Slobbery kisses. Eye candy and “awww”-provoking companionship. An ecstatic welcome home every day. Practicing nurturing skills on a fur baby as training wheels for a real baby. These are just a few highlights–amid an endless list of benefits–of having a dog.
But before you ask “how much is that doggie in the window?” or fall in love with a cuddly canine at your local animal shelter, there’s a lot for a responsible prospective dog owner to consider while they're wondering whether or not they should get a dog.
“Most people just take the dog at cuteness value, not factoring in expenses or the discipline it takes to have one,” says Brandon McMillan, author of Lucky Dog Lessons and star of Lucky Dog on CBS.
It can take a village to care for a dog, depending on your workload, travel preferences and family dynamic. First, make sure everyone in the household is ready to pitch in for the new pet responsibilities.
Beyond that, it’s important to consider whether your children, frequent visitors and current pets will mesh well with the new hound in town. Here’s a good time to do an inventory of those with allergies your addition could adversely affect, too.
Having a dog is a financial commitment. The first factor to consider is if your budget can handle new monthly line items like dog food and treats (generally speaking, the higher the quality or more specialized the type, the greater the price tag), grooming, pet sitter/ dog walker (if you work long hours) and any medication your dog may need.
For example: My husband and I shell out about $130 monthly on allergy medication and eye drops for Ice, our English bulldog. (Way to go there, Icey Poo...)
Then there’s occasional or one-time costs to think about like daycare/boarding facility fees when you go on vacation (if no one you know can dog sit), veterinarian bills (shots, neutering, emergency visits and down the line maybe even surgeries),
food/ water bowls, crates, beds, leashes, collars, dog waste bags, blankets, toys and—for fashionistas, chilly walks or family photos—a cool canine wardrobe (I mean, ugly sweaters season is rapidly approaching).
Average costs for maintaining a dog can range from a few hundred dollars per month, according to Dr. David Wellington, a veterinarian of 12 years and co-owner of Well Pet Animal Hospital in Cedar Grove, New Jersey. Specifically, the ASPCA estimates the annual cost of dog to be about $737 for a small breed,
$894 for a medium breed and $1,040 for a large breed.b The ASPCA estimates the annual cost of dog is $737 for a small breed, $894 for a medium breed and $1,040 for a large breed.
And we haven’t even talked about what it costs to get the actual dog. Related fees vary greatly depending on the route you take. Puppies from a breeder can run upwards of $500-1000 (or even higher for specialized breeds), says certified professional dog trainer Nick Hof. “Adopting a puppy or dog from a shelter or rescue can be a lot less,” he adds, giving the estimate of $200 or under for the latter.
Hof also urges new owners to explore training options. “If you are just looking for help with general manners, a training class can be a great and affordable option. If you need help with concerning behavioral issues, private training may be required, which can be more expensive, but is the best way to go,” Hof says.
Many people choose puppies over adult dogs because they feel the puppy can be shaped into the “perfect pet,” without realizing how much work goes into raising it, says Victoria Stilwell, celebrity dog trainer/behavior expert and host of Animal Planet’s It’s Me or the Dog.
“Barking, whining, toileting, and chewing are all behaviors that can be hard to deal with, and a thorough examination of available time, commitment and lifestyle should be done before making any decision,” says Stilwell, who wrote Train Your Dog Positively,
The Secret Language of Dogs and her latest book, The Ultimate Guide to Raising a Puppy.
Seconding this, McMillan says “If you've got a puppy in the house, you may as well cancel that weekend trip to Vegas you were planning because puppies can cost you more than you think. Puppies are destructive, so be sure to keep an eye on them or the bills will start adding up. Cleaning the rugs after they make a mess and replacing those new heels you just bought can add up.”
Pick a pooch based on your way of life, not looks.
One of the biggest mistakes a prospective dog parent can make is choosing a dog based on appearance, says Stilwell. “A herding breed like an Australian shepherd, for example, may not be the best for someone who is a couch potato. A sighthound, such as a greyhound, may not be a good match for a home with cats,” she explains.
Though this may seem obvious, keep in mind that dogs need human interaction and daily care. “Dogs require walks and exercise multiple times a day, so for individuals who work long hours this may not be possible,” says Wellington
Make sure to find a dog that aligns with your lifestyle. “If you are very active and want to take your dog out with you for hikes or runs, you probably wouldn't want to get a saint bernard, who is wiped out after a two-block walk,” says Hof. Conversely, if you don't want to do a lot of activities with your dog, an active breed, like German shorthair pointers, wouldn't be a good fit, he says.
Consider the lifetime commitment.
Although there may not be wedding bells, the dog you bring home should ideally stick around until death do you part. Experts say this could mean about 10 to 15 years, on average.
Consider how your life will change in 10 to 15 years, and if you'll still be able to care for your dog.
“As you go through lifestyle changes, such as moves, the birth of children and new jobs, your animal will remain a permanent part of your life,” says Kelly DiCicco, a manager at the ASPCA Adoption Center. “If circumstances change, it’s crucial to consider if you will still be able to care for your pet before bringing them home,” she says. Weigh the pros and cons of a purebred dog versus a mixed breed.
Purebred dogs are often the most expensive because of their genetic health problems, says McMillan. For example, French bulldogs are one of the most popular breeds in the country and also one of the priciest dogs out there. It only gets worse when purebreds hit their senior years because now you're paying for meds to keep them pain free, according to McMillan Account for the adjustment period.
If your new pet is hiding or seems fearful at first, don’t fret, DiCicco says, because it generally takes between two weeks and three months for dogs to settle into a new environment. To help smooth the transition, adopters should attempt to develop a routine early on, and give your new pet time and space to settle in before introducing new people or places, she adds.
Still, sometimes an adoption just doesn’t work out (and that’s okay). Do consult with shelter/rescue staff, trainers or your veterinarian for advice before you throw in the chewed towel. If you still think it’s best to part ways, you may be able to return the pet to where you adopted them from or find a new home among your network of friends, family, or coworkers, recommends DiCicco.
Have an open mind and heart throughout the process.
No matter where they live, where they come from, or where you find them, every animal–even animals within a specific breed–have individual personalities and dispositions” says DiCicco. To that end, she suggests those in the market for a dog explore a diverse range during their hunt for an ideal match because you may fall for a pooch you never considered
Not to be cheesy, but what catches your eye might be how they wag their tail, but the tale of their background may be what captivates your heart. Before making any final decisions, ask about dog energy levels, habits, and how they interact with other animals and kids (if either is relevant), says DiCicco.
Make sure you do your research on how much real estate your new pup may need. It’s also crucial to check the pet policy if you’re renting or verify with your landlord if the type of dog you’re considering is allowed, as what is permissible may be restricted by size.
Also think about your home’s proximity to healthy outdoor outlets for your dog, according to breed. “While some dogs may benefit from living two streets down from a great dog park, others may show no interest and will prefer a nice, quiet walk around the block,” says DiCicco. Gauge availability of time to train.
Stilwell advises owners to take time to teach their new BFF the skills they need to be successful in your domestic world. “Give your puppy or dog a good canine education and only use humane teaching methods that encourage learning and promote confidence and emotional stability,” says Stilwell, who is also CEO of the Victoria Stilwell Academy for Dog Training and Behavior. Learn more about Stilwell’s training methods or find a trainer near you here.
How much time you can dedicate to training may be another useful tool in deciding what age to commit to. Puppies tend to be a lot more work than adult dogs because you’ll likely spend more time working on house training, chewing, biting, and crate training (if applicable), says Hof. Besides that, accidents in the house and getting up in the middle of the night to let them out is not unusual either.
“With any dog, you will need to spend time setting boundaries and teaching them proper manners around family and guests,” says Hof, vice chair of The Association of Professional Dog Trainers.
Can’t fully commit to a dog at this time? You can still make a positive impact on one by caring for a pup until they find a permanent home. You can get your feet wet—in some cases quite literally—before fully diving into dog ownership.
Many shelters across the country provide training, resources, and materials to prepare you for a foster animal, says DiCicco. Fostering time frames usually range from a couple weeks to several months, depending on the animal’s needs, she says.
That’s plenty of time to get a taste of the unconditional love and entertaining antics a delightful doggo can provide. Think about what you have to offer. Don’t just consider what a dog will add or remove from your life. What are you bringing to the table or–err, mat on the floor?
“One of the most important questions a person should ask themselves before falling in love with a specific dog, is if they can provide for all that dog’s particular needs and will the dog be happy living with them,” says Stilwell. “I ask prospective dog parents to spend time thinking about all the questions a dog would ask them in an interview.”
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