How to Decide if You Should Get a Dog
If you are debating whether to get a dog you could be about to make one of the best or worst decisions of your life. If getting a dog is right for you then you are in for some minor frustrations which will be offset by the huge amount of pleasure and companionship that dogs can bring. However if getting a dog is not the right thing to do you could be turning your life upside down as well as perhaps adding to the numbers of unwanted dogs if you then decide to put it up for re-homing.
The aim of this article is to go through the things you need to consider as you make you decision whether or not to get a dog and to look at the options you have if you are mostly keen, but a bit wary about one aspect. There is also a quiz you can take to see whether you are ready to be a dog owner.
Dog Hair - Moulting and Grooming
If you are think of having a dog you need to be prepared for a certain amount of grooming or coat/skin care and moulting. If you are very houseproud you might see it as a fun challenge to have a hairy dog and still keep your clothes and home hair free or it might be something you just can't put up with.
If grooming or moulting is the only thing putting you off having a dog there are breeds you can choose to keep shed hair to a minimum. The Chinese crested and Mexican hairless (Xoloitzcuintle) have minimal hair to shed, but will require some careful skincare. Poodles don't shed, but will require clipping by a dog groomer every couple of months which is an extra expense. Be wary of the current trend for poodle crosses - it is very hard to predict whether these will grow up to be shedders or not.
If you are not worried about shedding, but not keen on doing a lot of grooming it makes sense to get a short coated breed such as the German short haired pointer or whippet.
Chewing and Destructiveness
If you are thinking of getting a puppy or a young rescue dog it will almost certainly go through a phase of chewing things it shouldn't whilst it's teething. As it gets older it might start to chew your property out of boredom or anxiety whilst you're out.
There are things which you can do to alleviate this, for example by training it what can be chewed, crate training so it doesn't have access to things it shouldn't chew whilst you are out and by providing plenty of dog chews and kongs as an alternative, but realistically you need to expect to lose some household items to the dog's teeth - or at least have them permanently modified!
If the thought of being chewed out of house and home is the only thing putting you off having a dog you could consider giving an older dog a home. Ideally this will be one who has been in foster care and the carer's will have established that the dog doesn't chew household items.
Mud, Wet and Dead things
Unless you live somewhere particularly dry; if you have a dog you need to expect a degree of sogginess - whether that's from having to walk in the rain and snow, tramping through muddy woods or because you have a dog that launches into any body of water that it sees. So you need to think about whether you are prepared to have muddy paw prints on your clothes and floors, wet dog towels hanging from the radiators and the waft of damp dog permeating your house throughout a rainy autumn.
The other thing you need to be prepared for is your dog finding dead things and other animals poo and rolling in it or eating it. With training you can reduce this behaviour, but if the thought of this totally disgusts you, then a dog is not for you.
If wet and mud are the only things putting you off having a dog then there are some breeds who are usually as reluctant to be out in the wet as you are, such as the Chinese hairless. Greyhounds and Staffordshire bull terriers are also renowned for being fair weather walkers and inclined to volunteer for a duvet day when it is raining. They also have short coats which are easy to dry and keep clean when they do venture out in mud and rain. I can't offer a solid solution to the problem of dogs finding and eating poo and dead things, but I have observed that terriers, scent hounds such as beagles and gun dogs such as Italian spinones seem especially talented in this area! Toy breeds and sight hounds are perhaps least keen. However it should be born in mind that sight hounds may find live things and kill them.
Should I Get a Dog?
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The Cost of Keeping a Dog
The initial outlay is only a small part of the cost of keeping a dog. If you are thinking of getting one from Craig's list or preloved because it's free, the chances are that you can't afford the annual cost of caring for the dog.
I estimate the cost of keeping an medium/large sized dog, such as a labrador at around £34 ($54) per month. A smaller dog would cost less in terms of food, worming tablets and anaesthetic if it needed an operation. Some breeds, such as the British bulldog, Pekingese and shar pei are notoriously prone to illness and therefore expensive with veterinary fees and expensive to insure.
If the cost of keeping a dog is the only thing that is putting you off, draw up a list of weekly and annual expenses you would expect from a dog and see if you can work it in to your budget. Your cheapest options would be a small to medium sized mongrel or you could foster dogs for a re-homing charity - usually they will cover the veterinary costs and you cover the cost of food and toys.
All dogs enjoy and need the stimulation that exercise provides them. If you are thinking about getting a dog you need to be honest with yourself about the amount of exercise you are willing and able to provide. If you are a keen walker or want to go running or dry canine sports such as agility with your dog you could consider high energy breeds such as border collies and huskies. If you like a steady walk most days then a breed with mid range activity levels is for you such as labradors or west highland terriers or you could consider adopting a middle aged dog from a rescue centre.
If the exercise requirements are the only thing putting you off having a dog, because you really don't like exercising or physically can't, then the miniature toy breeds such as the chihuahua and Maltese terrier could be an option or you could adopt an elderly dog. They will appreciate a little walk now and again, but can get a lot of exercise just running around a home and garden. Otherwise you would need to look at whether you can afford to pay someone to walk your dog for you.
Training and Socialising
Training and socialising a puppy or young adult dog is fun but also time consuming. If you are thinking about having a dog you need to consider whether you are able to put the time into introducing the dog to a wide range of situations so that it is steady around people, other dogs, livestock, transport etc. Some breeds are considered easier to train and socialise than others. Golden retrievers or cocker spaniels might be a better choice of breed for a first dog than a Belgian shepherd or bull mastiff both of which need particularly careful socialising.
If training and socialising is the only thing putting you off having a dog; you could consider re-homing a middle aged dog - most of these will will be socialised and have a basic level of training already. Re-homing a dog which has been in foster care is an especially good way of getting a dog which has had a good grounding in training and socialisation.
Dogs - a Long Term Commitment
It's impossible to predict the future, but if you are thinking of getting a dog you need to be reasonably confident that you will be able to care for it for the rest of its life. On average the very large and giant breeds have a shorter lifespan (8-10 years). Most breeds live for 12 -14 years, mongrel terriers and border collies are renowned for their longevity often getting to 16 and older.
If the long term commitment is the only thing putting you off there are two options. You could consider re-homing a old dog so that you can be confident that it doesn't have as long to live or you could offer to foster a dog for a re-homing charity, that way if your circumstances change the dogs can be returned to the charity and anyway fostering is usually short term whilst they seek a permanent home for the dog.
Caring for an old dog can bring trials too, alongside extra veterinary expenses, the dog may become a bit incontinent or senile or deaf. Are you prepared to care for a dog compassionately right through to the end?
Before you Decide to have a Dog
The good news is that if you're reading this article you are already thinking sensibly and researching carefully as to whether you should have a dog and which breeds or types of dog might suit you best.
If you have never had a dog before it would be a good idea to borrow one for a few days or weeks to see if you enjoy the experience. You could offer to look after a friend's dog whilst they are away or you could offer to foster a dog short term whilst its owner is in hospital or whilst a re-homing centre finds it a new home. Alternatively you could volunteer as a dog walker at a dog rescue centre. This will give you the chance to interact with different breeds and types of dog and ascertain whether any match your temperament and requirements.
If you are thinking of getting a pedigree puppy, do get in contact with reputable breeders. If you are serious about learning they will often be willing to introduce you the breed and discuss the sort of home which their breed needs.