Your local animal shelter is waiving adoption fees. Your neighbor brings home a fluffy puppy and it’s so cute. You imagine owning various breeds while watching The National Dog Show. Obviously, you’re thinking: Should I get a dog? This is a great question—and must be followed up by lots of other questions to help you decide if a dog is right for you. Getting a dog affects your lifestyle dramatically. You’ll have to consider your finances, housing, free time, sleep schedule and more. A simple pros and cons list simply won’t do! If you decide a dog is right for you, the experience can be beyond rewarding. First, ask yourself the following questions.
Perks of Dog Ownership
Real quick. Let’s start out with good reasons to get a dog. Yeah, they’re cute. They also help you live longer. According to a 2019 study published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, dog owners recovered more quickly from strokes and heart attacks than non-dog owners. Pup parents tend to be more active, as determined by a separate 2019 study out of the U.K. Which makes sense! Dogs need walks and trips to the park to burn energy. Humans tag along, walking and moving more.
Plus, science shows dogs make us happier. A 2009 study found that after prolonged eye contact with their dogs, human participants experienced increased levels of oxytocin, the hormone responsible for bonding and associated with love and relaxation. Dogs also keep you social, as evidenced by a 2015 study of companion animals and their humans.
OK, we’re sold! But wait.
1. How Much Does a Dog Cost?
Dogs are not cheap—especially if you decide to purchase a purebred dog (which can cost you thousands). While many shelters waive adoption fees during certain promotions, life with a dog adds up over time. The first year of pet ownership is typically the priciest because of new supplies and vaccinations. AKC Pet Insurance estimates you’ll spend $740 to $1,325 on small- to medium-sized breeds and $1,020 to $1,825 on large breeds in the first year. This number varies depending on:
Year one with a dog can also include emergency room visits if your puppy swallows a sock or your senior dog develops cancer. You may need to experiment with different diets to find the one best-suited for your pup. Professional trainer at a loss for methods to teach your stubborn Shar Pei how to sit? Might need to invest in a canine behaviorist. It’s hard to plan for any of these events, so having anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand bucks in savings is a good idea before getting a dog.
2. How Will a Dog Fit into My Lifestyle?
Your lifestyle will definitely change with a dog. As noted above, you’ll spend more time outdoors on walks and at parks, keeping your dog active. Consider how you currently spend free time after work or on Saturday mornings. Imagine those stretches filled with potty breaks, dog park excursions, training sessions and playtime. Don’t get a dog if you can’t imagine where you’d find the time (or you aren’t psyched about spending those hours devoted to your dog).
Next, think about your work schedule. Working from home was big during the pandemic and made dog parenting easier. Now that many offices are re-opening, pets and their parents are struggling with the transition. A 2021 survey by Banfield Pet Hospitals found 57 percent of respondents said they'd be happiest returning to their workplace if they could bring their pets with them. If your employer isn’t among the 59% that said they would allow more flexibility for workers staying remote with their pets, you’ll need to find other ways to care for your dog while you’re at work.
Dr. Heidi Cooley at Banfield says, “In general, puppies can be a great choice for people who work from home, have flexible work schedules, or are retired. They can also be a good fit for families with lots of helpers who are committed to partnering on their new pet’s upbringing and ongoing care.”
Dog breeds who require less outdoor activity may be better suited for city living or folks who don’t have as much time for lengthy walks. Dog breeds who thrive when they can learn tricks and run great distances will fare better in homes with active humans and big yards. Remember, all dogs need exercise and attention, no matter the breed.
“Just as important as your lifestyle is your personality and willingness to give whatever dog you choose the love, attention, training, exercise, veterinary care, nutrition and socialization it needs to thrive for the remainder of its life,” Dr. Cooley said.
3. How Will a Dog Fit into My Family?
If you have kids, dogs can teach life skills like responsibility and patience. Pets have been known to decrease allergies in young children. Households with children should go for kid-friendly dog breeds (not all breeds are fans). Puppies and kids can mix well if everyone respects doggo’s boundaries and works together on training. Ask your kids how they plan to help out and make sure there are no hidden phobias.
Figure out where your dog will sleep before bringing him home. Ask your household members what they think about dogs on furniture (especially on the bed). Avoiding surprise conflicts about stuff like this (and fights over the best training methods, who’s responsible for early morning walks, etc.) will make life with a new dog easier.
4. How Much Grooming Do I Want or Need to Do?
Veterinarian Dr. Lisa Chimes says prospective dog owners must factor in the time and cost of dog coat maintenance when deciding whether to get a pup. “Professional dog grooming is recommended for long-haired dogs approximately every four to six weeks,” she told us. “The groomer will trim and style the coat, while removing any knots, and clipping the nails. Some groomers can also empty the anal sacs and clean ears where needed.” You can certainly groom your dog at home to cut costs but breeds like Poodles and Bichon Frises benefit from professional grooming.
If you go the DIY route, plan on bathing your dog every four to six weeks (and whenever he rolls in something smelly, which could be a lot) and invest in high-quality grooming tools. Follow our step-by-step guide on how to bathe your dog if you’re unsure where to start! As for products, DOG by Dr. Lisa is a vet-developed (duh, by Dr. Lisa) line of skin and coat care that’s free of harsh ingredients and will keep your pup’s fur pH balanced.
Regardless of coat type, Dr. Lisa recommends brushing your dog every day because it “cleans the coat, removes loose hairs, spreads the natural skin oils, stimulates blood flow and prevents knotting.” Plus, this prepares your dog for a visit to the groomer’s by loosening any knots in advance.
5. How Will I Train a Dog?
Socialization and training are key to positive relationships with dogs. They also ensure your dog thrives throughout his life. As Zoom Room Dog Training’s Head Trainer Courtney Briggs told us, socialization is “the absolute key to start off on the best paw going forward.” It also requires diligence and can become frustrating if your dog exhibits reactivity or has a traumatic background.
Ask yourself if you are up to the challenge of training your dog yourself. How much time will you be able to devote to training each day? Dogs typically can’t focus for long stretches, so short, focused sessions throughout the day are best. How do you feel about positive reinforcement training? Would you ever use a training collar? How much are you willing to pay to work with a professional trainer if needed? It can become pricey, but it’s worth every penny.
Training and socialization are probably the most responsible, yet difficult, things you’ll do as a dog-owner. This work boosts confidence in canines and leads to positive interactions with others.
6. What Will I Feed My Dog?
Katie Spies, Founder and CEO of canine wellness brand Maev, told us that in the U.S., 60 percent of dogs are overweight, 30 percent have mobility issues, 30 percent struggle with anxiety, and 25 percent of vet visits are due to coat and skin illnesses. Yikes. The good news is most of these health issues improve with balanced nutrition. What you feed your dog directly impacts how long they live and their quality of life.
“Choosing a food that is biologically appropriate—no fillers, low carbs, and high protein—is the best decision you can make for your dog’s long-term health outcome,” Spies said. “Of course, you have to find a food that works for your lifestyle, routine and budget, and one that they’ll be excited to eat. But, investing in nutrition will pay off in troves. The number one thing to know is that nutrition and digestive health will affect their quality of life, training and behavior, longevity and your vet bills.”
Spies and her team of veterinary nutritionists believe the best dog diet is a raw diet. Maev works hard to make it easier for dog parents to provide this kind of optimal nutrition. Meals are customizable, delivered and full of high-quality ingredients. While this diet isn’t doable for everyone, there are many human-grade dog food brands on the market worth exploring.
7. Should I Get a Puppy or an Adult or Senior Dog?
You’ve decided a dog is right for you! Congrats. FYI, many people compare getting a puppy to having a baby. No, it’s not the exact same thing. However, dogs—especially puppies—completely change routines and can result in sleepless nights, depleted bank accounts, emergency room visits and pee on the floor, not unlike babies.
Dr. Cooley told us, “Puppies tend to require a lot more work than adult dogs, including training time, a stricter feeding and bathroom schedule, and more frequent exercise.”
Like newborns, puppies don’t know how to exist in the world. It’s your job to teach them. The first few months are critical. During this time, your puppy will establish behaviors that will stick with them through adulthood. Socialization, house training and basic commands need to happen in this window of time. “Puppies may not be the best choice for someone who is busy and can’t commit the time needed to help a puppy grow into a thriving, obedient, and well-socialized adult dog,” Dr. Cooley said.
On the other hand, adult dogs usually have all these basics down pat. “Older pets work especially well for first-time dog owners and those with set work schedules as they can be more independent, although this can vary by dog,” Dr. Cooley said. “People looking for a more gentle or mellow dog may also enjoy the company of an adult dog.”
If you can answer all the questions on our list and are happy with the results, we say go for it: Get a dog! If not, consider fostering a pup to get the hang of it first. When in doubt, spend time with dog parents to get a sense of life with a dog. You can always get a cat that acts like a dog if things don’t pan out.