5 Things to Think About Before Getting a Dog
Wondering what you need to know and think about before getting a dog?
Read this first!
Dogs can be a wonderful addition to the family and many kids love them. Plus, research shows having a dog is good for kids (and you!) – it increases their attentiveness, decreases anxiety, improves their emotional intelligence and I believe it gives kids a sense of responsibility, and helps them grow compassion and understanding of living things. But a dog is also a big responsibility. So if this is something you’re thinking about, here are my thoughts on what to consider first!
How to choose the right dog breed for you
There are about 4-500 breeds of dogs, all with different attributes and genetic signatures. This means they also have different behavioural predispositions. Making the right choice comes down to combining your needs and wants of a dog, with the attributes of various breeds, to get the ideal match – the better suited you are, the more happy your time together will be.
Some things to consider are:
- Exercise: All dogs need exercise, but it varies greatly from breed to breed. If you don’t exercise a high energy dog enough, it can manifest into other issues such as destructive behaviour or hyperactivity. For example border collies require high activity, bulldogs have lower activity levels.
- Space: If you have a big house and property, a bigger or more active breed will be fine, but for smaller spaces a smaller/lower energy dog will work better.
- Temperament: do you want an independent and self-sufficient dog, or an affectionate companion dog? Do you want a protective guard dog or a highly sociable dog? A dog that won’t want to chase other animals on your property?
- Trainability: do you want to spend lots of time training your dog in agility or obedience? Do you want or need your dog to perform specific tasks? Certain breeds are thought to be more eager to learn new things, and they are usually intelligent and high energy dogs (such as working breeds) which means you’ll want to come up with new tricks and tasks on a regular basis to keep them stimulated and out of trouble.
- Physical traits: some breeds are better for family members with allergies, specifically having a non-allergenic or woollen coat.
If you are choosing a pure bred dog, find an excellent breeder to avoid breed specific ailments (some breeds are prone to various congenital, medical and psychological problems such as cleft palate, blindness, hip dysplasia, fearfulness and deafness). Alternatively, choose a cross-breed – often you’ll get the best of both breeds and improve general health.
My preference is to adopt from a rescue shelter – there are thousands of dogs desperately looking for loving homes, and in my experience no one will love you more than a rescued dog! If you do get a rescue, work with the shelter to choose carefully – make sure you check the dog is sociable with children, and not too fearful, as this could create issues if you have kids in the house. If its your first dog or you are inexperienced with dog ownership, getting a pup at 8 weeks would be best so you are responsible for all their behavioural development and can prevent any behavioural issues from developing.
Interested in reading about the qualities of many different dog breeds? Check out this blog!
What kids need to know about dogs
Kids and dogs can make great friends, but ensuring your kids know how to treat dogs is really important both for the dog’s happiness, and for your child’s safety. Here are some crucial tidbits:
- Looking a dog in the eye, hugging it, standing over it, climbing on it, chasing it or making loud and unexpected noises around it can be seen as threatening. Any dog can lash out if it feels cornered or threatened, so learn what dogs like and what they don’t, then make sure to treat them with respect.
- Learn how to read a dog’s body language and identify early warning signs that a dog is stressed, fearful or aggressive – for example a dog that has its tail between its legs could be stressed or frightened, while a dog with its hackles up (the hairs along the top of its neck and back) might be aggressive. If you see these warning signs, remove yourself from the area.
- If a dog is acting aggressively, don’t look it in the eye and never turn and run away as this encourages the dog to chase. Instead stand very calmly with your arms by your side, gently call for help, then slowly start to back away until you are somewhere safe.
- Dogs need lots of time and care: good food, fresh water, a warm bed and sheltered place to sleep, playtime, exercise and plenty of love and attention. Kids can help with brushing, bathing, playing, patting, and older kids can feed or walk the dog.
- There are times when your dog should be left alone – when it’s eating, chewing a toy or sleeping. Teach your dog to accept kids in these situations, but also teach your kids to give the dog space.
The costs involved
Consider the cost of owning a dog – there’s the upfront costs of purchasing, microchipping and spaying or neutering, then there are the ongoing costs of food, registration, pet insurance, vet visits, toys, flea treatments etc. In 2015, the NZ Companion Animal Council estimated that caring for a dog costs around $1686 per year.
Dogs are for life
When you adopt a dog, it should be for life. If you haven’t had a dog before make sure you think carefully – if you’re planning to move overseas in the next 15 years, will you take it with you? Also, you can’t take dogs everywhere – many beaches and national parks are off limit to dogs, as well as baches, hotels, and many rental properties. Are you committed to always finding somewhere to live that allows dogs, and having a back up plan of who will look after your dog if you need to go away?
If getting a dog is something you are considering, good luck on your path to finding the right one – it is so rewarding when you get there!
If you want to teach your dog all the most important commands, if your dog has persistent behavioural issues, or if you simply want your dog to listen to you more, my interactive Dog Zen Virtual Dog School covers how to train your dog and solve common behavioural issues, with my guidance through videos and interactive Q&As. Find out more here.
Mark Vette is one of the world’s leading animal psychologists and behaviourists, who has been studying and training dogs for more than 40 years. He has seen – and solved – every behavioural issue imaginable using his proven, science-based techniques that allow you to achieve amazing results, lovingly.