When you decide to get a pet, there are a number of things to take into consideration. First, how much it will cost to adopt them and then care for them; second, how much time and energy will be required in order to give them a good life; and lastly, how they will fit into your home and lifestyle. This last point is quite possibly the most significant, as adding a pet to your life will cause a lot of things to change. The goal is for both you and your pet to enrich each other’s lives, so it is important for you to take a moment to really consider whether it is the right choice to get a pet.
Deciding which pet to get
This is the first step, and a very important one. Families often choose between dogs and cats, which are the most common household pets. When you are trying to figure out whether a dog or a cat would be a good addition to your lifestyle, first take a look at what your day-to-day life is like. Is your home generally very loud and busy? Is it more often quiet and empty of people? Is your family active? Do you enjoy spending time outside and going for walks? Do you travel often?
Some breeds of cats and dogs are more low-maintenance, and would fit into a household that is not very active. Other breeds can be quite high-maintenance, and would require a lot of attention, dedicated time for walks and playing, and extensive training. If you choose the wrong breed for your lifestyle, your pet could start to act out, will refuse to be trained, or could destroy the inside of your home. It is very unfair to adopt a pet that needs a lot of attention and then be unable to give them that attention.
When adopting dogs from a shelter, keep in mind that they are likely to be mixed breeds, which means they could have a combination of personalities. Work with either the shelter or your vet to figure out which breeds the dog appears to be presenting most, and do some research on those breeds. You cannot always anticipate a pet’s personality, but with a little bit of research you might be able to prepare yourself.
Does your living situation matter?
Yes! It is crucial that you take into consideration the environment in which you are living and how that will affect your new pet. For example, if you live in an apartment that does not have a lot of space or access to parks and green spaces, it is not a good idea to get a dog who will require a lot of outdoor time. In this case, it may be best to adopt either a dog whose breed generally stays indoors and does not require a lot of outdoor time, or a cat that can be just as happy in a small, quiet apartment.
If you are hoping to adopt a larger dog, it is very important that you have either a very large backyard for them to run around in, or easy access to a dog park. Larger breeds require a lot of exercise and socialization, and you should really only bring a large dog into your life if you have the space to accommodate them. Bringing a large dog into a small apartment is generally not a great idea.
Just as in humans, pets' personalities differ greatly between individuals and between breeds. For example, some dog breeds are calmer and cuddlier, and others are more energetic. You will need to consider how much time, energy and effort you want to spend with your dog, or how little. Dogs can be laid back, shy, outgoing, social and attention-seeking. These personalities also differ between puppies and adult dogs as well.
If you are a generally calm person, you might consider that a calmer pet would be better for your lifestyle. If you are hoping that you can spend some time on the couch snuggling with your pet, then you should seek out a pet that tends to be quieter than others. If you are someone who likes to go out for a run or to social engagements, you may want to seek out a pet who can accompany you with those tasks.
Another personality trait to consider is whether the pet will be a good match for your family. There are some breeds of dogs that are inherently more family-friendly, and others that are generally not a good match for families. Take into account the ages of your children, their ability to be responsible, and their personalities. The last thing you want is to get a dog who will become stressed out by having children around.
Training is key
Dogs especially require a lot of training when you first get them. While the process appears to be straightforward, there are a number of factors that could derail your training progress and cause you to have to start from scratch. Dog training is a building exercise, where you start out very small and work up to larger tasks. For example, training your dog to sit may take several days. First, you need to introduce them to the treats that you will be using as a reward and figure out if your dog is food-motivated. If they are, you will be able to have them work with you whenever you present the option of a treat. Starting out with sit may be frustrating, and could take a couple of days, and should start with just holding out a treat and waiting for the dog to sit, and then saying “sit” while you reward them with a treat. This process could go on for several days before you dog begins to sit when you command them to.
This training process goes for all tasks you would like your dog to learn, such as stay, come here or get down. You should be aware of the types of breeds that do well with training, and which ones will require more work. Decide how much energy you are willing to put into training your dog, and that will help you narrow down which dog breed is right for you.
Medical problems arise
If your schedule does not allow you to take frequent time off, this is something to seriously consider. Pets will require frequent visits to the veterinarian, and you should be able to fit that into your schedule. There are common medical appointments that you should be able to work into your schedule, and there are emergency situations that you simply cannot plan for. If your schedule does not allow you to be able to leave immediately in the case of an emergency, it may not be the best time for you to add a pet to your lifestyle.
Ideally, there will be someone at home with the pet for the majority of the day, so that they can let them out for bathroom breaks, play time and feeding. Perhaps your partner may be able to take on this task, or your work schedules are such that there is some overlap where someone is always home. If this is the case, you should be in a good position to add a pet to your lifestyle.
Another consideration is your finances. Appointments at your vet will need to be regularly scheduled, and each visit will require a copay. You should also purchase pet insurance, which will save you money in the long run but will also have a monthly bill. Beyond the regular appointments, you also need to consider emergency situations, which could cost you a significant amount of money depending on the medical issue.
Take some time to check your monthly budget to see if you have enough savings left over each month to cover both the expected and unexpected expenses. If you do not, or you think these expenses might put you in an unstable financial situation, it is probably best to wait a while before getting a pet.
What if it’s not a good fit?
Unfortunately, there may be some cases in which you have done all the research and preparations and your new pet is still not a good fit for your lifestyle. This can be a truly difficult thing to deal with, but there are options.
First, you have the option to surrender your pet to local shelters. If you have recently adopted a pet from a shelter and you have realized it will not work out for your family, most shelters allow you to return the pet to them within a certain amount of time. If you feel you need to, please take advantage of this option. Returning the pet to the shelter from which they were adopted will allow them to continue to receive good care. They will be at least somewhat familiar with the people at the shelter, and may have fewer issues adjusting back to life in the shelter.
If you have decided that you simply cannot give up your new pet, you will have to learn to cope with the issues that have arisen. If the issues are behavioral, you should consider hiring a professional dog trainer to help you work through their issues. This could cost you a good chunk of money, but in the long run it could be the difference between living a life with a new member of the family, or coexisting with a difficult animal.
You should also consider what is best for your new pet. It may be very difficult to return your dog to the shelter, but it may be what is best for them as well. Depending on their quality of life while living with you, returning to the shelter could set them up for success with another family they might connect with better.
If you are concerned that the dog you are considering adopting may not be a good fit for your lifestyle, check to see if the shelter will allow you to do a trial run. Some shelters offer the opportunity to meet the pet and take them home for a few days. This will give you the opportunity to get a better sense of who the dog is, what their personality is like, and how much attention they will require. Spending this time with your potential new pet will show whether they suffer from separation anxiety, food aggression or aggression toward other animals. It will also shed light on how they behave around young children, which is key. Even if you do not have young children at home, you will likely encounter children when you take your dog outside for walks. You need to know that your dog will behave around strangers, especially children.
When we dream of getting a new pet, we tend to think only about the best parts of them. We think about playtime outside, snuggle time inside and the fun memories you will get to create together. We often do not consider that we will need to take a puppy out to pee at 2:30 a.m. every day, or that our kittens will scratch anything in sight. It is in your best interest to do extensive research both on the type of pet that might be best for you, as well as the type of breed and personality traits of that breed.
In the rare circumstance that your new pet will not match your lifestyle, do not panic. There are a number of options available, and you will have the opportunity to make the decision that is best both for your family and the pet. As with any big decision, there are a lot of factors to consider. Take the time to consider those factors, have discussions with your friends and family about their similar experiences, and do you best to make the most informed decision you can.