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Thinking of getting a dog? Read this first…

8 minute read

There might be a lot of reasons why getting a dog seems like the right idea now. But there’s plenty to consider…

Dogs can bring a lot of joy to our lives as ‘man’s best friend.’ Companionship, love, and the sense of purpose derived from looking after them can be fulfilling.

It can be easy to get carried away by the idealised dream of having a dog. Evening cuddles on the sofa, playing catch in the park, and showing friends the tricks you’ve taught them.

However, there is a lot to consider before committing to a new fluffy family member. It’s not always a straightforward adjustment to add a dog into your life.

Reasons for wanting a dog

If you’re experiencing some kind of loneliness in your life, the idea of adding a pet to your home can be appealing. Perhaps your children have left home and you’re struggling with an empty nest, or you’re feeling bereft by the loss of a family member.

Fitness can also be a motivator in getting a dog. The responsibility of keeping your dog fit and healthy holds you accountable to take them (and yourself) out for a walk.

Does your lifestyle align with a dog?

Examine your lifestyle closely. How might a dog realistically fit in with it?

Your dog will require lots of attention in different areas. You’ll need to provide regular exercise, a healthy diet, training, and socialisation with other dogs.

If you work frequently or have irregular shifts, fitting a dog’s needs in may pose difficulties. Particularly if you were considering a puppy. It goes without saying that puppies generally need far more attention than adult dogs. Puppies need to be taught to respond to basic commands, toilet training, recall training, and socialization.. And with more energy than an adult dog, they can require more exercise too.

What about if you were to take on a dog that had problems socializing with other dogs? Spending time with close family and friends could become difficult if they have dogs already. If your dogs don’t get along, or even fight, this could impact how frequently you see each other.

Although dogs generally respond to the way they’re treated, a dog's breed can be associated with different behaviours. Do some research into your dog type before leaping in.

Healthcare issues and costs

Are you prepared for the cost of having a dog too? You might not pay a lot if you adopt, for example, but pedigree puppies can be expensive to buy.

Depending on the breed, you might find that there are vets’ bills, and almost certainly pet insurance at the very least. The People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) sets the lifetime cost of having a dog at anything between £5,200 and £15,700. And that’s the bare minimum, without accidents, illnesses, and so on.

Want to look more closely at those costs? The PDSA has a handy checklist here.

Previous experience versus the present

If you’ve had a dog before, you may think it’s a no-brainer, and that it will be easy to just fall into old routines. But things may have changed. The dog’s temperament and needs will be different. Map out what your lifestyle was like then, and how it may be different in the present moment. Maybe there were more people around to look after the dog previously, so it was more of a shared experience. Or perhaps you have more work or hobbies now that take you out of the house, meaning the dog would be left alone for hours

If you travel frequently, having a pet could also hinder this. Adequate care will need to be arranged, like a dog sitter, or a dog holiday home that you trust. Both of these are an added cost to your travel plans, and spontaneous trips can become near impossible.

Although John had dogs before, his lifestyle was much different this time round.

John’s experience fostering a dog

John was 68 when his wife died. They’d had four kids who had all left home by this point, and he found himself going from a large family environment to living alone in a smaller house.

During the years where his family were growing up, they’d always had dogs, so John decided that would be something he could do again that would take away a bit of the loneliness.

“I was fed up with my own company,” he says. “It was hard losing my wife, and the house was so quiet. I thought a dog would be a great idea. Also I thought it would help me get a bit fitter, you know, having to walk the dog and so on.”

He got in touch with a local rescue who suggested he try fostering for a while before making the leap. “It was the best bit of advice they could have given me,” he grins ruefully. “Because once I had a dog at home, I realised what a bad idea it was. It was very different having dogs when there were loads of us, people to take out the dog, get up and let it out in the mornings, be with it during the day so it wasn’t left for more than four hours, that sort of thing. Once it was just me, it was almost impossible. I hadn’t realised how busy my days were, and I just wasn’t able to do it.”

John completed his foster duties but didn’t take up the option to adopt. He acknowledges that he hadn’t thought it through properly. “I was really only thinking about myself, and not about the dog’s needs,” he admits. “Once I had a dog to look after on my own, I realised I was just being selfish.”

Still want a furry companion?

If, after considering all of this, you still desire a fluffy pal living in your home, fostering first can make it clear as to whether this is the right choice for you. Adopting a dog is a rewarding and wonderful thing, but only if it’s the right fit – for you AND the dog.

The RSPCA also has plenty of resources on the care dogs need.

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