Dogs are wonderful companions. Having a special four-legged friend greeting you at the door when you get home every day, wagging his tail and making his doggy smile at you is an instant mood-brightener. I even get a greeting when I come back from the mailbox. But the decision to get a dog or a puppy is not one to make in haste. Dogs live an average from 10 to 15 years, so you have over a decade of responsibility. Are you ready to make that kind of commitment? Let's look at some important considerations:
Who will be the primary caretaker?
It is nice to think that, since your kids are begging for a dog, they are ready to take on the responsibility of feeding and walking him daily. Although it may seem fun to them for a while, when the excitement fades it will likely seem more like a chore. The truth is Mom and Dad are usually the primary feeders, waterers, walkers, and pooper scoopers. Is this something you are prepared for?
Your puppy will need potty training.
Potty training is crucial, and it does take some time, patience, and consistency. Puppies have small bladders and will need to go potty in the night. In the beginning of potty training, you are likely to be up somewhere between two and four in the morning to take your puppy out. Luckily, this stage is fairly short, and soon your dog should be able to hold it through the night. There will still be accidents to clean up as your dog learns to "tell" you when he has to go.
Your dog will need house training.
He or she needs to know what appropriate or acceptable behavior is. Your puppy needs to learn not to chew your shoes, jump on people or the furniture, or bark excessively, and most of all, to come when called. This takes time and patience and maybe some outside help with a group dog training class or private sessions with a professional dog trainer. You are doing yourself and your dog a huge disservice if you neglect training him properly.
Do you have kids?
If your children are very young, they may not understand that your puppy is a living creature and not a stuffed animal. Are you sure your kids won't be pulling your dog's tail, dragging it around, or picking it up and then dropping it? If your kids are older, it is not a problem, but it is important that they learn how to handle your dog and that your dog obeys them just he obeys you.
Consider the costs involved.
Yearly shots and exams can add up, and your dog will need to be spayed or neutered. Plus most dogs will need heartworm prevention medication and flea medication, depending on where you live. Just like people, when dogs grow older they may develop age-related conditions such as arthritis that can require more frequent vet visits, as well as medications. There are also potential emergency situations. My dog broke her toe during a scuffle at a dog park (I recommend you avoid those places, by the way) and it was a bigger ordeal and expense than you would have imagined. A cast for a broken toe?
What will you do with your dog when you go on vacation?
Ideally you have a family member or friend who can take care of your dog if you go away for a weekend or on a longer vacation. But if you don't, you will likely need to arrange for a professional pet sitter or a kennel, which can get rather costly. And dogs hate kennels (at least mine does). Alternatively, more and more people bring their dogs along on holiday. There are increasing numbers of hotels and motels and vacation places that will allow dogs and even offer special "pet packages" for your pooch.
This discussion is not meant to discourage you from getting a dog, but you do need to make sure you know what you are getting into. I am crazy about my dog and can't imagine life without her. Dogs can be great fun and bring a lot of pleasure into your life, but it is not always a walk in the proverbial park (although my dog would like to think so).
Are you ready to get a dog?
by Valerie Goettsch
Valerie Goettsch is web master of My Favorite Dog, a website featuring dozens of articles and information on where to find the best of everything for your dog, from flea meds to beds, training and designer dog clothes.