A dog can be a loving companion, a goofy buddy, an exercise partner, and more, but dog ownership is also a lot of work. Training and caring for your pup requires time and money, and adopting a dog is a big decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
I’ll focus on the negative aspects since most people looking for a dog are already aware of the positives. This is a pretty broad question, so let’s assume you’ve already found a breed, demeanor, age, etc., that will work for you.
Puppies are about twenty times more difficult for the first 1-2 years than an adopted dog. If you don’t spend the time, you’ll pay in other ways (like lost shoes, noise complaints from neighbors, aggressive behavior, and more). It will take multiple hours each day to train and exercise your puppy, but it will really pay off in the long run. You know those really cool dogs that happily wait outside of stores without a leash, or sit quietly at an outdoors restaurant even when other dogs are present? That didn’t happen by accident. Adopting an older dog is a great shortcut to a wonderful companion but there are things you still need to do to make sure your new dog is compatible with your life.
Grooming and Fur
Nails need to be clipped, fur needs to be brushed, and they need to be bathed. Professional dog grooming runs from $50-$90 and you’ll need to do it every couple of months for a dog with long fur.
And speaking of fur, it will be everywhere. It will be on your clothes, in your baby’s mouth, and occasionally in your food. Lint rollers are nice, but you’ll never achieve pre-dog levels again. I find my dog’s fur at friend’s houses that my dog has never visited. It’s a plague.
You also need to be mindful of allergies—are you allergic? Is anyone that’s going to be around the dog allergic?
We spent $6000 in vet bills during the first two years of our dog’s life (our very active dog had a couple of serious injuries, so this is a high estimate, but not unheard of). There are health insurance options out there, but be sure to get one without lots of exclusions. Expect to pay $30-40 per month for insurance, which doesn’t cover normal vet visits.
Major medical issues are pretty common over the lifespan of a dog so be prepared to make difficult decisions. If you needed to spend $10,000 to preserve a high quality of life for your dog or put him or her to sleep, what would you do? Where do you draw the line? This will be an inevitable question that you’ll have to face.
If you live somewhere where leash laws are strictly enforced (or somewhere that lacks open areas where dogs can play unleashed with each other), you’ll probably need to pay for dog daycare or a dog walker. Without this, your dog will likely form aggressive behaviors toward other dogs, which can be very dangerous. Dogs are inherently social and isolating them can be very damaging.
Other Factors to Consider
Dealing with Wild Animals
Do you have skunks, raccoons, penguins, or other potentially dangerous or inconvenient animals in your area that your dog will encounter? What will you do to avoid confrontations?
Your Freedom Will Be Limited
You’re committing to coming home directly after work for the next 10-15 years of your life. What will you do when you travel? Are you going to ensure your dog is socialized well enough that you can leave her with another dog owner or dog daycare facility?
Remember to Neuter or Spay
Unless you intend to seriously breed dogs, you’ll need to neuter or spay your pet. Not only do you avoid surprise puppies, but it reduces aggressive and bizarre behaviors (by yours as well as other dogs).
You’ll need to learn how to discipline your dog and set boundaries, and you’ll need to be honest with yourself about your ability to enforce them. Even if they’re arbitrary, boundaries are important to help keep your dog comfortable with you being in charge. With larger dogs, if you fail to create boundaries and maintain disciplined behavior, they could become a very serious problem.
Training Dogs around Children
It can be very hard to train a dog if you have young children. Our dog was extremely well-behaved around food before we had our son, but now he’ll steal food from plates near the floor (a mortal sin in my house). Getting this under control with a baby that throws food as a sport is challenging.
Dealing with Death
As sad as it is, your dog will die and you’ll probably be the one to decide when that will be. You’ll also probably be there during the final moments. I’ve had nightmares about this myself. I prefer the terminology of “adopting a dog” to “buying a dog” because this is more about family and love than it is about a possession. This is a lifetime—your dog’s life—commitment and I know I didn’t fully grasp what that meant until I had a dog of my own.
I think the theme of what I’m saying is go into it expecting it to be hard. If you’re ready for a challenge, you’ll be far more prepared to deal with it and you’ll be appreciative of the parts that go well.
I don’t always agree with his style, but the Dog Whisperer show on the National Geographic Channel is a great way learn about dogs. It shows the behavioral problems you can create if you don’t go into dog ownership prepared. Watch it and ask yourself how you would deal with the situations the dog owners encounter. You’ll notice that a common theme is that the owners—not the dogs—are typically the problem.