Your heart says it's time to add a furry friend to your household, but you've got some practical questions. Is your home right for a dog? What type of pooch fits your lifestyle? Here's what you need to know before taking the plunge.
Do You Have Enough Time?
All dogs need attention. If you travel a lot and are rarely home, a dog probably isn't the best pet for you. But busy people can have dogs too, if they choose the right breed and temperament.
"There are border collie puppies that need to have mental and physical exercise 10 times a day, and there are older Labrador retrievers that just want to lie by the fire," says animal behaviorist Patricia McConnell, PhD, author of The Other End of the Leash. "We're all at different places in our lives, and dogs are no different."
If the dog will be home alone for significant periods of time -- for example, while you're at work for 8 hours -- you'll need to find a dog walker, doggie day care, or other way to make sure that your dog can get outside to do his business while you're out.
You should plan to devote time to socializing and training your dog, especially at the beginning. You'll need to do that even if you're bringing home an older dog.
"People sometimes don't realize how much it's worth to socialize and train their dog early," says Susan Nelson, DVM. Nelson is a clinical associate professor at Kansas State University's Veterinary Health Center.
Do You Have Enough Space?
Space is an issue when you bring home a dog. Other pets, like cats, can often thrive in much smaller spaces. But many dogs need a little more breathing room.
"Do you have a yard?" Nelson says. "In general, the bigger the dog, the more space and exercise they will need."
Do You Have Enough Energy for a Dog?
Dogs, just like people, need regular exercise to stay healthy.
Also keep in mind, a bored dog is often a destructive dog. If you don't give your new friend a good way to burn off extra energy, you may find that he takes it out on your new shoes or your flower garden.
Different types of dogs need different amounts of exercise. Regular walks around the block may be just fine for a shih tzu. But a Siberian husky or Great Dane is going to need more space to roam and someone to keep him company.
You don't have to have a big backyard if you choose a dog with lots of energy. But you should have at least one dog-friendly park or open space nearby.
Can You Afford a Dog?
The cost of taking care of your new best friend can add up. Your costs may include veterinary care, food, and boarding or pet sitting while you're away.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals puts the average yearly cost of owning a medium-sized dog at just under $700. Bigger dogs cost a bit more; smaller dogs, a bit less.
You'll probably pay more than that during the first year, especially if you bring home a puppy, with expenses like spaying and neutering and vaccinations.
Don't cut corners. "People bring home puppies and they can't afford the parvo vaccination, and then the puppy comes down with parvo, which costs hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to treat," Nelson says.
What Dog Is Right for Your Family?
If you've decided that you're ready to bring home a dog, the next step is finding the right match for you and your family.
The most important thing, McConnell says, is to make sure your dog's personality matches your needs.
"People often confuse personality with breed," he says. "Even though there are some breed consistencies, every breed has different personalities within it."
You can start your search for a dog by looking for certain breeds that have characteristics you want, such as:
- Active or mellow
- Cuddly or independent
- Good with kids
But ultimately, every dog is unique.
Also consider whether you want a puppy or an older dog. "A lot of people are getting older dogs, which is great," says McConnell. "They think that the dog may be calmer and less hyper, which can often be true. And they assume the dog will be house-trained. But just because a dog is house-trained doesn't mean it's trained in your house"
When your new dog comes home, expect that it will be a lot of work for the first few weeks.
"You're bringing in an entirely new living creature into your home, one who's probably in shock," McConnell says. "Imagine if you moved into a stranger's home and you couldn't tell them things like, 'I usually eat breakfast around this time, and I really want to get outside after lunch.' If you can, plan on someone taking at least a couple of days off to help your dog settle in."