What you’re getting into when you get a dog

Liking dogs and liking having a dog are two very different things. The sad truth is that millions of pets are surrendered to shelters around the country every year; the good news is that your future family member need not be one of them.

If you’re seriously thinking about getting a dog, begin the process with a real sense of all that it takes to responsibly and ethically care for one.

Ask the tough questions.

  • Do you have time for a dog? Not just a few minutes to fill up his water bowl or open the back door, but time to provide the training, physical exercise, and mental stimulation he needs and deserves?
  • Can you financially afford a dog?
  • Will everyone in your household commit to treating your dog with love and respect?
  • Are there small children in your home – or will there be in the lifetime of your dog?
  • How do you really feel about fur all over the couch or a pee stain on the carpet.

Take a friend’s dog for a walk.

  • Better yet, take a friend’s dog for a walk every day for a week. Does it become a chore or do you find yourself looking forward to it? (Of course, not every single walk will be the highlight of your day, but generally this should be something you enjoy doing.

Hang out at the dog park.

  • Bring a plastic bag or two and offer to pick up a pile of poop. Seriously.

Volunteer at a shelter.

  • Most local shelters desperately need dog socializers and walkers.

Foster a dog.

  • What better way to gauge your dog-readiness level than to temporarily care for one who needs a home? Fostering stints can last anywhere from a few days to two months–contact a rescue group in your area for details. Many groups will allow you to “foster with intent to adopt,” an excellent way to test compatibility.

Bottom line: Getting a dog is not an impulse buy–it’s a commitment. Make certain you’re in it for the long haul and for the right reasons. If you’re not, buy a fern.