An article highlighted in the Pet Sitters International Weekly News Brief titled “A Reality Check Concerning Christmas Puppies” recently caught my attention. While the article’s introduction discusses the joy and excitement of surprising the kids with a puppy or rescue dog for Christmas or on the eighth night of Chanukah, it primarily focuses on questions to ask oneself prior to adopting a puppy or dog. The questions put forth are very similar to those presented in a two-part story I posted earlier this year titled “Getting a Dog for the Right Reasons.” Since it is a topic that really never grows old and since adopting a new pet as a gift during the holiday season is a great idea, I thought it would be a good time to revisit the things one might want to ponder before surprising the kids with a puppy wrapped in tinsel.
Some questions to consider before deciding to adopt a puppy or dog are as follows:
- Why do I want to own a dog?
- Do you have time?
- Can you afford proper care?
- Will a dog fit your lifestyle?
- Is now the right time?
- Are you ready to be a responsible dog owner?
- Are you committed to caring for the dog for the rest of its life?
- Do you already have other pets?
Why do I want to own a dog?
Adopting a dog simply because it tugs on your heartstrings, because it is so cute or because it is what your child wants are all the wrong reasons. Owning a dog is a big responsibility. Ask yourself who is going to care for the dog, especially if you are getting it for your child. Bear in mind that the furry friend you choose could be a member of your family for ten to fifteen years or more depending on the age and breed of the dog.
Do you have time?
Dogs require food, water, exercise, care and companionship every day of their lives. Just like our non-furry children, you cannot ignore a dog and it’s needs because you are busy, tired, need a break or want a vacation. Although services like kennels and professional pet sitting are available to aid in filling the gap in these situations, they are no substitute for the long-term care, companionship and love an owner can provide. I cannot tell you the number of dogs I have worked with at the Humane Society and animal shelter that were surrendered simply because the owner did not realize the incredible commitment of time and energy dog ownership requires.
Can you afford proper care?
The costs of properly caring for a dog can be substantial, especially over the dog’s lifetime and includes items like licensing, spaying and neutering, veterinarian care, food, toys and training classes. Although some costs like licensing and rabies vaccinations may be universal, some costs are breed specific. For example, long haired breeds like the Shih Tzu, Yorkshire Terrier and Afghan Hound require regular grooming. There are also some classes of dogs that have special veterinary needs. For instance, it is common among small breeds like the Chihuahua to require annual teeth cleaning. That is why when considering dog ownership, it is always important to familiarize yourself with the characteristics of the breed or breeds (in the case of a mutt) in which you are interested before making a decision. Finally, medical costs are also possible due to health related matters like flea infestations, worms and cancer.
Will a dog fit your lifestyle?
If you are a renter, does the management allow dogs? Even if the answer is yes, make sure there is no limit on the number of pets allowed or a maximum weight requirement as such policies are not uncommon among rental communities. Even some condominium and town home communities maintain and enforce maximum weight requirements for dogs. Other important considerations relative to your lifestyle include your profession and how you spend your free time. Do you travel frequently for work? Are you a home body or always on the go? With dogs it is not just providing food, water, potty breaks and exercise you need to consider. Dogs are companion animals that not only thrive on, but need the affection and interaction of their owner on a very regular and consistent basis.
Is now the right time?
If you have children under six years old you might want to postpone getting a puppy or dog for a few years. Children should be responsible enough to assist with basic care like feeding and providing water. They also should be old enough to understand that a dog has feelings and needs like all living creatures. Another question to consider about whether this is the best time to add a furry member to your family is how settled your life is at present. For example, if you are active military frequently moving your residence from one state or country to the next, then wait until you settle down prior to adopting. Again, unlike cats, which are independent and only require you to check on them periodically, dogs require care, love and attention every day.
Are you ready to be a responsible dog owner?
Being a responsible dog owner includes proper vaccinations, spaying or neutering, maintaining and renewing identification tags and adhering to local leash and licensing laws.
Are you committed to caring for the dog for the rest of its life?
When you adopt a pet, you are committing to care for the animal for their lifetime. In the case of a dog this includes providing love, exercise, companionship, a healthy diet and regular vet care. Depending on the breed and age when you adopt, the dog could be a member of your family for ten to fifteen years or more.
Do you already have other pets?
If you already have other pets, you need to ensure adding a dog to the mix will work. You also need to consider the type of pets you currently own. Are they dogs, cats and/or other animals like pocket pets? Although many canines and felines co-exist very comfortably together, some do not. Even if you only have a dog or dogs, you still need to ensure you can integrate the new dog into your pet family as there are no guarantees this will occur just because they are all “dogs.” In addition to differences in breed types and characteristics, each dog has its own unique personality and behavioral idiosyncrasies. Moreover, you must take into consideration dogs pack mentality. Even though you as owner should always be the pack leader over your dog(s), there is always a pack leader that establishes themself between or among the pack of dogs. Accordingly, adding a new dog to the pack always changes the dynamic and creates a transition period even if the pack leader stays the same. Subsequently, the final item to consider if you already have other pets is whether or not you have the time and patience to oversee the transition period.
Adopting a puppy or dog is an admirable endeavor and a lovely gift especially for Christmas or Hanukah. These animals are beautiful creatures that fill our lives with unconditional love. Animal shelters and the Humane Society are filled with many dogs that are owner surrendered simply because an individual failed to consider the answers to one or more of these questions. Is a puppy the gift that keeps on giving? Absolutely! Just remember that the puppy needs us to keep on giving them love as well.