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8 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Adopt a New Dog

Adding a family member is a huge responsibility. Here are tips to make sure you're ready.

 |  Sep 11th 2013  |   14 Contributions


When Ralph, our French Bulldog, rescued us, we had lost our beloved English Bulldog, Trixie, just four months earlier. The moment we saw him, we knew we were "foster failing" and he was staying. How? We may never know for sure, but we joke that Trixie sent him to us -- possibly to torture us -- but sent our way nonetheless. We needed his spirit, spunk, and all the energy back in the house.  

That said, we didn't plan on him becoming the clown that added the missing laughter to our lives. We also didn't anticipate the need to train a three-year-old dog not to get into things the other dogs knew to avoid, or having to train the others all over again to stop getting into the things Ralph re-educated them to attack.  

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The dogs miss me when I'm not home.

Nothing is ever perfect with rescue and adoption, but it can be one of the most rewarding experiences a dog owner can know. In a world of over-populated shelters it seems we can’t wait to help and rescue our next furry family member. How do we know when the time is right? All too often animals are rescued on impulse, out of loneliness, loss of another pet, or to satisfy a child’s wishes. There are a myriad of reasons you may want to add a pet. There are many reasons why and why you shouldn’t rush into such a commitment. Read on and consider thorough answers to a few questions before you bite the bullet and make this commitment.

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Pugga Joe with me, his human mom. We were only supposed to foster him, but we failed.

Here are eight questions to ask yourself before you adopt a new dog:

1. Does a dog fit into our lifestyle and schedule?

If you are constantly on the move, traveling with regularity for work, highly social and rarely at home, it may not be the optimal time to consider a dog. There are tons of options for pet care these days, but there are no substitutes for the attention your dog will want and need. Some breeds work better than others for owners with a busy lifestyle, but if your dog will be spending more time with others (or alone) than you, than you may want to reconsider the decision to adopt today.

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Getting Ralph re-energized us after we lost Trixie.

2. Are you sure no one has allergies?

I’ve heard more than one story of a family beyond excited about getting their first dog, only to find out there was an unknown allergy. Make sure all family members have played with the pooch. The worst would be falling in love with Fido only to find you must surrender your new friend because hives arose. Allergies can occur at any time in your life, so be careful and double check. 

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Our three dogs all started out as fosters.

3. Did you recently suffer a loss of another pet?

All too often one thinks getting another pet will help the loss of a recently departed loved one. Sadly, this usually isn’t the case and we see where the new pet just doesn’t measure up to the one we miss. The pain of losing a pet is immeasurable, and time is what helps heal that wound. While it sounds like a wonderful idea to cuddle a new buddy, sometimes it just makes us miss the other one more. 

4. Have you recently suffered a personal loss?

We all go through personal loss and tragedy; times can be tough. It’s comforting to have a companion to see us through these times, but when your life improves, where does the dog go? You’re finding a friend who requires a commitment for his lifespan, not the span of our sorrow. Consider the needs of the dog, what’s best for her long-term health and well-being, and remember the true value of that commitment.

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I get to wake up to these three faces every morning. It's awesome.

5. Does a child in the house want a pet?

If we satisfied all the requests of our children, the list would be endless. Getting a pet is a family commitment, not a commitment for a child. A child should not be in charge of a pet, it should be a family responsibility. Pets need more structure than a child can provide. While you can give a child one or two pet related chores, it will fall upon you -- the adult -- to take the brunt of the responsibility.

6. Do you have the energy to be a dog owner?

Some breeds are more energetic than others, so do your research. If you want to rest after work, take a day off because you have a cold or a headache, your dog can’t. They still need to eat and do their business. Sadly, they don’t understand working late or happy hour. They do understand cuddling on the couch and being loved all night, though. Consider a senior dog if you prefer a more relaxed, laid-back dog with a less demanding lifestyle. While that isn’t a guarantee, it usually helps. 

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My husband loves to give the dogs their own Thanksgiving dinner plates -- minus the bad stuff, of course.

7. Have you considered fostering first?

I recommend this if you aren’t sure what you want. Breeds and personalities vary so vastly, it’s the easiest way to make sure you find the right fit for you, your family and your lifestyle. You can most often adopt the dog you foster, but at the very least, it is one option to insure your family is truly ready for this commitment before jumping into a regrettable situation.

8. Are you the pack leader?

I can’t stress this one enough. You have to let the animal know who the boss is. You won’t have a successful relationship if don’t establish the pack leader and boundaries. You need to be a strong and confident leader to have a successful relationship with your dog. They need to respect you and see you as the leader. It’s one of the most important and successful parts of the bonding process.

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The day Ralph and Joe met. We were only supposed to be fostering Joe, but we fell in love.

Going into an animal shelter can be extremely emotional, as can looking online at animals in need. Making an emotional decision based on that shouldn’t sway your decision. When looking for a family pet, think about the above and look for local rescues, shelters and area adoption events. If you are looking for a specific breed, most major cities have breed-specific rescues available. Only you know what fits into your lifestyle and family’s needs, so it’s best to be forthright and honest with those you reach out to for help in finding a new friend. Put time into research, communicate and seek insight, and prepare to make an informed decision.

Answering many of these questions and considering these concerns and others before you go in search of your new four-legged friend can make a world of difference in the success of your adoption experience, for you and your dog.

How did you decide to adopt a new dog? You you think about any of these issues? Tell us your story in the comments!

Images courtesy Heather's Instagram account.

About the author: Heather Douglass lives in Colorado with her husband, two daughters, and a number of four-leggers depending on how many fosters are residing in the house. She's primarily a full-time volunteer where her services are needed the most. Find her on Twitter at @heatherd13. 

Read related stories and more by Heather Douglass:

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