One of the awesome things about being an adult is that we no longer have to beg our parents to let us get puppies. You’re a grown up—you do what you damn well please! And, of course, what you "damn well please" is to get a puppy—your very own snuggly, furry, happy canine friend—RIGHT NOW. Believe me, I know where you’re coming from. I got my pup last summer, and in the days leading up to finally taking her home, I could barely contain my excitement. (Seriously, I was bouncing off the walls with glee.) And you know what? Having a dog is awesome. Getting to raise a puppy, seeing how she’s grown and learned in the months I’ve had her, has been amazing. It has also been crazy. I thought I was prepared for how much work it was going to be, but I was still completely shocked by how much a three-pound creature was able to turn my life upside down.
As much as we want to take home every puppy we encounter, there are a lot of things you have to think about before taking the plunge into puppy ownership. I may sound like a stick in the mud, but it’s true: Having a dog is a huge responsibility, and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. When you get a dog, you get her unconditional love and snuggles, but you’re also making a commitment to your pet that she will be well cared for—that she will never end up on the streets, in a shelter, or with people who can’t care for her. If you’re considering getting a dog, ask yourself these ten questions first:
1. Does your lease allow you to have a pet?
First thing's first: Does your lease allow you to have an animal? If not, talk to your landlord about changing the lease. If he or she won’t budge on the pet issue, then either put off getting a pet or move to a place that will allow you to have one. This is really important. Some people think that they can sneak a pet into their apartments and that their landlords won’t notice, but this is really not OK—because if your landlord does notice and does evict you, it’s not just you who is suddenly homeless—it’s your dog, too.
2. Can you afford to have a dog?
Take some time to consider the financial costs of dog-ownership: vet bills, food, and a pet deposit on your lease, as well as, potentially, professional training and a dog walker. These things add up. Call a local vet and find out the average costs of routine care: vaccines, check ups, heartworm pills, and spaying or neutering. Be sure to think about emergencies, too—do you have a financial cushion that would allow you to pay for unexpected veterinary expenses? Puppies get sick and accidents happen that you can’t predict. You don’t want to end up in a situation in which you have to choose between caring for your dog and paying your rent.
3. Do you really want a puppy?
Puppies are super adorable, but they are also little monsters that require a ton of work and attention. If you don’t have the time or energy to deal with housetraining or the natural hyperness of puppies, consider getting an adult dog. There are lots of sweet, low-key adult dogs in shelters that are looking for loving, permanent homes. Getting a grown-up puppy can allow you to skip some of the hardest baby stages, while still having an awesome, devoted dog.
4. Do you have the time and availability for a puppy?
Puppies need a lot of attention, and—if you want house training to work—they need to be taken out regularly. If you work in an office for eight or nine hours a day, consider what you are going to do with your pet when you’re gone. Will you be able to come home at lunch to take your dog for a short walk? If not, can you afford a dog walker?
5. Do you travel too much for a dog?
Having a dog is great, but it does mean that you can’t pick up and leave town at the drop of a hat. If you travel frequently, think about how you'll make sure your pup is taken care of while you’re gone. Do you have family nearby that can puppy-sit? Is there a good boarding facility near you (and can you afford it)?
Also consider the option of traveling with your pet. Small dogs can travel in-cabin with you when you fly for a fee (usually between $100 and $125). If you want to be able to fly with Sparky, be sure to get a breed that’s supposed to stay small. (You can check different airlines’ websites for their size regulations.)
6. Is your home puppy–proofable?
If you like your home to be pristine and spotless, a dog is not for you. Similarly, if you like having lots of expensive things on the ground, a dog is not for you. Especially in the first year, your puppy will try to chew on everything she can get her mouth on (including furniture, books, and electrical cords), and she’ll manage to go to the bathroom in in extremely inconvenient places. Be sure that that’s something you can handle.
7. Are you allergic?
You won’t be happy having a dog if you’re allergic. Although there is no such thing as a truly “hypoallergenic” dog, there are some breeds that are less allergy-causing than others, such as poodles, shih-tzus, and Portuguese Water Dogs. There are also a huge array of so-called “designer dogs” (various breeds mixed with poodles) that are supposed to have reduced shedding. Results may vary widely, however, because there are different aspects of dogs that can cause allergies (like saliva, dander, and pollen that gets trapped in fur), so don’t assume that a dog that is simply “low-shedding” will not trigger your allergies.
The best thing to do is to spend some time with dogs of the breed or mix you’re considering and see how it goes. If you’re thinking about getting a labradoodle, for example, ask to borrow a friend’s labradoodle for an afternoon. If you don’t know anyone with that kind of dog, contact a breeder and see if you can hang out with his or her dogs for a bit.
8. Do the people you live with also want a dog?
If you have roommates (or a live-in significant other), you need to make sure that they are happy to have a puppy in your shared home, and that they are willing to contribute to pet care—because, inevitably, they will be called upon to help out with your dog. House training (and dog training in general) requires really consistent routines and rules, and it will only work if everyone in your household is on board. Also keep in mind that your pup will eventually, without a doubt, pee or chew on something belonging to your housemates. So make sure that they’re enthusiastic about living with a pup (and be prepared to kick in a some extra help with the household chores as a “thank you” for them putting up with puppy chaos).
9. Are you physically able and willing?
Most dogs, especially when they’re young, need to be walked—a lot—for a number of reasons: Walking helps them burn energy and stay healthy, it gives them lots of time to train on the leash, and it gives them vital exposure to other people, other pets, weird smells and sights, and unexpected noises. Are you willing and able to spend a lot of time walking? I’m not at all suggesting that people who physically can’t walk their dogs shouldn’t have pets, but it’s important that you consider how you’re going to give your dog exercise and exposure. Also think about the energy levels of different animals—if you are someone who doesn’t like exercising or being outside, don’t get a breed of dog that is known for high energy. Conversely, if you want to take your dog on lots of 10-mile hikes, make sure you get a dog that’s able to do that kind of work.
10. If you’re going the breeder-route, is your breeder ethical?
There’s a lot of heated debate about getting shelter dogs vs. getting dogs from breeders, and I’m not going to get into that here—I think that both can be good options, depending on your needs and circumstances. But if you’re going to buy a dog from a breeder, it is absolutely imperative that you do your due diligence and make sure that you’re supporting an ethical breeding program. The Humane Society of the United States estimates that in the U.S. there are at least ten thousand puppy mills—commercial facilities that produce puppies in large quantities and are notorious for being overcrowded, unsanitary, and abusive. In many states, puppy mills and their treatment of the animals in their care experience little or no regulation.
Mills sell puppies to pet stores, markets, and directly to consumers. So here’s rule number one: Don’t buy puppies from pet stores, period. Don’t buy puppies at flea markets, or from people selling puppies out of the backs of their trucks in parking lots. You want to know where you’re puppy is coming from, both because you don’t want to support animal abuse and because puppies bred by mills are more likely to have major problems, like genetic complications due to poor breeding practices and social issues from being isolated from humans at a young age. Furthermore, avoid buying a dog from any breeder who breeds more than a few types of dog—I’ve seen a lot of websites for breeders selling ten or fifteen types of puppies. These are not ethical breeders.
So here’s what you do do: Talk to your breeder. Ask lots of questions. If you’re able to visit the breeder’s home or facility, do so. Ask to meet the parents of your potential pup. Is the site clean and not crowded? Do the dogs seem happy and healthy? Is the breeder knowledgeable about dog training and care? Have the puppies been exposed to a lot of human contact? Are they comfortable being touched, snuggled, and picked up? A responsible breeder will ask you to fill out an application in which you’ll have to demonstrate that you are able to care for a dog, and he or she will also be able to provide you with references. (You can check out the Human Society’s checklist for signs of responsible breeders here).
Being careful about where and from whom you get your dog will not only ensure that you avoid supporting abusive practices—it will also increase the likelihood that you’ll take home a healthy, happy, well-socialized pup.
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