So what are the most important things to know before adopting a dog?
Generally, there are mainly two points of contention to explore. The first is whether or not you’re a good fit for dog parenting. The second is to determine if your dog of interest is a good fit for your temperament and lifestyle. It’s a bit more complicated than that which we’ll drill down into by my presenting you with eight essential questions to ask yourself.
Still, the first point of contention (if you’re a good fit) is of vital importance because it naturally precedes your choosing a potential dog. It also requires much more analysis.
Failing to assess your fitness and ability to commit to dog parenting often results in your regretting the decision, your possible neglect of the dog, and finally, the relinquishing of the dog to a shelter, or worse, to a friend or family member.
Avoid becoming a statistic:
I say the latter is worse because when you give someone a dog that you adopted, these second-hand pet parents have higher rates statistically for returning pets to shelters. This naturally makes sense because they weren’t the ones who initially wanted to adopt the dog in the first place.
Of course, this is not the case for all second-hand pet parents. Particularly if they were actively looking to adopt a pet, and took advantage of the opportunity to choose your adorable dog.
I’m speaking of when someone convinces a friend or relative who otherwise had no interest in adopting a dog to take on their dog. Sure, this may help the person feel better since they did not return the dog to the shelter. However, it fails to consider if it was a good idea for their friend or relative to take on this responsibility.
I believe it’s best to do your due diligence before you decide to adopt so that no one returns a dog that needs a home back to a shelter
You can learn more about the reasons why people give up their dogs here.
The goal of this post is to help you avoid becoming a statistic at all costs! As we drill down through the eight questions, by the end of this post, you will be able to confidently decide whether becoming a dog parent makes sense for you.
If you conclude, the answer is yes, then let the emotions fill you up! Becoming a dog parent is an exhilarating and life-changing experience. It will open up your world and your heart.
However, if you find that now is not a great time to adopt, that’s okay as well. It’s great to know that you’re at least being honest with yourself and putting the prospective dog’s needs above your own .
And as a bonus, I’ll offer you some alternatives to dog parenting that should help fill the void until your in a better position to have a dog of your own.
Before we begin, I would suggest that you take notes as you read along so that you can jot down your responses to the questions. Then revisit your answers later so that you can reflect on them before you make a final decision.
Let’s begin with a fundamental question because one of the first things to know before adopting a dog is:
1. Why do you want a dog?
This is a very important question to ask yourself. Many people idealize what they think life with a dog is like, yet they have no clue. Dogs are living, thinking, feeling creatures, with unique personalities, and they can also be quite demanding. So if you think that dogs just want to lay around the house like pieces of furniture until you summon them, then you’re in for a treat.
Dogs have their “wants” and “needs,” as well. So, it’s essential to evaluate not only what you want from the relationship with your dog, but also what you’re willing and able to give. Your relationship with your dog should be a mutually rewarding experience, not a one-way street.
2. Can you make a long-term commitment to a dog?
“Where do you see yourself ten years from now” is possibly one of the most annoying job interview questions ever . Yet, it’s a central factor to consider when you’re thinking about adopting a dog.
Dogs live ten years or longer on average:
Dogs can live for a very long time. They can live ten plus years on average with small breeds living longer. That’s why it’s not a good idea to get someone a dog as a gift because it’s a long term commitment. If they genuinely wanted to become a dog parent, they would do it on their own accord.
But the point here is that you ultimately have to look past your current circumstances and think about how a dog fits in your life and plans for your future.
What happens if you adopt a dog and then meet the man or woman of your dreams with just one caveat- their just not into dogs . This is something to really think about now so that you don’t find yourself having to choose between your dog and a potential mate later .
That’s why the first question, “Why do you want a dog?” is one of the first things to know before adopting a dog. It’s often the most overlooked part of the process that results in dogs being returned to dog shelters. And dog shelters are significantly overwhelmed with trying to place dogs into a forever home.
So now is the time to prioritize what’s most important in your life in general.
If being in a committed relationship or starting a family first is important, then maybe it’s best to hold off on adopting a dog until you’re more settled. Though if partnering is not a priority for you, and you’re willing to keep your dog after you have children, etc., then you just have to ask yourself if you’re comfortable limiting your dating pool only to “dog people.”
It’s really not the end of the world because that’s a pool of people who rock!
Thinking about moving?
If you have children and rent your home, would you move somewhere that did not accept children? So why would you ever consider moving somewhere that wouldn’t accept your dog?
Sure, this may sound like a ridiculous comparison. But moving to a home where the landlord does not accept pets is one of the top reasons why people give up their dogs. So I think it’s ridiculous to make a dog apart of your family for an extended period of time, then fail to consider them when it’s time to move.
So if you want to become a dog parent, you have to make decisions that will maintain your ability to keep your dog. This includes only looking for housing that accepts pets. It’s apart of responsible dog parenting. Dog parenting is a long-term commitment.
3. What is your self-care routine?
I’m sure this seems like an unusual question, but one good indication of how well you will be able to care for a dog is to ask yourself how well do you care for yourself?
No judgment here, but if you answer “no” to many of the questions listed below, I would suggest putting off adopting a dog for another time.
Because one of the key things to know before adopting a dog is that dogs require a lot of care and attention. Think of dog parenting literally like taking care of a child. They are completely dependent on you. And if you’re not giving yourself quality care and attention, then you will not be able to give it to your dog.
Things to consider here are:
- Do you have good hygiene and keep a clean environment?
- Is eating healthy meals and exercise apart of your weekly routine?
- Are you getting enough rest at night?
- Do you visit the doctors annually and as needed to treat any stubborn illness?
- How often do you have fun, laugh, play, or manage the stress in your life?
- What do you do to take time to yourself? (weekend trips, vacations, staycations, etc.)
- Do you use positive self-talk, etc.?
The list goes on, but you get the idea. It’s critical to have a routine that helps you to be mentally, physically, and emotionally sound before you take on the massive responsibility of dog parenting.
As the saying goes, “Before you help others, you must first help yourself.” And this is particularly true when it comes to dogs because they rely on you 100%.
4. Do you have any experience with dogs?
Having experience with dogs is not necessarily a requirement to become a great dog parent. However, one of the things to know before adopting a dog is that you should know a little something about dogs. You should at least grasp the basics. You can start by doing some research on dog behavior before adopting one.
Doing so will help manage your expectations so that you don’t fall victim to “the broken dog syndrome.” This is when dog parents are struggling with their newly adopted dog, so they think something is wrong with their dog.
As a pet care professional, I come across this often with first-time dog parents. They often mislabel normal dog behavior as problematic behavior. For example, a teething puppy would be diagnosed as misbehaving because they’re chewing or biting on everything. I would have to explain that, similar to babies, their teeth are still growing, and it’s painful . So the chewing helps to alleviate the pain.
I would recommend safe rubber dog toys that they could freeze and allow them to chew. The cold plus the chewing helps to numb their gums and soothe the pain.
Just taking a few minutes each day to read about dogs, or watch a TV show or documentary about dogs helps. If you can spend some time with a friend or family member’s dog, that’s even better. It will offer you some hands-on experience and insight into dog behavior and care.
5. Can you afford to care for a dog?
Your finances are also one of the critical things to know before adopting a dog. Because what’s not so obvious is how expensive dog care costs can be. You don’t have to be rich to become a dog parent, but you certainly must have your finances in order for their routine care and maintenance.
How much is enough?
Costs vary based on the dog’s size, age, breed, location, etc. But on average, the costs will range from $1000-$1500 the first year and anywhere from $500-$1000 each additional year.
Typical expenses include:
- Adoption fees
- Vet visits
- Pet insurance
- Food and treats:
- Pet care providers (dog walkers, trainers, day-care facilities)
- Dog gear (leashes, crates, coats, etc.)
- Accessories (dog food bowls, beds, etc.)
However, if you live in a major city, the costs can exceed the above-referenced numbers significantly, with vet visits being the highest. Generally, your annual visits will run you about $300/year. But it’s the one-off accidents that make costs spike significantly.
For example, our dog Mina had a slight tear in her ACL last year. Between the vet visits, x-rays, and prescribed medications, the bill tallied approximately $1,000.00.
Pet health insurance will save you money:
I can’t stress enough how important it is to have pet health insurance.
It may sound counterintuitive to spend money to save money. But dogs don’t plan on having injuries or illnesses, and the costs for unforeseen accidents can add up.
But maintaining pet health insurance helps offset these costs. We’ll discuss this more in another post, but one of the best coverages out there is Trupanion. We use Trupanion for our dog Mina, and we’ve been pleased with their service so far.
It came in handy for her torn ACL. Instead of paying the total $1,000.00, we only had to pay a percentage. Similar to health insurance for humans, it saves you money in the long run, especially when it comes to emergencies or accidents which dogs have all the time. They’re just like kids-except with fur.
6. Do you have time for a dog?
If you’re genuinely interested in becoming a dog parent, you will need to make time for them in your life. Because caring for a dog requires more than just feeding and walking them. It also requires some regular quality time.
One of the things to know before adopting a dog is that they are living creatures just like you and me. They have emotions, desires, and preferences. And they require nurturing and engagement to establish a bond.
You’ll want to learn what makes them tick. What do they enjoy doing the most? What makes them smile or their tail wag (besides treats.)
Next, your job is to find fun ways to incorporate that fun thing, whatever it may be, into your schedule so that you can do it together.
How to determine if you have time for a dog:
The best way to determine if you have time for a dog is to look at your daily schedule. You want to be as realistic as possible. That’s why we started this post with, “Why do you want a dog?”
You’d be surprised at how many people have dogs but don’t have lifestyles that can accommodate them. If you have a very demanding job that requires a lot of hours or frequent travel, then now is not the best time to add a dog to your life.
Dogs thrive on stability and routine
You need to create a schedule for their walks, feedings, playtime, etc. If you need to outsource a little help in general, that’s not a problem at all. However, the lion’s share of the responsibility of bonding and spending quality time caring for your dog should fall on you.
Before you adopt, inquire if you can bring your dog to work. You’d be surprised at how flexible companies are these days. Even some of the more traditional jobs have policies that allow their staff to bring their dogs to work. Especially if they are well behaved, which leads me to my next point.
7. Will you be an active participant in your dog’s training?
Training your dog is an essential part of providing them with quality care. Many people think when they hire dog trainers that they’re hiring them to train the dog. That’s partially true , but a good dog trainer is teaching the dog but mostly the dog parent. Because if they just train the dog and you don’t reinforce the training, it won’t work. The dog will work wonderfully with the trainer, but not so much with you.
Dog training requires patience and consistency:
One of the crucial things to know before adopting a dog in this respect is that it takes time, patience, and consistency to teach a dog to learn commands. Otherwise, you’re just going to waste your time and money. Further, you’re going to be left frustrated with whatever behavioral issues you may have to deal with.
And again, you want to avoid the “my dog is broken” syndrome and return your dog to a shelter.
This is truly one of the keys things to know before adopting a dog. They’re not all going to be perfect angels as their personalities develop. Some dogs can even become rebellious during the teen stage.
Therefore, you’ll have to learn appropriate positive reinforcement techniques and exercise some patience when it comes to training your dog.
Basic obedience training
Basic obedience training is of vital importance because it also offers you more flexibility in your daily life with your dog. If you have a well-behaved dog, you can take them almost anywhere. You can take them to work, an outdoor restaurant, a store, or a relative’s or dog sitter’s home.
More importantly, it keeps your dog safe. For example, if your dog was to get off-leash near a busy street, you want your dog to “come” back to you or “stay” if that’s safer. Or, if you’re going for a stroll, you want your dog to “heel” and walk by your side as opposed to pulling in front of you or lunging at other dogs.
Teaching your dog to respond to training commands protects you and keeps your dog safe.
So whether you hire a dog trainer or find some Youtube videos on dog training , the point is to make time to train your dog. Once they learn their basic commands, and you reinforce them, you’re golden! It’s like riding a bike- they’ll never forget.
Further, a well-behaved dog is reflective of an engaged and loving dog parent who took the time to provide their dog with the training and discipline that they need.
8. Did you research your dog’s breed of interest?
I saved this question for last because once you’ve made a full self-assessment about the possibility of becoming a dog parent, choosing the dog is the most natural part.
If you have a specific breed in mind, then it’s simple as doing a little online research or reading some books on your breed of interest. From there, you can go to a dog shelter and inquire if they have the specific breeds that interest you.
But if you want to keep your options open and see what dogs you make a connection with, that’s awesome too. However, it may not be possible to obtain breed information from an animal shelter. Still, any breed information that they offer can help you get an idea of what to expect in terms of anticipated health issues, temperament, activity level, etc.
Keep in mind that breed information is not 100% science. So don’t think that something is wrong if your Border Collie is not interested in “walking,” let alone “working.”
Breed information can provide you with basic expectations due to observed patterns consistent amongst the members of that breed. However, one of the things to know before adopting a dog is that dogs have their own unique personalities regardless of breed. And their personalities may even change over time.
So it’s necessary to take in as much information as possible while also keeping an open mind to allow your dog’s natural personality and temperament to reveal itself.
Now there are DNA tests for dogs available on the market. I wrote a detailed article on the subject here. The benefits of understanding your dog’s breed and genetics are astounding.
Meaning, if you decide to adopt a mixed breed, you can rest assured that you can discover the various components of their breed and, more importantly, their genetics and health risks with a dog DNA test. From there, you can share the results with your vet to put together a custom care plan tailored to meet their specific health needs.
This is even applicable for parents of pure-breds because pure-breds tend to have a number of health issues naturally or as a result of unethical breeders. So it’s definitely worth the investment to check out the article here.
Choose a compatible dog:
The goal should be to choose a dog that is most compatible with your temperament and lifestyle. If you go to a quality animal shelter, they should be able to provide you with ample information about the dog’s personality. They may even be able to tell you if the dog is a good fit for you or not.
Cute doesn’t cut it:
I cannot stress that enough. I have had clients that adopted dogs because they liked how they look only to later find that the dog was not an appropriate match. This late discovery can be very frustrating.
For example, Mini Australian Shepherds are all the craze as of late, notably in New York City. But many people don’t realize that they are high energy working dogs. They’re generally very smart and athletic, and they require a ton of physical and mental stimulation. Otherwise, they will drive you bananas.
A previous client of mine received one as a requested gift from her parents. She fell in love with him when she saw him as a puppy. I can’t blame her; he’s super cute! He even has different colored eyes. But boy was he also super energetic and athletic –she was not .
So while she was a trooper and hung in there and is still his mom to this day, she had to learn the hard way that cute doesn’t cut it-compatibility is king . It needs to be a win-win for both you and your dog.
A perfect match:
Meanwhile, on the other side of town, there was a perfect match. A current client of mine recently adopted an adorable Mini Australian Shepherd, and I couldn’t think of a better breed for her. This client is an extreme athlete and runs with her dog regularly.
I mean, extreme like she completed three marathons around the world , just last year-no exaggeration. She’s one of those people that when she says, ”I just ran over here to meet you,” it’s not a figure of speech. She means literally, by foot, from another borough.
She has high energy. Her high energy Aussie is a perfect match.
Be honest with yourself:
When considering what kind of dog to adopt, it’s a time for sheer honesty with yourself-set emotions aside. Trust me; once you’ve found your match, it’s like finding your tribe. You’ll always want to choose that breed or type of dog if you ever decide to adopt again.
Breed compatibility tests:
There are breed compatibility tests out there that can help you during this stage of the process. But again, they’re not an exact science. The value is that the questions that they ask will get the wheels turning. You’ll start thinking about what are the essential qualities that you desire in a dog. And the qualities of a dog are what you should look for to determine compatibility.
You’ll also discover your deal-breakers. For example, if you’re unwilling to deal with a dog that requires high maintenance grooming, then you may want to skip the Hungarian Puli Dog pictured here. They’re so cute and unique looking, but I don’t even know where you’d begin with that hair.
I took the test, and I was matched with a breed that I never heard of before. However, it’s characteristics and qualities were very similar to Mina’s which is what’s important.
Concluding food for thought:
The under-dogs of adoption:
If you have gathered that adopting a dog is in your near future, then congratulations! I’m very happy for you. I also hope that I was helpful in your decision-making process. However, I’d just like to offer this last point of consideration. If you want to make a significant impact on adopting a dog, then you may want to look into dogs that get adopted last.
Dogs that get adopted last:
Many of the dogs listed in the article include dogs that face color and breed discrimination like black dogs and Pit-Bulls. Or the less attractive options like your senior and handicapped dogs. But I’ve had some fantastic experiences caring for these “under-dogs” of adoption.
Our dog Mina is all black, and she’s featured in the gallery image of this post. I also currently have two clients that are mixed with Pit-Bull. One of them is featured in the gallery image of this post. Both dogs are the sweetest girls you’d ever meet with loads of spunk and personality.
I even had a former client with a handicapped dog. I used to call him Cool Breeze. He was just the most chill dog that I’d ever met. His handicap did not phase his ability to be happy thanks to his amazing parents!
So again the choice is yours, I’d just encourage you to be open-minded as many people say, the dog will often choose you!
Additional tips and resources
Alternatives to pet ownership:
If you decided that now is not the best time to add a dog to your life, below are some other options to explore. They will allow you to still share your life with a dog without having the responsibility that is required to parenting one. This can also be a gratifying experience.
Think of your fun aunt or uncle that never had children. You can be that fun, aunt, uncle, or just good ole best friend, for a dog!
Your options include but are not limited to:
- Volunteering at a dog shelter
- Becoming a dog walker or pet-sitter
- Volunteering yourself to serve as a back-up walker or sitter to a friend or relative with a dog.
Links to interesting dog adoption agencies:
Below are a few agencies that I have personal experience with. We adopted Mina via Pet Finders. I’ve met foster parents from Muddy Paws. And a relative recently adopted an adorable puppy from Labradors and Friends. You can see little Willy in the gallery pic for this post.
Willy’s parents are amazing because they always adopt the under-dogs of adoption. Willy needs eye surgery, and he has two all-black mixed lab/shepherd brothers Elwood, and Norman at home. They are also featured in the gallery images for this post.
Rescue Dogs Rock does serious vetting. They determine if you can get approved for adoption or not. One of my client’s neighbors is in the process of trying to adopt from them. Her family owns their penthouse in a doorman building, and the agency called the Super and management company of their building to make sure they allow dogs to live there. They want the dogs that they adopt to have forever homes. Maybe it can be yours!