them up, call breeders, ask friends who have that breed, go to a dog show and see them and ask the people who own them what they are like. In other words, do some research and really get to know what you are getting into, the good, the bad and the ugly. When you are researching, breeds make sure you look into their known health issues and what tests should be done on the parent dogs to ensure their offspring are healthy. http://pets.webmd.com/dogs/ss/slideshow-dog-breed-health-problems
By the way, once you’ve narrowed it down to 1-2 breeds you are interested in, be sure to keep an open mind, many people in their search for dogs find that as they do research and see dogs and talk to people, their understanding of the breeds and dogs in general deepens. As a result, often what they thought they wanted doesn’t turn out to be as good a fit as they thought it would be!
OK, I know what kind of dog to get, now how do I find the right dog?
First piece of advice is GO LOCAL! In the age of the internet you can click yes on line to a cute dog with a well written description, only to find out it’s a lot like a dating app, until you meet them you just don’t know what you are getting into! Never buy or agree to take a puppy or dog without meeting the breeder or seeing the dog first.
Regardless of whether you source your dog from a Breeder a Rescue or someone down the street who can’t keep their dog anymore, here are a few things to watch out for:
- Avoid anyone who is trying to push their dogs on you, the “sign and drive” types. If the breeder isn’t interviewing you as much as you are interviewing them, be careful, they are likely to be more interested in your money than their dogs.
- Also avoid any breeder who offers you a dog for Christmas or let’s their dogs go home before they are 7.5 -8 weeks old (in MA it is illegal to let a dog go home before they are 50 days old!). Dogs that are separated too early from their dam are at greater risk for behavioral and medical issues later in life. Breeders who specifically breed for Christmas are generally more interested in making money than breeding good dogs.
- Think hard before you go to a breeder who will not let you take the dog home until it has all of its vaccinations (after 12-16 weeks). These breeders (often of small breed dogs) may mean well and tell you it’s to keep the dog safe from disease, but are often miss-informed or ill-informed about the socialization needs of young puppies.
For more on this topic please read https://avsab.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Puppy_Socialization_Position_Statement_Download_-_10-3-14.pdf
- Always ask for references and follow up, do internet searches, BBB searches to look for unhappy customers. Sure, even the best breeders might have a bad review now and then, but if there are multiple reviews with issues walk away.
- Don’t buy from a breeder you can’t visit (unless it is a rare breed), and be wary of breeders in the mid-west and southern states, where puppy mills still exist! For more on puppy mills
- Watch out for ‘breeders’ who are really brokers, these are people who pose as breeders but are really selling puppies obtained from puppy mills. Often the parents are not on site and there are often several different breeds of dogs available.
- Don’t do an online rescue where you have to meet the dog at the border of a state line, MA has strict health requirements for rescue dogs and many organizations are skirting those requirements by having you pick dogs up in a different state. Here’s a list of MA approved rescue organizations
- Pet Finder, Individuals and other non-organized pet locators – just say no. The problem with Pet Finder is anyone can list an animal, there are lots of legitimate rescue organizations who use it, but you can’t tell those apart from the individual who is just trying to dump a dog that has major behavioral issues.
- Beware on line or shelter descriptions, like real estate ads many descriptors can make a behavioral issue sound like an asset. ‘Loves to cuddle’ could mean ‘is afraid to be alone’, ‘needs a house with no other dogs’ often means the dog is not good with ANY other dogs, ‘a little nervous’ could mean the dog has major anxiety issues and ‘lab mix’ can mean anything!
Things to do to ensure you are dealing with good breeders and rescue organizations.
A. Compile a list of breeders from
the AKC (American Kennel Club) – be aware that the AKC does NOT vet their breeders, and ACK designation ONLY means that the mother and father dog were both AKC registered, NOT that the breeder is a good one or the breed pairing was good. Here are some good articles on finding a good breeder http://www.akc.org/press-center/facts-stats/responsible-breeders/ http://www.humanesociety.org/assets/pdfs/pets/puppy_mills/find_responsible_dog_breeder.pdf
Breed Organizations – typically available through the AKC, these are local organizations with ties to specific breeds.
Trainers – some trainers keep records of where their clients got their dogs from and may have an idea of good breeders in the areas.
Go to a dog show and ask about the breed and breeders in the area https://www.apps.akc.org/apps/event_calendar/
B. CALL the breeders on your list and talk to them about
How often they breed
How many breeding females do they have
How many litters has each female have
How many dogs they have
What their goals are (showing, pet dogs, health, longevity)
Other suggestions on questions to ask
C. Go See them even BEFORE they have puppies you might buy
Ask to see where their dogs live
Ask to meet parents
Don’t bring the kids – all puppies are cute, even the ones you don’t want to buy!
If they have a current batch of puppies look to see that the area is clean and safe.
Ask if they do any early neural stimulation with their puppies
2. Rescue Organizations/Shelter
a. Compile a list
Friends and neighbors
b. Go visit the shelter, before you are looking for a dog, see if it is clean and well run, talk to the people who work or volunteer there.
c. Leave the kids at home – even the puppies and dogs you don’t want are going to be cute to kids, get them involved in picking the dog up once you’ve identified which one to get.
d. Ask the shelter where the dog’s come from, how they got here, what their health history is, if they’ve been in a foster ask to speak to the foster people for insights into the dog’s personality, history and/or quirks.
e. Ask them about their transfer process if they are getting dogs from out of state, are the dogs brought up in vans? If so how long are they in the van, do they stop and let them out, how often.
f. Ask about health records, what do they get for health records on the dogs they bring in? How accurate are they?
3. Breed Rescue organizations – these are rescues that specialize in re-homing specific breeds and are more likely to have dogs sourced locally than dogs that have been shipped from different parts of the country The AKC has a list of breed rescues http://www.akc.org/dog-breeds/rescue-network/contacts/
4. Some individual breeders also re-home or sell at a slight discount puppies that didn’t sell, older dogs they thought they wanted to show and decided not to and retired dams. So, giving the local breeders a call, even if you want a ‘rescue’ can’t hurt. Be prepared to pay for these dogs, but you will know the dog’s complete history before you take it home.
I’ve made the decision, picked out the dog and it’s coming home in 3 weeks! Now what?
1. Make appointments with your support staff!
Veterinarian – all new dogs and puppies should have a vet check within 72 hours of coming home
Trainer – many trainers have waiting times or classes that start on particular dates, call around find a trainer you like (go visit their classes before you get your dog) and get the puppy in for training within 2 weeks of the dog coming home. It is always easier to prevent bad behavior than it is to fix them!
Dog Walker – if you are bringing home an older dog and will need help getting the dog out, make sure to make arrangements for that ahead of time.
Kennel/Doggy Day Care/Groomers – Identify and visit other support organizations before you need them!
2. Puppy Proof your Home – BEFORE the puppy comes home! Set up your house as if the dog/puppy is living there now, get used to the set up and make sure it works for you.
Gate off areas you are not going to allow your dog into until they are house trained.
Get a crate appropriately sized for your new dog/puppy (ask the breeder or shelter for recommended size for puppy as well as adult dog).
If you are getting a puppy or newly rescued dog that isn’t house trained, pick up any throw rugs or carpets in the are the puppy is going to be, easier to prevent destruction than fix it after the fact, while you are at it think about moving the antiques out of the puppy area as well!
Remove any furniture that you don’t want chewed on by your new puppy or dog. It may take a while for a dog to learn what is acceptable to chew on and what is not!
Puppy proof the are the dog/puppy will spend most of its time in. Remove anything the dog can chew on from reachable areas, this means books from bookcases, children’s toys, electrical cords, dangerous plants, loose pillows, decorative items on reachable tables and shelves and TV remotes.
Make sure the new dog/puppy cannot get into cabinets that have cleaners, food or other potential dangers.
3. Gather your basic supplies, but don’t go overboard! You will have plenty of time to add stuff later. Here’s a list of the basics:
Crate – appropriately sized for the puppy or dog as they are now! Buying a full size crate for a puppy can lead to issues with house training.
Flat Buckle Collar for tags.
ID tags, also consider having your veterinarian ‘chip’ your dog, these imbedded chips can be lifesaving for lost dogs.
Puppia style soft harness for walking small puppies.
6’ Leash – Cotton
10’ Lead – Cotton
Dog bowls (size appropriate)
Dog food recommended by breeder/rescue – you may learn you want to change the dog food, but plan to do that 2-3 weeks AFTER the puppy/dog comes home and has settled in.
Marrow Bone or Kong toy to stuff, freeze and put in crate.
Bully Sticks, Himalayan cheese chew, Nylabone or other good chew toy.
Squeaky toy (to use for gaining attention – not for the dog to chew on).
One or two different styles of dog toys, again don’t go overboard your new puppy or dog may prefer one type of toy over another and you need to figure out what their preferences are before you invest a lot of money in toys.
Good selection of treats – test them on your dog figure out which one’s they like best.
4. Do some reading!
On dogs and dog behavior https://avsab.org/resources/position-statements/
On puppy proofing http://www.peteducation.com/article.cfm?c=2+2106&aid=3283
Hopefully, this has given you a foundation for understanding the things you will need to consider prior to getting a new dog as well as the steps you may want to go through to decide what kind of dog to get and how to obtain the dog. In addition to some basic idea of how to prepare for a new dog arrival.
I encourage everyone to ask lots of questions from lots of different sources like trainers, veterinarians, friends with dogs, groomers, dog walkers. Remember, getting a dog is a decision that should last the life of the dog, please make this decision carefully.