My husband and I both grew up with dogs in our families. My family adopted Sampson, our love-able mutt, when I was about seven years old and he was a faithful companion through my childhood and teenage years. Dan’s parents kept a steady stream of playful labs in the family- first Misty and Charlie, then Scooby and Shaggy, and now Roxy and Rambo. Having both grown up with dogs, we figured we’d be experts when it was time to buy one of our own. Well let me tell you– there is a big difference between being a dog “sibling” and being a dog mom. It’s a lot of responsibility, but it’s so worth it. I’ve learned a lot in the six months since we brought Kingsley home, so keep reading for some of the most important advice I want to give you before bringing your first puppy home.
Make sure that you’re financially ready to own a dog.
Owning a dog is a big financial commitment. When it comes to finances, you need to be prepared for more than just the upfront cost of buying a dog and taking it for its first vet visit. The trips to vet won’t stop for a few months. Puppy immunizations and checkups are a necessity, and they’re not cheap. Beyond those first few months, you have to be prepared to care for your dog’s health for the rest of its life. Do you have enough money saved up for emergencies? Should you get pet health insurance? There are other expenses that come with a dog beyond just health expenses. Can you afford the high quality pet food that your dog needs? Can you buy him his favorite toys and treats? I think you get the idea. If you don’t have a monthly/weekly budget written down, I’d recommend making one and seeing how your dog fits into it. Too many people bring a dog home without fully realizing what they were signing up for.
Make sure you are ready for the responsibility and commitment it takes to own a dog.
Shortly after we brought Kingsley home, we realized that owning a dog is a whole new level of “adulting.” First and foremost, you are ultimately responsible for your dog. This is not your parents’ dog or your friend’s dog, this dog is yours to take care of and she is counting on you to keep her alive and happy. The biggest wakeup call for us was the disruption to our daily routine. One thing that helped us out a lot was splitting up “shifts” for who was on potty duty during nighttime. That allowed for one of us to relax a little and get some rest while the other one took over “Kingsley alert.” Dan took after dinner until 2am, and I took the “morning shift,” which usually meant letting Kingsley out around 3:30 am and then trying to get a little more sleep before waking up for the day at 5 am.
I also had to adjust my work schedule for a couple months to be able to rush home on my lunch break to let Kingsley out for a bit. I’ll be honest, for the first week or so I was not thrilled about this part. I am a creature of habit, and I don’t like being rushed. But soon enough, coming home to see Kingsley on my lunch became a favorite part of my day. Seeing his smiling little face when I let him out of his crate was more than worth the disruption in my schedule.
The other big disruption for us was changing how we spent our free time. As a rule, we make an effort to avoid going out anywhere after work during the week if we can’t take Kingsley with us. We feel that it’s not fair to him to leave him alone all day, and then alone again for most of the night. We even stopped going to the gym for a couple months (hello, muffin-top). Now that Kingsley is a little older, we can leave him for an hour or so to go the gym or pick something up for dinner, but we still try to make sure at least one of us is home with him in the evening whenever possible.
The bottom line here is that owning a dog is a huge commitment that will change your life. A dog will bring you endless amounts of joy, but also stress– especially during the puppy stages. I’m going to be brutally honest, getting a puppy took a toll on my marriage. There was one night, probably about a month and half after we brought Kingsley home, where me and Dan found ourselves snapping at each other and arguing. We were stressed to our wits end and extremely sleep-deprived. Honestly, I can’t even remember what we were arguing about. I just remember stopping mid-yell and saying “Wait. This isn’t us. We don’t talk to each other like this. We’re just stressed and exhausted.” And then we took a deep breath and hugged each other, and the stress melted away for a moment.
Choose the right breed for the right reasons
A lot goes into picking the right breed of dog for you and your lifestyle. Make sure you keep in mind your living situation (apartment, house, etc), energy/activity level, any known health issues for specific breeds, as well as why you want a dog in the first place (family dog, guard dog, lap dog?). There are several resources out there for selecting the right dog breed for your lifestyle, and the American Kennel Club is a good place to get started.
Maybe you have a favorite dog breed already, whether it’s because you like the appearance of the dog or had one growing up. Just be careful and make sure you do your research before committing. For example, for the longest time I had my heart set on an Alaskan Malamute for no other reason than I think they’re beautiful dogs. When we did some more research into the breed, we read that if the temperature gets above a certain point (around 70-75 degrees), you can’t let them do ANY physical activity outside– not even walking– or they might suffer from heat stroke. That would mean our dog having to live indoors for about half the year, and that just didn’t seem fair to them.
So we went back to the drawing board. We knew we wanted a large dog breed, so we started there. We wanted a loyal, sweet family dog that also has a breed reputation that would keep intruders at bay. The only dog that fit this bill was a German Shepherd, a breed that we both already loved. We knew that a gentle giant like this would be perfect dog for us, so we set out to find the right breeder.
Don’t get a puppy in the winter.
I mean it. This is only relevant if you live where it snows, but I mean this sincerely. You do NOT want to be potty training in the middle of a bitter cold winter. We learned this the hard way with Kingsley. The first months of potty training usually involve taking your puppy outside every hour or so, and for us that meant putting on another layer of pants, grabbing a hat and gloves, putting on an already-wet puffy winter jacket, stepping into our boots, and bracing the cold around the clock. I’m assuming that this would be a much easier (and less miserable) process in the summer or fall.
There is so much for advice that I can give for after you bring your dog home (potty training, crating, behavioral), but that’s a post for another time. The bottom line is that you need to remember to have patience, love, and grace with your puppy. It is so easy to get frustrated during the puppy stage, but then you look into your baby’s eyes and see how much he loves you and wants to make you happy.
We wouldn’t trade Kingsley for anything. But after having our first puppy, Dan and I actually decided that we don’t want to do the puppy stage ever again. Our next dog will be more of an adult (I say this now, but I still get heart-eyes whenever our breeder posts pictures of new puppies, so we’ll see).
Having a puppy will change your life in a lot of ways, both good and bad. For every moment of exasperation, there is another one filled with so much joy and love. If you treat your puppy right, she will love you like no other. Just make sure you’re really ready before jumping in heart-first.