What should I read/do to prepare for becoming a dog owner?
January 16, 2018 7:46 AM   Subscribe

I’ve wanted a dog for some time now, and I have decided that I’m going to aim to adopt one this summer, after my next round of board exams is done. I’ve never had a dog of my own before. What books should I read in the meantime? I’m planning to adopt an adult dog, not a puppy. Is there someone I can talk to about finding the right kind of dog for me? I’m primarily looking for a dog for companionship.
posted by ocherdraco to Pets & Animals (23 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
This recent ask might be a good starting point.
posted by mosst at 7:49 AM on January 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

biscotti's suggested reading w/ her descriptions:

The Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson (this book completely changed the way I thought about dogs, I think it should be required reading for all dog owners and dog lovers, it's a fascinating book which really helps you understand how dogs think and learn, why they behave the way they do, and how you can change behaviour effectively)

The Other End of the Leash by Patricia McConnell (a great book that helps a lot with understanding how to communicate effectively with dogs, and also helps you improve your relationship with dogs)

Bones Would Rain From the Sky by Suzanne Clothier (a wonderful book about dog-human relationships, some great training insights as well)

Don't Shoot The Dog! by Karen Pryor (a classic clicker training book, also helps a lot with understanding dog and human behaviour and motivations, a must-read)

Click for Joy! by Melissa Alexander (a great introduction to clicker training, very practical and well-explained. Melissa also runs the ClickerSolutions website and mailing list)

Before & After Getting Your Puppy by Ian Dunbar (a great book about basic puppy training, including crate training, housetraining, socialization and basic manners - not just for puppies, either!)

The Power of Positive Dog Training by Pat Miller (great training book)
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 7:56 AM on January 16, 2018 [14 favorites]

Start researching local rescue organizations. For a first-time owner you may want to try and find one where the dogs are fostered in volunteers' homes rather than at a shelter. You get a better idea of the dog's personality when they're already in a home where they're comfortable rather than at a shelter where they're balls of stress. The rescue will also be able to match you up with a dog that's suits your lifestyle.

My favorite dog book is The Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson. It's basically about how dogs learn, what dog brains are like, and how they differ from people brains. She's active in rescue and behavioral rehabilitation and she's had to clear up a lot of other people's mistakes so sometimes her tone can be a little harsh but the information is interesting and useful. I found that having an understanding of learning theory, and how dog brains work, can help you problem-solve with your new dog way better than just a book of step-by-step how-to-teach-your-dog-to-sit instructions. An adult dog probably already knows how to sit, but probably also has a behavioral foible that isn't in any book that you'd really like to train them out of. (Source: adopted and trained three adolescent and adult dogs.)
posted by soren_lorensen at 7:59 AM on January 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

I've never owned one either so I'm glad you're asking this. I would be interested in the answers you get. This isn't a book, but one thing I learned recently is that apparently lots of breeds can't walk in the snow for 15 minutes without getting frostbite. I was in a cafe and there was a dog outside crying. The owner was trying to walk it through the snow and didn't seem to understand why the dog was yelping and didn't want to move. There were dog owners in the shop with me who were complaining about it and eventually got fed up and went outside to tell her the problem was that it's paws were freezing in the snow and she would have to carry the dog home if she didn't want it to have serious injury.

I'm sure this frostbite thing in such a short amount of time doesn't apply to all breeds, but watching the whole thing taught me that there are a lot of dog owners that really should've learned more before getting a dog.
posted by fantasticness at 7:59 AM on January 16, 2018

GCU, those are literally all of my favorite dog books, too! So, yes to all of those in addition to The Culture Clash.
posted by soren_lorensen at 8:00 AM on January 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

lots of breeds can't walk in the snow for 15 minutes without getting frostbite.... it's paws were freezing in the snow and she would have to carry the dog home if she didn't want it to have serious injury.

It’s likely not frostbite they were talking about; what happens is that snow clumps up between their toes and becomes icy and painful. Also, salted sidewalks can “burn” their pads. You can train them to wear boots or wax their paws before winter walks. Musher’s Secret is great for this. Obviously, there's been some extreme cold lately in a lot of areas and you have to use common sense and be sensitive to your particular dog's limits. But they're really not that fragile in general winter weather/ snow conditions if you prepare properly.
posted by Kriesa at 8:09 AM on January 16, 2018

+1 to Kriesa's explanation and +1 to soren_lorensen's thoughts to use a rescue that fosters the dogs. They can tell you a lot about the dog and help you find one that's a good match for you. (source: owner of 4 shelter dogs)
posted by sarajane at 8:42 AM on January 16, 2018

Logistics: I'd investigate what options are available for you for dog care/exercise on longer/weirder shifts if that is part of your current situation or specialty. My physician husband and I have an energetic adult dog in a city where dog walkers aren't really a thing and we have to plan my out of town trips carefully with kind friends/neighbors/family taking up some slack since his day shifts start before our doggie day care opens, his swing shifts can end up longer than we'd really like the dog to stay comfortably without getting outside to pee and when he is sleeping on overnights the dog wants him to be awake (actually the overnights are the easiest- he comes home and brings the dog to doggie daycare, and then picks the dog up just before they close).
posted by charmedimsure at 9:07 AM on January 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'd definitely suggest going through a rescue that uses fosters. Fosters can tell you a lot more about the dog than a rescue that houses dogs in a facility. You want to know how a dog is in a home - how active they are, whether they get along with other dogs/cats/children, whether they're housetrained, dog door trained, leash trained, etc.
posted by answergrape at 9:14 AM on January 16, 2018

If your profile location is up-to-date, you should check out the North Shore Animal League and Bideawee. NSAL has a ton of rescue pets and are really knowledgeable. At NSAL, you can talk with their "adoption counselors" to figure out what type of dog would be best for your circumstances; Bideawee has "matchmakers." You may be able to get an application pre-approved so that when the right dog comes along, you can be first in line (I did this at Bideawee's Manhattan location when adopting one of my dogs, though that was ~8 years ago).
posted by melissasaurus at 9:22 AM on January 16, 2018

Logistical questions:

- Have you talked to your insurance provider? homeowners, renters, liability? Our carrier limits the breeds it will insure.
- Have you talked to your landlord, if applicable?
- Do you have a fence, if applicable?
- Do you have friends in the area with dogs who might have resources like vets, dogsitters, etc?
posted by Ms Vegetable at 10:29 AM on January 16, 2018

I'll also recommend How to Behave So Your Dog Behaves by Sophia Yin and Perfect Puppy in 7 Days: How to Start Your Puppy Off Right also by Sophia Yin. The second one is geared towards puppies, but she has lots of good exercises there that would be beneficial for any new dog.

One other thing you can do now is to really research the shelter you get the dog from. Like other people have already pointed out, it's helpful if they foster the dogs to see how they do in a home environment, but that's not always possible for shelters. Another thing you might want to ask about is if there is any set of standardized rules that all volunteers and staff need to follow while interacting with the dogs. If yes, the dog will most likely be better behaved and a bit easier to train (since they're already used to some sort of routine. Most of the dogs that have been at this rescue for a while will sit to wait to be let out at the door). The shelter I currently volunteer at has this set of rules and requires volunteers to attend training sessions that cover things like how to use clickers in training to how to hep the dog just chill out and settle down.
posted by astapasta24 at 1:06 PM on January 16, 2018


Thank you for all your informative answers! My profile location isn’t exactly correct, but I’m still on Long Island (and actually closer to NYC, in a town called Mineola).

- Have you talked to your insurance provider? homeowners, renters, liability? Our carrier limits the breeds it will insure.

I have not checked with my renter’s insurance! Thank you for pointing that out.

- Have you talked to your landlord, if applicable?

We are allowed to have dogs without consulting the landlord.

- Do you have a fence, if applicable?

I do not. I’m in an apartment complex with lots of open green space, but wouldn’t be able to let a dog off-leash here. I need to investigate nearby dog parks.

- Do you have friends in the area with dogs who might have resources like vets, dogsitters, etc?

Yes! Many of the other med students and residents have dogs and I’ll be hitting them up for all that sort of thing.
posted by ocherdraco at 3:48 PM on January 16, 2018

That kind of question is very helpful to me, by the way; if there are other questions y’all think I ought to be asking myself at this point, please suggest them!
posted by ocherdraco at 3:59 PM on January 16, 2018

Please please please watch some training videos and make time to go to a training class when you get a dog. The class is not to train the dog per se; it is to teach you how to handle the dog in a way that is safe for you, for your dog, and for the public in general.

It's all about understanding how to be your dog's alpha. I've never read a book on it but since I was 10 years old I've gone to a training class with every new dog I've gotten; I consider the classes to have been a valuable investment of both time and money.
posted by vignettist at 5:13 PM on January 16, 2018

Research local off-leash dog parks, and go hang out there. If you have a dog, you'll be doing this anyway.

Before you have the dog, watch how people interact with the dogs and the dogs with each other. You'll have lots of good and bad examples to work through as you read up on dog behavior.
posted by Jesse the K at 5:22 PM on January 16, 2018

Having just talked to someone who recently adopted a cat who is in their personal space much more than they really like, I suggest you think about what you want your daily interactions with the dog to be like when you're at home - do you envision the dog chilling in the corner of the room you're in while you're working? If so, I'd avoid dogs described by their fosters as "velcro dogs" - but on the other hand if you want a dog who is constantly flopped all over you, that would be a good term to use when you talk to the shelter! My current dog sees me as one of her many pet beds and will come sprawl all over me when the mood hits her - which I mostly really like but it does make studying or working on the couch difficult at times (yes, she could be trained not to do that but I can't bring myself to stop her). My first dog was much more independent and mostly just liked hanging out near me rather than on top of me.

Consider whether it's important to you to be able to bring your dog to, say, farmer's markets or community fairs - many dogs really don't do well in such circumstances.

Think about how you feel about dog hair everywhere - before I got my first dog I was SURE I'd brush my dog all the time and so pet hair wouldn't be an issue ... 22 years later, I'm sitting here plucking a dog hair out of my tea while I'm typing this.

Read up on why "alpha" is really no longer recommended as the model for dog training and ownership - I believe many of the books already mentioned do address this; here's a link to a blog post written by a dog behaviorist who worked with us and our dog several years ago that also covers it.

Think about how you'll respond if your dog turns out to need special care in some way - my first dog could not be kenneled, for instance, due to a traumatic experience at a truly vile kennel early in her life (this experience also cost me over $2000 in doggy dental bills - so, eh, also consider what kind of emergency funds you have). This meant that for over a decade I either had to leave her with friends, pay for a home pet sitter, or drive wherever I wanted to go so I could bring her with. It was absolutely worth it to me, and I would do it again in a heartbeat, but obviously it was limiting.

These are some of the questions that come to my mind off the top of my head - I'm sure there are others but I hope these help. And of course it goes without saying, but at some point we will be expecting dog pictures :)
posted by DingoMutt at 5:47 PM on January 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

This is a good read. The more you narrow down what you want - indoor playmate or jogging companion, relaxed or high energy fun, etc, the more a rescue org can help you. Maybe volunteer a few shifts at a pound to see what you like best?
posted by OneSmartMonkey at 7:29 PM on January 16, 2018

Forgot to mention: research pet insurance. There are excellent plans and plans that are little more than scams. Read reviews, compare plans, and toss any that have the following policies straight into the bin:

--Plans that pay out based on a table of what each procedure "should" cost. You're in a high cost-of-living area, your vet fees will inevitably be way higher than what is on their tables.

--Plans that exclude "genetic or hereditary" conditions. This can be anything other than straight up accidental injury. It's not like your dog comes with two sets of grandparents and a set of parents you can interview to get a family health history. This exclusion can be used to deny many many claims for bogus reasons.

--Plans that require you to go to a certain vet. Emergency and specialist vets are a thing and you will probably have to go to one at least once.

I had really good insurance on my last two dogs and it absolutely saved my bacon on multiple occasions. They both wound up dying of random, difficult to diagnose, progressive diseases at older adult but not elderly ages. It took a lot of tests and vet visits to make a determination as to whether their illnesses were treatable and they could have 5+ more happy, healthy years with us, or terminal. I made claims for several thousand dollars worth of care for each and was reimbursed within a couple weeks. What that meant is that I could focus on their care, getting them what they needed, trying a few things in search of a diagnosis, making sure they had the right medications to keep them comfortable, and not the anxiety of knowing how much it was all going to cost me. I will recommend a quality pet insurance plan to anyone who doesn't have actual thousands and thousands cash-on-hand. (I had to take one of my guys out to the specialist vet a couple times during his illness, and every time I met other dog-owners there who were pushing five figures in bills. Seriously.)
posted by soren_lorensen at 7:54 PM on January 16, 2018

The Ian Dunbar book is great and very practical. He's got a solid plan that a lot of people have had great success with. On the other hand, he is prone to hyperbole, and may give you the impression that if you don't do everything perfectly, you may ruin your dog forever. Relax; this is not as likely as he makes it sound sometimes. He also suggests criteria for choosing a breeder that no breeder I know could ever meet, even the most committed. Still, very much recommended.
posted by kindall at 10:56 PM on January 16, 2018

I am going to give some advice that is not directly asked, but hopefully on topic. Advice about adoption.

I have always had dogs, and I have always adopted from local shelters. The fist thing I would point out is that those descriptive paragraphs about the dog are just fluff. Don't pay much attention to them. The exception is of course the warning words. Needs a 1 dog house, no cats, no children etc. Don't bother filtering your search on who is lazy or jumpy or happy.

If you think a dog is interesting, go see them. Take the time to schedule a meet with the dog. You should get a good feel for them when you get to interact with them in the play area. This will tell you more than anything else.

Don't feel pressured to get a dog fast before some one else does. Every dog you missed getting is now living in a good home. There will always be more dogs in the shelter, but you will have this dog for a very long time.

Another thing worth mentioning is that dog breed prejudices in insurance are pretty common and overwhelmingly reviled by veterinarians. If you have a dog breed that may be legislated against, suggest that their mix doesn't include that type of dog to you vet and explain why. If their paperwork claims your dog is an American Shelter Dog Mix it might save you hassle.
posted by Oceanic Trench at 4:10 PM on January 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Literally just did this in October! Please PM me if you'd like NYC-specific recommendations! I LOVE the Brooklyn-based rescue I got her from and the trainer I used. As far as insurance goes, I bought her Healthy Paws, which gets a lot of good recommendations for what's covered, how easy it is to submit claims, etc. -- haven't needed to use it yet, but it does provide peace of mind.

I have a million tips on what to do in the first few weeks, but the best one is "be prepared to spend a lot of money." I spent close to $1K in that first month, almost all on non-negotiable stuff (adoption fee, trainer, vet, supplies, insurance -- shit is expensive in NY). Oh, speaking of, my second-best tip is to be prepared to get a trainer right away, regardless of the books you read (but do read them!). My pup is the sweetest, most biddable, most eager-to-please dog, but *I* needed someone to show me what the hell to do with her.

Some more things to be prepared for:

Like someone mentioned above, a lot of rescues (including the one I got my pup from) require you to be pre-approved for adoption -- i.e., you can't just show up at an adoption event and take a dog home. The process often takes several weeks and might include a home visit (mine was done via Skype). The rescues that operate like this in NYC are usually foster-based (meaning they don't have a central shelter) and have hefty adoption fees, but good ones are really really great to work with. Dogs are often "on their best behavior" when you see them at shelters because they're happy and excited at the attention, so behavioral issues sometimes come as a surprise a few weeks into an adoption. They're obviously not doing this on purpose, they're just different in different environments. Good rescues will have fosters who can tell you about a dog (the good and the bad) in more detail.

There are countless pits and pit mixes in NYC shelters and rescues, way more than other breeds. No idea how you feel about bully breeds (I'm firmly in the "they're great" camp, and my pup is a pit mix), but just something to know. Other breeds get adopted much faster.

Do some research on vets, doggy daycares/boarding facilities, and walkers beforehand. If you're in LI, there are probably a zillion options, but find a few that seem to have good reviews/are recommended and are within your budget (important in NY!) so you're not scrambling once you bring your dog home. Daycare is useful for socializing her with other dogs if she doesn't get a lot of dog playtime otherwise. Think about what you're going to do when you want to, like, go on vacation without the dog. Boarding is expensive. The reasonably-priced place I use in BK is $40/night.

If you're in LI, I'm going to assume you have a car. Know that NY/NJ transit is generally not dog-friendly -- I think all providers except Metro North require animals to be in completely enclosed carriers, which is an issue if you have a dog that is more than like ~20 lbs.

The puppy blues is real. I spent the first two weeks crying because I thought I'd made a huge mistake, that I'd be the worst dog owner ever, that we'd never bond, that she'd never learn to walk nicely on a leash, etc. The anxiety went away, and now I love her to pieces.
posted by Ragini at 11:21 PM on January 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Nthing the works of Dr Sophia Yin. Very practical and scientific, but written for somebody with no experience. I read How to Behave So Your Dog Behaves when I got my dog, and he is now a very well-behaved dog.
posted by ambulocetus at 4:59 PM on January 18, 2018

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