If you’ve been shamelessly searching through the puppies on Petfinder, but aren’t sure if you’re ready for all of the responsibility that comes with raising Fluffy, we’re here to help. Certified Dog Trainer Andrea Arden shared her expertise on finding the right dog for your lifestyle, the pros and cons of where to get your companion, time and cost expectations, and more!
Choosing the right dog
Be realistic, and envision your life with that dog for the next 15 years. Are you super active, and want your dog to go hiking with you every weekend? Or are you more laid back, and need a dog with a mellow personality? Lots of first time dog owners make the mistake of choosing a dog because of its looks, or because it was the puppy in the litter that ran up and jumped all over them — but if you’re someone who isn’t looking for a high energy dog, you should consider one of the more relaxed litter-mates.
Adopting a dog
Adoption fees are considerably less than purchasing a dog from a breeder or pet store. Costs range from about $300-$400 in big cities, but can be as little as $50 dollars in more suburban or rural areas. These fees typically include the dog’s initial vaccinations, as well as spaying and neutering — an operation that can cost upwards of $500 in some areas. Shelters have dogs of all ages to choose from, while many breeders and pet stores only carry puppies.
Choosing a shelter
Shop around until you find a shelter that understands and respects that you want to take your time in the decision making process. There are a lot of progressive shelters that have indoor and outdoor space where you can spend time with the dog. Some will even have a behavior specialist on staff, or as a volunteer, to tell you about each dog’s temperament. A good shelter that is responsible and ethical will tell you what behavior issues each dog has to ensure that you’re getting the right dog for your lifestyle — and that he won’t end up back at the shelter.
Buying from a breeder
Believe it or not, some popular purebreds can set you back as much as $5,000. Buying a dog from a reputable breeder means that you’re getting a dog who comes from a family line which has been genetically tested and bred to eliminate the common medical problems that that particular breed is known to have. Going through a good breeder also means that the puppies were raised in a socially enriching environment, where they were handled at a very young age, increasing the chances that they will be friendly and social adults.
Finding the right breeder
It should be clear that the breeder’s number one priority is to breed dogs who are physically healthy, with good temperaments. Don’t be won over by a breeder who posts lots of photos of cute puppies. Beauty is as beauty does. You’re looking for a dog who is going to be a part of your family for the next 15 years. Do you want an adorable dog with a terrible personality? A dog’s temperament is absolutely genetically based, so if you find that the mom and dad of your potential puppy are both not very nice dogs, the odds are that their puppies, unfortunately, won’t be nice either.
Buying from a pet store
Not only are you going to pay more for your dog than anywhere else if you decide to buy from a pet store (from $800, if you’re buying somewhere in suburbia, to $8,000 if your dog is coming from a popular city) but you’re also assuming the risk of health and temperament problems. Pet store puppies come from puppy mills with terrible breeding practices and conditions. Places like LA County have even outlawed puppies being sold in pet stores because of this.
This doesn’t mean that people haven’t purchased lovely dogs from pet stores, but the chances of buying a really well socialized dog with no health or genetic problems from a pet store are slim.
In order to enhance your dogs life, avoid behavioral issues, and reduce the amount of money you’re going to spend on outside caregivers, at the very minimum you need to spend 2 hours a day with your dog, which means walking it in the morning, when you get home from work, and once more before you go to sleep. A puppy is a much larger time commitment — at very least, five hours per day for the first six months, until you’ve taught it to self-pacify when left alone.
Depending where you live, and on the health of your dog, owning a dog is going to cost you around $700-$1,500 per year in food, toys, and vet check-ups.
Still not sure if you’re ready? Foster a dog
Fostering is the best way to see if you’re ready for a dog, without a long-term commitment. A foster lets a shelter dog (or puppy) live in their home for a few weeks to get it used to household life, and allows potential adopters to come visit. If you fall in love with the dog and decide that you’re ready, you have the option to adopt it.
Getting a dog in your 20s
Remember that life in your 20s is very different from what it’s going to be in the next 10 or 15 years. You’re at a point in your life where things are going to be changing pretty rapidly — you might get married, have a baby, move, or change careers, and you really have to think about that when you’re raising your dog. If your dog rarely interacts with other dogs and hasn’t socialized with kids, imagine how it’s going to react when you move in with a significant other who has a dog of their own — or when you decide to have a baby. Take the time to make your dog prepared to be a flexible animal who can really be ready for all the ways that life is going to change.