A couple weeks ago, my boyfriend D. and I went to an animal shelter and adopted a dog! Yes we live in an apartment and yes we both work full time. These were the main reasons we were holding off for a while. I was worried that a dog wouldn't be happy in an apartment, especially since D. and I work the typical 8 to 5 work schedule. Well, D. makes it more of a 9 to 5:30, but you get the idea. But after living in Portland for over a year, I start feeling like it would be a good time to get a dog. We had watched our friends' dog for a week a couple of months ago, so we got a feel for what it would be like to have a dog around. It was great to have a dog around for the week to try it out, without the commitment of adopting a dog. Plus it was free dog care, so my friends were happy with the idea. If you have any friends, ask if you can puppy sit the next time the are out of town.
D. was most concerned about the timing, since Thanksgiving and Christmas were coming up in the next couple months. While I understood his point, we were eventually going to have to travel, and we would find a good place to watch our dog. After some discussion, he was nice enough to let me start looking. And once I started looking, I found a contender! After much convincing, I was able to convince Dan that this dog was indeed the perfect dog for us. And let me tell you, we are SO glad we adopted Scout! But let me back up and give some tips/advice on the before and after of adopting a dog, as well as some resources that are helpful.
Before looking at all the adorable dogs, make sure you sit down and think about whether you are ready for a dog, both emotionally and financially. Cute doggies with wagging tails can cloud your judgement, so try to think about it BEFORE you even LOOK online.
1. Walks, walks, walks- are you ready for them? Because a dog needs to be walked, at least twice a day, for the rest of their lives (and I knew a dog who lived until he was 17). This amount increases if you don't have a yard or if you are crate training them. Dogs have a lot of energy, and this energy can be destructive if not channelled through walks and play time.
2. Financial commitment- dogs are NOT cheap. Trust me on this one. You can get away with spending $800- $1,000 a year, but a lot of people spend more on their pet (especially the first year). You have to buy the essentials (dog collar, dog leash, food/water bowls, mat so water doesn't get all over your floor, food, chew sticks, dog bags, vet care. Optional: toys, crate, blankets to snuggle with). It's a lot of money. Make sure you (and your partner/family if its multiple people) are able to commit enough financial resources to keep your pup happy and healthy.
3. Travel- do you have to travel all of the time for work? If so, that adds another dimension to adopting a pet. Remember that every time you go somewhere, you have to find someone to take care of said pet, which can be very costly.
4. Daily care- your dog with eat, drink, and poop every day. Remember that. You will need to be consistently responsible for another living thing.
5. Shelter- if you are renting, it is a good idea to check and make sure it's ok to bring home your furry friend. There is nothing worse than falling in love with a dog on the spot and not being able to keep it.
6. Vet visits- just another thing to consider. It's important to find an awesome vet.
7. Training... and patience- yes, it does take time to train a dog. You have to be patient with them. Some of the main commands dogs should know are sit, down, stay, come, and leave it. Take your time training your dog, it will be worth it in the end.
8. Love- this is probably the easiest one, but be ready for your life to be full of enthusiasm, cuddles, and love.
Finding the dog
Alright, does that all sound good? Do all the people in your family agree? Awesome. Let's talk about how to find that perfect pup. While some people want pure breed dogs (search online, ask your local vet, etc. ), I'm going to talk about adopting a dog from a shelter, since that's what we did.
Pet finder.com is awesome (see link below). It allows you to look up dogs and other animals that are available for adoption near you by entering in your city/zip code. It gives a little information about the dog, what shelter it's from, how to contact that shelter if interested, and most of the time a picture. This is how I ended up learning what shelters are in my area and where I first saw Scout. Petfinder.com also has a lot of articles about adopting a dog and all the concerns that go along with dogs (crate training, house training, acclimating a new dog, etc.) Definitely worth a look.
You can also do a simple google search for shelters in your local area. If you consult a vet before you adopt a dog, ask for advice. People are always willing to give you some ideas, especially dog lovers. I tend to find the dog owner community to generally nice and helpful. There are usually adoption events at your local pet store, so keep an eye on those. When looking for a dog, it's good to have some criteria in mind. Do you want a puppy? (If so, be ready to invest A LOT of time in puppy care) Do you want a dog? How old? Does gender matter? How about breed? Do you want an active dog or a couch potato, or a mixture? Do you want a 5 pound dog or a 50 pound dog? Is anyone allergic to dog hair? These types of things should be considered before meeting potential dogs. Don't rush in and adopt the first cute dog you see. Make sure it is a good fit for you and your family.
Once you find the lucky winner, get as much information as you can about the dog. While the dog is in a high stress environment and may not be on his best behavior, it's good to know as much as you can. Our dog has a skin problem, and we talked to the vet on site all about it. Ask if the dog is neutered/spade, or if the adoption fee covers that. Also ask how to license your dog with the county, because you'll need to do that. Ask about vaccinations that the dog has received, as well as heart worm, flee, and tick medicine. Finally, ask about what the dog eats and what kind of schedule it usually leads. Keeping the dog on relatively the same schedule and diet at first will help ease the transition for your new dog.
Bringing your dog home
In order to make a smooth transition for your dog and your family, here are some things that maybe helpful.
1. Iron out the rules- if the dog isn't allowed on the couch, tell him no EVERY time or else it can be confusing for the dog. Start out knowing all the rules and begin training the dog immediately.
2. Get into a schedule- this will help relieve some anxiety of the dog. We ended up getting our dog on a weekend, so we could start settling him in to his home, his schedule, and his crate.
3. Set up your home- if your dog is allowed to roam free, dog proof your house/apartment. If he will have a crate, then introduce him/her by putting treats in there, eat there, etc. You can start by putting your dog in the crate for a short amount of time and lengthening it.
4. Don't overwhelm your dog by meeting tons of new people. You will have plenty of time to do that. Try to have a couple of low key days, since your dog will be busy enough getting to know his new home.
Here is a petfinder article I found helpful.
Understanding your dog
The shelter that we got our dog from actually gave us a couple really useful handouts. One is a list of dog parks in the area. The other was some literature about acclimating dogs to a new environment and dogs in general. Here are some of my key takeaways from that.
1. If your dog isn't house trained (which ours was!) there are a few things that will help. Confining your dog to a small space or putting him on a leash with you will help the dog out. Giving the dog free run of the house is asking for a mistake. When you want to take him out, make sure you take him out and not just let him out the door. The dog may get confused or distracted if he is alone outside. If he does do any business, praise him like no other! Food works too! When he does potty, say something like "good potty" so he starts to associate the word with the action. Always watch your dog for signs that he needs to go out- whether its walking around and whining, sniff the floor, watch the door, it's good to be on the look out.
2. It's good to socialize your dog. However, do it in a neutral territory so neither dog is territorial. Make sure you walk your dog right soon after you bring him home for the first time. See how your dog reacts to other dogs, since some dogs may need more work than others. Once your dog gets comfortable meeting other dogs, dog parks are a great way to socialize your dog and get out that excess energy.
3. Require your dog to sit, go down, or do a trick to get a treat.
4. Try to get your dog on an eating schedule, so he has regular bowel movements.
5. Understand that dogs are pack animals- they are trying to be a good team member. Whether this is barking to alert you of something, picking up gross food off the street to share with the pack, growling at a dog that may seem threatening, or chewing on things to get as much food off the "bones" as they can, it's important to understand the reason why dogs act the way they are. The are not barking to annoy you. They are really trying to be a good team member, and it's ingrained in them. If your dog is barking at something, go over and say something like "ok I see it, thanks" to alert him that you acknowledge it. This may seem strange at first, but thinking about dogs in this manner may help you understand your dog a lot better.
6. If your dog is destructive, he may have too much energy. Try an extra walk, a chew bone/toy, some more play time. If he is a barker, they make collars that spray citronella (orange smelling chemicals) that smell gross to dogs but good to humans. This is much nicer than a shock collar (seems WAY too cruel to me). A busy dog is a happy dog.
Random other tips my friend gave me.
1. Talk in a high pitched voice when you his/her attention
2. Instead of saying "No" say "Uh uh" or something other than "No", since dogs may have come from an abusive past. This also means you should approach a dog palm up (palm down may remind him of getting slapped) and with no rolled up newspapers (my first family dog really didn't like that). Let the dog set the pace of how quickly you can start interacting with him/her.
3. If the dog is jumping or barking or doing something to get your attention that you don't want them doing, then just turn around/or ignore the dog until it stops
4. Never leave your dog home alone with a raw hide bone (they can choke on the small pieces).
5. Have many treats on hand to encourage good behavior
Wow that was a lot. I hope that this summary (if you could call it a summary) was helpful for you!