Looking to adopt a puppy! Now what?
March 17, 2017 7:53 AM   Subscribe

Mr. sutel finally said we can get a puppy! Yay! I have not had a dog since I was a teenager and I would like some advice on how to go about this.

We are interested in adopting a puppy from a local shelter, and we have two kids, ages 7 and 5.

What do I need to know before we start looking at dogs? Neither of us have owned dogs as adults, just as kids/teens.

Some shelters want a vet contact info. Can I contact a vet and say, "Hi, can you be our vet for a dog we don't own yet?"

What about the references some shelters want? Do they just want to hear we are responsible or do the shelters want to hear about our specific pet-raising abilities?

Is it going to be a problem no one is home between the hours of 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. most days? Should we line up a dog walking service beforehand? I know it is probably not the greatest idea to leave a puppy alone for that long, so I'm happy to get a dog walking service, but I'm wondering if we should have that lined up before we go looking at puppies.

We have a partially fenced yard. Should we completely fence it in - will a shelter prefer we do?

Do you have a rough estimate of how we should budget for this? It looks like most shelters around here have about a $500 adoption fee. Obviously we must pay for food, leashes, toys, vet trips, etc. but I am not sure how much all of that will cost.

What is some other advice you can give me? What am I not thinking of? I want to make sure we present ourselves as thoughtful, responsible would-be dog owners at a shelter.

And finally, I'd love recommendations on books or websites about raising a dog. We also plan on going to obedience school so if you know of any in the Waltham/Newton/Watertown area of Mass. that would also be much appreciated.
posted by sutel to Pets & Animals (12 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Congrats on making this decision! I adopted my first dog as an adult about 18 months ago, and he has absolutely changed my life for the better.

First, I would suggest the r/dogs subreddit as great resource for dog-related questions.

To answer your more specific questions...

* You should think about your preferred size and temperament. Are there behaviors you absolutely would not want? Some dogs can't be trusted off-leash; would that bother you? Others are reactive or aggressive to other dogs; is that okay?

* In my experience, it's okay to tell the shelter, "We don't have a vet yet, but plan on using #LOCALVET." But a phone call to the vet you have in mind wouldn't go amiss!

* Since you haven't had pets as adults, they'll just want to make sure you're responsible. If you rent, make sure one of the references is your landlord!

* An adult dog can totally be alone from 8am to 3pm most days. A puppy will need more frequent bathroom breaks. I would compile a list of walkers you like and then contact them for meet-and-greets when you're close to bringing the new addition home.

* Fencing is up to you. It's totally doable to have a dog without a private/fenced yard (I do it!) but having a completely fenced yard will definitely make you a more attractive adopter to the shelter. Also, if you are interested in breeds that are known for roaming and/or poor recall, a fence could be extremely helpful in allowing you to exercise your dog off leash.

* Dogs always seem to be more expensive than you expect and there is a lot of heterogeneity in how much people pay for their dogs. I would say you're looking at a bare minimum of $1,000 - $1,500 per year (excluding dog walking and pet sitting costs), unless your dog gets sick and/or hurt. The first 12 months I had my dog, I spent $13,000 on him -- he had a couple of weird health issues that required extensive diagnostics and treatment (he's fine now). Even though our situation was really anomalous, I still share it as a data point!
posted by schroedingersgirl at 8:03 AM on March 17 [5 favorites]

It's highly variable from rescue-to-rescue. Some are nit-picky sticklers, some just want to get the dogs out the door as fast as possible, to whomever is willing to take them. Mostly it's in between.

Since you have kids, I would place a high priority on finding a rescue that fosters dogs in homes. Dogs in shelters behave differently from dogs who are pets in a home. It's really difficult to tell from visiting a dog in a shelter what he or she will be like in a home setting. Foster placements can give you a much better idea of whether or not the dog is quiet or loud, active or inactive, likes other dogs or doesn't, likes kids or doesn't, etc....

I would also put a priority on fully fencing your yard. Not every dog (and I'd say not even most dogs) can be trusted to stick around just out of the goodness of their hearts. A fully fenced yard also means less work for you: let that dog out to do its business day or night without having to put your own shoes on and go for a walk, or stand around in the cold holding a leash. Many rescues will definitely place a preference on a fully fenced yard, for the security of the dog.

It shouldn't be a problem for an adult dog to stay home from 8-3 every day. Some rescues will balk at that but they're being unrealistic and looking for perfect unicorn owners. Puppies are a problem in this regard, though. If you get a puppy you will definitely need someone to come let it out to do its business, if you want to speed along the house training process. Puppies are like babies--they don't physically have the ability to hold it until they are older, and then when they do have the physical ability you have to teach them about where to go and when and why it's a good idea to not use the rug (because to a dog, the rug is a perfectly good place to pee--why would it not be?).

For first-time dog-owners, I actually would recommend an adult, older than 2. Puppies and adolescent dogs are... well they are like baby and teenager humans. Adult dogs bond just as well with their families as puppies, they can be trained just as well as puppies, you can totally teach an old dog new tricks (I adopted a 2 year old coonhound who'd never lived inside a house before and within 6 months he was housetrained, had his Canine Good Citizen/Therapy Dog designation, and a couple years later had an obedience title).

Consider pet insurance. Really. Really really. With two large dogs, pet insurance saved my bacon on multiple occasions, and every time I'd wind up at the emergency vet with one of them, there was someone there looking at four-to-five figure bills for the care their dog was receiving. Make sure you research and get a good plan that covers as much as possible (pet insurance is like human health insurance pre-ACA: some great plans out there, some that are little better than scams).

Read Ian Dunbar and Jean Donaldson for behavior and training. Donaldson's book The Culture Clash is so great that I keep an extra copy around the house to lend out to people.
posted by soren_lorensen at 8:08 AM on March 17 [10 favorites]

Oh, we are homeowners, btw.
posted by sutel at 8:09 AM on March 17

A good shelter is going to be willing to talk through some of these questions with you - they won't just hit "reject" if they hear an answer they think is problematic, rather, they'll talk through why a certain decision/solution/arrangement may be better. Watch out for the kind of rescue organizations that are so strict they're really just dog hoarders looking for people identical to themselves. In your area, from what I know, I'd highly recommend the Animal Rescue League of Boston shelters.

Don't hesitate to take your time and ask lots of questions. If you're unsure about the specifics of how a dog will work with your lifestyle, definitely consider fostering...it's possible that having a dog in the home will shed light on certain things about your routine or relationship that are important to consider in choosing your permanent dog (for instance, if your neighborhood has a lot of reactive dogs, finding a dog who is calm in the face of that is an asset!).
posted by R a c h e l at 8:13 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]

When I needed two(!) references letters to adopt my dog, my references just extolled my responsibility and general kindheartedness, and that seemed to be enough for the rescue. For the vet, I just put down "we plan to use X vet," I think they just want to see that you put two seconds of thought into it.

That being said, in your area, I'd just drive to Salem and go to the Northeast Animal Shelter. They are AMAZING and have a really great lead on doggos of all shapes and sizes. I personally think puppies are extremely overrated and in your shoes I'd get an adult dog, but if you are dead set on a puppy, they get puppies in all the time. My family didn't want a puppy but they fell under the squishy wiggly puppy spell as soon as they walked into that place and adopted a 3 month old mix.
posted by cakelite at 8:20 AM on March 17

And to answer some of your specific questions:

-you shouldn't need a vet beforehand (the vet reference is mostly to make sure you had any previous pets regularly vaccinated, etc) but it couldn't hurt to pick our "your" vet anyways (since you'll need one!). I've actually had good luck picking a vet using yelp reviews. Other pluses to look out for are vets with extended and/or weekend hours or vets that participate in the fear-free initative for a less stressful vet experience.

-if you want to let your dog out in the yard, then yes, please fully fence it (and consider how tall the fence is - many dogs are surprisingly good jumpers when motivated). If you'd prefer not to fence it and you're comfortable walking the dog on a leash every time they need to go, that's perfectly fine. Remember that just letting a dog out in a yard is insufficient exercise anyways.

-when you're budgeting time and planning your schedule, definitely consider exercise - requirements vary by breed but sufficient exercise is essential to a dog's health and behavior. It may be more than you think, especially for small dogs - I aim to get at least 2 hours of total walking a day in with my 25lb guy. Size does not always correlate with energy and exercise needs, too.

-costs vary wildly. Plus people have different ideas of what a dog "needs". I pay well over the average cost of ownership because I have a daily walker and I specifically pay a premium for a really behavior-savvy walker (my dog has some special needs in that department). So that's $20 a day, which adds up. Plus our private trainer costs $100 a session and we go to a veterinary behaviorist (dog psychiatrist) and other things that are not optional for our dog to live a sustainable happy life but aren't necessary for other dogs. People talk a lot, costs-wise, about food and "stuff" like toys but I've honestly found services to be the most expensive part and the hardest to predict. Vet costs are, of course, unpredictable - I have a "healthy" dog but an undiagnosed allergy still ran us a few hundred dollars recently and his behavioral medicine/related services are NOT cheap. More serious illness or injury could be way more. Opinions on insurance differ but you can find a lot of discussion of that here on the green.

-think about your values about dogs ahead of time! Do you see a dog as "just a pet"? A member of the family? Do you believe in lots of training and specific rules? What level of medical intervention is appropriate for dogs? Under what circumstances would you give up a dog? People get really moralistic about this stuff but also people's values just plain differ and, you know, I personally think that's okay - but it's worth thinking specifically about those values ahead of time especially when you're planning for money, committment, and choosing an appropriate dog.

-I definitely recommend you consider an adult or even a senior dog for SO MANY reasons (they're easier, you know what you're getting, etc.) but again that's an issue where people's "normal" differs and if that's just not an option for you, know that some people will push you but you have a right to have your own opinion. That said, if you're willing to consider it, please do - they're adopted less, they bond well (and they're just as cute!), they're generally easier (I've had two adult adoptions in my life so I've never had to housebreak a dog...), and you have a better idea of what you're getting. In the case of rescue puppies, you don't often know anything about their breed, intended size, etc.

-try as hard as you can to look more at the non-superficial characteristics of a dog when considering a good fit. It's REALLY EASY to be suckered in by a dog you find particularly cute and end up with a dog that just isn't the best for your family for whatever reason so, you know, resist that.
posted by R a c h e l at 8:36 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]

This is our dopey dog Cash. He's one of the best dogs I've ever been around. We got him when he was about 1 or 1.5, no one's really sure.

When we got Cash we just called up a vet that we knew was legit, and asked if they were taking new patients. They almost always say yes, and do receive those phone calls often. This was a requirement for his adoption, YMMV.

Even if you get a bit older dog, I would take them to obedience classes....and several. Carve out time to do that for the first few months. It's so worth it. We taught cash to 'load up' in his bed or crate (when he is equidistant between the two, things get hilarious and he gets a little confused). But that's been an INVALUABLE skill for the dog to learn, especially with kid's friends who might be scared of dogs. Even if Cash is pretty amped, he'll load up if we tell him.

In terms of getting a dog walker rigged up, I personally would wait because you don't know the activity level of the dog you're gonna get. Our dog turned out to be the laziest thing that's ever existed. He likes walks and a good trip to the dog park well enough, but he is perfectly content with a single walk a day in the evening. Most mornings, aside from going outside to go to the bathroom, he'll just sleep. Because of some 'noise complaints' from neighbors, we videoed the dog and found out that he wakes up to bark violently at the mailman, but then sleeps the rest of the time. If we had gotten a blue heeler mix thing that's wildly popular around here lately, we would most certainly be getting a dog walker.

If you have any vacation time banked, I would use it to try and shorten your days (like, work half days for a week, then quarter days, then back to full days). Especially if you have a little puppy, it can be helpful to get them use to their new digs and schedule.

And yeah, I would fence that yard, ASAP, and probably get ready for reinforce it at all if your dog is even the slightest digger.
posted by furnace.heart at 9:08 AM on March 17

As for books about raising and living with a dog, I cannot recommend Patricia McConnell highly enough.

Her book The Other End of the Leash is a dog behavior classic, and I've used Family Friendly Dog Training with all our rescue and foster dogs, as it is an easily digestible plan for introducing and reinforcing obedience basics over the course of the dog's first sic weeks with you. It doesn't cover house-training (there's a booklet for that), but does have very useful commands like Leave It and No Jumping.
posted by Squeak Attack at 9:08 AM on March 17 [6 favorites]

How a puppy is socialized will make a lifelong difference in behavior. A puppy staying home alone from 8-3 during weekdays isn't a great approach, even with a dog walker popping in. Consider either puppy daycare or adopting an adult dog. Puppies are fun, but they're a lot of work. A lot.

My partner and I adopted a puppy a year ago and we have no children and one person works from home. Despite an ideal set-up in many ways, it was still a lot of work. Much more than we had remembered from the last time we adopted a puppy, 14 years prior. Now when taking about adding another rescue, we day to one another, "older dogs need homes, too."

That said, the best decision we made was immediately getting registered for 8 weeks of puppy classes to get both socialization with other dogs and people as well as great positive reinforcement training guidance. Congrats on deciding to rescue! It's the best!
posted by quince at 9:11 AM on March 17 [2 favorites]

and consider how tall the fence is - many dogs are surprisingly good jumpers when motivated).

And also consider how much room there is under the fence. Some dogs are good diggers too, which we learned only after our dogs escaped several times.

I want to make sure we present ourselves as thoughtful, responsible would-be dog owners at a shelter.

Honestly, just the fact that you've even thought to ASK these questions shows that you are thoughtful and responsible.

Re cost of pet ownership: Pet insurance is a thing. So is CareCredit. It's worth asking prospective vets whether or not they take it, since not all vets do.

Some shelters/rescues will have arrangements with a certain vet where you can get free/reduced cost on standard procedures if you adopt an animal from them. It doesn't mean you're required to take your animal to that vet though, if you have a preference.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 9:12 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]

Huge, huge second to the slightly older dog vote!!

I got a puppy when I was a young adult and even as a dog lover, I said to myself I will never do this again. Felt like a fool thinking about how many loving non-puppies are out there needing good homes, and it's so much easier to tell what their temperament is going to be like when they are older.

If I were going to get a dog now, I would either volunteer at the target shelter, become a foster home for a short time, or just start doing regular transports with the animal rescue groups. There are groups all over the country who transport dogs from south to north. I've only done one transport, but they happen every weekend, and I met a less than 1 year old doggie who was just the nicest most wonderful guy, and had I been in the position to take him in, would have jumped on him in a minute! Some of the transported dogs are spoken for but a lot of them are going up to foster homes or shelters.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 11:59 AM on March 17 [4 favorites]

Nth the slightly older dog. My rescue baby-dog was seven months old when we got her. Fostered at a home, not a shelter. She was fully potty trained and knew basic commands. But still she was very puppy-like for well over another year.
posted by Neekee at 8:17 AM on March 18

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