Let’s see…in the past, I’ve written articles for people who are too busy for their dogs, articles about the worst things you can do to your dog, tips for people who are finding it hard to keep a dog with a limited budget, and even a piece for those who are considering a dog but who might not yet realize that it is a HUGE commitment. But instead of being coy about the topic, I’ve decided to just dive right in and discuss the signs that you are just not right for a dog.
I know, I know…I’m supposed to be advocating for dog ownership and telling you how amazing it is to own dogs. Here’s the thing: It IS amazing owning a dog. And dogs need people to adopt them and provide amazing homes. The glitch is that not everyone is a good candidate for dog parenting…at least, they are not a good candidate right now.
Yes, it is entirely possible for someone who might not yet be prepared fully for the responsibilities that come with dog ownership to make a few changes and then be right for a dog.
Let’s look at those warning signs first, and then how to ensure you are a good candidate for dog parenthood.
Now, if a weekend morning appeals to you for one big reason – that you get to sleep in – I am with you. I too look forward to a long and leisurely snooze every Sunday morning, yet I rarely get it. Why? Because Janice and Leroy have wristwatches carefully concealed beneath their fur and tiny timers that let them know when it is around 20 minutes to 5 AM. That is about the time that they enter the bedroom, pace and even whine a bit to “encourage” me to wake up.
Let it get past 5:30 and there is mutiny at hand.
Now, the comments about the watches was a lie, but it can really start to feel like those two canines can read clocks or tell time. Their accuracy at any time of year is pretty astonishing. Whether it is the fall and even 6 AM is an hour of darkness or it is summer and the sun seems to rise around 5, those two know that 4:40 AM hour.
I could try to train them to give me a bit more time, but I also enjoy the amount of productivity that an early rise gives me. After all, they are walked, fed and walked again before I sit down at my desk around 7 AM.
And keep in mind that whether or not dogs have a concept of time, they do have a concept known as bodily functions. A morning walk is essential because they haven’t had a chance to pee or poop for at least eight hours, or more.
Also remember that they are adult dogs. When they were pups, the early wakeup was not a choice. Puppies have to get up and get a bathroom break as soon as possible. If you are house training, get used to a pre-sunrise wake up call.
Of course, dogs are great about routines and actually thrive on them. Just like you have a bedtime and a time to get up, you can train dogs to do the same. This guarantees that their potty breaks are easily met and that their systems are on the same clock as yours. So, if you can get over late sleep-ins (and really, that’s what afternoon naps on a weekend are for, right?) then you can adjust enough to be ready for a pup.
“I can get a medium to small dog…there’s plenty of room in the apartment/condo.” These are what are known as famous last words. Why? Because a dog does not just take up its own space, i.e. the space it is standing or walking in. No, dogs are like you and me and come with the need for stuff. Stuff, as you might realize, requires space to put it, and apartments or smaller homes are not exactly overabundant with space for dog stuff.
As one expert noted, “If you have no room for a crate, food and water bowls, and a dog bed, you may want to reconsider getting a dog.” Okay, you may NOT want a crate and if you are prepared to do training and find another way to give the dog its own personal space, then you should be okay without the crate. However, you still need a fixed spot for feeding and watering and a least a single fixed spot that the dog can claim as their own when sitting with the family.
Now, I have said that I grew up in a house packed with animals. So, I speak from first-hand experience about the unfairness of bringing a dog into a home that does not have adequate room. While our multiple dogs shared an old ratty sofa and got along together, they didn’t each have a personal space and it led to difficult issues with training, barking and even the occasional fight.
A dog deserves to be comfortable, and if your home is just too small or too crowded it is unfair to bring them into it and expect them to be happy and thrive. There are specific breeds that can work well in very small spaces. If you are willing to do the research and learn about those breeds or adopt a shelter dog that fits into the “small dog” category, it can work out. Just remember those essentials above – crate, bed and feeding station – as those are the bare bones essentials.
As someone who works at least part of the time from home, I can see how that arrangement benefits the dogs. They are not cooped up inside all day, sitting patiently and holding their “business” until I can get them out for a walk. Nor are they bored silly and wondering where their human pack leader has gone.
There are ways to work around this, such as hiring a person to come into the home at least twice in an eight hour period to walk the dog, or you can opt for doggy daycare that lets the dog get socialization and pee or poop as needed throughout the day. And if you think that leaving a radio or TV on when you are out or counting on a cat to keep the dog company – don’t. Unless the dog is used to lengthy periods of isolation (which is not very common), leaving a dog home all day is quite cruel.
It can cause separation anxiety and the behaviors that commonly manifest as part of separation anxiety. I’ve said in the past that those behaviors are one of the leading reasons that dogs end up in shelters or are surrendered, and yet it is not their fault that they are reacting naturally to prolonged periods without a pack or pack leader.
So, if your budget can afford someone to come in for a bit of time each day OR a good doggy daycare, it can be possible to have a dog and work away from home for long stretches. And while we are on the issue of budget…
What expenses are associated with dog ownership? If you shrug and say things like, adoption fees, food, a few supplies…you are on the right track, but it goes far beyond that. One money expert has done the math and come up with some average costs for dog ownership. Breaking them out into one-time and ongoing (annual) expenses, they say this:
Total one-time costs for a dog averages: $565 (includes spay/neuter, medical exam, collar and leash, crate, carrying crate, initial training)
Annual costs for a dog averages: $695 (includes food, annual exam, toys and treats, licensing, and so on)
So, in that first year, you are going to spend more than one thousand dollars on a dog and then around $700 thereafter. And it is also important to note that bigger dogs mean bigger costs for food and other necessities. The more realistic figure per year is somewhere in the area of $1,700 per year.
The thing I want to point out though, is that the doggy daycare or at-home dog walker is NOT part of the figure. That can be around $25 per day and multiplied out over the year is over $6k, but some reduce daily fees if you commit to monthly rates. This can range from $250 to $550, which is still substantial. At the lowest price, you can expect to spend $3k per year.
And if your pet develops any sort of medical condition, the costs can go straight through the roof. Pet insurance is a wise investment and is actually quite reasonable when you consider how quickly major medical issues can escalate and bring high fees.
So, if you live paycheck to paycheck or find yourself choosing whether to buy all of the food you want OR pay a bill…you are not financially prepared for a dog. Owning a dog means constantly spending money on them – weekly, monthly and yearly. Some expenses can be budgeted into your normal budget, like food and even insurance, but not all can. If you crunch the numbers and come up in the red, it’s best to wait for some sort of change in your finances before adopting a dog.
I cannot begin to tell you how many people have said, “Oh, we chose a dog over a cat because we can take the dog with us easily.” It IS true you can take a dog with you, but whoever said it was easy was a bit loopy.
Traveling with dogs is more and more common, but not many dogs actually like sitting in the car for long stretches of time, and even fewer appreciate the “joys” of train or air travel. Just as any sort of longer distance travel takes a toll on you, it also takes a toll on the dog. They also have to endure the change in surroundings. If your dog is entirely unused to travel, it can be overwhelming to knock them out of their usual routine AND ask them to acclimate to a bunch of different homes or hotels during the journey.
Now, that is not to say that some dogs don’t do quite well with this, but for the most part, dogs really appreciate familiar turf and their owner’s presence.
If you do travel with your dog, be sure that they are well-trained, kept on a lead (and muzzled if you have a breed that frightens people) and that you have all medical records and registrations.
Cigarettes, pipes, cigars, hookahs…smoke is smoke and none of it is good for a dog. I was glad that the famous New York Times published findings that proved conclusively that life spent with a smoker boosts a dog’s risk of lung cancer substantially.
So, if you are unwilling to kick the habit, you are NOT a good candidate for dog ownership. Even if you head outdoors to smoke, your dog is still going to be exposed to second hand smoke and toxins that can boost chances for health issues.
If you quit smoking, then, you can consider yourself a much better fit for a puppo.
And by that, I do not mean you cannot stay in a long-term relationship or contemplate marriage with any seriousness. By commitment, I mean that you are one of the millions of people who often fails to finish a project or other commitment. Maybe you are always late and cancel at the last minute. No matter what way your dislike of commitment manifests itself, if you have a struggle with it, then dog ownership is not for you.
Consider that dogs live around ten years, on average. That is a DECADE! Do you see yourself with that dog ten years from now? If you have other things in mind, make sure a dog is not part of the program.
There are seven signs that you may not be an appropriate choice for dog parenthood. Things and situations can change, and if they do, you can reassess and determine if it is the right time. Being a dog owner is a joy and a privilege and as long as you are prepared, it is a wonderful, life-changing experience.