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Thinking About Dog Ownership

The DOs and DON’Ts

1407_ReachingOut_1Thinking about adding a four-legged canine family member to your household? Whether you are a family of one or six, having a furry addition just seems to make a house a home. The new dog could join Dad on his daily jogs, keep Mom company when the children are at school, or be a playmate for the kids. What could possibly go wrong? Unfortunately, many things can happen when a dog is added to a family without taking some important things into consideration. As a small animal veterinarian, pet owner, and mom myself, I have seen many a family get frustrated with their home situation when the new dog didn’t quite fit in the way they had imagined.

Most families pick a dog with their hearts rather than with their heads, putting emotions before finances. I have also seen too many pets given up for adoption, or just given away, when things didn’t work out quite right. Dog ownership is a very important decision with many different issues to be considered. This is not a complete list of the issues, but it might help you decide if dog ownership is right for you and your family.

Do crunch the numbers.

Unfortunately my professional experience has shown me that most new dog owners don’t think of the cost of a dog past the initial cost of purchasing the dog. (And maybe the cost of food.) Expenses that should be considered when getting a dog include: a crate; a bed; food and water bowls; a collar; a leash; nail trimmers; a brush; and toys. While this may all sound like common sense, many new owners don’t budget for these items and the costs can quickly add up.

In addition, every dog will need medical care within the first year – sooner if a puppy – and then throughout the dog’s life to help keep the dog healthy as well as the new family safe. Medical expenses, for routine care and for emergencies, need to be put in the dog budget. Other important expenses to consider are obedience classes and grooming costs. As you can see, owning a dog can be very costly. I have had new clients come into my hospital with new puppies and tell me that they can not afford the vaccinations needed because they spent all of their money to purchase the dog. Please don’t let that happen to you.

Don’t take the decision lightly.

In addition to the total monetary responsibility of acquiring and taking care of a dog, the actual moral responsibility of owning another living creature should not be taken lightly. You will be responsible for this dog’s every need for his or her lifetime. Animals are not disposable, and anyone thinking about owning a dog should be ready to take care of it properly. That is the most important reason to take the time to discuss this decision with your family. Discuss what your family wants in terms of companionship and who will be responsible for all the chores that come along with a dog.

I have had clients say they got the dog for their son to teach him the “responsibility of pet ownership,” but often Mom becomes the sole caregiver. A dog will change your life in all kinds of ways, and you need to be as prepared as you can be for those changes. Dog ownership takes time, patience and understanding. Please discuss things together as a family before making your choice. Owning an animal is not a right. It is a privilege, and the decision is a serious one.

Do investigate different breeds.

Dogs come in many different sizes, shapes, with different personalities. Many of these traits are genetically inherited, and dogs were bred for certain traits and for a purpose. Knowing that purpose will help you select a dog that will fit into your family. Most new owners pick a dog because they like how the dog looks, not considering why the dog may look that way. For example, the labrador retriever, a very popular breed, has a short muscular build, a short, dense coat, and is very intelligent and active. These qualities are a perfect combination for a sporting dog, as this dog was originally bred to be. These qualities are not appropriate, however, for an exclusively indoor dog that is required to sit around and keep an older person company. Many new lab owners have come to me very frustrated because their dogs are constantly getting into the garbage or chewing up toys or jumping up on them. I have found that these behaviors typically come out when the dog is not active enough. So, researching the different breeds and their individual needs will help you make a more educated decision and create a more harmonious household.

Don’t wait for an emergency to find a veterinarian

Last, but certainly not least, investigate the veterinarians in your area and choose one that fits your needs before you bring the dog home. Veterinarians also come with many different personalities, and the services they offer do vary. Are you the type of person that asks a lot of questions and needs to know all the options, or are you the type that wants the professionals to take over and do what they think is best? Do you work long days and need a clinic that is open late? Do you need a place that is an all-in-one stop that includes grooming and retail supplies? Don’t be afraid to visit the veterinary hospitals in your area before you acquire your dog, take a tour and talk to the staff. Get references from friends, family members, and people at work. As a veterinarian, I applaud these families for their interest in making a well-informed decision for their pet’s care. You want to try and avoid meeting your veterinarian for the first time during an emergency. It is much easier to make difficult decisions with someone that you trust and that has your best interests and your dog’s at heart.

Of course, there are many factors to consider and much research to be done before becoming a dog owner. But if you put in the time and effort to investigate the issues, it will lead to a loving and lasting relationship for both you and your new canine addition. And you will reap some wonderful rewards – and perhaps even a few wet, doggy kisses!

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