Doggone it, help me do the right thing!
September 17, 2010 5:10 PM   Subscribe

Can I get a dog? *Special snowflake filter.*

I know questions like this one have been asked before, and I'm sorry. But I'm driving myself mad analyzing the situation, so I need the advice of a range of people I trust to be wise, thoughtful, and honest.

Here's the salient information:

Good things:

I'm in a committed relationship that will probably (hopefully!) turn into marriage. I desperately want a dog. I want a dog the way some women want babies. My wonderful partner is also excited about the idea of a dog, and would help me pick it out and train it and take care of it. But the dog would, ultimately, be mine, and we both understand this, having had many thorough discussions about the theoretical dog.

In the next few months, my partner is transitioning to primarily working from home. Currently, we work staggered shifts so the apartment is only empty for a maximum of five hours a day (usually only two.) If my partner returned to a job outside the home, this would most likely be the case again.

I want a dog that I can do everything with, a dog I can take hiking and camping and to the park and on errands, at least on good weather days. I am okay with the extra money associated with food, medicine, grooming, pet-sitting or boarding, airline fees, etc. I know a dog is sort of like having a child, and I'm okay with that. I want it to be a big part of my life. I want to have it for the next fifteen years. I want it to be my, well, best friend.

I would definitely be getting the dog from a pound or shelter. I don't care about breeds or pedigrees, as long as the dog is on the smaller side and of a calmer sort so they will be happy living in an apartment, at least for the next year or two. I'm okay with renting a house after that if need be, and will probably buy a house in the next 5 - 7 years.

I've been around dogs most of my life, either in my family or with roommates who have had dogs. But this would be my first dog that is solely/majorly my responsibility.

Possible bad things:

We are moving in three months, to midtown Atlanta. We don't have an apartment picked out yet but it seems pretty easy to find ones that allow small dogs and we will be near a massive park with a dog park in it. I could get a dog now, or after we move, whichever would be better for the dog. We will live no more than 15 minutes from my school and probably less.

When we move I will be going to school full time and working part time. Money may be somewhat of an issue. I don't expect to be scraping by, grad student style, and like I said my partner will be working full time. But I am very cautious when it comes to money and this is probably my major concern. I don't want to feel like I can't afford my dog or can't afford to take her on trips, etc. In two years my program will be finished and I expect to return to full time employment, and money will no longer be any sort of issue.

There's a possibility I will need to assume care for my mother's dog, a senior Pomeranian, in the near future. (I love the dog, but she is not *my* dog, and too small and anxious to take out in public.) The pomeranian gets along with everyone and all animals, but is it crazy to try to take care of two (smaller) canines in a big city?

When it comes down to it, I'm not afraid of the emotional or time commitments. What I'm really afraid of is that, in the next few years while I am going to school, I will want to go on trips or have opportunities somewhere that will make it financially difficult to arrange care for my dog. I'm afraid I will have to choose between feeling financially secure and taking advantage of opportunities. But I am somewhat neurotic when it comes to money so I may be worrying too much.

Another possibility is that once I graduate I will need to move, for a job, to a new area or city where it is difficult to find a place to live that allows dogs. But I don't know how likely this is, and of course many people have careers and lives that include dogs and seem to do just fine.

I don't want to spend the next 2 or 3 years pining for a dog because of nebulous possibilities that may or may not happen, but if they are more like probabilities, that's a different story.

Can I get a dog now? In 3 - 4 months? Or not until I've graduated? I really don't want it to be the last answer, but ultimately I want to do the right thing.
posted by ohsnapdragon to Pets & Animals (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Not to be overly rah rah on getting a dog if you're unsure, but I got a dog with my then-partner when we were both working (each making a pittance) and living in a very small apartment and the dog has been just fine. I'm now single and in law school and money is tighter, but I can still afford the dog. My dog is able to stay home alone for like 8+ hours when I have to be gone that long (he's fairly lazy) and is fine. If you're committed to taking care of a dog and have budgeted the money for it, it sounds like you're in a good position to get a dog. Tons of people live in big cities, live in apartments, and have dogs. If you'll be living near a dog park, that's perfect. You can even just walk a dog around the neighborhood and as long as it's a long enough walk, the dog isn't going to care too much if it's not a big grassy area. The most important things are: a) having enough money to pay for food, vet bills, medicine, grooming; b) having enough time to walk the dog every day (if you skip a day because you're sick or something, the dog will be okay as long as you take him/her outside to go to the bathroom); c) researching the type of dog you get and making sure they have a temperament that matches your lifestyle; and d) you aren't too squeamish about dealing with things like dirt, poop, pee, barf, blood, or having to occasionally deal with issues with a dog's butt (this category is the one I was least prepared for).
posted by elpea at 5:35 PM on September 17, 2010

To clarify: I have a dog door now, which is why the dog can stay home alone for 8+ hours, before I basically never left him for that long.
posted by elpea at 5:36 PM on September 17, 2010

1. You sound like someone that would make a good dog parent.

2. It feels like you answered your own question.

My advice would be to wait until bringing the dog into your life brings joy and not stress and anxiety.
posted by HuronBob at 5:37 PM on September 17, 2010

Get pet health insurance so you don't have to worry about letting your dog die because you can't afford the vet bills. We pay about $20/dog/month through VPI.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:40 PM on September 17, 2010

I think you should wait 3 months and until your partner has settled into working from home. I also think you have extremely high expectations of your dog, most dogs will not live up to them - I think you should make sure you can return any puppy you get within 2 weeks (or more even) so you don't end up with a dog that you do not like.
posted by meepmeow at 5:47 PM on September 17, 2010

Best answer: I think you'll probably be okay. Just so you are aware that the size limit in many, many rental apartments for dogs is 15-25 pounds, tops, if they even accept dogs. (My dog's about 45 pounds, but this has limited our choices in every city we've lived in to about 30% of the available complexes. Had she been smaller, we would've only been limited to 50%.)

Also, dog sitting and kennels are pricey, but how much traveling are you planning on doing without your partner or the dog? I travel constantly, which means "dog sitter" is my largest expense every month after rent, but most folks I know need one only a couple of times a year. Keep in mind if you want the dog to travel on planes with you, it is going have to be pretty small. My mom's 15 pound dog Yorkie/Lhasa mix is too big for some airlines. Smaller dogs quite frequently equal yappier dogs, too. (A generalization that seems to be borne out by personal experience and quotes from the American Kennel Club, but obviously not true of all small dogs.)

But as long as you're prepared to look a little harder when finding an apartment and budget for some traveling expense, I think you're probably okay. I honestly don't think a dog is all that expensive, unless it has health problems (insurance might not be a bad idea). My thousands of dollars in dog sitters are the exception, not the rule. Other than that, it probably averages out to $40 a month for vet, food, treats, toys, and worm/flea pills.

Oh - one thing I was just reminded of on preview - no matter how awesome your dog is, it may not end up meeting all of your qualifications. It might be skittish around children (making errands and parks problematic), or it could have health problems precluding it from taking long, strenuous hikes. In fact, now that I think about it, a dog small enough to take on an airplane almost certainly will have trouble with long hikes. It's going to have it's own personality that you will love, but it almost certainly won't be as idealized as you're sounding now.
posted by wending my way at 6:14 PM on September 17, 2010

I was like you, only with cats. I wanted them like wost women my age want kids. I now have three :)

Wait three months, then look into fostering a dog. There are so many shelter dogs out there who need a loving home to help them either recover from injuries/illness, learn some manners and social skills, or just cant handle the stressed of being in a shelter and need somewhere to hang out while waiting for their adoptive parents to find them. This helps you too - you learn what traits of a dog you're looking for, and whether or not you can take care of one - financially or timewise. (As a bonus, a lot of shelters will pay for vet visits, food, shots etc if while you're fostering one of their animals!) And if you fall in love with the pooch, well, you've found your dog, and he's found his forever home! If not, you can feel better knowing you've helped an animal in need, and now can help another if you're so inclined.

This is what I did with my Kilo, who happened to be pregnant when I took her in. 18 months later, I have her and two of her kittens, and absolutely love them and the experience.

(If you *really* can't wait 3 months, look into short term fostering just until you move. But I will warn you - given the pets back can be heartbreaking. Hence, I have three cats...)
posted by cgg at 6:27 PM on September 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

You are ready. Do get pet insurance. Except for vet care, dogs aren't expensive. Plan to find a trustworthy dog sitter when you are away or to travel with your buddy. Please plan to clicker train. Lots of free info on that on line including on you tube.

For what you want in your buddy to be I suggest careful shopping for a medium sized dog (really little ones will wipe out on big hikes) at shelters and rescue outfits til you meet the pup you click with. I'm biased here but do look at rescue Australian Shepherds and Border Collies.
posted by bearwife at 7:09 PM on September 17, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the input so far, everyone.

I am definitely open to fostering before adopting. In fact, I think we'd both prefer it, so I can make sure we'd have a good match. How possible/easy would it be to find a dog in a shelter that I like and then request to foster it for a week or month?

I am noticing that apartment searching will be narrowed down a bit. But I feel this is no different than my other requirements, since it is something that is important to me. I will limit my search to dogs under 25 lbs, mostly because I think most apartments have this rule.

The comments about idealizing my dog experience are very helpful. I need to make sure I'm not envisioning it as some sort of puppy romantic comedy where all we do is run through fields of sunflowers and stare out at picturesque lakes. I think I do have a pretty good idea of what dogs are and are not like, from being around them, but I will definitely work on consciously adjusting my expectations and being more open to all possibilities.

And as to traveling - I don't expect to travel more than 2- 3 times a year, if that. I suppose the few hundred dollars per trip for dog care are really nothing in the grand scheme of things.
posted by ohsnapdragon at 7:11 PM on September 17, 2010

rescue Australian Shepherds and Border Collies

While these are GREAT dogs, they may be too high-energy and smart for an apartment-dweller AND a first-time dog-owner. At least, that has been my experience. A dog that is a little more easy-going, and whose behavior won't be too effected by newbie owner mistakes, might be a better choice. I'm thinking a lab or retriever mix - often you can find one that is small and still has the lab/retriever personality. Poodles are also great dogs - but again, maybe too smart for their own good. Hounds, in my experience, are hit-or-miss. You might find a lazy one who will sleep all day waiting for your glorious return, or who will bay at the outside world all day and drive you and the neighbors nuts.

ohsnapdragon, I think you should take what you've written above to a local rescue group or no-kill shelter and ask them for their advice! Maybe they have Your Perfect Dog already in their care. The good thing about rescue groups who use foster homes is they can get an idea of a dog's personality in a typical living situation, and can attempt to arrange a good fit between owner and dog. But ultimately, you are taking a risk, as you do with every big decision in life. Would you be comfortable if your chosen dog turns out to be a big jerk that you have to spend quite a bit of time and money training into a good citizen? Or one with health problems that nobody could see coming? Or, one that's really not into hiking that much, or who pukes in the car, or who chases squirrels, or ...

Check for local resources.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:35 PM on September 17, 2010

If you're limiting your search to the wee ones, might I suggest a Yorkie or a Silky Terrier. If you get them while they're young, and are careful to socialize them well and are good about training, they are great dogs! The Silky I had loved going outside, although he couldn't keep up on walks. (But he was light enough to carry easily.) He rarely barked, and even when he did, it wasn't really that loud or yappy.

I also have a senior Pomeranian. You might start making sure that your potential new dog and the Pom spend a lot of time together now, if possible. In fact, you and your partner ought to get to know the Pom really well. Poms (again, ime, ymmv) seem to latch on to one person and hate all other intruders in their space. Try to nip this in the bud if you can.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:42 PM on September 17, 2010

You definitely sound like you're on the right track and have explored a lot of options. You'll be a fine dog owner, I'm sure. A shelter dog that is out of the puppy (chewing/housebreaking) stage would work well for you with your schedule. The absolutely best dog I ever adopted was a one year old Lhasa/terrier mix from a shelter (20lbs), oh don't get me started...
posted by ourroute at 8:28 PM on September 17, 2010

How possible/easy would it be to find a dog in a shelter that I like and then request to foster it for a week or month?

Fostering doesn't quite work like that - it's not really a trial run adoption. There are some dogs that that simply cannot (or should not) be in a shelter right this moment for various reasons - these are the ones that are usually available for fostering. Look up rescue groups in your area and send them off an email inquiring about their process. It never hurts to ask questions, and allows you to make sure you find a group that seems to fit you and your beliefs. Just be warned - a lot of places are really protective of their animals, and won't just give you one without you having to jump through a couple hoops. Application forms, interviews and maybe even a house visit can be par for the course. Although it sounds like a lot of work, it's one of the most rewarding things I've done in a long time. I wish I could do it again, but my house is at its four-legged capacity.
posted by cgg at 8:31 PM on September 17, 2010

In fact, now that I think about it, a dog small enough to take on an airplane almost certainly will have trouble with long hikes.

I took my pom/chi mix on the airplane in a carryon bag, on hikes, and camping. When she got older and had fatigue issues from her enlarged heart, I carried her on parts of the hike. That's something that can't be done with older, big dogs.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:05 PM on September 17, 2010

Many people don't think through all the possibilities of getting a dog. You are overthinking this. You'll be fine! Get a dog!

Or, at least start browsing the shelter websites (which you are already doing, right?).
posted by bluedaisy at 9:57 PM on September 17, 2010

Best answer: It sounds like you really want one, and are a responsible, caring person who is thoughtful and committed to getting the right kind of dog for you (yay shelter/rescue dogs!). I say go for it!

I have a 3.5 year old Pit Bull/Chow cross who was a rescue. When I brought her home, she was 12 weeks old, and I worked outside the house, so I was gone eight hours a day. I crate trained her, went home for lunch every day, and had someone come over and spend time with her, take her out, and love on her a couple of times during the day when she was very small. She took to crate training well, and being gone during my work day with lunch spent at home was never a problem. A few weeks later I started a new job, and I now work from home, so for the past three years I've been here with her. I do travel several times a year, and when I do, she stays with my sister, but also does well when boarded. I've lived everywhere from a 450 s/f cottage where I needed to take her for frequent walks, to a 2000 s/f house with a large fenced yard to run in, and she's done really well everywhere. I live in a house where there is another large dog, and they do really well together (the other dog is 9 years old and a bit cranky at times with my dog's youthful enthusiasm, but that's about it).

There are certain realities to consider that can't be stressed enough, since you mentioned that money might be a bit of an issue for a couple of years - make sure that you have an emergency fund set aside, and that you make enough money to pay for ongoing vet visits, treatments and medication should your dog become ill. When Delilah was about 18 months old, she began having seizures and was diagnosed with epilepsy and a thyroid condition. Over the past year and a half, I have spent a lot of money on vet bills, including an overnight stay at the emergency vet (to the tune of $600), quarterly blood tests (around $150 a pop), and monthly medications that I will be paying for until the day she dies ($80 for three different prescriptions that keep her seizures in check). Helping her through a seizure and the aftermath is a harrowing, heartbreaking thing, so the emotional investment is something to keep in mind as well. Recently, she has also been diagnosed with a hereditary knee condition which may require surgery and currently requires expensive prescription dog food (she was a little chubby), which means even more money coming up. I do all of this gladly, and I'm super grateful that I can afford her care, but it isn't something that I'd given a lot of thought to before I brought her home because really, who expects a sick dog?

If you're ready to make a commitment on every level, then you're ready for a dog, and you will (I hope) never regret getting one. I never expected to love mine so much, but I am completely, totally, head over heels. I think she's just the bees knees, and I wouldn't trade having her for anything.
posted by mewithoutyou at 12:56 AM on September 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You're smart to think about all the issues, but I'll just add that I waited a long time before getting a dog, and feel sort of sad for all those years that circumstances weren't perfect for having one (apartment living; we might take long trips; money is pretty tight; no yard, etc.) so I put it off -- about 20 years longer than I needed to, I now believe. About finding a place to live: you probably have other requirements that are deal-breakers — you have to have a lot of natural light, or a decent kitchen, or a peaceful neighborhood or whatever. Pet-friendly simple goes on that list. Money: we do spend more money. There's the cost of food and treats, toys, grooming, and vet bills, Scalibor collars are 18 euros a pop. If I divide the extra money spent by the amount of joy we've had, there's nothing we could buy with that cash that could come within a whisker of the happiness we've had from our dog. If we stuck all that money into a savings account instead of spending it on the dog (we aren't at all wacky-spendy), the amount of savings wouldn't be enough to increase my feeling of financial security much at all. Let's put it this way: perhaps it would be enough that it might be the amount someone else might lavish on a nice holiday. Maybe we don't have a luxury vacation, but instead measure out our pleasure day to day this way.

If you decide to go for it, I wouldn't worry about waiting 'til you move. You want to socialize the dog to be comfortable going different places with you anyway (us, too — we pretty much take her everywhere) under different circumstances, so being in a new place probably won't be very traumatic. A lot of dogs are cool with most anywhere as long as they are with their owner. The important thing is finding the dog with the right temperament — easygoing, not nervous, not afraid of loud/different noises, likes to walk and meet new people. You can affect a lot of that with exposing your dog pleasantly to a lot of different stimuli (ooh, new place! treat! new person, treat!), but the rescue/foster folks can also steer you in the right direction towards a dog who has these traits. You'll want a dog that isn't too much of a personal "guard dog" sort, and it's going to be best if he/she isn't a small-animal-chaser, which makes walks a trial and off-leash stuff very difficult. And of course, you want to get all your obedience training solid.

Also, I think that the atmosphere you cultivate in your home is often reflected in your dog's behavior. If you aren't anxious, nervous, fearful, the dog is that much more likely to also be calm. If you feel relaxed and happy going out to different places with the dog, he or she is also likely feel comfortable with these new experiences — all assuming that the dog doesn't have it's own issues or breed temperament that might conflict with this cultivation. Our dog went from fearful to really confident and orgasmically happy to go pretty much anywhere, and thinks all new people are potential gumball machines for delicious doggy treats. :)

Good luck!
posted by taz at 4:55 AM on September 18, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks again everyone. You are making me feel much more confident about this whole thing, and the idea that I could be bringing a dog home within the next couple of months just sends me into paroxysms of joy. (Not really, but almost.)

I'll be thinking hard about everything said, and really, I could mark all of them as "best answers." With any luck you'll be seeing me around this board again, both to show off my new love and for the miscellaneous advice I know I'll be needing. You're all wonderful!
posted by ohsnapdragon at 5:37 AM on September 18, 2010

You've gotten a lot of good advice, and you sound like you'd be a great & conscientious dog owner.

One thing I would recommend is looking at breed-specific rescue organizations. I'm not anti-shelters, but, in my experience, they tend to have fewer dogs fostered in homes, and often don't have the time/staff to learn all the quirks of their dogs personalities. In contrast, most breed rescues know their dogs very well - and also the breed-specific characteristics, and will often work with you to find a dog that suits your lifestyle and prior dog experience.

Consider getting a dog over the age of two - 3 to 4 is a good age. Two is the age when most dogs start getting over puppy-brain, can hold their bladders longer, and are done growing. At three or four a dog is done maturing, but still has a lot of life in front of it. Anyone who tells you that an older dog won't bond as closely to you as a puppy is an idiot - dogs of every age can learn a new name in a day or two, and any rescue dog will soon realize that you are the best thing to happen to him in a long time.

There are lists on the interwebs of dogs that are good in apartments. Check these out - there may be a breed you wouldn't immediately consider that will turn out great for you and your desires in a pet.
posted by Gori Girl at 10:39 AM on September 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

As for the expense of kenneling... I travel a lot for work (sometimes I'm gone for 3 weeks or more), and I am so so so lucky that I have friends who love my dawgie and happily take care of him in my absence.

Fortunately, they are big snowboarders and I live in Tahoe, so it works out great - for the amount of money I would have had to spend kenneling him, my friends save a fortune by always having a free place to stay when they're here snowboarding. We estimate that we've saved each other thousands of dollars between kennel vs. hotel costs.

I also have a network of friends who have dogs and if they need someone to take care of their puppies for a night or two, I'll do it, knowing they'll happily return the favor in the future. In the last six years, I've only had to kennel my puppy two or three times.

On road trips, I am fine with staying in places like Motel 6. They don't charge a pet fee, and I always request a quieter room on the first floor for easy bathroom breaks for the puppy.

So do it!

As someone above said, your list of dog preferences is fine, but be prepared with the possibility that you'll end up with a dog with only SOME of the qualifications. My dog is adorable, smart, funny, well-behaved, and non-barky, but he is afraid of kids and will snap at them (he was rescued as a puppy when a stranger found a bunch of kids trying to kick him in a back alley behind a strip mall). It's something I have to always be aware of when we're around children, but it's a small price to pay for an otherwise terrific beastie friend.
posted by HeyAllie at 1:50 PM on September 18, 2010

Response by poster: Hello everyone,

I wanted to let you know that I simultaneously decided to go ahead with a dog adoption and, mostly by accident, discovered a litter of Boston Terrier/Corgi mixes that were scheduled to be euthanized! I'm meeting them tomorrow night and more than likely will bring one home with me. Wish me luck, because I have already fallen in love.

I decided now would be the best time, because I don't want my partner to have to do the bulk of the training (and bonding) as would be the case if I waited until I moved/started school. Like Taz said, we want to socialize our dog really, really well so moving shouldn't be a big problem for her. I really was looking for an older dog (2 - 4 yrs) but then I saw these puppies and, well, I guess I'll be getting up every hour for the next couple of months. C'est la vie.

If we bring puppy home tomorrow I will post pictures immediately! Thanks again!
posted by ohsnapdragon at 4:27 PM on September 21, 2010

Response by poster: Here he is!:

Now we just need to think of a name ....
posted by ohsnapdragon at 10:58 AM on September 23, 2010

Yay! Congrats!
posted by taz at 2:05 PM on September 23, 2010

Cute! He looks like he might end up a one-ear-up-one-down dog, to which I am partial.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:55 PM on September 26, 2010

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