Who’s A Bad Doggo? Picking the Right (Time To Get A) Dog
There are no bad doggos, only wrong doggos for you and your family. We have the perfect dog now, but I have had a fair share of wrong dogs in my life, and I have some good ideas for figuring out if getting a dog is right for you.
The first urge to get your own dog strikes about a year after you move out of student housing. You’ve got an apartment and time on your hands. You’re feeling lonely and you’ve met a stray. Or you were at the Farmers Market and a rescue group had a pack of adoptable pups and BOOM! You’re in love.
The first question is, do you have a roommate or family member who agrees to share responsibility before you get the dog? It is a big bummer when you think you might want to stay out all night (so to speak) but you have to go home because no one else will take the dog out in the morning. Do you have time to train? Do you have space? Will your landlord care? Figure this out before you adopt the dog.
A lot of people will tell you that dogs are expensive and while that’s true, it rarely feels important when you are looking into puppy eyes. The truth is, the Humane Society or SPCA offer lots of low-cost veterinary care. The main reason to have a little extra cash is so you can buy slightly better dog food. Cheap dog food equals extra gross poop, and you will be touching another creature’s bowel movements two or three times a day. Sit with that for a minute.
If you can handle all those (back-up walker, decent food, and access to low-cost vet care), then consider getting an older stray dog who is socialized to large groups of people. This doggo will be your companion through a lot of change, and she’ll need to be able to weather an ever changing group of friends, new places and other dogs. A well-socialized dog is key. A poorly socialized dog will be aggressive toward any type of person they weren’t exposed to when they were young. This is why some dogs seem racist, and others seem to hate kids. Some dogs even act like hats are the worst thing on the planet. If they never encountered a particular kind of person, they might perceive them as a danger, and then you have a problem on your hands.
My first solo dog was Flynn, a heartwarming stray who was loved by my boyfriend at the time and one of my roommates. Flynn was skittish around other leashed dogs but chill with her friends and she moved with me almost a dozen times. She was a true friend until she wasn’t. More on that later.
Single Working Woman
The next time the urge to get a dog hits is when you’ve had your first or second job out of college, you’ve settled into a groove, and you aren’t really dating. A dog might make you feel safer, less lonely, and get you out of the house on the weekend. Maybe you have more money, but you definitely have less time, so it’s even more important than before to figure out what the dog will do all day when you are working. Still have a good roommate to share responsibilities? Or can you afford a dog walker? That’ll run you between $25–40 per day, and a puppy will need walks that often.
If you want to date, a dog seems like a great way to meet someone, and it might be. But you might be better off jogging around a dog park and striking up a conversation with a cute somebody who already has a dog. Dating with a dog is a huge hassle, since you can’t even meet for drinks after work unless Trooper is getting walked by your roommate. These years are really best for dog-sitting for your friends, volunteering at the shelter and maybe getting a cat.
In A Relationship
A remarkable number of couples get a dog when they move in together, or right after they get married. Some people get very defensive when you point out that it seems like the dog might be a substitute for a baby, while other people outright say that they got a puppy to practice for having a child. There’s no rhyme or reason when it comes to couples who are stepping up the intensity of their relationship so I’m not sure my advice is of any use here, but I’ll give it a try.
Dogs and babies are different in these ways: It’s more socially permissible to take a baby in restaurants and with you when you visit people. At some distant point in the future, you’ll be able to stop toileting your baby, but soon after, the child will stop demonstrating its love for you, unlike the dog. Dog and babies are similar in that they are a ton of work, and require a lot of coordination with your partner, but babies take a lot more, and need health insurance, so they are harder. Maybe dogs are starter babies.
Anyway, if you get a dog to start your family, I want to reiterate the need to have it socialized to all kinds of people, including babies. Flynn could deal with most adults, but when our son was born, she hated him. She become much needier, wanting to go outside to play in the middle of the night when I was bone-tired. When my son was three months old, she growled, jumped on the couch and snapped at him. Flynn moved to a friend’s house a couple of days later.
Sometimes, the dog loves the baby, and starts to hate everyone else. We know a couple whose dog is lovingly protective of their baby but becomes aggressive towards other dogs. This is a better than the alternative, since they can trust the dog around the baby, but limits their ability to take the dog on hikes and jogging like they used to.
My main advice is, figure out if you are getting the dog as a substitute baby, and if so, just have the baby. Either way, make sure the dog is comfortable with babies and kids, just in case you were wrong, and the dog really is a gateway baby.
With little kids
Maybe you made it all the way through young adulthood and getting married without getting a dog. Congratulations! You are saner than most of us and probably aren’t looking to get a dog right this moment.
If your little kids are bugging you for a dog, get a zoo membership and take them to the zoo a lot. Under no circumstances should you take them to the animal shelter or near any Farmers Markets that host rescue groups.
If it dawns on you to get a dog when your kids are under the age of 5, then go to therapy instead. You might be wanting unconditional love, affection and physical contact that isn’t breast-feeding, or just someone to talk to. But you do not need a dog right now. Trust me.
With bigger kids
If all your kids are over the age of five, but not yet teenagers, one of them is going to give you the hard sell about getting a dog. My son made a power point and wrote an essay. The essay had an executive summary with bullet points attached the front. He was eight.
In all honesty, this is probably the best time in life to get a dog. The doggo sweet spot. Everyone in the family can pitch in, kids learn responsibility, the dog loves you even when the kids don’t, and you aren’t going to sleep over somewhere else for a while anyway.
The main thing to understand about this pet is it will be your pet. Accept this. My sons wanted frogs or snakes when they were little, and we went to the pet store with the intention of getting one. But as I looked at the frogs, cute though they were, I realized it would be my frog in a couple of weeks. And I didn’t want a frog. I made the kids get a cat instead, knowing I could manage to take care of her when they lost interest. Your kid’s power point will promise to walk the dog, but that won’t last. It’s your dog; if you want a dog, get it.
You will need to decide whether to get a rescue or a dog from a breeder. In principle, I support the idea of adopting a rescue over going to a breeder. In reality, you need to be certain that the dog you get will be right your family, and that’s hard to ensure with a pound dog. Or first family dog was a beautiful collie mix who turned on the kids after a few weeks, even trying to bite my younger son, her greatest champion. We had to return her and settled on a dog that had been bred with a sweet temperament who didn’t shed. He is by far the most popular member of his family, and the money was better spent on getting a known quantity than on trying to retrain a dog that hated kids.
As you may recall from your own younger years, teenagers are totally unreliable. Just as with your eight-year-old, do not believe that your teenager will care for the dog more than a couple weeks after you get it. It’s your dog. We got a dog when my sister and I were in high school, and my poor mother had to walk that projectile-shedding, underwear-eating, crazy pants dog in the snow and rain because my sister and I stayed out late or couldn’t be roused. Nikita lasted six months and then moved back to the No-Kill Shelter we got her from. Poor Nikita, and poor mom.
Like the newlywed, a teenage girl often wants a dog so that she has something to love. A cat is a better bet, if no one is allergic. I had a friend in high school who wanted a baby (egads). Her best friend cleared it with the girl’s parents and got her a kitten. That quenched her thirst for something to care for, thankfully.
Those teenagers will be out of the house soon and can decide for themselves whether to get their college dog. You’ll just need to decide how much grandparent dog-sitting you are willing to do.
(I hope you enjoyed my first How to Be A Grown-Up Woman post. If you have any advice you want or topics I should cover, email me at andrea(at)andrea-dooley(dot)com.)