The Do’s and Don’ts of getting a dog

DON’T encourage inhumane and irresponsible practices like puppy mills or backyard breeders. According to, 500,000 puppy mill pups are sold annually in the 35,000 pet stores across America every year.  99% those adorable little puppies you find in those glass cubicles at the mall are born in puppy mills.  And those mama dogs that gave birth to them are kept in deplorable conditions, cooped up in dirty cages with little to no human contact or medical care. They are usually bred twice a year, beginning with their first heat.  By the age of 5, these poor animals are finally spent and either dumped, sold off or more often, put to death.  All across the country about a million breeder dogs are packed into cages in puppy mills, spending the entirely of their lives confined– not even let out to exercise or socialize, and most die never experiencing what it is like to be petted or loved.  Dogs are meant to be family, not to be used and carelessly tossed away.  

DO consider adopting.  As the saying goes, “Don’t breed or buy while shelter pets die.” Even if you’re looking for a purebred dog, many purebred dogs can be found in shelters and rescues, and there are hundreds of rescues dedicated to specific breeds across the country. Whether purebreds or mutts, the ASPCA estimates roughly 3.9 million dogs are dumped at shelters all over the country each year.  And of those dogs, approximately 1.2 million are euthanized.  Some are killed because of illness or temperament, but the majority are put down for lack of space.  Many rescues pull dogs from high kill shelters and rehabilitate them to give them a second chance.  And reputable rescues will do temperament tests and medical screenings before adopting out their dogs, making sure the animal you bring home is healthy and vetted. Furthermore, rescues that utilize a foster system are often able to answer questions about temperament, energy, and other quirks that you may not be able to find out through a shelter.  And while some people think most shelter/rescue dogs are “problem” dogs, according to the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy, of the top ten reasons dogs are given up, biting (which is usually a training issue) is actually at the bottom of the list, coming in at number nine.  In reality, most dogs are relinquished because their owners are not able to meet their needs in one way or another.  

So, whatever you do, DON’T get a pet on a whim.  I know every time I walk by dogs in need of homes my heart yells, “squeeeee” and skips a beat because I want to take everyone home and love them and squeeze them and hug them forever and ever.  But the truth is that most pets are relinquished because people don’t always think things through.  If you don’t have experience with the type of dog you’re interested in, make sure to educate yourself and understand that a dog will require an investment of your time and money to nurture an ideal relationship. Make sure you aren’t biting off more than you can chew.  Understand that most shelter/rescue dogs were once part of a family and somehow, often through no fault of their own, they ended up alone and scared in a shelter or on the streets. When you take one home, you are responsible for making sure they never have to go through that experience again. 

DO make sure you will be able to take your new best friend with you if you must relocate.  The number one reason people relinquish their dogs is because they are moving, which is completely unfair to your new family member.  

DO make sure you will be allowed to keep your pet in your apartment or rental; the second most common reason people give their dogs up is because of landlord issues.  DO also check your lease or homeowners association to make sure the breed of dog you have selected is accepted.  Many landlords and HOAs have breed or size (and in some cases, age) restrictions; and some landlords will require an additional pet deposit or pet rent– make sure you can afford it. DO also ensure that your homeowners’ or renters’ insurance will cover your new pet. 

DO consider that the third most frequent reason dogs are brought to shelters or rescues is something as basic as not being able to afford maintenance for the animal.  Be honest about whether or not you will be able to afford regular care like vet visits, registration and other costs associated with pet maintenance.  

DO make sure you will have time to dedicate to your new friend.  Training and bonding take time. Dogs are social animals, and need interaction.  While many people can handle new jobs, new babies, and new dogs all at once, not having enough time for a pet is still the fourth most common reason people get rid of dogs.  So if,  for instance, you’re starting a new job or expecting an addition to the family, consider whether or not you will have the time for a new pet.  And definitely DON’T buy your young child a pet, expecting your kid to be responsible for 100% of its care. Kids are almost never mature enough to take on that kind of responsibility, and doing so only sets everyone up for failure. 

DO make sure you have the space for a dog.  The fifth most common reason dogs are relinquished is because the owner doesn’t have adequate facilities for the animal.  If you live in a small apartment, for instance, a large and/or high energy dog may not be for you.  Research the breed you’re considering or talk to the rescue about the dog you’re looking to adopt to ensure you and you’re environment are able to fit their needs.  Also consider how many other pets you own and how they will react to a new doggy brother or sister, as the next most common reason dogs are given up is because the owners already have too many pets in the home. 

DO understand that adopting a dog does have it’s costs. A rescue has to cover food, medical bills, vaccines, transport, and often other fees associated with getting these animals out of high kill shelters or to save unwanted breeding dogs from puppy mills. A reputable rescue will also ensure that the dogs they take in are spayed or neutered before they adopt the dogs out. Sometimes people assume that because there are so many unwanted dogs out there rescues should just hand them out for free. But rescues do important work and proper attention for the animals in their care isn’t cheap.  Also be prepared for some paperwork; a proper rescue will further protect their animals by requiring references to ensure their dogs go to good homes.  They should also require a contract stating that, should you be unable to keep your pet, you will return it to the rescue rather than dump it or give it away. DON’T resent their thoroughness, be glad that someone is putting this creature’s wellbeing first. 

DO be prepared for an adjustment period. Many rescue dogs have been neglected, abused or recovering from the stress of being stuck in a shelter and it may take a little while for them to relearn how to be a pet. In the first month of bringing her home, my German shepherd flinched at any  sudden movement, frequently got into the garbage, and ate part of thanksgiving dinner right off the dining room table. Remember that these things take time. In some cases, professional training may be necessary. But know that it is all worth the effort. The beautiful thing about dogs is that, no matter their past situation, they have a resilient spirit and live in the now. With patience and training, they can learn to be the most loving and devoted family members who want nothing more than to love you until the day they die. 

Almost every pet in a shelter care from a home where the owners had good intentions, but were lacking somewhere.  If you are unsure about any of these factors, please DON’T bring a pet home just yet. Wait until you can provide the kind of environment and love a dog truly deserves.