Are You Ready for a Puppy?

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“Are you freaking kidding me?” That was my inner voice talking to my 17-year-old stepson after he told us he was getting a dog when he turned 18. He wants a dog of his own. His mom has a great little rescue dog. We have Maisey, the wunderkind hunting hound and stuck-to-me-like-Velcro pooch, who is not terribly cuddly or affectionate with anyone else. I get it. He’s great with dogs and deserves the joy of a canine companion in his life. Someday.

I mean, really, who doesn’t love puppy kisses and snuggles? Dogs make wonderful companions. The positive effects of owning a dog are pretty amazing. We are healthier and happier than people who are not pet owners. There are some considerations to ensure that folks get the most out of having a dog at home. People don’t realize how owning a dog can play havoc with their social life and monthly budget. Our four-legged friends need to be exercised, taken to obedience classes, and brushed. Poop needs to be picked up on a regular basis.

So, here’s what I want to say using the voice handsome stepson can actually hear.

Is a dog right for you right now? Five questions to ask first.

How active are you?  

Look for a breed that matches your own energy levels. If you want a running partner, look to the Working and Sporting breeds for a dog with stamina and drive. My Weimaraner, Maisey, can run for hours. Me, not so much. We compromise by going out to the country a few times a week where she can run to her heart’s content in between our regular city walks. If you are looking for a dog who enjoys “House of Cards” as much as you do, choose a Toy breed like a Shih tsu or Pug.

Don’t let size be your only guide. Jack Russell Terriers have crazy energy and rescued Greyhounds make great couch potatoes. Smart dogs like Border Collies or Boxers that are walked infrequently may turn their frustrations on your home and chew furniture, dig holes, and pee in the house.

Can you live with the hair? 

Be prepared to vacuum more often once you bring a dog home and don’t be fooled by a short-haired dog. He will often shed as much a dog with a longer coat. Labrador retrievers and Dalmatians require just as much brushing as a Siberian Husky. Breeds with ever-growing coats like Poodles and Old English Sheepdogs may not shed as much, but they require regular professional grooming to prevent uncomfortable matting and skin infections.

Can you afford a dog?  

There is no such thing as a free puppy. Responsible dog owners recognize that dogs need good quality food, collars, beds, and poop bags. Some dogs also need coats, booties, and pretty hair thingies.

Besides food, your largest expense may be veterinary care. Plan on spending between $200 and $300 on annual examinations and parasite control. Toy dogs like Maltese and Yorkshire terriers may need dental cleanings every year to prevent painful tooth loss. Different breed types are prone to chronic conditions like ear infections, allergies, and joint problems. In general, the bigger the dog, the more expensive her medications will be.

Dogs are accident-prone. They eat socks and garbage, get hit by cars or dropped by kids, and drink antifreeze like its lemonade. Even the most careful dog owner can’t plan for every emergency. A broken leg can easily cost thousands of dollars to repair.  Talk to your local veterinary clinic about potential expenses for dog preventive care and accidents. Think about pet insurance, especially if you are interested in a dog breed with lots of energy or a tendency for certain inherited problems.  

Where will you buy your dog?   

Adopting a new dog should never be an impulsive purchase. Give yourself time to check out local shelters and breed rescue groups. If you’re interested in a particular breed, touch base with your regional kennel club representative to find a reputable breeder.

Be cautious about so-called “designer” breeds or hybrids. These dogs are crosses of two or more breeds to produce funny names like doodles and puggles or “minis” of your favourite canine. Unfortunately, many designer dogs come from backyard breeders or puppy mills that raise dogs for financial gain with little regard for the dogs themselves. These dogs may come to you with health problems related to unsanitary conditions and poor genetics.

Regardless of where you adopt your new pooch, feel free to ask lots of questions. Does the animal shelter know anything about the social manners of the rescued dog? Can the breeder produce a multi-generational pedigree and test results to prove the health of the puppy’s mom and dad? Has your new dog been health-checked and vaccinated appropriately by a veterinarian prior to your purchase? Don’t be fooled by dog sellers who offer to deliver puppies to your home or meet you at the shopping mall. They may be hiding dirty facilities or doggy parents that don’t match the “designer” breeding as advertised.

Where will you be in ten years?  

A cute puppy is a cute puppy for a few months, but they are still likely to be in your life a decade from now. Owning a dog is very much an investment in time. Dogs with good genetics, especially the smaller breeds, can live to be 15 or more years. Will you be living in an apartment in Vancouver that doesn’t allow pets? Will your significant other be allergic to dogs? Will you have kids of your own by then? Will you want to travel more? Perhaps a rescue dog who is already an adult is a better fit in your life plan. Ask yourself how much time you have to spend with your pet today AND in the future.

I hope, dear stepson, these questions help you with your decision to adopt a dog-whether it’s now or five years from now. I have no doubt about the love and care you can provide to any pet you choose. I just want to make sure that decisions today about canine ownership do not hold you back from realizing all of the great opportunities that are sure to be coming your way.

That’s what I will say.