According to the ASPCA and the National Shelter Animal Database, approximately 6.5 million pets enter shelters in the United States every year. There are a variety of reasons, such as stray and rescued animals, but there’s no ignoring that a significant number of these are owner surrenders. In a 2018 study conducted by the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy (originally published in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, and later in an article I found on the Associated Press) the top reasons that people surrendered their pets to shelters were as follows: moving, landlord not allowing pet, too many animals in household, cost of pet maintenance, personal problems, inadequate facilities, having no time for pet, pet illnesses, and behavioral problems.
At the time I’m writing this, it’s the holiday season and many people all over the country are going to try to give a dog as a gift this year. Let me just cut to the chase and say this is a bad idea, no matter the time of year. As romantic as it sounds to wake up one day to a puppy under the Christmas tree, or how great of a story it would be that you surprised a loved one with a fluffy bundle of joy, getting a pet is not something to be considered lightly or acted on impulse. Like any other big life decision, this is one that requires serious, logical thought from the entire family.
Trust me, I have been there. For years and years, I wanted my own dog. I couldn’t even count on both hands the number of times I was seconds away from just saying “screw it” and getting a dog. I’ve had dogs growing up; I can handle it, right? I love dogs so much, I am obviously the perfect candidate, I would think. But then, I’d have to snap myself out of it and come to terms with the fact that I was NOT ready. Financially, I was either a student or fresh out of college with zero money. I was hopping around to a new living situation every six months. All of my jobs were time consuming, and sometimes I was juggling more than one. There were so many reasons and clear signs that I wasn’t ready to adopt a dog, as much as I hated the fact. It is humbling and super disappointing to think of these things, but it has to be done.
Before you get a dog, sit yourself and all of your household down and make a list of the pros and cons of getting a dog in your current situation. Below is a list that covers topics on the table before you bring home the cutest commitment of your life:
This is a very basic litmus test that indicates if a dog is able to fit into your life. Lots of things change when you bring a dog into your home for the first time, but some things are going to have to stay the same — particularly your work schedule.
Consider your old schedule before shutdowns and quarantines and act like this is still your schedule — it will likely cover the busiest you may be. Do you work long hours in an office that requires a 1+ hour commute? How many hours are you actually home on a regular weekday, not including when you are asleep? Dogs are a lot of work at all ages from puppies to seniors. Walks, training, and vet appointments can take out a chunk of a regular day. Can you slip out during the day to walk the dog? Are you willing to find a dog walker?
Of equal importance, consider the transition period for the post-covid era. Work time into your regular work-from-home schedule to begin setting your dog up for success when you are gone during the day. This means being able to step away for increasing increments of time to leave the dog alone at home. Are you willing to put in all that work alongside your current or future career?
The Over 10-Year Investment
In a study by Rover, the starting costs of getting a dog (including buying all of the basics, new vet appointments, microchips and licenses) can range from $610 to $2350 upfront. That is just off the bat, continuing with $55-$176 per month for the rest of the dog’s life. That’s about $650-$2115 a year for over 10 years. You’re paying for routine vet visits, food, treats, flea and tick prevention, heartworm prevention, poop bags, etc. This isn’t including things that are considered “extra” depending on your lifestyle or the breed: grooming, daycare, dog walkers, training, or pet insurance. Using these services costs an additional $1645-$4315 a year. And then there’s emergency vet bills which can easily add up to thousands of dollars.
How does a dog fit into your budget based on the numbers above? If it doesn’t, are you willing to compromise? For example, if you’re hesitant about spending $50/month on grooming, do not get a dog that requires regular haircuts such as a poodle, bichon-frise, or sheepdog. If you’re not interested in spending a few hundred dollars a month on food, don’t get a large dog that can eat through a bag of food in a week. These are costs that will ebb and flow throughout the dog’s life (vet costs will probably be higher during the puppy phase than a healthy adult dog in their prime, but the costs will go up again as seniors).
Are you a patient person?
Even dogs from the best breeders in the world come as crazy puppies that need training.
My dog was rescued. We got lucky because he spent enough time in foster care that he was familiar with some basic commands and potty training. Still, we had to work extremely hard on reinforcing training, and he still peed in the house on occasion. We spent months teaching him how to walk on a leash without pulling, and we still have to remind him about leash manners. We’ve been working on recall for a full year and he still frankly sucks at it. All this to say, if my adult dog with a basic training foundation still took that much work, imagine a new puppy. Don’t be shocked that a puppy will jump, bite, and bark. It is guaranteed that they will do this, and you are the one responsible for curbing these habits. This is a point I cannot make lightly: if you are the type of person who craves instant gratification, you should not get a dog.
With that being said, it is totally okay and encouraged to ask for help when it comes to training. Having to get a trainer does not mean you are failing. Although I have had dogs my entire life, I knew I needed some extra help with my first dog in the city. I grew up being able to let the dogs out whenever they wanted and never knew how to properly walk a dog (yes — there is a right and wrong way!). After a few sessions, we were able to use the tools and insight our new trainer provided us to develop a routine that worked best for us and our dog. Working with a trainer was worth every penny, and we still call her with questions and advice a year later. After all, training isn’t a one-and-done experience; you will be working on this with the dog its entire life. Yet another part of the ten-year investment.
Before you get a dog, go through this list and sit on it for a few weeks. A dog cannot be a rash decision by any means. Dogs are the greatest creatures in the entire world. Being able to provide for them in time, money, and care is what they deserve for the unconditional love they provide us. Dog ownership has not been all butterflies and rainbows for the year and a half I have had my rescue dog, but it has been worth every chewed shoe and stained carpet. Besides, if I had tried to get a dog straight out of college, the dog wouldn’t have been my Jonathan. I’m glad I waited for the stars to align for us to find each other. He is my perfect dog.
What are some of your signs that a dog may not be right at a time in your life? Let us know in the comments.