Acquiring a dog can be one of the most exciting, and influential, times of your life! (It can even lead to changing professions!) Adding an inquisitive canine to your family can bring all sorts of emotions, adjustments to schedules, and changes to priorities. There are many factors to consider in helping with this life-altering choice. So, even though there is rarely a concrete answer, there are ways to help with planning and making an informed decision.
A ‘self-quiz’ approach can be helpful. I recommend that each person in the household first answer the following questions individually, then collectively as a group. This approach helps with sharing honest feelings and feedback, and being able to engage in a more productive, composed, thoughtful discussion. Some questions to consider are:
You’ll need to determine which resources you are going to have to find elsewhere and which you have at-the-ready. Age, breed tendencies, and canine-specific traits should be considered. Time, money, and professional services -veterinary care, dog training services, doggy daycare, boarding, pet sitters, dog walkers, dog groomers-are required at some point in a dog’s life.
As you can see, the overall needs of inquisitive canines are not unlike those of humans (we’re animals too): feeding, exercise, mental and physical enrichment, medical/healthcare, grooming, and education. And expenses can add up — especially those unforeseen incidentals, such as an emergency visit to the vet clinic! Financial considerations also include things like treats, collars, leashes, harnesses, toys, flea/tick/heartworm prevention, beds, shampoo, brushes/combs…for starters. If finances are tight, you might plan to recruit family, friends, and neighbors to help with things like pet sitting or dog walking, and even grooming.
Remember too that dogs are predators, omnivores, scavengers, and problem solvers. Sometimes this is cute (Fluffy is playing with the ball she found), and sometimes it’s downright annoying (Fido just chewed up the couch). If you will need a trainer but are unable to find one in your area, or won’t have time to commute to and from classes, a DIY approach and/or virtual consulting might be your best options.
Puppies and senior dogs tend to need more care, so consider that when budgeting both time and money for a canine companion. Similarly, if a dog develops an illness or gets injured, additional care, time, and money will be required from you as well.
Understand that the dynamic of each resource changes, not only throughout the pet’s life, but throughout yours as well. For instance, you might have more time than money now, but in a few years, it could be reversed — or vice versa.
While some dogs require more time than others, caring for a canine, no matter the age, takes a time commitment.
Are you a family of 10, where each person has an hour a day to help? A retired couple who has all the extra time in the world? A single person wrapped up in the workforce and gone all day long? Do you plan to spend time traveling? Does your schedule allow for taking care of a dog? What about a puppy? Do you have the luxury of working from home, which allows you to customize your calendar and appoint your dog as Chief Canine Officer? Does your work schedule vary? Are you an independent contractor whose work hours fluctuate frequently? Do you work in an industry where a rotating shift is the norm? What about a job in an office where you’re allowed to bring your dog to work?!
Again, these questions are yours to answer — and consider for the length of the dog’s life, not just the first few weeks.
By now, you might be asking yourself, “Is there ever a good time to acquire a dog? Is there a better time?” These answers, like the ones above, are unique to the individual household.
Is the whole household in agreement with adding an inquisitive canine to the family unit? While it is ideal if everyone in the home agrees, it doesn’t necessarily mean that each person has to take on the same amount of responsibility. However, it should mean that each person is happy that the dog is part of the family.
Are children begging and pleading with parents about getting a dog? This objective alone should not be the stand-alone reason you bring a dog or any pet into a household. Yes, children can certainly benefit in many ways from having pets. But do they fully understand the amount and types of responsibilities included in pet guardianship?
If parents also want a new pup to care for, then there should be an open and honest discussion. What might the future hold for all involved? For families who acquire a dog when children are young, these children then get older and head to college or just move out. The dog is now a senior, still needing care. And then what happens when the next human generation appears? Will your doggo need to be reintroduced to younger children?
What about if one adult wants a dog, but the partner doesn’t? Yes, you could still bring a new pup into the household, but what will the outcome be within that relationship? Will the person bringing the dog home think that once the partner meets this new family member they’ll fall in love and change their mind, creating that perfect Disney movie ending? Or, will that person instead develop a negative conditioned response to the dog? Again, acquiring a pet is life-altering, more intensely so for some than others, so it’s best that the decision is a team effort!
Additionally, a major topic of pet ownership that is often overlooked is, “What will happen to my pet if something happens to me?” This important, albeit unpleasant, subject needs to be planned for. (And written down somewhere!) The first thing to do is to determine who would oversee making pet-related decisions and then check with that person to confirm they are willing to take on the task. If you have a Living Will, include this information in that document. You can decide on who would take your dog, or who would be in charge if your dog needs to be re-homed. You can also set aside monetary compensation or a doggy trust fund so the designated guardian will be financially covered for the dog’s needs.
But, back to the fun stuff. To help decide which pet would be a great fit for your lifestyle and resources, ask lots of questions. Are you an athlete looking for a new running partner or a homebody ISO a little buddy who prefers to relax by your feet while you read up on the latest local news? Limited grooming services in your area? You might want to consider a breed that requires less grooming (and/or learn how to do it yourself). Depending on the household environment, some dogs will need to be more independent than others, i.e., busier households with people coming and going vs empty nesters who now have more time to focus on a new family pet.
Turn to friends, family members, neighbors who have a dog you like. If you’ve had dogs in the past, recall what you liked then and what you might want now. Go to animal shelters and talk with staff. Talk with responsible, ethical breeders. Perform Google searches for breeds you might be interested in – but be sure to read between the lines – each dog needs to be viewed as an individual, no matter the shape, size, gender, color, breed, or breed mix.
When investigating breed and breed traits, it’s good to search for unbiased and reputable sources. The AKC has an in-depth list of dog breeds that include history, markings, and traits. But some of the adjectives used are a bit subjective. Put your critical thinking cap on and be discerning. Yes, herding breeds might have a higher tendency to herd and retrievers might have a higher propensity to put everything in their mouths, but remember, every inquisitive canine is unique. Just because a dog is a certain breed doesn’t necessarily mean a specific personality trait will be expressed.
Oh, and FWIW, the size of the dog does not dictate the energy level. Some smaller pups are happy to go for a ten-mile run then come home and want to rewire your house, whereas some larger dogs might be content with laying around, watching the world go by…but that’s not always the case.
Lastly, keep in mind that, no matter the breed, all dogs tend to exhibit ‘normal’ species-specific traits. (For example, female dogs mark their territory too, so there’s also that doggy trait to consider.) And dogs have mental and physical energy that needs to be channeled productively. Be prepared for barking, digging, chewing, exploring the world with their mouths, their paws, and their noses, running, jumping up, wanting to sniff everything, wanting to roll in dead stinky things, jumping through mud puddles (some humans like to do that too), peeing whenever and wherever nature calls, pulling on leashes (because we’re too slow), and more! But these traits are what makes dogs dogs…and why we love them.