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9 things everyone should know before becoming a dog owner

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Dogs are well-known as man’s best friend, as these four-legged creatures can be great companions and are increasingly considered to be more of a family member than a pet. But the road to owning your own well-behaved pooch can take up a lot of time, money, and other resources. Here are some of the things you should know before getting your own furry friend.

1. Dogs (like any living thing) require a lot of care. According to the Canadian Kennel Club, the average dog lives 10 to 15 (human) years, which translates to about 1/8 of a pet owners life spent considering and caring for their furry friend. Carefully considering the decision seems obvious, but it’s important to remember that thousands of cute pets end up in shelters across the country looking for new homes. Impulsive “puppy-in-the-window” pet purchases and pets as gifts (especially to children at Christmas) are common, but typically don’t fare well for the animal or the owners. Most pet blogs suggest designating a “primary caregiver” for your dog, so that regardless of personal commitments or family obligations there is someone to make sure the dog doesn’t get left behind. Dogs are complex creatures who need attention and companionship, so they may not be best for people with heavy work and travel schedules. Spontaneous plans, weekends away, and trips will prove harder to navigate, or at the very least, will be more expensive.

2. They are expensive. It is important to think of and plan for costs beyond initial fees and food, as 10 to 15 years of living with a pet is bound to have unexpected results at one point or another. For basic necessities alone, it is estimated that one dog costs around $1000 per year, excluding initial fees.

Other expenses can vary for a number of reasons including your personal utility for the dog and dog size. Larger breeds are often more expensive to feed, clothe, house, and transport and can face larger or more expensive health problems.

Food for the average-sized dog can cost anywhere from $1 per day for grocery store kibble to $10 per day for the growing raw diet trend, which has owners plating up meals of raw chicken bones, hearts, and kidneys.

Most vets suggest that a dog owner rarely gets through their ownership without at least one emergency, like a wayward stick through a paw or socks accidentally ending up in stomachs. It is estimated that emergency procedures can cost anywhere from $50 to $5000. For this reason, having a vet that you can trust is integral.

3. You will need to find a good vet

Finding a vet you know, like, and trust can be very important and helpful throughout the various stages of pet ownership. At the very least, you need to have a veterinary office lined up for the essentials: initial vaccines, micro chip insertion, spaying or neutering, monthly heart worm and flea prevention, emergencies, and any questions you may have as a new dog owner. A vet that you trust can provide helpful information for other areas of expertise including the best toys, a grooming regimen, recommended food, and local dog-walkers. The website www.infovet.ca can direct you to veterinarians in your area.

4. Adopting is always an option. Most dogs in shelters have been abandoned or come from owners who can no longer care for them. It’s important to know that most shelters are overpopulated and do not have the time or resources to hold on to aggressive or dangerous dogs, so the myth that you’re getting someone’s old Rottweiler mix that once bit off a neighbour kid’s earlobe is unwarranted. In the U.S., 1 in 4 sheltered dogs are pure bred, so the idea of shelters filled with mangy, mixed breeds doesn’t stand up either. If you’re stuck on a certain breed, there are plenty of breed-specific rescue programs available, which give the pooches a second chance and provide a much cheaper alternative to the thousands of dollars that a new designer dog can cost.

At the very least, SPCAs and shelters in Canada offer a foster program, so you can literally take a dog home and do a trial run to see how well a furry roommate adapts to you and your roommate. Adoption can provide a great outlet for the humanitarian and dog lover in you, and gives you the opportunity to look at a variety of breeds, mixes, personality types, and ages. Older dogs may be better suited to older pet owners, or people who are looking for more of a couch-potato companion than a running partner.

4. Each dog and breed is different. Selecting the type of dog you are going to get is arguably the most important part of the pet-ownership process. Whether you are pro pure bred or pro mutt, most people know at least one contributing bloodline to their dog. Once you are a dog owner, you will understand the complex identities and personalities that shine through every individual dog, and that specific temperament often has more to do with environment, owners, and training than bloodline. Without adequate research, new owners can become frustrated by things that are typically well-known about certain breeds: Labs chew, Terriers dig, Collies herd, Hounds howl.

5. Whether your dog is $25 or $2500, you should research where you’re getting it. You can get a dog that is “free to a good home.” you can alternatively find a similarly-sized but pure-bred puppy that will cost you thousands of dollars.

With that huge variety in price comes a lot of different motivations for why people breed, how they breed, and the state of your puppy because of their practices. Once you’ve gone through the above steps and decided the breed or mix of your choice, you need to put equal research into where your new friend is coming from and how they have been treated.

Pet stores are often the most expensive because they are convenient, but they also have a reputation of sourcing from puppy mills. Puppy mills are farms, warehouses, or communities where dogs are kept caged, bred very often (sometimes every 6 months), and then are “disposed of” once they can no longer perform. (Sadly, that means exactly what you think it does). A relatively easy way to tell if your breeder is reputable is whether they are interested in you or not—a good breeder will usually be in high demand and want their offspring to go to a good home versus just trying to make a sale. If you discovered the dog online, make a point to go at least once before picking him up. You should ask and be able to see where the puppies hang out and where at least one of the parents lives and breeds (preferably the mother).

7. You will need to puppy-proof your home. Your house needs to be puppy-proofed for items that are dangerous to the puppy or important to you (this includes wires, house cleaners, plastic bags, medicines, and poisonous plants). A further stage of puppy-proofing is buying all of the required items that you will need before the puppy gets there. This includes anything and everything from baby gates to keep them out of designated areas or off stairs, a dog bed, blankets and towels that are predestined for destruction, odour neutralizers (mistakes will happen), shampoo, brushes, a crate, toys, and steel, glass, or ceramic dog bowls. Once the puppy is actually in your possession, you will need to properly licence it with the city or municipality that you live in, and buy an appropriate-sized collar (2 fingers should fit comfortably) and leash (4-6 feet long).

8. Your dog’s beauty regimen may cost more than yours. Dog grooming is something that often gets overlooked in considering the expenses and time that goes into a new pet. The motivation behind your grooming shouldn’t necessarily be appearance but to ensure your dog’s comfort.

Single-coat or short-haired dogs may never need to see a groomer, but they usually have undercoats and seasonal shedding that will need to be brushed out regularly. Bathing them when they are dirty or start to smell is a good option, but once every eight to 10 weeks is probably more ideal. For your dogs comfort and safety, their nails should never be long enough to hit the floor. Most people aren’t comfortable with personally trimming their dogs nails, so this is usually what brings them into the groomers. On the opposite scale, fancy-coated breeds (Poodles and small long-haired breeds) should be professionally groomed every four to six weeks, and can cost anywhere from $30 to $200 per session. This is again another consideration to make while selecting breeds, as a money-saving decision to not get your curly-cued friend groomed can make them feel very uncomfortable and neglected.

Some vets say you should be brushing your dog’s teeth three to five times a week as well.

9. Training is always worth it. Whether you train your canine companion at home or partake in a training course, getting the fundamentals down with your dog is the most essential move to a smooth transition and a happy home. Training is a lot of tiresome work, but it’s also actively setting up the house rules and regulations that your dog will learn to abide by for the rest of your time together. Whether on your own or in a class, consistency is key. One person allowing a puppy to jump on the couch and another scolding him will not result in one of you being the favourite parent, but will result in a very confused puppy. Name-training is very important for emergency and group situations, and the basic “sit, come, stay, lay down,” can go a long way.