Many people love the idea of having a dog, but they aren’t prepared for the responsibilities that follow. Dogs make for wonderful companions; they’re smart, they’re loyal, and they tend to be docile. On top of that, there are dozens of major breeds to choose from, offering dogs of different sizes and specialties. But if you’re going to own a dog responsibly, there are some things you need to know.
What You Should Know Before Getting a Dog
These are some of the most important things you should know before getting a dog:
- Different breeds have different needs. While most generic dog advice can be applied to any dog, you should know that different breeds have very different needs. Some breeds, like border collies, are extremely intelligent and need a lot of stimulation. Other breeds, like chihuahuas, are much lower maintenance. Don’t get a dog breed because you like the way it looks—get a dog breed based on its strengths and weaknesses.
- Feeding and watering isn’t always straightforward. The most basic form of dog care is providing it with food and water, but even this isn’t entirely straightforward. You need to feed your dog the right amount of food, or else it could suffer from obesity or malnutrition. You may also need to find the right type of dog food for your pet, since different food lines offer different types of nutrition.
- You’ll need to pet proof your home. Before bringing a dog home, you’ll need to spend some time “pet proofing” it. Block off areas that you don’t want your pet to access, and make sure nothing valuable is capable of being destroyed. Even more importantly, be wary of leaving out foods, chemical products, and other items that might be dangerous to your dog.
- Dogs should be treated as a lifelong commitment. Dogs form close bonds with their owners, so any change in ownership can be traumatic. It’s ideal for a dog to have a lifelong home, with a consistent owner. Don’t get a dog unless you’re prepared for many years of commitment.
- Veterinary care can be expensive. Many new dog owners underestimate the cost of even routine veterinary care, which is important if you want your dog to be healthy. Checkups can be more than $100, and certain procedures can be hundreds, or even thousands of dollars. Is this within your budget?
- Dogs need physical activity. All dogs need some kind of physical activity, though some need more activity than others. You’ll need to have enough free time to walk or run with your dog every day if you want them to be healthy and happy. Without exercise, dogs can develop obesity, and may be more susceptible to anxiety-related behaviors, like chewing and aggression. If you don’t have much time for physical exercise, reconsider getting a dog, or at least consider a dog that’s less reliant on physical activity, like a Pekingese.
- House training isn’t always straightforward. Guides often make house training seem like a simple matter, but not all dogs take to house training equally well. You may find it very challenging to teach your dog to go outside to eliminate waste, and in the meantime, you’ll have to deal with a lot of inside messes.
- Early socializing is imperative. If you’re getting a puppy or a young dog, you should understand the importance of early socializing. Your dog should have the opportunity to meet lots of other dogs in a safe environment, as well as other pets (like cats), human adults, and human children. This exposure gives them confidence and lowers their anxiety, and can help them behave better long into the future.
- Some obedience training is necessary. It’s a good idea to spend at least some time obedience training your dog. It’s a good opportunity to curb their bad behavior (increasing the safety of the people around you), and it’s also a valuable bonding experience that will bring you closer together.
- Puppies are great, but so are older dogs. Many new dog owners exclusively consider getting a new puppy. Puppies have many advantages, including the capacity to form a true lifelong bond, but don’t neglect the possibility of adopting an older dog from an animal shelter.
Are You Ready for a Dog?
You should feel confident that you’re ready to own a dog before you actually get one. If you’re not sure, there are many ways to prepare yourself for the decision. For example, you can volunteer at your local animal shelter to get hands-on experience with dogs and get used to typical care; if you have friends with dogs, you can also consult them for advice.