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Questions to Ask Yourself Before Getting a Dog

Does Your Family Want a Dog?

A recent study by the American Animal Hospital Association confirmed what most of us already know: Mom is the primary caretaker for most pets, even the ones the kids just had to have and swore to take care of no matter what. If Mom didn't really want the dog and resents the extra work of caring for it, the situation usually results in strained family relationships. The dog is nearly always the big loser because either he stays but gets less than his fair share of love and attention, or he loses his home. He may actually end up in a better home if he's the rare lucky one. More likely he'll wind up dead after spending some time alone and frightened in a shelter but terminally unadopted.

Try to include all family members in the decision to get a dog. Spend time together learning about dogs in general and about different breeds. This is a great opportunity to teach children to be careful and thoughtful when making decisions that affect other living beings. Remember, too, that children's interests change. The dog-crazy 10-year-old may be too busy with other things at 15 to give much time to the dog, but the dog will still need everything he needed before.

If you live with a roommate, be sure he or she is open to the presence of a dog before you get one. If not, it's probably best to wait until you can move or replace your roommate before you bring in a dog.

Can You Afford a Dog?

Most people underestimate the real cost of owning a dog. The purchase price is usually minimal compared to the cost of taking proper care of a dog for a decade or more. Costs for an individual dog vary, of course, depending on many factors. Food, medicines and veterinary care, professional grooming, outside boarding, and larger toys, beds, bowls, collars, and crates cost more for big dogs than for little ones. If the dog happens to be a puppy, some of these things will have to be replaced at least once as he outgrows them, or chews them up (it happens in the best of doggy families!).

A dog that requires professional grooming every four to eight weeks costs more than a “drip-dry” dog. And a poorly bred dog of any size or breed—including mixed-breeds—is likely to need a lot more costly veterinary care in the long run than a dog from a careful breeder.

During the initial year, puppies and some adult dogs have higher veterinary expenses than they should during the following years. Puppies need a series of vaccinations to stimulate their immune systems to protect them from disease. So do some adult dogs that haven't had proper health care in the past. Altering (spaying or neutering) is normally done around six months of age, although, again, an adult adoptee may also need to be altered. Then there's training, of course—puppy kindergarten, basic obedience, maybe more.

Adult dogs continue to have expenses. Every dog should have an annual veterinary exam, and depending on the vaccination schedule you and your vet implement (see Choosing a Veterinarian), you may need to add the cost of vaccinations. A dental checkup and possibly professional cleaning under anesthesia needs to be scheduled once a year, or more frequently if your dog is prone to tartar build-up.

What Do You Want from Your Dog?

The most important questions you need to ask yourself are these two: What do you want from your dog? What role will he play in your life?

If you're like most people, you want a dog for companionship, and that's a role that many dogs can fill successfully. But it's important to realize that, although most dogs can make good companions in the right situation, not every dog will suit your situation. Maybe you want a dog to be your partner in competitive or noncompetitive sports—an agility or obedience partner, a friend for jogging or hiking, or a hunting partner. Maybe you'd like a dog to protect your family and your home. All of these factors will influence the kind of dog you need to choose for a successful relationship. If you want a long-distance running partner, clearly a Bulldog or Chihuahua will be a poor choice for you. But that high-energy sporting or herding dog that suits you to a tee probably won't work well for your neighbor who prefers to walk once around the block and then settle in for a quiet evening.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Getting and Owning a Dog © 2003 by Sheila Webster Boneham, Ph.D. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit Amazon's web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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