Three years ago, my then-boyfriend, now-husband and I decided to adopt a cat. We had been living together for a few months and Valentine’s Day was coming up, so we thought we’d celebrate by adding a pet to our family. We never imagined that while walking into the shelter, we’d run into the most handsome brown dog named Walker. And when Walker leaned onto my husband’s legs, he basically stole our hearts.
So, of course, we decided to adopt him instead. “He chose us,” we told ourselves.
Except, really, Walker tricked us. The calm and sweet dog we thought we'd brought home was actually not fully housetrained, liked to chew, and could bark for hours. My husband and I scratched our heads, wondering where in the world we went wrong. Conversations turned into heated arguments, making us question whether we’d be able to keep Walker. The stress was becoming too much.
Though we loved Walker and each other a bunch, there were some key decisions we probably should’ve made before deciding to expand our family. Yes, it all worked out in the end, but we definitely learned a few lessons the hard way. So if you're thinking about getting a dog with your partner, ask each other these questions, and learn from our mistakes first.
1. Do We Have A Budget?
Simply put, taking care of a pet isn’t cheap. Dogs have needs! Between adoption fees, crate training, obedience classes, vet appointments, and medication, my husband and I were unexpectedly strapped for cash when we first brought Walker home. Think you can handle it? Before visiting the animal shelter or browsing pet websites, take a good look at your budget and factor in all your future pet’s hypothetical needs.
Vets recommend grain-free food, but can you afford it? Do you know how much monthly treatments to prevent heartworm, ticks, and fleas will cost? Will you ever need to take your dog to daycare? (Laugh all you want, but leaving a puppy at home for too long will be disastrous for your carpet. And that will cost money to fix, too.)
2. Do We Have Solid Communication Skills?
When you own a dog with your partner, it’s normal to sometimes feel like you’re a parental unit. Making decisions about your pet will show you where your communication skills are lacking and give you an opportunity to strengthen them. That’s why it doesn’t hurt to be proactive and talk about roles now, before you adopt.
For instance, as the early bird in our relationship, I take Walker out most mornings. My husband feels more comfortable walking outside when it's dark, so he takes Walker out most evenings. This works well for us, but it took a few arguments before we settled into these roles.
When seriously considering getting a dog, talk about how it will affect your day-to-day routine. Nothing needs to be set in stone, of course, but it’s helpful to discuss such things to avoid resentment about the division of care-taking responsibilities.
3. What Scares Us About Getting A Dog?
No matter how silly or serious your apprehensions may seem, it’s important that you and your partner get them all out on the table. I, for one, am terrified of vomit. That’s why my husband and I agreed a few days after adopting that he will always clean up the puke. That’s not to say that I’ve never cleaned dog vomit, but if Walker gets sick and we’re both home, my husband takes the lead. I’m eternally grateful for that.
This may sound like a silly fear, but it felt awesome to have it alleviated when we brought Walker home. Remember, there’s no greater way to build intimacy than to talk about your fears. Who better to do that with than your doggy daddy or doggy mama?
4. Do We Have Similar Parenting Philosophies And Expectations?
Why in the world do you want to adopt a dog in the first place? And what kind of dog do you want? Within reason, there are no right or wrong answer to these questions, but if you want a guard dog and your partner wants a therapy dog, you better work that out before you bring Fido home. Additionally, you’ll run into major trouble if you don’t want your dog to sleep in bed with you or are against feeding your dog human food, and your partner has no clue why those things would matter.
So make sure you’re on the same page about your parenting styles and expectations. Dogs need consistency, especially when they’re first learning the rules of the house.
5. What Would Happen To The Dog If We Break-Up?
Of course, you don’t have to make decisions about custody arrangements and have a lawyer draw up paperwork, but it’s important to acknowledge that a breakup is in the realm of possibilities. When you bring an innocent animal into the picture, you’ve got to consider whether your relationship can handle that level of commitment and seriousness. Additionally, it's important to think about what might happen if it can't. If you can't have that conversation maturely, you're probably not ready to get a dog.
And remember: if you’re not sure you’re ready quite yet, you can always visit the zoo, volunteer at a shelter, or dog-sit for a friend instead.
6. Are We Ready For Our Relationship To Be Tested?
Dogs can be hard work. They require lots of attention, chew things up, and sometimes, have accidents inside the house. Dealing with that stress with your partner will probably cause an occasional argument from time to time. (Adopt a puppy, and you can expect even more.) Your relationship will be tested — for better or worse.
Even so, once you fall in love with a dog, it’s hard to imagine life without him. So, if you and your partner want to share that kind of love with a furry four-legged friend, I say go for it. Just try to talk about some of these things before you do. Your relationship and new family member will be better off for it.
Images: Flickr; Giphy