Since we were in our early 20's, my wife and I have only had cats. As soulless and evil as they might be sometimes, they still make for easy and relatively cheap pets. A few months ago, we decided on adopting a dog. Actually, I decided while my wife was out of town. This article will teach you how to not do what I did, and what you should consider before adopting a dog of your own.
I just had my wife read that previous paragraph, and she thought I should clarify that I was joking about cats so I don't make cat people mad. Truth be told, we love our cats…but anyone that owns them knows that they can be crazy sometimes. 🙂
Back to dogs – my wife and I had discussed adopting a Great Dane several months ago. She went out of town for a few days, and a local shelter sent me a picture of a dog named Strider that was a four year old Great Dane/Lab mix.
They told me he was really calm, well behaved indoors, crate trained, and I'll reiterate – calm. The owners didn't want him any more and were considering putting the dog (aka my main man Strider) down.
So, I told the rescue I wanted him, and within a day Strider was ours!
I very quickly learned that Strider was actually a Boxer/Bulldog/Lab mix, six months old instead of 4, not really crate trained, and maybe the most hyper dog I've ever seen in my life. It wasn't the rescue's fault – the records for Strider had been falsified by the previous owner.
As a newly-minted dog owner, I've learned a lot so far and have a few things that I think any person who wants to adopt a dog should consider:
1. Can you actually afford a dog?
Our adoption fee for Strider was $100, which in my opinion is pretty reasonable. We also got his first vet visit for free and a microchip and shots were included in that price. Also, we saved him from being put down for no reason, which is worth $100 any day.
Then…there were all of the other costs haha.
The food we got with him gave him the worst-smelling gas ever, so we switched him to a food that I swear is higher quality than what I eat on a daily basis. Also, he has super-anxiety during storms, so of course he got some doggie-valium. He also needed a bed, and toys, and dog training (which I'll discuss shortly), and the list goes on forever.
On average according to the ASPCA, dogs cost $6,500 over their lifetime. We have probably run through about a fifth of that since we got him 4 months ago, so I have a feeling that $6,500 may be a little on the low side.
Year to year depending on the size of your dog, the ASPCA estimates costs to be anywhere from $580 to $875.
The key here is just to be honest with yourself and your finances. I know that feeling of wanting a dog so badly that you make a gut-based decision, but I also knew that we could afford Strider with no issues.
If you look at your monthly budget (oh wow look, here's some free budgets you can try!) and think you *might* be able to make it work, you may want to wait just a little bit longer before jumping in.
2. Do you have enough space?
We live in a decently sized apartment right now and are in the process of building a house, but for a week or two I was legitimately concerned that Strider's 75 pounds of canine glory were too much.
Honestly though, even if you think your dog is just slightly too big for your place, you'll probably get used to it and won't notice after a few weeks.
However, if you live in a studio apartment or already have a really crowded place – you'll want to avoid large dogs. They need a ton of exercise and will absolutely knock over everything you don't want them to.
3. How will your other animals respond?
At first, our cats were not having it. It took several days of keeping Strider and our cats separated on opposite sides of our home behind closed doors. We finally got them acclimated to each other by very slowly introducing them under supervision, and now I can happily say that our cats still hate Strider but at least tolerate him being here.
My biggest fear was that he would attack one of our cats, which luckily never happened. It's always important to look at the specific traits for whatever breed of dog you are thinking about bringing into your home. It turns out that our oldest cat has actually attacked Strider several times since we adopted him, so he's terrified of cats.
The other obvious issue to consider is how well a particular breed of dog does with children (if you have them).
4. What happens if it doesn't work out?
I hate to even write about this. My theory on adopted animals is that you should treat it as seriously as adopting a member of your family.
My mother in law and wife have been around rescues for a long time, and it's really common for young people to adopt an animal and then bring it back for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they are legitimate reasons, but a lot of times…they aren't.
If you are already wondering how you could possibly give your dog back before you even adopt, you might not be ready to get an animal. There's nothing wrong with that!
5. Do you have time for a dog?
Every person with children will roll their eyes at this, but dogs require a serious time commitment! If you haven't ever owned a dog before, the amount of time spent walking, grooming, training (still about to get to that) and playing are way more than you might expect.
You can't just ignore a dog, even if they are low-energy. When they get bored, they destroy your stuff. It's as simple as that.
6. How much training are you prepared to do?
If there was one thing I wasn't going to have, it was a poorly behaved dog. The biggest problem was that Strider was a total puppy nutcase when we adopted him.
We paid for one on one training lessons with a certified trainer, and it was great for me and Strider. We even did weekend group training sessions for about two months, just for fun.
He's still “bad” sometimes, but he is just a dog trying to figure out how to live in all the weird rules of the human world haha. Here's his progress so far:
Training isn't cheap though! According to Angie's list, it costs about $448 on average for one on one dog training. Ours was actually slightly more expensive, but she had been doing it for 25 years and was basically dog-Yoda.
If you end up getting a dog and its behavior stresses you out, at least consider some type of group training. Having a well behaved dog is way more fun than having a crazy one.
7. What breeds are you actually allowed to have where you live?
Unfortunately, some dog breeds like German Shepherds and Pit Bulls have been labeled with unfair reputations over the years. Even still, if you are a renter – your landlord has the right to keep certain dog breeds out of their property.
Just do your research before you adopt. The last thing you want to have to do is give your dog away because you didn't check with your landlord first. Here's a list of commonly restricted dogs breeds.
8. Does a dog fit into your future?
You can't predict life, but if you know that you are about to have kids soon or make a big life change – maybe consider holding off on the dog for a little bit until things settle down.
9. Are you ready for less freedom?
Again – feel free to eye roll if you have kids, but if you love doing whatever you want whenever you want…don't get a dog right now. I work from home so it's not that big of a deal, but I can't just leave whenever I want to anymore.
You have to plan your day around your dog a little bit because…you have to actually keep it alive. I will admit that you get used to whatever changes you have to make in your lifestyle pretty quickly, but the point is that you will have to change things!
Pro tip: Before adopting a dog, I highly suggest finding a good dog sitter or family member that you can rely on to check on your dog if something comes up.
Dogs are awesome.