Obviously, there are a lot more than 5 things you have to consider when you are adopting a pet. However, here are 5 that I believe are important when adopting a dog, but which often get overlooked in the urge to ooh over that cute little face.
- Size: Size is an important factor. It will affect many other aspects, such as expenses and energy level, and may also impact the expected lifespan of your new dog. Additionally, for apartment and condo-dwellers and renters of all types, size may impact where you can live. If you live somewhere with size restrictions, or think that you may, this is especially important. If adult size is particularly important to you, you may want to consider adopting and adult dog, as predicted adult-size of mixed breed puppies is not always reliable. I have known 80-pound dogs that were expected to be no more than 50 and 30-pound dogs that were expected to reach 50.
- Age: Let me start by saying that puppies are adorable. It’s a biological impulse that huge head and those floppy ears make your heart melt. However, a puppy may not always be the right choice. If you are unwilling or unable to deal with socializing a puppy, and adult dog may be a better choice. An older dog may also have a lower energy level that better suits your expectations (see below) and has a definite adult size (see above). While some people believe that raising a puppy with their children will make the puppy more tolerant of the children, this is not universally true. Also a myth is that adult dogs can’t bond with their new families. As someone who has only ever adopted “teenage” and adult dogs, I will testify that the bond is just as strong.
- Energy Level: Think about what you want to do when you are with your dog. Will you compete in dog sports or go for long hikes in the woods? Or is your preference for a brief stroll around the neighborhood followed by an afternoon watching sports on the couch. No matter what you are looking for, there is a dog out there for you. However, don’t expect that you can force any dog to conform to your expectations for exercise. Instead, try to find one that can match what you are looking for. Don’t let yourself confuse size and age with energy level. At 7, Sirius still needs more daily exercise than many dogs (if less than he needed at one), and I have known plenty of small dogs that want nothing better than to go on long walks or run agility courses, while some large and giant dogs are content with brief daily walks from a very young age.
- Expenses: Most organizations will charge and upfront cost for dog adoptions. Be sure to ask what it covers and find out what it doesn’t cover. If you aren’t sure what vaccines or tests might be needed, consult a veterinary practice near you. Organizations that charge higher prices may include more in their fees, saving you money, or they may have other outside costs, such as transporting dogs, that they are trying to defray. I also recommend consulting pet professionals in your area, including vets, dog walkers, dog sitters, and trainers, about the cost of various services you will need, as well as checking out the cost of supplies like crates and x-pens and food. Make a realistic budget and make sure you plan for potential changes. Will you be moving into an apartment that charges monthly pet rent or upfront pet deposits? Has your new dog been diagnosed with a medical condition that requires on-going treatment? A realistic budget and a plan for future changes will get you started on the right foot.
- Your schedule: When deciding to adopt a pet, we can sometimes get carried away by promises (to ourselves) that we will make time for certain things? Sound familiar? It is vital that you look at your actual schedule, especially at things that can’t be moved, and determine how much time you have for your new dog, how much time your new dog will need, and how you will adjust your schedule to make that happen. Does your new puppy need to go out at lunchtime? Can you arrange your schedule to do that? If not, will you be able to ask a friend or neighbor to do so, or will you need to hire a dog walker? (If the later, see expenses, above!) How much time and energy (and tolerance) do you have to spend on housetraining and behavior training, either at home or with a professional? Are those expectations realistic with the dog you are adopting?
One factor that didn’t make this list is breed. Breed can be important. It can drive certain behavioral characteristics, such as hunting or herding behaviors, physical characteristics, such as size and hereditary medical issues, and may also be help predict other factors, such as energy level. However, in my opinion, breed often receives too much emphasis, especially in dogs of mixed or unknown breed, as characteristics may not conform to expectations from the dominant breed. Even in purebred dogs, within-breed variations in personality are extensive, especially as more dogs are bred as companions rather than working dogs.
Hope all this advice didn’t discourage you in your plans to adopt a dog—I promise it will be one of the most rewarding things you’ve ever done.