10 questions to ask yourself before getting a dog

  • A dog is the best of sidekicks. From Tintin’s Snowy, Asterix’s Dogmatix or Dorothy’s Toto, every good hero has a loyal (cheeky) pooch at their side. They aren’t called “man’s best friend” for nothing. However, embarking on the responsibility of dog ownership is a major upheaval in your daily routine, and not one to be taken without working out exactly how a dog will fit in with your previously dog-less lifestyle. Boring as it may seem for what is essentially an emotional relationship, there is a long list of practical things to consider before getting a dog.

    Holidays, working hours, daily routine, lie-ins, social life, personal finances, clean and tidy homes, peace and quiet – all of these will be impacted to some degree when a dog bounces into your life. Are you ready to welcome in the chaos? And if the answer is a whole-hearted yes, then you’ll be rewarded with an incredibly enriching and loyal relationship as your adventures together unfold.

    10 things to consider before getting a dog

    1. Do you have enough time for a dog?

    Dogs can’t just be left alone at home all day. Ideally you’ll be around, but if you work away from home and cannot take your dog with you, it’s a tricky situation. If you are going to be out all day, then you’ll need to establish times when you can come home to interact with your dog or take him for a walk, or engage friends, family, neighbours or dog-walkers to ensure he’s not left alone for hours on end. How sustainable is this for you on a daily basis?

    Furthermore, the above only applies to an adult dog with no separation anxiety. While they are a puppy, you can only leave them for a short while, a maximum of an hour at once. This will enable you to train them manners, socialise them, toilet-train them, build up trust, stimulate them and teach them what’s right and wrong. They will also gradually learn that when you go away you come back, which should ward off separation anxiety as you start to leave them for longer periods.

    The first four months you own a puppy – or even an adult dog – are absolutely crucial in terms of socialisation, bonding, and establishing training. When the pup grows up, dependent on the breed, they may need several outings a day, or at least two hours’ exercise – so choose your breed wisely.

    2. Are you ready for your life to change?

    Are you the type of person who loves to jet off on a spontaneous trip? Dogs kill spontaneity. Last-minute holidays and spur-of-the-moment plans need to factor in your pooch. You’ll either need to take your dog with you on holiday, or book him in with the dog-sitter or kennels.

    Even for simple visits to stay with friends – not everyone wants a (muddy) dog in their house, so this can cause complications, too.

    3. Can you afford a dog?

    One of the most important things to consider when getting a dog, is whether you’re realistic about your financial situation. The minimum cost of keeping a dog for its lifetime is between £5,200 to £15,700, dependent on breed, according to veterinary charity PDSA.

    The initial investment of the purchase price is only a fraction of the cost that racks up over the weeks and months of their lives. Besides the one-off purchases such as dog beds, dog coats and other accessories, there are other regular costs, chiefly food, but also vaccinations, parasite control, vet check-ups, insurance, grooming and dog-walkers or boarding. Can you afford this? What sacrifices will you have to make to keep your budget on track?

    4. Can you provide for their needs?

    According to the Animal Welfare Act of 1996, those caring for animals need to provide these five needs:

    • a suitable environment
    • a suitable diet
    • enable them to exhibit normal behaviour patterns
    • to be housed with, or apart from, other animals according to their need
    • to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease

    Aside from the shame of being a bad owner, penalties for not providing for these needs include being banned from owning animals, facing an unlimited fine or being sent to prison for up to six months.

    Take a look at your lifestyle, your accommodation and your work routine and analyse whether owning a dog is appropriate. This isn’t the only law to follow – here are some more dog owner laws you’ll need to follow if you’re in the UK, which are really important things to consider when getting a dog.

    5. Are you in this for the long run?

    The old adage “a dog is for life not just for Christmas” was coined back in 1978 by the chief executive of what is now The Dogs’ Trust charity, but is still just as relevant today. While no one can predict the future, assess whether a dog will fit happily and well into your plans for the next 10–15 years. If you are set to emigrate or likely to need to move to a city apartment, start a family or change jobs, these will all have an impact on whether you want to get a dog and which breed. If you are just wanting a dog for your lifestyle for the next year or so, and big changes are ahead, it’s probably not the right move.

    6. Will getting a dog impact other pets?

    When bringing a new animal into the home, bear in mind that the existing residents may not welcome him with open arms. House rabbits might be intimidated by a bouncy, chasing puppy; the longstanding feline may not relish battling for hierarchy. It may not spell the end of your canine ownership ambitions, but it needs careful consideration.

    7. Why do you want a dog?

    There are innumerable reasons why you might want to buy a puppy, and most of them are worthy. However, if you only want a puppy, and haven’t looked ahead into the many years when it’s not quite such a bundle of cuteness, but needs training, cleaning up after, paying for, taking to the vet and so on, give it more consideration.

    The key thing is not to let a dog be an impulse buy. Give it plenty of thought, write out the pros and cons, discuss it with your family and friends and make an informed, considered decision.

    8. Are you ready for the responsibility?

    If you are so sure you want a dog, how about offering to look after friends’ dogs while they go on holiday, and seeing how a dog will fit into your home. This will give you an idea of the responsibility – and joy – of having a dog at home 24/7. Or take it one step further, and put your name down as a potential foster carer for a rescue dog, whereby you can look after a dog for a certain number of weeks, building up love and trust before it is ready to be rehomed. If you can care for a rescue dog, potentially with associated issues, then the baptism of fire of a new puppy will seem a much easier prospect.

    9. Is it definitely a dog you want?

    If you just want a pet, there are other animals that require less time, patience, financial input and attention. Another species might be better suited to your time constraints, family situation, accommodation and circumstances. Naturally all pets have daily needs, but there are others that are lower maintenance.

    10. Is your setup suitable?

    If you are renting, check whether your landlord or building rules permit dogs – not all do.

    Whatever your accommodation, assess realistically whether it’s appropriate for the dog you think you want. Some breeds are fine in a small apartment, while others need a large garden and space to run around.

    And if you have neighbours or thin walls, you won’t be popular if you have a dog that barks constantly – it will drive them and you potty. Again, some breeds are less likely to be noisy.

    Overall, it’s no quick decision to get a dog, however much you might want to click “buy now” at the sight of an eight-week-old fluffy pup. Take the time to assess all of these considerations – and if it’s the right choice, maybe the right dog will find you at just the right time!

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