Getting a Dog: The Ultimate Guide
If you’re reading these words, perhaps you recently saw a cute pooch and haven’t been able to get it out of your mind.
Maybe you were at a farmer’s market, a local animal shelter was doing a pop-up adoption event, and one of the pups came and put its paws on you and it was game over (speaking from experience here).
Or, maybe one of your friends’ dogs recently had a litter of puppies and asked you to provide a home for one of them.
Or perhaps, for the third time this week, you’ve been browsing the online listings of your local animal shelter (absolutely nothing wrong with this — we all do it!).
Whatever brought you to this article, we’re here to let you know that getting a dog and caring for it may be easier than you think, as long as you’ve got the right guidance. Join us as we ease some of the fears that may be keeping you from adopting, the prep work you need to get done before bringing your new dog home if you do decide to get one, and — the best part of all — tips for enjoying life with your new best friend.
What’s Keep You from Getting a Dog?
There’s no question that there’s a huge need for good dog homes.
Around 3.3 million dogs entered shelters in 2018, according to the ASPCA and Animal Foundation Platform. And while it’s unclear how many of these dogs found new homes or were reunited with their owners that year, the American Humane Society noted that over half (56%) of dogs in shelters were put down in 2016.
In our opinion, that’s 56% too many!
If you’re feeling a little shy about getting a dog from the shelter, let us address some of the most common concerns in an attempt to help you feel more confident about bringing one home.
Are You Worried You’re Not up to the Financial Burden?
Let’s start by acknowledging that, realistically, no — not every person can afford a dog.
That said, caring for a canine can cost between $1,314 and $1,843 annually according to the ASPCA.
While that may sound like a big chunk at first, $1,843 comes out to just over $150 a month. Knowing where that money goes may help you save some when it comes time to taking care of the essentials for your pooch:
- Dog food: Simple bags of dog food purchased in bulk can cost as little as $0.46 a pound. At that price, a 10-pound dog eats about nine cents worth of food per day. Of course, more expensive foods and heavier dogs can make this bill go up, but dogs don’t have to be too expensive to feed.
- Treats: Even an inexpensive bag of treats can work wonders over the course of a month while you’re training your new dog or just loving on them while getting them used to their home.
- Grooming: Long-haired dogs will generally need trips to the groomer every 6 to 8 weeks. Delaying this process can cause a dog’s fur to knot and make the inevitable grooming take longer and be more traumatic. For short-haired dogs, if you’re willing and able to take care of their coat, this cost can be eliminated.
- Poop bags: Purchased in bulk, poop bags may only cost a few cents apiece.
- Medication: Many dogs regularly take flea, tick, and heartworm medications monthly, but your dog may also need additional meds.
- Vet visits: Regular as well as emergency vet visits will probably be the biggest expense of having a dog. We’ll talk more about all the treatments these trips can incur later in this article, which will help give you some insight into the costs.
- Pet insurance: While this may feel expensive up front, it can save you a bundle if you ever need to use it. Not everyone has to purchase pet insurance, but if you’re interested in an older dog or one that you know has medical conditions, it could be a smart move.
- Doggy daycare or a dogwalker: If you go away to work all day or travel frequently, remember to account for the cost of regular walks and/or daycare. Of course, these services will vary in price. According to Thumbtack, the average price of doggie daycare is $25 to $30 per day.
Have You Seen the Mistakes Others Have Made and Don’t Want to Be “That Person”?
Maybe you’ve seen a friend adopt a dog and leave it alone for 10 consecutive hours each day while they’re at work. Maybe your neighbor never walks their dog and just leaves it alone in the backyard all day. Maybe you know someone who is struggling to keep up with their dog’s unexpectedly expensive veterinary bills. And maybe you’re worried you’ll end up being one of “those people” who isn’t quite treating their dog right.
Rest assured, if you’re already recognizing and thinking ahead on how to avoid these kinds of scenarios, chances are you’re already more ready than you think to get your own dog.
Are You Waiting for the “Right” Time of the Year to Get a Dog?
While it’s true that many dogs get left at shelters after the holidays when thoughtless individuals get tired of their “gifts,” that doesn’t mean the holidays are the only time of year you can head to the shelter to rescue a pet.
The truth is that with the sheer number of dogs who enter shelters each year, there will more than likely always be a little guy or gal in need of a home — and at risk of being euthanized if they don’t get one.
Adoption Checklist: What to Do Before Getting Your Dog Home
If you’ve decided you’re ready to adopt a dog, here’s what you need to do to get your ducks in a row before you sit down to sign those adoption papers and finally bring them home.
Make Sure You’re Ready to Make a Lifetime Commitment
A dog isn’t an accessory. They’re a living being capable of forming emotional attachments. In fact, an Emory University study even suggests that dogs love their humans (duh!).
Some people even go so far as to think of their dogs like members of their family. Agreeing to adopt a dog is a commitment to caring for them for the rest of their life. Take a final moment to reflect on whether or not you’re ready for that.
Purchase The Essential Supplies
Dogs are generally resilient, good-natured creatures who don’t need too much more than the attention of their humans to be content. That said, a few basic living supplies are in order before bringing your new dog home:
- A leash and harness
- Separate bowls for food and water
- A dog bed
- A dog toy or two
- Their first bags of food and treats (Check if your dog has any known dietary sensitivities, such as gluten intolerance, before making this purchase!)
- And perhaps the most important of all, poop bags! (Seriously, if you can’t afford poop bags, you can’t afford a dog.)
Some of these supplies can be repurposed from existing household items. For example, Tupperware containers or your old dining bowls are fine for dogs to eat out of. Other supplies will require an initial outlay of cash. Don’t put yourself out purchasing everything you think your dog must have before spending some time with them in your home and learning more about their wants and needs.
Get Your Home Ready
Okay, so maybe it’s not exactly like baby-proofing, but getting a home ready for a new dog isn’t too far off.
Just like with a child, make sure toxins and other potential hazards aren’t accessible to your dog. Dogs, like young children, can be almost heroically skilled at rooting out danger, so special precautions need to be taken to make sure you don’t have dangerous houseplants or food items where they can get their mouths on them. To learn more about what “human foods” dog can and shouldn’t ingest, check out this guide from the American Kennel Club. You can also cross-reference your houseplants against this guide to make sure they aren’t dangerous for pooch.
Getting a home ready for a new dog isn’t just about protecting them from risks. It’s also about giving them a place they can quickly feel at home. Create dedicated places for them to eat and sleep to let them know they’re welcome in as many ways as you can. Also understand that whatever you do, they might hide at first in your home, and that’s perfectly alright.
Choose a Vet and Get Current on Key Vaccinations
Some areas in the U.S. might not allow an adopted dog to go home until it has been spayed, neutered, or received certain vaccinations. Regardless, it’s wise to get as much info as possible on your new pet’s vaccinations and choose a vet to make sure they’re current on these important vaccines:
- Bordetella: The Bordetella vaccine should be given every 6 months if the dog frequently goes to places with other dogs and every 12 months if not, according to this Missouri-based vet.
- Canine influenza: A canine influenza vaccine requires two initial injections, 2 to 4 weeks apart, followed by annual boosters.
- DHLPP: Also known as the distemper shot, this vaccine protects dogs from distemper, hepatitis, parainfluenza, and parvovirus. The DHLPP vaccine is administered to puppies when they’re 6 to 8 weeks old, boosted twice more at 3-week intervals, and one final time a year later.
- Rabies: Dogs should receive rabies shots at 14 weeks, again at a year, and then every 1 to 3 years thereafter — but this can change based on your location.
Life Once You Get Your New Dog Home
Here are a few final things to be mindful of to ensure a smooth transition for your dog into their new home.
First Things First: Getting Your Dog Housebroken
If a dog is more than a year old, there’s a fairly decent chance it’s already housebroken and will usually only go to the bathroom outside (Don’t be stunned if your dog goes inside once or twice when introduced to your home, either out of anxiety or to mark their territory. It’s a dog thing, especially with male dogs who haven’t been neutered.).
For anyone who needs to get their dog housebroken, though, fear not. While the process is involved, it’s not impossible. WebMD recommends starting house training at 12 to 16 weeks of age for a puppy. Four to six months are generally needed for training, though some puppies can take as long as a year.
Planning Your Schedule Around Exercising Your Dog
Rover notes that most dogs need 30 minutes to two hours of physical activity each day. Many people choose to walk their dogs two to three times a day to exercise their dogs the required amount.
Assume that one way or another, your dog needs to be active for a chunk of time each day — whether that includes you and a leash or them ripping up pillows and zooming around the house while you’re in the middle of work calls.
Our Best Tip Yet? Just Keep Loving ‘Em
Adopting a dog is a wonderful thing. More than likely, a dog will give you unconditional love, companionship, and a sense of purpose and responsibility.
There will also doubtlessly be times, though, where they’ll try your patience like none other.
In these moments, just keep loving your dog. Dogs are usually a reflection of how we treat them, so in short order, the animal you know and love will be back.