Should I Adopt a Dog? Here Are 8 Things to Consider First, According to a Trainer
Whether you're dreaming of a furry running partner, a hiking buddy, or just a fuzzball to cuddle with on the couch, adopting a dog can seem like the perfect move. But it's easy to look at bringing home a new four-legged BFF with rose-colored glasses without really pausing to ask yourself, "should I adopt a dog?"
Gail Miller Bisher is a handler, trainer, judge, and resident expert for the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. She recommends creating a list of what to keep in mind before you start browsing local shelters. Here are some tips and points to consider.
1. Assess Your Lifestyle
The number one thing to consider before adopting a dog is to truly evaluate your lifestyle. Getting a pet shouldn't be an impulse decision, no matter how easy it is to swoon over a fuzzy face. If you travel for work a lot, have a temporary housing situation, or need to be mindful of expenses for a while, make a plan first. There will always be good dogs available when you're ready.
If now isn't the right time to adopt a dog, don't despair! You can still get a hefty dose of puppy love by volunteering at a shelter—they're always in need of compassionate and reliable humans. Or perhaps foster rescue dogs for a couple of weeks at a time to help them acclimate to a home environment (and become irresistibly adoptable by someone else).
2. Consider All Family Members
What you can offer a new dog extends to how well they'll interact with the family. Some dogs are instant playmates for kids and blend well into a busy household with other dogs, cats, and additional critters. Then there are pups who are better suited in families with older children, seniors and retirees, or single-animal homes.
3. Research the Breed
There are 200 registered purebred dog breeds in the U.S. and literally dozens of mixed breeds. And different breeds have different needs.
Some dogs live a long time (exceeding 15 years, in some instances). Others are bred specifically for certain tasks, such as herding or hunting, and will have certain expectations of you! "What the dog was originally bred to do will tell you a lot about how they'll act," Bisher explains.
Some of the best homework a first-time dog owner can do is getting to know a breed's temperament, characteristics, and other factors before giving their heart away. Experienced dog parents might learn a thing or two about new breeds as well. Take time to talk with reputable breeders or breed-centered rescue organizations if you desire a particular type of dog.
4. Plan for Mental and Physical Exercise
"If you just like to hang out on the sofa, there are certain breeds you shouldn't have," Bisher says. "All breeds have different exercise needs. Make sure you can give them exercise. It's really important for their mental and physical health," she adds.
Active pup parents often take their energetic dogs with them on hikes, runs, and even kayaking excursions. More laid-back folks hope for a snuggly snuggly lap dog who's content to play fetch and walk around the block.
But even if your new pup isn't a marathon runner, all dogs love daily games and activities that engage their minds, help them bond with their humans, and keep them out of mischief.
5. Invest in Training
Not only does positive reinforcement training and early socialization ensure they'll be good doggie residents, but also continually builds upon their natural instincts and abilities. Teaching basic skill cues and fun tricks guarantees your dog thrives. You can also hire a dog trainer or behaviorist to help.
6. Be Conscious of Grooming
Certain dogs have particular grooming needs that require dedicated attention, proper grooming tools, and maybe even regular trips to professional groomers for the right care.
For example, double-coated dog breeds such as Siberian huskies and Labrador retrievers not only shed (a lot), but they also "blow coat" in the spring and fall. Other breeds, such as Yorkshire terriers, actually have hair that requires more frequent grooming appointments because it grows long quickly.
"If you don't want to spend a lot of time and money, find a dog that's easier to groom," Bisher recommends.
7. Partner With a Veterinarian
When researching dog breeds, you'll learn the general health of your preferred pup and any anticipated conditions or diseases. Reputable breeders work with geneticists and veterinarians to ensure the health of their lines and puppies, but a little preemptive guidance from a local vet can influence your decision, too. Work with a vet partner who:
- Knows how to treat your breed. Some dogs, such as the saluki or English foxhound, are among the rarest dog breeds in the U.S. and might need more specialized care.
- Understands the unique health characteristics of crossbreed dogs. If you discover a goldendoodle or Cavapoo who needs a good home, talk with a vet to get the lowdown on both parent breeds and what to expect.
- Develops a breed-specific nutrition plan. From the amount of food your dog needs to what diet is best for certain health issues, your vet has ideas that will help.
8. Budget Accordingly
Simply put: Dogs are expensive. You'll want to be well-briefed on all aspects of care and associated fees, including:
- How much a puppy costs in the first year
- What dog vaccinations you need, how frequently, and average prices
- The general costs of vet visits where you live
- Professional dog grooming services and tips
- Whether the cost of pet insurance is worth it
- How much you'll pay for additional services such as dog training, pet sitters, boarding, and dog walkers
RELATED: What Does Owning a Dog Really Cost?
Because you ultimately want to give a dog a fabulous life, there's no rush to make this decision. Take your time, weigh the options, and with all your newfound research, you'll have full confidence choosing the BFF you've always wanted.
Additional reporting by Jennifer Aldrich.