Spring is rapidly approaching and that means our animal shelters are about to be overloaded with new litters of dogs and kitties. If you're thinking about adopting a new pet, this is the perfect time of year!
There are lots of things to consider when choosing your new pet though, especially if you want to adopt a dog. According to the ASPCA, about half of the dogs that enter shelters are owner surrenders. That means lots of people chose the wrong pup or they weren't prepared for what owning a dog entailed. Here is a quick list to help you choose and keep the right dog for you:
1.) How big is your living environment?
If you live in an apartment, you'll want to choose a small to medium pup. Likewise, if you live in a house without a backyard, you'll also want to choose a smaller dog. Big guys need space to stretch their legs. If you absolutely love big dogs but live in a small space, feel free to adopt one but be prepared to exercise your dog in multiple lengthy sessions outdoors each day. Senior dogs also make good apartment pets as they don't require as much exercise or get into as much mischief.
2.) What climate do you live in and where will your dog be kept? Keep in mind that thick coated dogs do not manage well in hot climates. While Siberian Huskies are beautiful, they wilt in hot weather and can actually become ill in the heat. If you live in Arizona or Florida and are planning on keeping your dog primarily in a back yard during the day, choose a short coated dog like a Bully breed or a Dalmatian. They will thank you for it.
3.) How much time do you have to devote to your new pet? This is a big consideration. Puppies are adorable but they require a lot of time. If a member of your family stays or works at home during the day, puppies may be a good choice as they need to go outside every couple of hours. If you work a 10 hour day however, you should probably consider a dog that is at least 5 months old. Your dog can hold his urine an hour for every month he is old. So, a three month old pup needs to go out every three hours and dogs of all ages need to go outside to relieve themselves at least every five or six hours maximum. That means that you or a dog walker will need to come to your home midday to take your dog out. Puppies also require lots of attention. They chew on things and get into the garbage, etc. They also need lots of training and boundaries to be set for them. All in all, LOTS of time is involved. If you have a very busy schedule, choose an adult dog.
4.) How much money do you have to spend on a pet? This is something that not a lot of people talk about, but dog food isn't cheap and neither are vet bills. Pet expenses tend to vary from city to city. Before getting a dog, ask a friend to estimate how much they spend on their dog a year. Also keep in mind that your dog may need some training in the beginning, so check what doggie classes or a trainer might cost you. I hate to even bring this issue up but in the last couple of years shelters have reported people surrendering dogs because they couldn't pay the vet bills. There is no shame in making sure that you can provide for a dog before adopting one.
5.) How energetic are you? You'll want to choose a dog whose energy level matches your own. If you are walking through the shelter and you see a dog who is jumping up and down repeatedly against his crate, this guy is probably high energy. That means he'll require lots of walks or hikes and maybe even some running to keep him from going stir crazy or causing trouble at home. You'll want to be honest with yourself here. If you love to exercise then a high energy dog will make an awesome companion! If you are a couch potato, he is going to annoy the heck out of you.
6.) RESEARCH THE NEEDS OF THE BREED. This one was so important that I had to use all caps. Humans have been breeding dog for specific purposes for centuries. A lot of behavior is breed specific. For example: Australian Cattle Dogs and Border Collies are dogs that get into mischief if they don't have ample exercise and mental stimulation. Research to find out how much exercise your dog needs, if they are prone to guarding or barking excessively, if they are typically good with kids or strangers. If any of these attributes are a problem for you, then training may be an uphill battle.
Also, keep in mind that a dog may not show his regular energy level if he's been in the shelter awhile. Many dogs tend to get kennel cough once admitted to the shelter. Kennel cough and other minor bugs from the shelter are easily curable but tend to make dogs lethargic. I've had quite a few people tell me that their dog changed his energy level once he came out of the shelter because he healed from whatever little illness he caught inside. The shelter is also overwhelming for dogs mentally and they tend to become more introverted over time. It's best to ask the shelter volunteer what the dog was like when he was admitted or how he behaves when he's taken outside, etc. Is he bouncy and jumpy, moderately wiggly, or mellow and calm? For the seniors among us or those with disabilities, I highly recommend calm dogs. Also, please don't overlook older dogs. They make fantastic companions! They love to snuggle and nap, they are usually housebroken, and they generally know all the basic rules of living in a home. You also get the piece of mind of knowing you saved a dog that many people would overlook.
Most importantly, if you are ready to adopt an animal, please check out your local shelters and rescues. They have all different types of dogs, from purebreds to the smartest and most lovable mutts. You might even check with your local dog trainers to see if they offer discounts for those who have adopted their dogs from shelters. I do and I'm willing to bet others do as well. Every year 2.7 million healthy pets are euthanized in the U.S. shelter system. By adopting, you are saving a life!