By Lauren McClaughry, as told to Keri Wiginton
You don’t want to jump into dog adoption without knowing what you’re getting into. Take some time to find a dog that naturally fits your lifestyle. Are you going to be active or sedentary? Do you want a puppy or an older dog who’s already housetrained?
And don’t pick a pup based solely on their cuteness. You’ll need to think about how your pet’s needs will fit into your schedule. The first dog I adopted was a senior beagle with horrible anxiety. She was adorable, but it took a lot of work to manage her issues.
How to Choose Your Dog
There are resources to help narrow your search. If there’s a certain breed you’re looking for, the American Kennel Club or a breed-specific website can help. You can learn about different dog traits and whether they’re prone to certain health conditions.
For example, pure-bred dogs have higher odds of certain problems or diseases. The ones with smooshed-in faces, such as pugs or French bulldogs, sometimes have trouble breathing. Surgery can help correct their airways, but that can be costly. That might be something you want to think about before you get that kind of dog.
You can also ask your local rescue group or shelter for tips. They’ve seen plenty of dogs to know what’s a good fit and what’s not. Get their input on what they think you should know.
If you do get your pet from a shelter, ask if you can foster first. You can go ahead and adopt if you and the dog get along. If not, that’s OK. You tried it.
Here are some other things to think about:
- What age will work best for you? Puppies need constant care and attention. Do you have the time to commit to that? If not, an older dog might be a better fit.
- How will you manage bathroom breaks? You’ll need to take puppies out every 2 to 3 hours, at first. That’s a lot harder to do if you live in a high-rise apartment instead of a house with a backyard.
- Can you afford a dog? Some people are alarmed by the cost of their first vet visit, and that’s just the start of vaccines. You might save money if you adopt a shelter dog. A lot of them come spayed or neutered and have updated shots.
- Does your dog have special needs? With things like dog anxiety, it can be hard to even leave the house. That can take a toll on your mental health, especially if you work away from home and you’re always worried about them.
- Can you care for an older animal? Compared to small dogs, it can be more of a challenge to handle a large, older pup with health conditions, such as arthritis.
How to Help Your Dog Learn
You want to give your dog some time to get comfortable with their new home and family. That adjustment period is different for every animal. It might take a day or a couple of weeks. Maybe longer. But you don’t want to wait too long to expose them to certain things. That includes loud noises, other dogs and people, or your work routine.
For example, a lot of pandemic puppies are used to their owners being home all the time. Now that people are going back to work and their normal lives after more than a year, a lot of people say their pets have separation anxiety. The dogs aren’t used to being left alone.
Puppyhood, which usually lasts about a year, is the best time to help your dog learn what’s “normal.” Once your new puppy feels comfortable at home, you can do the following:
- Teach commands. In general, it’s good for your dog to at least learn basic obedience. That’s things like sit and stay.
- Touch paws and ears. This is sometimes called handling. It’ll help your dog become more comfortable with things like nail trims or ear medication down the road.
- Have them meet other dogs. You might want to enroll them in a puppy class where they can learn social skills right off the bat.
- Try behavior training. One-on-one sessions might be a good idea for a dog with previous concerns, such as anxiety.
It’s usually possible to train an adult dog, but it's sometimes harder. You often need to work backward to change what they’ve learned. A certified dog behaviorist or trainer can help.
How to Choose Your Vet
Meet with different people in your area. If one doesn’t seem like the right fit, it’s OK to go to someone else. You can do that even within the same practice. At my clinic, we have different styles and certain clients we click best with. I think that’s great.
I want to form solid relationships with clients. But don’t worry if you part ways with your vet. We don’t take it personally.
We’re a walk-in clinic. During the pandemic, we saw people only once or twice because their regular vets were closed, or another clinic was booked out months ahead. It’s not always a surprise when people don’t come back.
There are a lot of choices out there. But the bottom line is this: You’ve got to find someone who feels right for you.
Consider Other Pets
There are a lot of pros to having a dog. Whether you take them for a walk or go to the dog park, they get you outdoors. That can boost your mental health. And at the end of a workday, it’s nice to come home, relax, and chill with my dog.
But not everyone can provide the level of care and attention that a dog needs and deserves. I just want to throw it out there that, if you don’t have allergies, consider a cat. They’re a lot easier to care for than dogs. But they can still bring you a lot of joy and happiness.