Sharing your home and heart with a dog can be one of the most rewarding, meaningful, and sometimes challenging experiences in your life. It is through a relationship with a dog that many find unconditional love, a unique and unforgettable bond, and a friendship like no other.
But, those rewards don’t come without responsibility.
Before bringing a dog into the family, every potential pet parent should be able to confidently answer these 7 questions:
1. Are you prepared to love and care for a dog for a lifetime?
Nationwide, close to 4 million dogs enter shelters and rescues every year, with a vast majority of those being surrendered or left homeless by an owner that is no longer willing or able to care for them. Depending on their size and breed, dogs are a 10 to 20 year commitment. When considering welcoming a furry member of the family, think about your long term plans and goals. A lot can change in 10 or 20 years – jobs, living situations, and lifestyles. Are you prepared to always include your dog in whatever life decisions you make?
2. Are you willing to give a dog the daily exercise she needs?
Dogs require a significant amount of both physical and mental stimulation in order to be healthy and happy. Veterinarians recommend at least 20 minutes of physical exercise, like brisk walks, jogging, or playing sports like agility or Frisbee, at a bare minimum, every single day.
When deciding to be a pet parent, consider your daily routine. Do you have the time to provide for your dog’s physical needs every single day? If you spend a lot of time away from the home, either at work or traveling, are you willing to employ a dog walker or pet sitter to make sure these needs are met? In addition to physical exercise, dogs need mental exercise, too! At least an hour each day should be spent engaging directly with your dog, either playing, doing training exercises, working through mental games, like treat puzzles, or spending time together bonding.
3. Will you provide the necessary training and socialization?
One of the biggest reasons dogs end up in shelters and rescue is due to behavioral issues. Most often, with proper training, socialization, or confidence building, these dogs can become wonderful, loyal companions. But, it does take time, patience, and effort to help a dog become a good fit for your family. In addition to housebreaking and basic good manners, like greeting people nicely, walking calmly on a leash, and coming when called, a dog will need to be taught how to live harmoniously in your home.
4. Are you prepared for the expenses of dog ownership?
Most new pet parents are surprised by the cost of dog ownership and grossly underestimate what it will really cost to own a dog. The truth is, a dog is a big investment. In addition to providing food, you’ll need a whole slew of basic supplies: food and water dishes, collars, leashes, flea prevention, treats, and toys. And, depending on your own lifestyle and the needs of your unique dog, you may need additional supplies like a dog bed, crate, waste bags, or vehicle restraints. Add to that the costs associated with routine veterinary care, training, grooming, and required licensing for a more accurate estimate of costs. In addition to these regular, basic needs, dog owners should be prepared for unexpected expenses, too, like emergency or illness, doggy daycare or kenneling, and any long term health issues that may arise over the life of their pet.
5. Can you commit to providing regular, routine veterinary care?
Even healthy dogs will need regular, routine veterinary care throughout their lives. Once per year, a dog should be seen by a trusted veterinarian who will perform a routine check-up that includes being weighed, having his temperature taken, providing any necessary vaccines, checking his heart, lungs, eyes, ears, teeth, and joints for any signs of trouble. Even a dog that has absolutely no health concerns whatsoever should be examined regularly. Many health issues can be caught, and treated, early to prevent life-threatening, dangerous illness or injury. Additionally, dogs will routinely need ears cleaned, nails clipped, and teeth brushed in order to stay happy and healthy throughout their lives. Dog owners should also be prepared to provide emergency veterinary care whenever necessary, even when unexpected and inconvenient.
6. Can you create a safe environment for your dog?
Dogs are very much like children in that if there is something they can get into, chew on, roll around in, play with, or chase, they will. As a pet parent, it’s your responsibility to create a safe environment for your furriest family members, both inside and outside of the home. This is especially important for puppies and dogs that haven’t yet been trained. Many dog owners find crates and kennels, or creatively placed baby gates, essential in keeping a dog safe inside the home. Limiting access to chemical cleaners and pesticides, electrical cords, and choking hazards is also vital. And, safety doesn’t stop at the front and back door, either. Outdoor areas should be free of toxic plants, fences should be secure to avoid escape, and only pet-safe pesticides and fertilizers should be used.
7. What would happen to your dog, if something happened to you?
Like children, it’s important to plan for a dog’s care in the event that you no longer can. Every dog owner should have arrangements in place for their dog’s care in the event of an emergency, accident, illness, or injury that prevents you from providing for them. Talk to family members, friends, or trusted neighbors and make your wishes clearly known. Many pet parents find comfort in making arrangements official through legal documents that grant ownership of their dog to a trusted person if ever necessary. No pet parent has ever been faulted for planning ahead and being prepared to ensure their dog will always be well cared for.
If you’re prepared to honestly answer these 7 questions, congratulations! You’re ready for the unconditional love, loyalty, and friendship that a four-legged family member provides.