You love dogs and you’re contemplating leaping into dog ownership. We get it! Having a dog is one of life’s great joys. But caring for a dog full-time is also a serious responsibility that requires time, energy, and money. How do you know if you’re ready for a dog?
As a first-time dog owner, let the questions below guide your decision before you research dog breeds or visit your local animal shelters. Answer “yes” to all of them and you’re probably ready for a dog. But watch for wishful thinking—many dogs are surrendered to rescue shelters because their people weren’t truly prepared for dog ownership.
1. Do you have time for a dog?
You’ll have to dedicate a lot of time to training and socializing your new furry family member. Puppies require house training, socialization, and obedience training. Adult rescue dogs may have behavior issues that require remediation. Dogs also need lots of love, exercise, and play time. If you can’t give a dog sufficient attention, wait to get one ‘til you can.
2. Can you afford a dog?
It typically costs between $400 and $700 a year to feed a dog, but many other expenses come with dog ownership. Your dog will require regular check-ups with his veterinarian, and these can sometimes lead to unexpected medical expenses. You’ll also need supplies, including a dog bed, dog toys, and a collar and leash to ensure his comfort, safety, and well-being. If you work all day, factor in the expense of a dog walker or doggie daycare.
3. Are you ready for the long haul?
Dogs live about 10 to 16 years, depending on the breed and health issues. Your new furry family member requires food, fresh water, and exercise multiple times a day, as well as regular grooming, by you or a professional.
Requirements for care can vary between breeds and individual dogs. Dogs with facial folds, such as pugs, require special cleaning to avoid infections. If you get a high-energy dog, you’ll have to schedule a few extra walks and play sessions each day. And the needs of your dog will change significantly from when he is a puppy to his senior years. Throughout his life, your dog utterly depends on you.
4. Do you have space for a dog?
A one-bedroom apartment isn’t enough space for some dog breeds. Energetic sporting breeds need an hour or more of vigorous exercise each day; an enclosed back yard gives them the room they need to romp. A Newfoundland is too much dog for a studio apartment. Depending on where you live, research the best dog breeds for apartments, suburban homes, or country living, so you choose one that matches your lifestyle.
5. Can you live with some degree of mess and household destruction?
Having a dog can be a messy business. There will be accidents, and it’s possible your dog will destroy a piece of furniture instead of chewing the perfectly good toy you gave him. It’s essential to remain calm no matter the mayhem. Your new dog is only doing what dogs do, and overreacting serves only to worsen behavior problems. With patience, training, and time, your dog will become a well-mannered member of the household.
Finally, children in your household should be a factor in your decision. Dogs and kids make fast friends, but very young children are sometimes unintentionally rough and relentless with dogs. Big, energetic dogs don’t make a good match for toddlers because they can injure them, even unintentionally. If you have children, research good family dog breeds, or talk with shelter volunteers to find a rescue dog with an easygoing personality. Finally, teach your kids dog safety to help them understand their best friend’s behavior and limits.
You know yourself, your life circumstances, and your capabilities best—let the above questions and considerations guide you to a wise decision.
If you find you’re ready to take the plunge, read on. We’ve got you covered with our brief guide to first-time dog ownership.
First-Time Dog Owner Tips
Congratulations! This is an exciting time, and it’s all too easy to rush out and get a dog and think about the rest later. Don’t make this mistake. Slow down, ponder a few more questions, and check off all the items on your new dog shopping list.
Should first-time dog owners get puppies?
A new dog brings joy into your life whether he’s a puppy or a fully grown adult dog, and there are downsides and benefits to both. The primary benefit of a puppy is…puppyhood. There’s nothing like an adorable puppy discovering the world and playing.
But puppyhood is a challenging time in a dog’s life. Whereas dogs of every age need your time and attention, puppies require more. Obedience training and house training are time consuming and require diligence if you want your puppy to mature into a well-mannered adult dog.
Should first-time dog owners adopt or buy?
This is a personal decision. People who buy dogs tend to like particular dog breeds or designer mixed breeds. If you choose to buy a dog, check out our guide to the best dog breeds for first-time dog owners. The puppy versus adult decision is made for you if you buy—typically buying a dog means getting a puppy.
Adopting a dog has many benefits. There’s the gratification of giving a rescue dog a forever home. And typically, you’ll be adopting an adult dog and can determine if his personality is a good fit. Talk to the rescue volunteers about what kind of dog you would like and ask questions about the history of dogs you are considering. Shelter workers are a great resource and want to match dogs with the right people.
Explore our dog breed guide to aid your decision. This tool helps even if you’re adopting, because mixed breeds retain characteristics of their dog ancestors, or you may opt to adopt from a breed-specific rescue.
Whether you choose to buy a puppy or adopt a dog, you’ll need to stock up on new dog necessities as a first-time dog owner. Take along the following checklist when you’re shopping for dog supplies so you have everything required to keep your newest family member healthy, safe, comfortable, and happy.
First-Time Dog Owner Supplies
- Dog collar/Personalized Dog Collar
- ID tag with contact information
- Food and water bowls
- High quality dry or wet dog food
- Dog toothbrush
- Dog toothpaste (people toothpaste often contains ingredients that are toxic to dogs)
- Dog brushes and combs
- Dog nail clippers
- Dog first-aid kit
- Tick and flea prevention supplies
- Dog-safe shampoo
- Dog crate
- Dog bed
- Dog gate(s), if sections of the house are off-limits
- Dog toys
- Dog treats
- Dog safety harness for the car
- Biodegradable dog waste pick-up bags
- Dog-safe household cleaning supplies
As a new dog owner, it’s your responsibility to learn the basics of caring for a dog properly. Essential knowledge includes recognizing which human foods are dangerous for dogs, understanding how to dog- or puppy-proof your home, and obedience training basics. When you know what you’re getting into and what your dog needs—the only surprise is discovering that life with a dog is even better than you expected.