Adding a dog to your family can be a rewarding and life-changing experience. Dogs enrich our lives and have the amazing ability to give and receive love unconditionally. A dog is a loyal companion and friend, an instant playmate and a guardian -- but they are also a long-term commitment.
You will be the most special person in your dog’s life, and they will be dependent on you. As a member of your family, it will be your responsibility to care and provide for your dog in sickness and in health. Before making this major life decision, it’s important to think it through and find the dog that best fits your lifestyle, personality and family dynamic.
The choice can be overwhelming; there are so many adorable dogs to choose from, and they all deserve to find a loving home. How do you choose the right dog for you? Do a little soul-searching and ask yourself a few key questions:
- Why do you want to adopt a dog? Why now? Companionship? To replace a recently lost pet or loved one? Knowing the answer to this question will help determine what dog best suits you.
- Are you ready to make a 10 to 15 year commitment? Your dog will be dependent on you for their health and well-being, and will always require an investment of love, time and money.
- Do you have the time and resources to commit to a dog? ALL dogs need daily affection, exercise, socialization and regular grooming and vet care.
The ASPCA estimates the first year costs of owning a dog between $1,100 and $1,800, depending on size and grooming requirements. These numbers do not include the costs of unexpected or emergency vet care.
- Will you be able to spend quality time with your dog? Dogs are pack animals by nature and thrive on being part of a family. If they are left alone for long periods of time, it can lead to behavioral issues. If you travel all the time or consistently work 9+ hour days, the timing may not be right to add a dog to your family.
- Are you willing to train your dog? Lack of training is one of the most common reasons that adopters surrender their dogs to shelters. Basic training helps the dog understand your rules and what you expect from them. It also teaches you how to communicate with your dog and strengthens the overall relationship.
- Do you live in a condo, or a house with a fenced yard?
- Do you have kids or seniors in your home?
Adding a new dog is a family decision and should include input and buy-in from all its members. Examine your lifestyle and personality, and be honest about the amount of resources and time you can commit to exercising, playing with and grooming your dog. Here are some other factors to consider:
Puppies - Everyone loves a puppy. They are adorable, but they also require the most time, attention, and training, especially in the first six months. Do you have the time and patience to train a puppy and deal with frequent potty breaks, teething, chewing, cleaning up messes and their higher energy level? When you adopt a puppy, you don’t necessarily know the personality and energy level the dog will have as an adult, but you do have the opportunity to train them early to live by your rules and shape their behavior.
Adult dogs – Adult dogs over two years old are a great option for most families. They have already grown into themselves and have established personalities, so you know what you’re getting. They’ve typically been "socialized" with people and the outside world, and understand what it takes to be part of your family pack. They have calmer temperaments, make fewer demands on your time, and are worldlier - many have already experienced car rides or know how to walk on a leash, so they’re ready to be an instant companion.
Senior dogs – Senior dogs also make great pets; they are confident in their skin, grateful for a loving and safe home and are happy to either walk a sedate mile with you or lounge on the sofa next to you. Just like humans, senior dogs require more frequent veterinary visits, medications and procedures, but there is also a great reward knowing that your senior pup was happy and truly loved when they left this earth. At shelters, older dogs are the least likely to be adopted and the first to be euthanized. Adopting a senior dog is your opportunity to be a hero and get a wonderful companion in return.
The size of the dog that best fits your family is often determined by your family makeup. A very small dog is at risk in a family with young children who may perceive it to be a toy. Small dogs tend to be more delicate and vulnerable, so being mishandled can lead to injury or the dog responding in a negative way. If you have younger children in your home, you may want to consider a medium-sized dog over six months old.
Families who live in apartments or condos or have older or physically challenged members may do better with a small adult or senior dog because they are calmer and need less space. A young, large dog often plays rough, needs lots of exercise and can be an obstacle in walking paths. Large dogs typically mean more food, exercise, longer walks, and need more space to run and play.
Remember: every adorable puppy starts out small, but they can grow quickly. You can look up the dog’s breed online to get a feel for the different heights and weights of the breeds you are considering.
All dogs need routine exercise to stay healthy and balanced, but some dogs need more than others. If you don't meet your dog’s exercise needs, they are more prone to behavioral problems, like chewing up things they’re not supposed to or bouncing off the walls with excitement. Be honest and realistic with yourself about the amount of time you can commit to exercising your dog.
Your personal lifestyle and living arrangements factor in too. If you live in an apartment or condo or have a more sedentary lifestyle, you probably shouldn’t adopt a high energy dog that needs to run and play every day. If you are an active family that likes to run and hike, a younger, medium-to-large energetic pup would be a better fit for you than a small toy dog.
You can’t rely on breed alone to gauge a dog’s energy level, because dogs have unique personalities and requirements independent of their breed. Age, breed and temperament are all factors that impact a dog’s energy level.
All dogs need basic grooming, but some dogs with longer coats (terriers, shih tzu, spaniels, retrievers, etc.) require more upkeep and routine grooming every four to six weeks. Most dogs shed, but some dogs shed all year round; some shed in clumps for a few weeks, some dogs shed only a little bit. Long-coated dogs are beautiful to look at, but require some effort to stay that way. Short-coated dogs are easier to care for, but may still shed, and require protection in cold or wet weather. Decide how much dog hair you're willing to put up with, and how much time and money you can afford to dedicate to grooming your dog.
WHERE TO FIND YOUR DOG
As part of the Mutts Matter Rescue team, I have some bias on this topic, and strongly believe in rescuing versus buying your next dog from a pet store or breeder. Sadly, between seven and 11 million unwanted animals are euthanized in the US every year. These are healthy, adoptable pets whose only fault is that they don't have a place to call home. We have a large overpopulation problem here, and most people are unaware of how many wonderful dogs and cats of all breeds are waiting in shelters and rescues for someone to love them.
Rescues can be a great resource to help you find the right dog for your family. All of Mutts Matter’s dogs live in a foster home; they live with our husbands, wives, kids and other pets, too. This personal connection with the dog gives us a better sense of their personality and level of socialization, and helps us understand the type of home and family that will best suit them.
Rescuing a dog in need is a virtuous endeavor and the right thing to do. You can rescue dogs of every age, breed and temperament, from purebred to mutt, and in all shapes in sizes. Saving an animal’s life is not just a good thing to do, but it will reward you in ways that you may not expect.
The dogs featured in this article’s photos are all in need of loving homes - except for the cover model, Zoë. She’s my pup, and a former Mutts Matter rescue dog.
Follow Mutts Matter on Facebook to learn more about us and see new pups coming into the rescue!