Should I Adopt a Dog?

The decision to adopt a pet dog should not be taken lightly. A dog will affect your life in a multitude of ways, and will become a long-term commitment, as dogs live between seven and 15 years - possibly longer. Instead of rushing into it, it's wise to go through the following checklist of questions to ask yourself before adopting a dog.

Is Your Lifestyle Suitable To A Dog?

A dog requires your attention every day. It will need exercise, grooming, healthy food and fresh water. Dogs are social creatures, so your new pet will also need your companionship. If you're currently a student or in the military, or if your job requires a great deal of travel, this might not be the right time to adopt or rescue a dog.

Your living situation also matters. Can your house or apartment accommodate a dog? (See our Dog Breed Finder for help.) Is there a fenced yard or a park nearby where the dog can exercise? Do you have children or other pets that will have to adjust to your new dog? Also consider your willingness to deal with inconveniences like flea outbreaks and added wear on furniture or carpeting.

Adopting a dog also involves a financial commitment. Puppy adoption in particular can be costly; within the first year you'll have to budget for spaying/neutering and the necessary vaccinations. Carefully consider the costs of food, veterinary care, pet toys and beds, grooming and even boarding at a kennel if you go on vacation every year.

Should You Adopt A Puppy Or Adult Dog?

This is a huge decision. Older dogs may seem to be less adorable, but are likely to be house-trained and socialized by the time they come to you. Puppy adoption, on the other hand, comes with some stress. A puppy has to empty its bladder every two to four hours, and there will be accidents before it's trained. Housebreaking a puppy requires someone to be home for much of the day, and to get up several times during the night.

Puppies can also be destructive, chewing on shoes, furniture and anything else they get their paws on.

Also consider whether you have the skills, time and patience for obedience training. An untrained puppy can become rough, disobedient or poorly socialized. If you don't have the means to train a puppy, an older dog may be a better option.

Which Breed Is Right For You?

There are hundreds of breeds of dogs, many of them bred for specific behaviors or physical characteristics. If you want a purebred dog, be sure you choose a breed that's well suited to your lifestyle, taking the following into consideration:

Size: The amount of space you have is only one factor in choosing a large breed or a small one. Small dogs live longer, cost less to feed, and may require less exercise. Larger dogs can dissuade potential intruders to your home or accompany you on jogs. Ask yourself what role in your life you want your pet to play.

Temperament: Each breed not only has specific physical traits, but a characteristic temperament as well. If you have children, do your research, as some breeds are known for being patient and gentle with kids, while others are more aggressive or high-strung. Different breeds can have very different activity levels as well, with some always ready to chase a ball and others more likely to flop down at your feet.

Coat: Dogs with long hair can be high-maintenance, requiring frequent brushing and clipping. The amount of hair a dog sheds can also vary with the breed, so choose a breed carefully if heavy shedding will be a problem for you. Also, breeds that have a thick undercoat because they were bred to withstand extreme cold are not good choices for warm climates.

What About A Mixed Breed?

Many people believe that mixed breed "mutts" make the best pets. It's true that they may be more even-tempered because they have not been bred for a specific trait. They're also not likely to suffer from some of the genetic ailments that purebreds can be prone to.

Where Should I Look For A Dog?

Consider visiting a shelter to rescue a dog. While many shelter dogs are mixed breeds, the Humane Society of the United States says that one in four is purebred. There are also rescue groups that specialize in finding homes for dogs of a specific breed; adopting a rescue dog may be far cheaper than buying a puppy from a breeder. However, if you do choose to use the services of a breeder, be sure to choose a reputable one.

Photo: W. Silver