Adopting a Dog: Things to Think About Before the Adoption
Dogs as Pets
Dogs are social creatures. They like to be with their families and included in activities and daily life. Being a responsible dog owner means teaching your dog to be a good house pet and a good canine citizen, and putting in the time and effort to make him a part of the family.
It's baffling why some people get dogs, only to stick them outside on a chain to live their entire lives outside without human contact. This is physically and mentally cruel. Imagine how bored you would be if you were stuck all alone with nothing to do, day after day!
Making the decision to get a dog should not be taken lightly. Dog owners need to be prepared to feed, train, exercise, groom, and interact with their dogs, and get them medical care when needed. Although smaller dogs tend to live longer than larger ones, many dogs of all sizes can live into their teens. Anyone thinking of getting a dog should be prepared for a long-term, lifetime commitment. Sharing your life with a dog can be such a richly rewarding experience!
Is This the Right Time to Get a Dog?
It's exciting and fun to bring home a new dog. It can also be time-consuming as you help your new dog adjust to family life. If you're going through a significant life event, however, it's probably not the best time to get a dog. This includes things like:
- A change in your job situation, including a new employer, new responsibilities, or new or longer hours
- Getting married
- Relationship issues / break-ups
- Moving to a new home, or getting new roommates
- Pregnancy (or trying to get pregnant) or a young baby at home
- Grieving the death of a family member or family pet
- A missing pet
- Caring for ill or injured family members or pets
- Any significant health concerns for you or someone else in the family
- Financial concerns
- Frequent travel that cannot include your dog
- Limited leisure time
- Family members who disagree about adopting a dog.
Many families are already stressed to the maximum with work and family obligations. Too many dogs are surrendered by their owners who say that the dog was "too much work" or took "too much time" to care for. If you are experiencing (or anticipating) any of the above events within the next several months, it is probably best to wait a while longer before adding a dog to the family.
People who are grieving the loss of a loved one (whether another pet, a human friend or family member) may also be tempted to adopt a dog for companionship. This isn't an ideal time either as grief may not let you clearly choose a dog that's right for your home. Volunteering at an animal shelter may help, since it gives you the opportunity to be amongst dogs while also doing a good deed.
The ideal time to adopt a dog is when there are no major changes in your life and you are in a financial position where a dog won't stress your money situation. A "settled" or stable situation is best so that you can devote the time and energy to helping your dog fit into his new home.
Giving Dogs as Gifts
You might have seen TV commercials that show a happy family scene of a puppy being given as a gift at Christmas. The scene typically shows a cute, roly-poly puppy with a big bow around his neck, little tail wagging furiously, squirming in a child's arms while bestowing kisses.
Sometimes parents will give in to their kids' begging and bring home a puppy. What's not shown are the puppies, now grown up and not as cute anymore, being surrendered to animal shelters, re-homed to other families, or simply abandoned.
A dog is a life that thinks, feels, and needs a permanent and loving home. Dogs don't make good gifts at any time, for any reason. The giver or the recipient of a dog may not realize just how much responsibility they are. The novelty wears off quickly when the dog starts messing in the house, wanting to go outside for walks, having to be fed and watered regularly, jumping on people, and nipping or displaying other behavior that he needs to be taught is not okay.
Even dog lovers don't necessarily want to be given a dog as a gift. For example, a friend's beloved dog might have died and you think your friend is lonely and depressed. A dog might cheer her up! So you go out and pick a new dog and present it to her. You might mean well, but your friend might not appreciate it: she may not be ready for another dog, she probably wants to pick her own new friend, or she may have decided that she's no longer going to have dogs.
So what's the alternative? If you do know someone who you believe truly wants to get a dog, then offer him or her a gift certificate to pick one out for himself. Many humane societies and dog rescue organizations offer gift certificates for sale. If a gift certificate isn't available, make one up on your computer and package it up with a nice dog-related item like a food bowl. The recipient can then choose his new dog to fit his personality and lifestyle, and can bring him into the family at a time that works best for him.
Puppies, Adult Dogs or Senior Dogs
It's hard to resist puppies, with their round pink bellies and oversized paws. Watching a happy, playful puppy is sure to bring a smile to any dog lover's face. Puppies, however, need a great deal of time and attention. They're babies: they need to be housetrained, taught good manners, protected against common diseases until their immune systems develop... and along the way, expect a few accidents in the house and some chew marks (hopefully not on your brand new couch or pair of shoes...). Puppies, of course, can also be a lot of fun to raise if you have the time and the patience. Adopting a young puppy means that you start with a "fresh slate" - you won't have to deal with any bad habits or issues that may have developed with an adult dog from a previous home. Plus you get to watch them grow up from a squirming little fuzzball into a beautiful adult dog.
Adult dogs, however, make excellent pets and are often passed over in favor of cute puppies (remember, puppies will eventually grow into dogs too!). With a full grown dog you see exactly what you're getting: you know how big the dog's going to be and what it looks like as an adult. A puppy with a fluffy little coat is adorable, but you could be in for more work than you bargained for if the dog matures into a 70-lb adult with a long thick coat that needs daily brushing.
Adult dogs also have a better attention span, which makes training easier than trying to get the attention of a squirming puppy. If the dog has had a previous home it may already be housetrained and even obedience trained. Adult dogs are over the "chewing phase" too and are less likely to chew something inappropriate.
There's also something to be said for adopting a senior dog. Older dogs make calm, sweet companions, perfect for households that prefer pets with lower exercise needs and quieter temperaments.
Lifestyle Considerations: What Type of Dog to Get?
There is an incredible variety of dogs to choose from. Purebred and mixed breed dogs all make excellent pets - it comes down to what you're looking for in a dog, and how well they fit into your lifestyle.
Don't choose dogs based on:
- "Trendiness": There are several types of "designer dogs" like the labradoodle (a mix between a labrador retriever and a poodle). But just because a dog is popular doesn't mean it will fit well with your lifestyle. Likewise, dogs in movies like 101 Dalmatians can become very popular - until the animal shelters see the fallout. Families adopt these dogs without knowing much about them, and when they discover that the dogs aren't suitable for their homes they surrender them to shelters. Research the dog before making a decision. Remember that breed traits are just generalizations and that every dog is an individual.
- How "cute" they are: Puppies grow up and change in appearance. An illness or injury can also cause a change in how a dog looks.
- Feeling sorry for a dog: It's hard to resist a dog peering sadly at you from behind the bars of their kennel at the animal shelter. But choosing a dog based on pity shouldn't be the main reason you adopt a dog.
- Pressure from the kids: Lots of parents are familiar with their children pleading, "Can we pleeeease get a dog? I'll take care of it and you won't have to do anything!" The fact is, adults always have the ultimate responsibility for the care of a pet.
- Pressure from other family or friends: Well-meaning friends and family might "suggest" a particular dog for you. Although no one wants to offend a loved one, adopting a dog is a big commitment. Make sure you adopt a dog that's right for you.
A successful match between a family and a dog makes both sides happy. When choosing a dog, consider:
- Time commitment: Puppies are generally much more work than an adult dog. High-energy dogs of any size will need more time put aside for exercise. Long-haired dogs need regular grooming. Figure out how much time you are willing to put into pet care before deciding on a dog.
- Activity level: Every dog needs fresh air and exercise, but some need much more exercise than others! Households that enjoy being outdoors hiking, walking, swimming, and just generally being active, may prefer to get dog that is mixed with breeds like a Golden Retriever, Australian Shepherd, or any of the active breeds. Lower-energy households should consider dogs with lower exercise needs to avoid situations where the dog gets bored and develops a greater risk for behavior problems.
- Grooming: Dogs need to be brushed to keep their coats healthy and free of mats. However, long-haired breeds need regular, if not daily, brushing which is a big time commitment. Grooming also includes trimming nails, checking eyes and ears, brushing teeth, and even cleaning skin folds for "snub-faced" dogs with wrinkly faces.
- Travel: Going on vacation means figuring out what to do with the dog. Some dogs have temperaments that are well suited for travel while others don't. And although there are many pet-friendly hotels and other accommodations that allow you to bring your pet, many of them only allow small pets and often limit the number of pets permitted per room. Other options to consider are boarding your pet or hiring a pet-sitter, or asking friends or family to care for your dog. If you would be relying on friends and family, would they be willing to care for a large dog? Or how about multiple dogs, if you intend to adopt a dog to add to your furry family? Travel might be a minor point if you only go on vacation once a year, but if you are a more frequent traveler it's wise to take it into consideration.
- Finances: Generally speaking, it costs more to raise a puppy, or care for a large dog or an older dog.
- Family members: The other members of your family need to be considered when you choose a pet. Kids are a major consideration. Sometimes people want to get small dogs or puppies for their kids, believing that small dogs are easier to manage and that puppies and kids can "grow up together". Actually, small dogs and puppies are more fragile and young children's lack of coordination can injure them. Small dogs are also not necessarily easier to handle than large breeds - many small breeds are extremely high-energy! Larger, sturdier, and calmer adult dogs are often a better choice for households with young children. Another consideration is whether your household has seniors. A bouncy high-energy breed that may inadvertantly trip up your grandmother is probably not a good idea! Before you make a final decision on any dog, every member of the family should have an opportunity to meet the dog to see if they're compatible.
- Household pets: Lots of people have happy and successful multi-pet households. This is not always the case, though; older pets may not enjoy a young puppy bouncing into their lives, and dominant dogs may not accept any other dog at all. Some dogs are not friendly towards other species like cats, and likewise, some cats do not appreciate the companionship of a dog. "Too many" pets is also an issue if they cannot all be properly cared for. Some municipalities also have restrictions on the number of pets permitted per household. If at all possible, bring your dog to visit the new dog to see if they get along before you decide whether or not to adopt the new dog.
- Rental housing: If you're a renter, your choice of dog is especially important. You'll need permission from your landlord to have a dog - and you need to have it in writing before you go out and adopt one! Remember too that some housing will permit one pet but no more. Renters with pets often find it challenging to find good rental housing that will let them keep their pets. And if you have a mid-size or large dog, it's going to be doubly-challenging.
- Where you live: An apartment building with many residents in close quarters, for example, is suitable for smaller and quiet dogs but isn't the best choice if you're planning to adopt a high-strung dog. A house with a securely fenced yard is ideal.
Breed-Specific Legislation (BSL) or "Breed Bans"
Some municipalities have banned certain breeds of dogs. These dogs are normally the breeds that have "bad reputations" such as pit bulls, rottweilers, and doberman pinschers. If you are considering adopting one of these breeds (or a mix of one of these breeds, or even a dog that looks like one of these breeds), contact your municipality first to ensure that your new dog would not be affected.
- DogWatch.net: Excellent information about breed-specific legislation in North America and abroad.
- National Geographic News—article: "Breed-Specific Bans Spark Constitutional Dogfight"
Aside from the cost of adopting a dog, there are many additional costs to ensure your dog stays happy and healthy.
- Purchase price, adoption fee, or re-homing fee.
- Spay or neuter surgery: "Fixing" your dog offers several health and behavior benefits, and ensures your pet doesn't contribute to the pet overpopulation problem.
- Permanent identification: A tattoo and microchip are both recommended as ID for your dog in case he gets lost.
- Initial shots/vaccines (for puppies): Puppies need additional vaccines to protect their immature immune systems.
- Fencing: Although it's not a necessity, a fenced yard is ideal for dog owners. Dogs can be let out to relieve themselves without the owner having to go out with them. The yard also gives dogs a place to play and expend a little energy.
- Socialization and obedience classes: Socialization classes give dogs the opportunity to interact with other dogs and people, so that they are comfortable with them. Obedience classes (teach people to) teach dogs what's expected of them as a good family member. It also helps people and dogs to form a stronger bond with one another by working together in a positive environment.
- Health issues or medication: Depending on where you live, your dog may have to be continually treated for heartworm, fleas and ticks, or you might only need to purchase these medications if you're traveling to an area where these pests are a problem. Dental care is also an expense to budget for. You can minimize the amount of dental work your dog needs by brushing its teeth regularly.
- Emergency medical care: Dogs can get sick or hurt just like people can. Setting aside a little extra money every month can help to pay the bills if an emergency happens. Some pet owners purchase pet insurance for peace of mind. Make sure you read the fine print, though - pet insurance does not always cover what you think it does.
- Dog supplies: This includes items like food and water bowls, beds and bedding, a kennel or crate, collar and leash. Supplies generally last a long time but eventually have to be replaced.
- Food and treats: Bigger dogs tend to eat more than smaller ones, and thus cost more to feed.
- Licensing costs: Most municipalities will require that your dog be licensed every year.
- Regular vet check-ups: Adult dogs usually visit their veterinarians once a year to update their shots and get an overall health exam. It's sometimes recommended that senior dogs visit the vet twice a year for check-ups.
- Grooming: This includes nail trimming, coat care, etc.
- Boarding or travel costs: Some people will bring their pets on vacation with them (most pet-friendly accommodations charge an additional pet fee). Other people prefer to board their pets or hire a pet-sitter.
It's a RUFF Life Rescue
A Story of Courage
Where to Get a Dog
Whenever possible, I try to encourage people to visit their local humane society or dog rescue. There are many wonderful purebred and mixed breed dogs looking for a loving family. Many people mistakenly believe that all "shelter dogs" must have something wrong with them. This just isn't true. Many dogs in the shelters are "victims of circumstance" and are there through no fault of their own.
There are several advantages of adopting through an animal shelter or dog rescue organization. Dogs that come into the shelters are typically assessed by the staff for health and temperament. The staff are also knowledgeable and can you find a dog that suits your lifestyle. Plus you give a homeless pet a second chance at a happy life - and you don't contribute to pet overpopulation!
As another bonus, the cost of adopting through a shelter is very reasonable. The adoption costs often include expenses such as spay/neuter surgery and a tattoo and/or microchip. Ask the organization what's included when you adopt a dog.
Another source for finding a dog is through re-homing ads. Many pet owners, for a variety of reasons, are attempting to find new homes for their dogs. The advantage of getting a re-homed pet is that the previous owner can give you a lot of information about the dog... on the other hand, you don't know if they're going to lie just to get rid of it.
You can also find dogs through responsible breeders. Breeders are knowledgeable about the dog breed and can answer your questions. They tend to interview new families before placing one of their dogs, and they often have a clause in the adoption contract stating that the dog will go back to them if you need to give it up for some reason.
Please do not purchase dogs from pet stores, puppy mills, or backyard breeders. Puppy mills exist solely to make money and they breed their dogs over and over again, often in deplorable conditions, and then sell the puppies to pet stores. Puppies are often sick. "Backyard breeders" are small-scale breeders who also indiscriminately breed their dogs without regard for the future of the breed or taking the proper steps to socialize the dogs and make sure they're healthy.
There are some wonderful pet stores who do not sell dogs but instead put aside room to display shelter or rescue animals that need homes.
Adopt a dog and save a life!
The Faces of Animal Rescue
Integrating Your New Dog Into the Family
You've done the research, chosen a dog, and now he's coming home with you. It's time to welcome him into the household! Every dog is individual: some dogs adjust easily and quickly while others need extra time and encouragement.
Even housetrained dogs may have the occasional accident while they're adjusting to a new home. Be prepared with cleaning supplies and don't make a big deal out of an accident if it happens. Just show your dog where you want him to go, encourage him to go, and praise him when he does. You'll soon learn the signs when he needs to go for a bathroom break.
A bit of anxiety is not uncommon either. Some dogs may initially be more comfortable hanging out or sleeping by the door or in some corner of the home. That's okay, let them adjust at their own pace. As they get more comfortable with their new family they'll start interacting more as well.
Teach children the proper way to approach and handle a dog. Tell them that dogs should not be disturbed while eating, drinking, or sleeping. Calmly introduce your new dog to your children in a positive environment. Be sure to always supervise them when they are together.
Have ready a dog bed for your new dog, his own collar and leash, and his own bowls for food and water. If you already have other pets, feed them in separate areas to minimize territorial issues until they are accustomed to each other.
Time and patience will help your pet become a happy and permanent member of your family.
Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.— Roger Caras