What to expect when you're expecting...


picture of smiling LeoAn acquaintance of mine is about to adopt a dog. While it is not her first dog, it is her first extra-large breed dog, and the first time she's planning on having a dog reside mainly inside her house. It's also her first experience with rescue, rather than buying dogs from breeders. So she's asked me quite a few questions lately, and I've given her what advice I can, based on my experiences. This has gotten me thinking about a more general list of recommendations/advice for those who are adopting a dog for the first time, or who are considering their first very large dogs, or first inside dogs, or their first dogs of any kind, or whatever. So I thought I'd start compiling a list.

1. Make friends with your vacuum cleaner. Seriously, if you and your vacuum do not have a good relationship, then get a new one. If it's subpar, replace it now. You are going to be spending a lot of time with it in the near future. This is important particularly if you are adopting your first long-haired dog, but even with a short-haired dog you'll be surprised how often you need to vacuum. It's not just their hair (though it is, at least in our case, mainly their hair); they also bring in a lot of dirt and leave and various other stuff you don't want on your floors. Someone asked me once how often we need to vacuum. Need is an ever-changing thing. In order to keep my house in the shape it was typically in pre-dog, I'd need to vacuum every day, at least once. In order to keep it livable by my new, dog-adopter standards, we vacuum at least twice a week, and usually 3-4 times. So, like I said, learn to love your vacuum, or purchase one you can love. Also, buy stock in the vacuum bag company, because you are going to be changing your bag a lot more than you ever thought possible.

2. Get a Dustbuster. If you have a multiple level house, get one for each floor. Your Dustbuster will get lots of us, and they are not that hearty to begin with, so plan on having to replace it every year or so. We are on our fourth Dustbuster. It's worth it. Any mess that isn't worth hauling at the vacuum for can probably be handled by the Dustbuster, including spilled dog food, small piles of hair/dirt/leaves, etc.

3. Give up your attachment to your carpet, or get rid of it. As I plan to own dogs (and as many as I can fit) for the rest of my life, I will never choose to have carpeting. Simply put, they ruin it. Even if they are perfectly house-trained (which you shouldn't count on, no matter what their foster families say), they will eventually vomit or have a bout of diarrhea and you will have a stain. Depending on the type of carpet you have and how quickly you find the stain, you may be able to get rid of most of it with a carpet cleaner (I particularly like Kids N' Pets, though it can be kind of hard to find), but no matter what you do, something is eventually going to stick. It's better to accept this now. If you are committed to having dogs and have a choice in flooring material, I'd go with heavy duty laminate or tile. Stains aside, it's much more fun to clean up vomit or poop off tile than off carpet. Trust me on that one.

4. Consider your schedule. I can't stress this enough. Dogs are very different than cats. They cannot be left alone for endless hours and expected to entertain themselves and behave. They need companionship, and they need to be let out to go to the bathroom. So, if you work long days regularly, reconsider the dog idea, or figure out a way (lunch at home, a paid caretaker, neighbor willing to look in, whatever) to give your dog what s/he needs BEFORE you get him/her. We are not prize examples of this, because we regularly leave our dogs home for 10 hours a day, but we're lucky in that we have exceptionally mellow dogs with large bladder capacities. Partially this is breed dependent, partially it's age dependent, and partially it's luck. It's not something you should count on, though.

5. Dog-proof your house. What this entails depends a lot on the size and age of the dog, as well as her natural tendencies. My dogs don't generally chew on anything but toys, so we can leave our shoes out, the remote control lying on the coffee table, etc. This isn't true of some other dogs. If you are getting a large dog, consider what might be a tail level (pictures on end tables, vases, etc.). If it's at tail height, the tail will eventually hit it. In the case of my acquaintance, who is planning to adopt a Great Dane, dog-proofing includes removing anything the dog might get into from kitchen counters, because he's tall enough to counter surf.

6. Do your research. If you've never had a dog before, don't assume you know how to handle one. Talk to some folks. Read some books. Sign up for a training class. Look into the traits of the breed(s) of dog you are considering, then disregard half of them because they're so often BS. Look beyond the physical phenotypes that appeal to you and think about the type of personality you are looking for in a dog. No matter how cute you think Australian Shepherds and Border Collies are, for example, if you want a low-energy dog, they probably aren't for you. Think about what kind of relationship you envision yourself having with a dog, and keep that relationship in mind when you are choosing a new companion. All dogs are not good matches for all people.

7. Budget. Dogs are expensive, more so than you'd ever think, and even in the best of circumstances, when nothing goes wrong (and something will go wrong). Estimates of the cost of having a dog abound all over the place, and they are very dependent on the individual dog, but I'd say our dogs cost at least $2,000/year each, and that's assuming they remain relatively healthy. It's important to plan for extreme cases as well--a sick or injured dog's vet bills add up very fast. Look into pet insurance and decide if you think it's a good investment in your particular case (for us, it's worth it for one dog and not for the other, based on risk factors including age and breed). Look at the research and decide if you think premium dog food is worth the extra cost (my feeling is that it is, for a whole host of reasons). Consider whether you are going to have to board your dog or hire a dogsitter if/when you leave town, and factor that in. Consider the costs of preventative medicines (heartworm, flea and tick, etc.), which generally go up in price as your dog gets bigger. What about grooming? Toys, beds, etc? Training? If you considering an extra large breed specifically, I recommend this amusing blog post about how much that costs. Maybe my estimates are low...

picture of Ata curled up on the couchOnce a dog actually lives at your house, everything changes. These are only the few, top of my head things I can think of that you might need to consider. There is much, much more. But please don't let that scare you off getting a dog. There is no question in my mind as to whether they are worth it. There is honestly no way I'd rather spend my time or my money. However, I think that the more realistic your expectations are before you bring a dog or dogs into your life, the happier everyone will be.

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April 2012

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