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
Related Advice from Other Dog Owners
How to Know if a Shelter or Rescue is Reputable
If you check out their adoption process, this should give you a rough idea. Call them and ask about their "return policy." Rescues usually have the "forever home" in mind, whereas a shelter may just say "if the dog doesn't work out, just bring them back." Also, there are many internet groups dealing with rescue.
Sign up for the breed groups you are interested in. You can get a good idea who is "reputable" within a few weeks. These are active rescuers and they are full of advice and know who's "naughty or nice." Those who are actively rescuing dogs are more likely to be reputable.
~L G., owner of Collie mix
Why Rescues Have so Many Rules
Placing dogs with people is complex, and I think we in the shelter/rescue world are ALWAYS struggling to find that balance - wanting to place as many animals as possible, which allows more lives to be saved/ less time having to be spent in a kennel at a shelter by any particular dog. yet not wanting to place dogs (or people for that matter) in a precarious situation by making a bad match.
For our shelter, we basically try to be flexible and everything's more dependent on the situation than on written rules or policies. We generally err on the side of "yes" than "no" to an adoption, if it's "on the fence." It goes without saying, perhaps, but we WANT all the dogs to get adopted, and every adoption is a celebration!
Because we are flexible though, that means a lot more work up front in terms of interviewing/talking to the adopters, since we don't just have a checklist to go by. For example, in the case of an older person, we might have asked about her physical abilities to walk the dog etc. and then tried to match her up with a dog that she'd be able to control. Of course you'd already thought that all through when you went to adopt a dog for her, but you'd be surprised that some people don't think about things like that. So all we can do is talk to people and see where they're coming from and try to get the best outcome.
~Dawn T., owner of Beagle mix
Do Not Get a Dog on Impulse
I am all for adopting an adult dog. You see what you get. And unless you absolutely have the time and interest to raise and train a puppy, an adult dog is a better option. If they have been abandoned or abused, they truly will love and please you for the rest of their life. The more you interact, the more the dog will respond to you, and make a forever friend. Your love and compassion will be returned ten-fold
~Rosemarie R., owner of seven rescued dogs
An older dog is NOT always trained
Me and my partner have recently adopted a 7-year-old labrador. Whilst adopting an older dog was very rewarding, she was totally untrained.
People should also realise some older dogs have not been spayed and may have health problems. This is an extra cost they should take into consideration before adopting.
~Shell G, owner of a Labrador