You see the most adorable puppy in the pet store. “Please, Mom, can we keep him?” your kids beg. But please remember that you’re not just getting a toy that can be discarded or ignored once its novelty wears off. You are signing up for a lifetime commitment to this helpless animal, which relies on you completely for food, shelter and companionship.
So, put a lot of thought before buying a dog. Ask yourself these simple questions, to assess your readiness and also decide what kind of breed is suitable for your personality, lifestyle and needs. You may also want to go through these questions with your family, so you know everyone’s ready to share the responsibility.
1. How much time do you have?
It may take mere minutes to fill a bowls with food and water, but a happy dog needs more than that. When it is a puppy, you will need to make time to train it and help it adjust to its new surroundings. Even when it’s older, it will need exercise, grooming, playtime, and affection and attention. It’s downright mean to just get a dog and then tie it in the backyard. If you don’t have time to care for it, train it, and play with it, then don’t bother. Get a stuffed toy—it’s cute, and is happy to sit on the shelf.
2. Are you willing to deal with the interruptions and inconveniences?
Consider the effect the dog will have on your lifestyle. What will you do when you need to go on vacation? Or how will you feel about seeing paw prints and fur on your impeccable white sofa? If you’ve never had a dog before, talk to someone who has to get a clearer idea of life with a pet. Remember, you can’t get mad at the dog for, well, being a dog.
3. What are the characteristics of the breed?
Don’t just buy a dog because it’s cute. Research on the breed. How much exercise and grooming does it need? What is its natural temperament? Is it good with children? Is it predisposed to certain health conditions, and are you willing to deal with that if it happens? Is its size and activity level appropriate for the kind of home or neighborhood you have?
Once you know the breed’s characteristics, see if it’s a good match for your own family personality and lifestyle. For example, families that enjoy hiking and biking will enjoy a breed that loves the outdoors and exercise (like a Jack Russell Terrier). More sedentary families who prefer staying inside may want a dog that needs minimal exercise and is content to curl up at your feet (like a Shih Tzu).
You also have to consider your available time for grooming, plus your own children’s personality and age. There are some dogs that are not recommended for toddlers, because they tend to get nervous around sudden movements or loud noises. Other breeds are not particularly affectionate and bond with just one member of the family—your kids will obviously want a more outgoing pet.
4. Do you have to consider any medical issues?
Does anyone in your household have allergies, asthma or any health conditions that could in you having to get rid of your pet? While some breeds are considered “asthma-friendly” because they produce less dander, it’s best to check with your doctor and talk long and hard with your family about whether or not you’re ready to take the risk.
5. Are you ready for the extra costs of taking care of a dog?
Even if you can take home the dog for free—say, someone’s giving you a puppy from a litter—you still have to consider the incidental expenses and the daily maintenance. For example, you need to get supplies like grooming tools or a crate. You also need to get puppy innoculations, training classes (though you can try housebreaking it on your own), wellness checks, food, medical emergencies, toys, leash and collar.
6. Where will the dog stay?
Your dog instinctively needs to belong to a “pack” and craves company. Chaining it to the backyard will make it sad, irritable (and more prone to negative behavior), and prone to becoming a nuisance barker. You may give it an area outside the house, like a bed on the porch, but it still needs to have plenty of interaction and a fenced in area where it can safely run loose. If the dog will stay inside, where will you put the bed and what parts of the home will it have access to?
7. What do you want from a pet? What activities do you look forward to sharing?
List everything down: security, companionship, protection. Even things like “I want to teach it tricks” or “It’ll keep me safe when I go jogging in the evening.” Consider the kinds of breeds that match those needs, and adjust your expectations along the way, too.
8. Is this your first dog?
Some dogs are strong-willed and need a firm, experienced owner who knows how to balance discipline with affection. Some examples are Dalmations and Jack Russell Terriers. Do your research on and join pet forums to know more about the quirks of each breed.
The editor of Discovery News Journal, and pursuer of relatively interesting information, Simon has a Masters Degree in Creative Writing and Journalism from the University of Wales, and is a photo-journalist and writer whose written and photographic work has been represented by the AFP news agency and appeared in newspapers across Europe and Asia.