Adding a dog to your family can be such a rewarding and life-changing experience. A dog is an instant playmate, a loyal companion, a guardian, a friend and they have the amazing ability to give and receive love unconditionally.
You will be the most special person in your dog’s life and they will be dependent on you. As a member of your family, you will have responsibility for caring and providing for your dog, and it’s a long-term commitment. Before making this major life decision, it’s important to think it through and find the pup that best fits your lifestyle, personality and family dynamic.
There are so many adorable dogs to choose from, and they all deserve to find a great home. How do you choose the right dog for your family? Do a little soul-searching and ask yourself a few key questions:
- Why do you want to adopt a dog? Why now? Companionship? To replace a recently lost pet or loved one? Knowing the answer to this question will help determine what dog best suits you.
- Are you ready to make a 10 to 15 year commitment? Your dog will be dependent on you in sickness and in health, and will always require an investment of time and money.
- Do you have the time and resources to commit to a dog? ALL dogs need daily affection, exercise, socialization, and regular grooming and vet care.
The ASPCA estimates the annual cost of owning a dog between $1,100 and $1,500, depending on size and grooming requirements. These numbers do not include the costs of unexpected or emergency vet care.
- Will you be able to spend quality time with your dog? Dogs are pack animals by nature and thrive on being part of a family. If they are left alone for long periods of time, it can lead to behavioral issues. If you travel all the time or consistently work 10+ hour days, the timing may not be right to add a pup to your family.
- Are you willing to train your dog? Lack of training is one of the most common reasons that adopters surrender their dogs to shelters. Who is going to train your dog? Basic training helps the dog understand your rules and what you expect from them. It also teaches the owner how to communicate with their dog and strengthens their overall relationship.
- Do you live in a building in the city or a house with a fenced yard? Does your current home have size restrictions for pets?
- Do you have kids or seniors in your home? What type of dog will best fit your current family makeup?
Adding a new dog is a family decision and should include input and buy-in from all its members. Examine your lifestyle and personality, and be honest about the amount of resources and time you can commit to exercising, playing with and grooming your pup.
Here are some other factors to consider:
Puppies - Everyone loves a puppy. They are adorable, but they also require the most time, attention and training, especially in the first 6 months. Do you have the patience and time to train a puppy and deal with potty breaks every few hours, teething, chewing, cleaning up messes and their higher energy level? When you adopt a puppy, you don’t necessarily know the personality and energy level they will have as an adult dog, but you do have the opportunity to train them early to teach them rules and shape their behavior.
Adult dogs – These dogs are a great option for most families. They have already grown into themselves and have established personalities, so you know what you’re getting. They’ve typically been "socialized" with people and the outside world, and understand what it takes to be part of your family pack. They have calmer temperaments, make fewer demands on your time, and are worldlier - many have already experienced car rides or know how to walk on a leash, so they’re ready to be an instant companion.
Senior dogs – Senior dogs also make great pets; they are confident in their skin, grateful for a loving and safe home, and are happy to either walk a sedate mile with you or lounge on the sofa beside you. Just like humans, senior dogs often require more frequent veterinary visits, medications and procedures, but there is also a great reward and sense of joy knowing that your senior pup was happy and truly loved when they left this earth. Adopting a senior dog is your opportunity to be a hero. At shelters, older dogs are often the least likely to be adopted and the first to be euthanized.
The size of the dog that best fits your family is often determined by your family makeup. A very small dog is at risk in a family with small children who may perceive it to be a toy. Small dogs tend to be more delicate and vulnerable, so being mishandled can lead to injury, or the dog responding in a negative way. Kids under 7 years old are not typically great with puppies or small, toy dog breeds. If you have younger children in your home, it may be better to get a medium-to-large dog over 6 months old. Households with older or physically challenged members may do better with a smaller dog because a vigorous, large dog often plays rough, needs lots of exercise, and can also be an obstacle in walking paths. Large dogs also usually mean more dog food, more exercise, longer walks and more space needed to run and play.
Remember: those adorable puppies start out small, but they grow quickly. You can look up the dog’s breed online to get a feel for the different heights and weights of the breed you are considering.
All dogs need routine exercise to stay balanced and healthy, but some dogs need more than others. If you don't meet your dog’s exercise needs, they are more prone to behavioral problems from excess energy, like chewing up things they’re not supposed to or bouncing off the walls with excitement. Be honest and realistic with yourself about the amount of time you can commit to exercising your dog.
Your personal lifestyle and living arrangements factor in too. If you live in an apartment or condo or have a more sedentary lifestyle, you probably shouldn’t adopt a dog that is high-energy and needs to run and play every day. If you are an active family and like to run and hike, a younger, medium-to-large energetic pup may be a better fit for you than a small toy dog.
You can’t rely on breed alone to gauge a dog’s energy level, because dogs have unique personalities and requirements independent of their breed. Age, breed, and temperament are all factors that impact a dog’s energy level.
All dogs need basic grooming, but some dogs with longer coats (Terriers, Spaniels, Retrievers, etc.) require more upkeep and routine grooming every 4 to 6 weeks. Most dogs shed, but some dogs shed all year round; some shed in clumps for a few weeks; some dogs shed only a little bit. Long-coated dogs are beautiful to look at, but require some effort to stay that way. Short-coated dogs are easier to care for, but may still shed, and require protection in cold or wet weather. Decide how much dog hair you're willing to put up with, and how much time and energy you can afford to dedicate to grooming your dog.
WHERE TO FIND YOUR DOG
As part of the Mutts Matter Rescue team, I obviously have some bias on this topic, and strongly believe in rescuing versus buying your next dog. Sadly, there are between 7 million and 11 million unwanted animals euthanized every year. These are healthy, adoptable pets whose only fault is that they don't have a place to call home. The US has a large overpopulation problem, and most people are unaware of how many wonderful dogs and cats of all breeds are waiting in shelters and foster families for someone to love them.
Rescuing a dog in need is a virtuous endeavor and the right thing to do. You can rescue dogs of every age, breed, and temperament, from purebred to mutt, in all shapes in sizes. Saving an animal’s life offers an unlimited emotional return on your investment, and you’ll reap the rewards every day you spend together.
The dogs featured in this article’s photos are all in need of loving homes. To learn more about them, or any of our adoptable pups, check out Mutts Matter’s Available Dogs page, or contact Suzanne at email@example.com