When I was a little kid, my family was not animal-oriented, but I was obsessed with animals, especially dogs. I was annoyingly persistent in asking my parents for a puppy, and they gave me every reason why we should not get one. It took almost a year, but I finally convinced them that I was responsible enough to take care of a dog.
At the time, I thought my parents were annoying, but as a veterinarian, I have often thought that more people should carefully consider all of the responsibilities that come with pet ownership before purchasing a pup.
Whether you are buying a dog, a cat, or a goldfish, bringing another living creature into your life requires commitment. Here are some questions to consider if you’re thinking about getting a dog:
- Do I have the time to train, care for, and engage with a dog?
- Is my lifestyle conducive to being responsible for a dog?
- Is my home appropriate for the type of dog I want?
- Do I have the time and space to exercise the dog?
- Is someone available at regular times every day to feed and walk the dog?
- Do I have the time to provide mental stimulation for the dog at a level that is appropriate for its breed and personality?
- Do I have the financial resources to cover expenses related to having a dog? Expenses can include:
What Type of Dog Fits Me?
Once you decide to acquire a dog, careful consideration should be given to the type or breed of dog that you want. Different dog breeds have a variety of personalities, energy levels, and physical characteristics. Responsibilities such as coat maintenance and satisfying energy levels can become frustrating if they are incompatible with your lifestyle.
For example, if you are not very active, live in a small apartment, or are bothered by dog hair on your clothes or furniture, then lively dogs that shed are probably not a good fit for you. If you have small children or plan on having children in the near future, small dogs may not be a good choice, as they can be easily frightened by active kids.
Purebred dogs are ideal for first-time owners, as they are dependable in their physical and personality characteristics. For much of my life, I bred Afghan Hounds. I love the breed, but I know it’s not for everyone. Whenever I sold a puppy, I made sure that the prospective owner understood the characteristics of the breed and had proper expectations. Someone looking for the endless devotion of a Golden Retriever might not want the refinement and aloofness of an Afghan Hound. Too often, when personality traits and physical characteristics don’t match an owner’s expectations, the dog ends up in a shelter.
Responsible Dog Ownership
Once you decide to add a dog to your life, it’s important to find a responsible breeder or shelter. They will often make sure that you are able to care for the dog and that the breed will fit your lifestyle.
Acquiring your dog from a responsible breeder allows you to have a better understanding of his genetic characteristics, including personality, coat, and potential health issues. Responsible breeders follow the guidelines of the Canine Health Information Center and conduct recommended genetic testing of the parents to reduce the risk of inherited diseases.
Once you bring your dog home, you will need to incorporate him into you life and make time to care for him. Responsible dog owners should:
- Microchip their dog and give him a collar that fits, with a tag that has his name, address, and owner’s phone number. They should then enroll the dog in AKC Reunite, the nation’s largest database of microchipped pets, which helps return lost pups to their owners.
- Provide a healthy, well balanced diet in consultation with their breeder and veterinarian. No table scraps! Veterinarians can provide guidance to help keep a dog at an appropriate weight.
- Make certain that their dog receives adequate training. Many pet stores and some veterinary offices provide classes.
- Exercise their dog daily. The level of physical exercise needed varies by breed, but all dogs need some exercise. Lack of exercise can lead to boredom, behavior problems, and weight gain.
- Provide mental stimulation for their dog. Canine companions like to have a job. Toys, puzzles, and play are great ways to keep a dog mentally stimulated and out of trouble.
- Groom their dog regularly. Some dogs require monthly grooming. All dogs should be brushed and have their nails trimmed routinely.
- Schedule annual checkups for their dog and keep his vaccinations up-to-date. Senior dogs (older than seven years of age) or dogs with health problems should see their veterinarian every six months. Veterinarians can help determine which vaccinations are best for a dog based on his health, lifestyle, and living conditions. All dogs are required by law to be vaccinated against rabies.
- Make certain that their dog is not a nuisance to others. Always keep him on a leash and under the control of a responsible adult when outside of the yard. Pick up dog waste and do your best to minimize barking.
Medical Care and Costs
Although lifespan can vary by breed and size, dogs generally live 8-15 years. While some breeds may have a genetic predisposition to certain health issues, as a veterinarian in a busy urban emergency veterinary hospital, I’ve seen first-hand that all dogs get sick, whether purebred or mixed-breed. Many dogs require emergency or specialty medical care during their lives.
Costs associated with dog illness and emergency care can be a challenge to any budget. Veterinarians provide high-quality medical care and maintain significant overhead in order to care for your dog. During my career, I have witnessed a significant shift in veterinary medicine. It now parallels human health with options for care never before imagined. With those options comes a significant price tag.
Veterinary specialists, such as cardiologists, dermatologists, neurologists, oncologists, etc., can provide treatment that was not available in the past. Their tools include MRI, CT scan, ultrasound, radiation, and rehabilitation facilities.
If you budget for yearly wellness appointments and for unexpected illness or emergency care, you will find the situation much less stressful. Pet insurance can help defray the costs, but again, dog owners should research options to find a plan that works best for their situation.
Finally, it is important to have an end-of-life plan. Know who will take care for your pup if you were to pass away and what resources would be available to help cover related expenses. Make certain that the person you designate is willing to take on this responsibility. Put this information in writing and make your family aware of your wishes.
Also, it is important to understand your responsibilities regarding your dog’s life. If your dog is no longer able to follow his normal routine or live without pain, then it may be time to end his life humanely. Your veterinarian will be an important resource for you when the time comes.
Dog ownership is a significant responsibility, but it does bring a lifetime of gratification, companionship, and love. If you have a dog, or decide to bring one into your life, I hope you sign the American Kennel Club’s pledge for responsible dog ownership.
Dr. Jerry Klein is the Chief Veterinary Officer for the AKC.