Every year, around 1.6 million Americans decide to adopt a dog. Some have had experience with dogs growing up, and some are seeking canine companionship for the first time. No matter the prior experience, dog ownership (especially puppy ownership!) comes with many questions and responsibilities.
1. What do I want in a dog?
Sit down and ask yourself why you want to adopt a dog. Is it to have a snuggling companion during TV marathons? A running buddy? A hiking and adventure partner? The best thing potential dog owners can do is take some time to think this through and not rush the process.
Older dogs also need homes and can be an excellent choice for someone who does not have the extensive time and energy needed to train and keep up with a puppy.
2. How will I care for my new dog?
Evaluate your lifestyle and honestly assess how a dog would fit into it. Consider the 3 most important resources: time, energy, and finances.
Important things to consider:
- Do you have a backyard or will you have to walk the dog frequently? Could you spend your lunch breaks letting the dog out?
- Are you gone most nights?
- What will happen if you go on vacation?
- Do you have enough money to provide basic puppy care or veterinary care if the dog gets sick?
- Do you have the time, energy, desire, and knowledge to train a puppy? Would you enroll in puppy classes?
Most importantly, remember that dogs are pack animals. A lonely existence in an apartment while an owner works 12 hours a day is not a happy life for an animal that craves companionship.
3. Go look for a dog!
This is the fun part. I would recommend starting with local no-kill animal shelters. These places generally do excellent work knowing their animals' personalities and needs and making sure they are healthy before placing them with a new owner. Breed specific rescues are great places to go for anyone looking for a specific type of pet.
Humane societies, or kill shelters, are another good option to find animals that desperately need homes. However, these shelters are generally underfunded and overcrowded, and they are always open to the general public. Animals, especially young animals, from these shelters can carry a higher risk of contagious disease. Make sure whatever puppy you select looks happy and healthy. Ask lots of questions of the shelter staff and nearby veterinarians, and do online research. Pay special attention to distemper outbreaks, as this is a highly contagious puppy disease that starts out looking like a small cold but later spirals into an incurable neurological condition.
Whatever you do, there is absolutely no need to purchase a dog from a breeder, and especially not a pet store or puppy mill. People often feel that they are rescuing dogs from these places, but in reality, they are just supporting an industry that needs to end.
4. Take the dog to the vet
Finally, once your new furry friend is in your arms, take him or her to the vet clinic. I cannot stress enough how important it is to get this done within 72 hours of adopting a new pet. This will allow professionals to check for any underlying problems, get your new pet started on heartworm prevention and flea medication, and get important information about their health going forward.
Puppies, like humans, need sets of vaccinations to remain disease free (and legal!). Shelters will often state that a puppy has had all of its shots. This might be true, but it could also mean that the puppy has had all of the shots necessary for an 8 week old, but will need 2 more before it reaches 16 weeks of age. No matter what you are told, take your puppy to the vet immediately. This simple step can save you a lot of heartache down the road.
That's it! Millions of Americans will become dog owners this year; if you are one of them, take the time to become a good one.