Before you start looking for a the right rescue dog, you must first ask yourself some questions to learn more about whether or not you are ready for the commitment of adopting a dog and what type of dog might make the best fit for your family. If there are other household members who will be responsible for the care and compromise required to add a pet to the home, everyone should sit down and discuss these issues together as a family before moving forward.
DOES MY SCHEDULE AND LIFESTYLE ALLOW FOR THE COMMITMENT OF A DOG?
If you have never had the commitment of being fully responsible for a dog with your current lifestyle and work schedule, this can be one of the most important things to consider before adoption.
Your work and social schedule can be a huge factor in deciding whether or not to add a dog to your household, and what type of dog to get. If you work long hours and do not have another responsible adult in the home that is home during your work hours and able to assist with letting the dog our and providing the dog with play time and exercise, you might have to be prepared to consider options like doggie daycare or hiring a pet sitter during your work days.
Your social schedule also plays a big factor in your decision to adopt. If you don’t have someone to share in the care responsibilities for the dog you would need to be able to commit to going straight home after work each evening to let the dog out and provide care. If you frequently go straight from work to happy hour or other social activities with friends, this is a big factor to consider when it comes to adoption. Do you have a friend or family member nearby who could let your dog out and provide care on evenings you are not coming directly home? Are you able and willing to hire a pet sitter to be available to provide care and let your dog out on those evenings?
Travel is also a major thing to consider when making the decision to adopt a dog. If you travel frequently, whether for work or for leisure, you need to consider the impact that adopting a dog would have on your travel plans. Would you be able to take the dog along when you travel? It is important to consider the cost of traveling with your pet, and whether or not your schedule when traveling would permit you to bring a dog along. Who would watch your dog when you are out of town? Do you have a friend or family member willing to help for free? Would you be able to afford the cost of hiring a pet sitter or paid boarding while you travel?
It is important to give all of these schedule related issues some serious thought. If you have never had a dog as an adult and tried to juggle the care of a dog with your adult lifestyle it might be a good idea to consider volunteering as a temporary foster home for a dog in need with a local rescue or shelter. This could provide you with a trial experience of what sacrifices and schedule adjustments you would need to make to accommodate your new dog’s needs.
WILL MY ENERGY AND ACTIVITY LEVEL BE ABLE TO ACCOMMODATE THE EXERCISE NEEDS OF MY NEW DOG?
One of the very first questions I ask a potential adopter is whether or not they are committed to providing an adopted dog with enough exercise. One of the most common answers to that question from potential adopters is, “Oh yes, I have a large, fenced back yard for him/her to run in.”
What many dog owners and adopters fail to realize is that most dogs will not exercise themselves just because you put them outside. Most commonly the dogs will sniff around for a brief time, handle their potty business, and be barking at the back door to come back in and be with their family.
Providing exercise your dog requires active participation on your part. Whether you choose to take your dog on long walks, or play fetch in the fenced yard, you still need to be prepared to dedicating a minimum of thirty minutes twice a day (see Energy Level in the Choosing a Dog section for more information, some dogs require much less activity and some much, much more) to providing your dog with structured, deliberate exercise.
Exercise not only provides health benefits for your dog, it is also vitally important to their mental well-being. A dog that is not receiving enough exercise can develop a wide variety of behavioral issues from anxiety and destructive behaviors to pent up energy that leads to aggressive behaviors.
If you are not physically able to participate in providing your dog with the amount of exercise needed you could consider options like putting your dog in doggie daycare, hiring a dog walker, or adopting a senior dog with significantly lower energy and exercise needs.
DO YOU HAVE KIDS IN YOUR HOUSEHOLD?
If you have children at home, there are some extra things to consider before deciding to adopt a dog.
Your children’s ages can be the biggest factor in this decision. If your children are not old enough to understand how to respect a dog’s space and pick up on cues that a dog is stressed or uncomfortable, you will need to be prepared to separate and supervise until your children are old enough to be trustworthy. Depending on your children’s ages, that could be a long-term commitment. The reality is, even the friendliest dogs have limits and can bite if they are cornered or being hurt by a small child and the child is not picking up on the signals that they are uncomfortable. This means you will need to be supervising when the dog and child(ren) are together and separating when you are unable to supervise.
If your children are old enough to understand and respect the dog in the household, the next thing to consider is whether or not they have spent enough time around dogs to be comfortable with them and understand their body language. If your children have not had a lot of experience with dogs, you may want to consider offering to house sit for a friend or family member’s dog while they travel, or offer to foster for a local rescue or shelter. This will give you an opportunity to teach your child about dogs and make sure your entire family is comfortable and ready for the big decision to permanently adopt a dog.
DO YOU ALREADY HAVE DOGS IN YOUR HOUSEHOLD?
If you already have a dog or more than one dog at home and are considering adopting another, your current dog(s) also play a factor in your decision.
The number one thing to consider when adding a new dog to your family is whether or not your current dog(s) are well socialized around other dogs. Even if you have more than one dog in your home already, if they have not had regular social interactions with other dogs outside of those in their own home, you cannot be sure how they will react to a new dog joining the family. This is even more of a concern if you have an only dog that has not been regularly socialized around other dogs.
If your dog(s) have had limited contact with new dogs, the first and most important thing would be to introduce them to some new dogs and see how they respond (if you do not have experience introducing your dog to new dogs, please do some research on introductions before beginning this step). This can be done by asking a friend, family member or neighbor to assist with their dog. Important Tip: Make sure the dog you are planning to introduce your dog(s) to has been well socialized around other dogs and is friendly.
Once you are sure your dog has been well-socialized around other dogs and is ready to have a new dog in the family, it is important to consider your dog when deciding on what dog to adopt. Your dog’s age, size, personality, energy level and other factors need to be taken into consideration before choosing a new dog as a companion to other dogs in your home. For example, if you have a senior small breed dog – a friendly, hyper, large breed puppy would likely be stressful and even potentially unsafe for your fragile senior.
Note: If your current dog is struggling with making new dog friends, consider signing up for group training classes or private sessions with a professional to help your current dog gain better social skills before trying to add a new dog into your home.
DO YOU HAVE CATS OR OTHER SMALL PETS IN YOUR HOME?
It is extremely important to consider the safety of cats and other small animals in your home.
If you already have cats in your home, there are some important things to consider. Have your cats ever lived with a dog before? Even if the dog you adopt has lived with cats before and is considered cat-friendly by the shelter or rescue that has him up for adoption, that does not mean your cats will automatically be on the same page. If your cats have never been around dogs before, adding a dog to the family can be a stressful and difficult time for them. It is important to consider that in your decision to adopt, and come up with a plan for slow and proper introductions and ways to facilitate giving the cats down-time from their new dog friends to decompress.
If you have other small animals in the home such as ferrets, bunnies, hamsters, birds, etc. it is important to consider their safety when deciding to adopt as well. Ideally you should be prepared to make sure their cages can be safely separated behind a closed door from your new dog, especially when you are not able to supervise.
DOES ANY ONE IN YOUR HOME HAVE ALLERGIES TO DOGS?
This may sound like a no-brainer, but you would be amazed at the number of people who adopt and find themselves having to return or rehome their new dog due to allergies.
If you or any member of your household, especially your children, have never lived with dogs before, it is very important to rule out potential allergies before committing to adopt. An excellent way to do this is simply to have everyone in the family interact with a variety of dogs and see if they notice any concerning symptoms like a rash, itchy, watery eyes or a runny nose or sneezing. The reason it is important to interact with a variety of dogs, is that some dogs can produce less dander than others. Your son may do fine with grandma’s poodle, but then have a reaction to the Labrador you adopt from the shelter.
Make sure everyone in the family interacts with any potential dog you are considering adopting including petting and having skin to skin contact, to help check for signs of allergic reaction before adopting.
ARE YOU PREPARED FOR THE 15+ YEAR COMMITMENT?
Remember, adoption is forever. Many dogs can live upwards of 10 to 15 years of age, which is a very lengthy commitment. It is important to consider not only where you are in your life right now, but what your life may look like for the next 10 to 15 years.
If you do not have kids, are you hoping to have them in the next ten years? Are you considering any career changes that might change your schedule or cause you to need to travel more? Do you own your home? If you rent, are you committed to the extra cost and challenges faced when trying to find a rental that will allow your dog?
Put sincere thought into your life and lifestyle and what you would do if any major life changes arose in the future. It is a serious commitment and responsibility and should be treated as a major decision that should not be taken lightly.
If you have discussed all of these issues in detail as a family and are ready to move forward with adoption, it is time to move on to the next segments of this blog for more information on how to choose the right dog for your household.