October is "Adopt a Shelter Dog" month, and you're likely hearing all the reasons why you should bring home a new addition to the family. But are you ready for the commitment and responsibility of a new dog? Have you done your research yet? Check out my top ten questions to ask yourself before you add a new dog to your home.
Do I have time for a dog?
Dogs are fun and loving companions that can make a wonderful addition to your home. But if you work long hours or are frequently traveling, you'll have to consider options like a dog walker or doggie daycare. Dogs thrive on exercise and mental stimulation, so it's important that you don't bring home a new dog only to have him left alone with no stimulation for 8+ hours every day.
Am I prepared for basic training and problem behaviors?
Regardless of whether you buy a puppy from a breeder or adopt an older dog from a shelter, your dog is going to need some basic training. Find a positive trainer near you who can help you through your new dog's adjustment period, which can span from days to months. Remember-bringing a new dog into your home is just as much an adjustment for the dog as it is for you. A puppy or dog may come to you with some more serious behavioral problems, so it's important that you have a good relationship with a veterinarian and a trainer so you have a good support system to work through those problem behaviors.
What breed or breed mix should I get?
This is one of the most important questions to ask yourself before falling in love with a specific dog. One of the biggest mistakes a prospective dog owner can make is choosing a dog based on its appearance. Heavily research the breeds or breed mixes you're interested in, and don't expect your dog to be the exception to the breed's typical temperament. A herding breed like an Australian Shepherd, for example, may not be the best pet for a couch potato owner, and a sighthound, such as a Greyhound, may not be a good match for a home with cats. Do your research beforehand so you find a dog that's the right fit for your family.
Should I get a puppy or an adult dog?
Many people choose to bring home a puppy because they feel they can shape him into the perfect dog. Keep in mind that a dog's personality and temperament is partially shaped through genetics, so even a perfectly raised puppy may have its own set of issues as an adult. It's also important to decide whether you're prepared for the responsibility of raising the near-equivalent of a human baby. Be prepared for barking, whining, pooping, peeing, and chewing. Adult dogs will have a more developed personality and don't have to potty nearly as often as a puppy. They, too, can come to you with some behavioral issues, although if you choose to adopt from a rescue group, they will be able to tell you a great deal about a dog's personality.
Can I afford a dog?
The expenses of responsible dog ownership go far beyond the basics of food, water, and shelter. A happy and healthy dog receives routine veterinary care including spay or neuter, is fed high-quality food, and receives regular exercise and mental stimulation. Small expenses like a collar, tag, and dog bed can really start to add up. Make sure you're prepared for these additional expenses before committing to a dog.
Am I prepared for the responsibility of a dog?
When you adopt or purchase a dog, you are making a commitment for the rest of that dog's life. Many dogs live to be 15-20 years old or more. You need to be prepared to care for this dog for the rest of its life--are you willing and able to make that lifelong commitment?
Should I adopt a dog or buy from a breeder?
This decision is a purely personal one, but make sure it's a smart decision for your family. Rescue dogs make wonderful pets, and when you adopt from a rescue group, most of that dog's initial vetting will be completed and the group will be able to tell you about the dog's temperament and personality. You're also saving two lives by choosing a rescue dog-that dog, and the one that will be saved in its place. With the world's extreme pet overpopulation problem, rescue is a wonderful choice to make. If you want to know your dog's history and lineage, and are dead-set on a specific breed, find a reputable, responsible breeder in your area.
If I want a purebred dog, should I go to a pet store?
The short answer--absolutely not. Pet stores are notorious for purchasing their puppies from puppy mills, where they are raised with minimal care or socialization and the puppies' parents are used as nothing more than breeding machines. If you purchase a pet store puppy, you can expect to be getting a puppy with genetic health issues and extensive socialization needs. Rather than purchase from a pet store, find a breed-specific rescue in your area or find a responsible breeder. A responsible breeder will provide you with health certifications, won't allow puppies to leave their mother before 8 weeks of age, and will require you to sign a contract before purchasing a puppy.
Are all my family members (animals included) ready for this new addition?
Adding a dog to your home is a decision that affects all members of the household, including any existing pets in the home. Make sure everyone in the family is on board with the decision, and confirm beforehand that no one has any severe pet allergies. Introduce your new dog slowly to existing animals in the home. Take special considerations when you have a small child in the home. Teach your child how to be safe around dogs, and never leave your child alone with any dog.
How do I pick the right dog?
Don't rush this decision or take it lightly. You're making a long-term commitment, and you want to choose a dog that will be a mutually good fit. Get in touch with a local rescue group and learn more about the dogs in their program. Visit adoption events in your area, and if you want to purchase from a breeder, talk with local breeders and see which seem to be right for you. Adopting a dog is an emotional decision, but it's important to think with your head, and not just your heart.