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A dog can be a lovely addition to the family: there are countless moments of joy and innocence and unconditional love and loyalty. 

However, there are many factors to consider before adopting a dog - especially if it’s your first time. While dogs are great, they are also a big commitment. They need your attention and love. An impulsive decision, therefore, can quickly become problematic if you realize you can’t look after the dog. 

For starters, ask yourself if you have the time to look after a dog. Will your professional and social life allow it? When you are not at home, will there be someone at home to take care of the dog? What about when you go on holiday? And when you’re at home, will you have the patience and inclination to train and take your dog out for walks? 

Owning a dog also involves some expenditure: visits to the vet, grooming, food, clothes all add up. You will also have to make sure your house is safe for the puppy: are there exposed wires, spaces on stairs the dog can fall through, harmful products such as medicines and plants? Is your garden secure enough so that your dog can’t jump over the fence and get injured outside?

It is important to take the time to make a decision and be honest with yourself about your commitment and lifestyle before getting a pet home. For example, certain breeds and sizes are more conducive to a more sedentary life as opposed to a more active life. 

Other than this, you will need to learn about the health requirements of the dog as well. Getting timely vaccinations, and deworming regularly are all your responsibility. Also, ask dog lover friends about vet recommendations. This is a very important relationship and in many ways, your dog’s quality of life will also depend on the competence of your vet.

All of this may seem daunting, but if you break it down to its constituents, it is much easier to come to a decision. Here is a checklist of what you should consider before getting a dog, how to know if you are ready, what type of dog you should get, how to prepare your house and what to buy and how to make sure you provide the best quality of life to your new friend.

Read more: How to bathe and groom a dog at home

  1. Are you ready to adopt a dog?
  2. Picking the right dog for your home
  3. Preparing your house for a dog
  4. Understanding the health requirements of your dog
  5. The road ahead

It’s necessary to get the obvious out of the way first:

  • Find out if you are allergic to a dog before you decide to adopt one. If you’ve spent time at a friend’s place who has a dog and ended up sneezing or feeling unwell many times, figure out if you are allergic. Abandoning dogs because someone in the family has allergies happens surprisingly often.
    If you or loved one is allergic to pet dander, you may want to avoid getting a pet altogether. Alternatively, you could opt for a hypoallergenic breed such as a Portuguese Water Dog, a Bichon Frise or a Bedlington Terrier, or at least a dog that sheds very little hair such as a Shih Tzu or even a Poodle.
  • Don’t get a dog on an impulse or give one as a gift unless you are sure the person you're giving the pup to wants one - and even then it is important to know the person well enough to know what kind of dog would fit into their lifestyle and budget.
  • If you haven’t had a dog before, consider the following: Discuss what it means to have a dog with a friend who is experienced. As an outsider, it can appear easy, but looking after a dog is an involved process and serious commitment. Ask your friend how they had to change their life after adopting a dog and see if you can make those changes as well. 
  • Look at your lifestyle and see if you can make space for a dog. For example, will someone be at home to look after the dog when you’re not there? Earlier on, and especially if you adopt a pup, constant supervision and care will be required. Also consider the amount of space you have, to let the dog run around. Remember, a small dog like a Lhasa Apso typically requires less exercise than a medium-sized dog like a German Shepherd. 
  • Consulting a veterinary doctor, food, clothes, vaccines, medicines, bedding all cost of money. It is a good idea to see if you can afford it without it becoming an issue. Remember that a large dog like a Saint Bernard will eat much more than a small dog like a Dachshund. Remember also that some breeds are more prone to some illness. For example, pugs are more susceptible to respiratory problems, eye problems in dogs and dog choking.
  • Consider if your apartment or house is conducive to a dog. For example, some landlords don’t allow dogs on their premises. Further, larger or more active breeds such as Dalmatians, Labrador Retrievers and Russell Terriers require more open spaces to exercise and run around and will not be too happy in an enclosed space. Lack of adequate exercise in these breeds may lead to obesity in dogs.
  • Consider the climate of your city: if you live in the warm tropics, remember that you will have to shell out more for air-conditioning if you get a cold-climate dog such as a Siberian Husky, Saint Bernard or a Tibetan Terrier. 
  • Be doubly sure of your commitment if you are taking in an Indie dog or mutt. Remember, these dogs are not bred to look or behave a certain way. That said, they are just as loving and loyal and they tend to be more active, healthier and live longer with less maintenance than pedigreed dogs.

Think critically about getting a dog by doing some personal research and asking more experienced friends about how to proceed. That said, read on to know the many benefits of having a family pet.

Knowing the right breed and even age is extremely important.

  • Generally speaking, pups are more vulnerable, active and dependent. You will need to spend a considerable amount of time getting your pup accustomed to the new house and training and vaccinating him/her. Older dogs are more likely to come housetrained, be neutered and vaccinated and will be less active. If you prefer less commitment in terms of training and condition, an older dog may be a better choice.
  • Having said that, older dogs also need attention and a nurturing environment, and older dogs are more likely to have underlying health issues such as diabetes in dogs. It is a good idea to know your dog’s medical and behavioural background before coming to a decision. 
  • Take time choosing the right breed as well. Consider the following: Do you live in an apartment or a house with a large yard? How much shedding and barking are you comfortable with? Does the size of the dog matter to you? The type of coat will also be a consideration - as the level of grooming required varies: dogs with curly hair need to be groomed more often to ensure the hair doesn’t get matted.
  • Breeds also vary by activity level: are you looking for a couch potato or a companion to go on hiking trips with you, or something in between? How much are you willing to spend on food? Larger breeds are more costly in this respect.
  • To put it very broadly, larger breeds, known as gentle giants (Great Danes, Alsatians) will make for good guard dogs but will require more space. They are called gentle giants because they are good with children and patient. Hunting dogs such as cocker spaniels are extremely, loyal, playful, medium-sized and require some amount of exercise. The toy breeds such as chihuahuas are considered low maintenance but are known for not being as friendly with kids.
  • Given all these variations, discuss with your vet what a good fit will be and ask questions. Generally speaking, a pup can be adopted after he or she attains eight weeks of age. If you are looking for a pure breed puppy, it might be better to go to the vet or someone you trust for this. Breeders, especially those who import puppies, can have questionable practices.
  • That said, Indian mutts are a great choice for house pets. They are playful and loyal. They rarely grow to be big - they are typically smaller than golden retrievers. Made by natural selection, they are healthier and tend to live longer! Though each dog is different, with his or her own personality, most Indies tend to be alert - they are usually the perfect mix between a guard dog and a family dog. It is a good idea to get them in training at a young age, though, as they can be a little bit harder to train than pedigreed dogs.

For starters, you will need to go shopping and buy a bunch of dog merchandise to make your furry friend comfortable. Here's a quick shopping list:

  • Dog food and treats: ask your vet about the best products and how often your dog needs to be fed.
  • Food dish, water bowl 
  • Leash or harness
  • Collar 
  • Dog toys: make sure these are licensed and safe.
  • Adequate bedding ,including blanket, pillow and towel 
  • Dog crate (optional): set up a corner in your house that is just for your dog, if you can.

There are also a number of important steps to take to make sure your house is safe for a dog. To begin, keep certain household, food and medical supplies away from your dog’s reach, such as:

  • Bleach 
  • Detergents, carpet cleaners, soaps
  • All types of medicines such as crocin 
  • Sharp objects like scissors, needles, knives 
  • Loose electrical wiring 
  • Chocolate 
  • Coffee, caffeinated products 
  • Raw, uncooked meats 
  • Highly processed foods containing excess salts 
  • Citrus fruits, grapes, raisins

This list is not exhaustive, but dog proofing your house has a simple rule: if you don’t want your puppy to touch something, then it should be out of his or her reach.

It is an absolute requirement to get your dog vaccinated routinely. Core vaccines should be administered to every pup in a set schedule. The core vaccine is DAP (distemper, adenovirus and parvovirus) and contains vaccines for canine distemper, hepatitis and parvovirus in dogs. Ask your vet about non-core vaccines as they vary by geography.

For pups, the schedule for DAP is as follows:

  • First shot at 6-8 weeks of age
  • Second shot at 10-12 weeks 
  • Third shot at 14-16 weeks.

The rabies vaccine is given along with the third shot, but some vets may choose to give it earlier.

Getting your puppy dewormed is important as well. The mother can transfer some parasites to the baby and cause serious harm. Puppies should be dewormed every two weeks until three months of age. Between three to six months of age, they should be dewormed once a month.

While getting a dog is certainly a commitment, the experience is unmatched. As you grow with your dog, you will learn to pick up on their signals and body language and know when they are delighted and distressed. Follow your gut if you think something is wrong and take them to the vet. Also, lean on the community of dog lovers around you: you will find there is no shortage of people willing to help your friend live a healthy and happy life.

References

  1. American Kennel Club. [Internet]. AKC Inc. New York.;What Is the Best Age to Send Puppies to Their New Homes?
  2. Pet MD. [Internet]. Pet MD, LLC; Dog Vaccinations: A schedule for every life stage
  3. American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. [Internet]. ASPCA®; General Dog Care
  4. American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. [Internet]. ASPCA®; People Foods to Avoid Feeding your Pets
  5. American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. [Internet]. ASPCA®; Poisonous Household Products
  6. American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. [Internet]. ASPCA®; Vaccinations for your Pet
  7. Bufford J.D., Reardon C.L., Li Z., Roberg K.A., DaSilva D., Eggleston P.A., Liu A.H., Milton D., Alwis U., Gangnon R., Lemanske R.F., Jr and Gern J.E. Effects of dog ownership in early childhood on immune development and atopic diseases. Clinical & Experimental Allergy, October 2008; 38: 1635-1643.
  8. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention [Internet]. About Pets & People. CDC, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
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