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Adopting a Dog: Things to Think About Before the Adoption

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Angela has been both a renter with multiple pets and a pet-friendly landlord. She has shared her life with several dogs and cats.

Owning a dog is a wonderful experience, but it is a huge responsibility. Here are a few things you should think about before deciding to adopt a dog.

Owning a dog is a wonderful experience, but it is a huge responsibility. Here are a few things you should think about before deciding to adopt a dog.

Having a Pet Dog Is a Commitment

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!

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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 a 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.

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Giving Dogs as Gifts Is Not Always a Good Idea

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.

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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 Have Different Needs

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 certain 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.