Dog for me?
August 8, 2006 5:44 PM   Subscribe

Should I get a dog?

More specifically, should I get a small companion dog. I was thinking along the lines of a chihuahua... I would dearly love a dog as I am lonely (I do have friends and family but they're all rather busy!). So, here's the deal with my situation:

- It would be the first time I've owned/lived with a dog.
- I live in a 1brm apartment by myself. It's around 600sqf.
- But in the weekends I usually go to my parent's beach house, and they would be okay with the dog staying there too.
- I work 40hrs a week, but only 2 minutes walk from my building, and I usually have an hour lunch break.
- I'm 20. I don't intend on moving overseas or anything like that. However I imagine within the next 3 years I would like to go to Europe for 3 months for university.

Am I being silly? Should I repress my doggy desire for a while? Is there anything to get me off the "puppy crack", that people tell me I'm on? Or even another pet suggestion?
posted by teststrip to Pets & Animals (30 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
Dogs bark, and in an apartment that can be a problem. Also, dogs have to be walked. It sounds as though a kitten would not be what you want, though. Still, they are more suited to apartment living, and quite a bit of fun to watch and interact with.

In either event (dog or kitten), go with someone who really knows dogs/kittens to pick out the one to adopt. You want a confident, playful companion who understands good play, not a basket of neuroses.
posted by LeisureGuy at 5:46 PM on August 8, 2006


Sounds good to me!
posted by k8t at 5:49 PM on August 8, 2006


You might hang around with some dogs for a bit to see how you really like them. Or dog-sit for someone.

Otherwise, you're not nuts.

"Small dog" and "apartment dog" are not the same things. A greyhound might well do you better than any number of terriers. Chy-hooah-hooahs are not terriers; I'm just speaking to the larger issue.

If you go away for 3 months, can you leave the dog with the 'rents?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:51 PM on August 8, 2006


Don't forget that you always have to put the dog before you, because it can't fend for itself -- so you have to make your choices on where you live, what you buy and where you go and when based on it's needs. If you have a puppy that doesn't

I'll 2nd the Small Dog != Good Apartment Dog ... IMHO, Great Danes are better than most little dogs as apartment dogs. Older Great Danes are among the biggest couch potatoes EVER.
posted by SpecialK at 5:54 PM on August 8, 2006


(Disclaimer: I have a 2 year old Great Dane that ain't mine laying on my feet. He made me say it.)

You might, BTW, try adopting an older, well-trained dog from a shelter. Go to the shelter and play with the dogs for a while and talk to the staff.
posted by SpecialK at 5:55 PM on August 8, 2006


If you do go the cat route, this book will be a lot of help. Dogs are relatively easy to understand: they like a hierarchical structure, are eager to please, have readable body language, etc. But cats are different. Everything in a cat is about hunting, and that includes being territory oriented, not pack oriented. Reading their moods and thoughts requires some observation, but is (to me and other cat lovers) fascinating.

My suggestion, if you get a cat, is to get a short-hair. Many fewer problems (dealing with mats, poopy butt, hair shedding, etc.) Mine is a British Shorthair, a wonderful breed: not talkative, somewhat reserved by very confident, etc. Note that Siamese, for example, are intelligent (not always a plus, BTW) and HIGHLY talkative. Not everyone likes that.
posted by LeisureGuy at 5:56 PM on August 8, 2006


Try volunteering at an animal shelter for awhile. You'll learn more about how dogs behave (and what makes a good apartment dog) and if you can stand the slobber, hair, medical and other needs of one. I do it because it gets me my fix since I can't have a dog in my current apartment, so it does work. :)
posted by kcm at 5:57 PM on August 8, 2006


I think the most significant question to ask yourself is if you're up for a minimum 12 year commitment. Most dogs live at least that long, smaller dogs such as chihuahuas typically live much much longer (~20 years).

The second most significant question is to ask if you're up for the costs a dog entails. Even a small dog's bills add up: in the first year, puppies need several rounds of vaccinations, speutering (optional but highly recommended), licensing, parasite control (worming, fleas, ticks), accessories (bed, crate, leash, collar, dishes), and toys (oh so many toys).

Older dogs require booster vaccinations and dental care, and as they age, often develop health problems which require expensive veterinary care (says the person who spent $3K having one mutt's ACL repaired and nearly as much toward another mutt's mouth cancer treated). And of course, there's the costs of food and yet more toys.

I love having dogs. They really are fabulous companions and I wouldn't be without at least one in my home but I have found the commitment in having a dog is approaching that of a human child (yep, have one of those too. Again, so many toys...)
posted by jamaro at 6:01 PM on August 8, 2006 [1 favorite]


I don't see why you shouldn't have a dog (as long as there's somewhere for the dog to live if you go away, and as long as you come home to walk it at lunch). I'd suggest you contact a rescue group for toy dogs (avoid terriers like the plague, they are not what you are looking for) and see what dogs need homes which might be suitable for you. An adult dog is probably more suitable for your situation than a puppy (especially because some toys can be slow to housetrain and you don't want to be going away and moving the dog somewhere new in the middle of housetraining) - adults already have an observable personality (you want one that's been in foster home situation, rather than one that just arrived at the rescue, you want to know what the dog's like when it's not highly stressed), so a reputable rescue will work to match you to the right dog.

ROU_Xenophobe is correct that size is less the issue here than personality - a large, calm, quiet dog like a Greyhound which only needs a couple of good walks a day and a long run once a week is a much better apartment dog than many much smaller, much higher-energy, much barkier dogs. But there are many lovely toy breeds which are calm, quiet and which could easily fit in well with you.

Depending on where you live, look on the AKC, CKC, UK Kennel Club, wherever website to find some dog shows near you and go and meet a few different breeds and talk to their breeders, this will help you far more than you might think in narrowing down your search. And PLEASE remember that even a tiny dog is still a dog and needs training and management AS a dog, not as a stuffed toy or a cat. Good luck!
posted by biscotti at 6:02 PM on August 8, 2006


OMG, you're me. No, really- I got a chihuahua while still in college (at 21). Everyone told me I was crazy. But I was desperate to have a dog again (grew up with a Maltese, always been a dog fanatic), so I got one. And it's been great!

I have two suggetions for you:

1: Get an adult dog, not a puppy. I got my dog from a couple on Craigslist at 9 months- already spayed, already potty trained. Boy, what a load off my mind that was. And I grew up with a dog, so I was used to the things they do (Like pooping on the carpet and throwing up at random moments). A brand new puppy might overwhelm you. Most adoption agencies won't even look at you because of your age (which is retarded, of course, because I had more free time in college then I do now), but you could probably find a nice dog that needs a home on Craigslist or through the grapevine.

2: If you go for a chihuahua (and I might suggest you open your mind to other small dogs- chihuahuas can be tempermental and are not very warm to people they don't know- a maltese, yorkie, or mini-poodle could be nice, too), spend enough time with it to know it's been bred and socialized properly. I have met chihuahuas who refuse to leave their owners side, snarl at people they don't know, shake uncontrollably. I also know my dog has bad knees (probably due to inbreeding) and will be needing some expensive surgery coming up soon.

So, to summarize:
Am I being silly? NO!
Should I repress my doggy desire for a while? I don't think so.
Is there anything to get me off the "puppy crack", that people tell me I'm on? If you're anything like me, you just need to get a dog.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:03 PM on August 8, 2006 [1 favorite]


Dogs make great pals and they also make for great dude/chick magnets, but they cost a lot of money and time. A 25-30lb bag of decent dog food is going to run you about $20, there are the vet bills (including unforseen emergency vet bills) which are the opposite of cheap, you have to give them not-very-cheap heartworm pills every month, and it would be a good idea to apply also-not-very-cheap flea/tick medicine on them every month. You also have to realize that dogs are pack animals and they hate being away from you, the alpha. And speaking of being the alpha, you have to train them to be beneath you in the pack ranks. Otherwise, they can make your life a living hell. Oh, and decent crate will cost you some dough as well. Unless you want the dog to roam the apartment by day, chewing everything in sight. You don't want that. Really. That type of behavior can cost big bucks as well.
Having said all that, my wife and I love our two dogs very much. As I mentioned right off, dogs can make great pals, you realize that each one has their own personality, and they are worth every cent that you spend on them. If you can handle the responsibility, then indulge your dog craving and save a mutt from certain death at a pound or if you have a local no-kill pound, get a puppy from them.
Both of our dogs were older puppies and came from a foster situations where a person really knew a lot about their temperment (good with cats, house-trained, etc). That really seemed to make it easier for everyone.
posted by NoMich at 6:08 PM on August 8, 2006


PS Alternative pet suggestion: I'm partial to hamsters. They are slow and somewhat dim and often asleep but they can be quite engaging when handled from a young age. They are happy living in a plastic storage bin (much better than those cramped and expensive tube 'habitats'), they are relatively easy to keep clean (clean tub once weekly vs a dog's daily pickup) and they'll happily live off the veggie trimmings from your groceries. The commitment is 2-3 years.

I've heard good things about keeping rats as pets, but thus far have been very happy with my little hammies (got one nestled in my pocket as I type).
posted by jamaro at 6:10 PM on August 8, 2006


A note about the flea/tick medicine: you don't need to give it to them during the winter months.
posted by NoMich at 6:12 PM on August 8, 2006


Flea/tick treatment depends on your location. If you're in a temperate climate w/o snow or hard freezes to kill the parasites, year-round treatment is required.
posted by jamaro at 6:15 PM on August 8, 2006


Do some reading on whatever breed you're thinking about getting, especially as far as what they need with respect to exercise, space, etc. 600 square feet is not a lot of space at all. I would never get a dog in a 600 square foot place, but I guess that's just me.
posted by twiggy at 6:15 PM on August 8, 2006


600 square feet might not be a lot where you live, but it's a lot in New York (or any other big city, I imagine)! The apartment I live in now is.... gosh, 450? 500 sq feet? Although I'm very lucky to have access to a nice backyard where she can sniff things and eat weeds. A small dog does not need that much room, or exercise- she mostly just sleeps all day, we play run and fetch at night until she's exhausted.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:20 PM on August 8, 2006 [1 favorite]


I got a pug/chihuahua mix in June. She is very delightful and came fully housebroken (unknown to the shelter). My daily mood has really improved since I got the dog.

Bills can add up quickly. You will have to make sure a dog is up to date on shots, etc. Monthly you will need to do flea/tick and heartworm prevention.

Keep in mind that a lot of the small breeds are hot/cold and flea/tick sensitive.

Also keep in mind that small dogs can be hard to get fully housebroken and you may have to rely on pee-pads.

If you adopt a slightly older small dog make sure you fully test it at the shelter (or foster home) to see if it's yappy. You do not want a yappy dog in an apartment.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 6:27 PM on August 8, 2006


As an apartment dwelling 27 year-old, I can't imagine being without my 1.5 year-old Shiba Inu.

My advice is to research breeds, browse shelters and parks, and familarize yourself with the expenses. Having a dog is a huge commitment -- way more than a cat -- but very rewarding.

I found the website DogBreedInfo.com informative, especially the breed quiz.
posted by hendrixson at 6:35 PM on August 8, 2006


Dogs don't necessarily bark, different breeds have different attitudes towards it. I've been working to stop my dog barking, and she's pretty quiet now (she just whines a bit).

Train your dog well (I really recommend professional training) and stick to the training, and it will make life a LOT easier. Having the time and ability to see your dog at lunchtime is great! You could go for a walk and have lunch outdoors, or just play.
posted by tomble at 7:54 PM on August 8, 2006


Would the dog be romping around on the beach? If so take into consideration how hearty the dog is. Also you will probably have to bathe or take it to the groomer after the beach. And I'd be concenrned about certain dogs (like Shih Tzus) getting sand in their eyes and stuff.
posted by radioamy at 9:28 PM on August 8, 2006


Don't limit yourself to purebreds, for one thing. My family has owned a number of mixes over the years, and I have found them to be generally less high-strung and/or disease-prone than many of the purebreds I have known. This is a generalization as a matter of course, and YMMV.

As far as avenues for adoption: while rescues are wonderful places to get a dog, chances are that most of them will be reluctant (if not flat-out unwilling) to let a first-time owner adopt one of their dogs. My parents got our current dog from a rescue, and they were subject to a house visit, plus an intense interview, and they had owned probably 10 dogs between them beforehand, so they knew what they were doing.

I second the recommendation that you have your dog professionally trained. We did not do this with our dog (my family owns a Husky/German Shepherd mix - a wonderful dog that is absolutely not for a first time owner) and we regretted it. In an apartment, I would consider crate training (which we did do, albeit by ourselves) to be essential. Depending on your dog's personality, he or she might be quite agitated by necessary visits from people like the plumber. Crate training gives them a safe haven.

Also, you have not specified where you live, but it would be nice if you knew you would be able to socialize your dog with a) other dogs and b) other people. Dog runs are great for the former. As far as the latter goes, introduce your puppy to all kinds of people, including children. Children may be the last thing on your mind today, but in seven years, your dog won't have gone anywhere and kids may be a very real possibility. While old dogs are more mellow, those who weren't raised around kids can still be uncomfortable in their presence (see: my dog).

When you are looking at puppies, if a puppy is what you eventually choose to buy, try to see how the puppy acts in the context of his or her litter. Are they bossing their littermates around, or are their littermates bossing them? You can tell a lot about a dog's personality from how it interacts with its littermates.

Read up on dog genders. My parents have always owned female dogs out of a belief that they tend to be a bit gentler. This could be wildly inaccurate, and almost certainly varies by breed.

If you get a young puppy, consider doing so NOW, or next spring/summer, rather than this winter. If you live in a cold climate, the last thing you want is to be taking out a puppy in twenty-degree weather at 2 AM because it has to pee.

And last but not least: please, please, please, if you get a puppy, don't hesitate for a second on spending the money to get it spayed. Really. It's important.
posted by anjamu at 9:37 PM on August 8, 2006


have your dog professionally trained

I hope "professionally trained" means "take the dog to classes taught by good and experienced dog trainers where you learn how to train your dog yourself", rather than "send your dog away to have a "professional" "train" it" for you. The former is ideal, the latter is far from desirable. Your dog should not be out of your direct supervision during training classes, except for minutes during stay training. The methods used by many of these trainers are extremely questionable, and you have no way of really knowing what exactly goes on, and some so-called "training" methods can have very bad long-term effects on some dogs. Just because someone does something for a living doesn't mean they do it well, or are particularly knowledgeable.

You need to learn how to train your dog yourself, and training is the fastest, best and easiest way to establish a good and appropriate relationship with your dog. The trainer should be a coach and instructor, they should not be doing it for you.
posted by biscotti at 12:50 AM on August 9, 2006


Please don't get a Chihuahua. On behalf of people everywhere who like good-looking, well-tempered, fluff-snuggly dogs of decent intelligence, please help end America's Chihuahua problem.

What would I recommend instead? Well, lately all of my favorite dogs are mutts.
posted by eritain at 4:30 AM on August 9, 2006


Lots of good advice here, especially biscotti's re training. Your local ASPCA probably offers classes, or at least could give recommendations.

Do you have any friends with a dog you can borrow for a week or two? Sort of a test-drive. You'll get a much better sense of the day-to-day requirements (e.g., picking up shit 2-3 times daily) and whether you're really up for it.

Seriously consider an adult dog or older puppy (6-9 months). There's a good chance they'll already be house-trained (both mine were) and you'll be able to tell much more about the dog's temperament. Plus, your decision won't be swayed by that brain-melting (and transient) puppy cuteness.

Breed-rescue organizations are indeed very, very strict in their screening but I bet the local city/county shelter or the ASPCA or other private shelters would work with you. Maybe call the vet nearest you; they often have a connection to a specific group.

You're certainly not crazy for thinking about this but you're right to be hesitant. It is a longterm commitment to another living creature and it shouldn't be an impulse decision or a fashion statement. That said -- however long you think about it, you'll never be completely certain that you're ready. At some point, you'll have to just make the leap. You won't regret it.
posted by vetiver at 4:51 AM on August 9, 2006


In addition to all the great advice above, I suggest that you give some thought about some of the more unpleasant aspects of dog care. Dogs shed. Even if you get a supposed nonshedding breed like a poodle, they still shed. Some dogs need a lot of grooming. Don't forget to factor that into the cost of dog ownership. It is nearly as expensive to take care of a dog as it is a child, and a dog never leaves home! :)

If you are a neat freak or controlling about your housecleaning, you do not want a dog. Dogs also make other kinds of messes. They can be destructive without intending to be--our Boxer broke a 60-inch-wide window blind with his hard head when he jumped up to look out the window.

I definitely agree with the advice to get a mid-size to larger-size dog. Our Boxer and Husky are two of the laziest dogs I know, but I think we just got lucky with their temperaments. Most of the small dogs my family had when I was a kid were territorial and barky. :) Good luck with whatever you decide!
posted by cass at 7:09 AM on August 9, 2006


Wow, thank you for all your responses, I really appreciate it!

I think I have considered most of your concerns (yapping, training, walking) and it was good to see that I missed some things! As for the chihuahua thing, I'm glad you guys have challenged me about the "small dogs are apartment dogs" thing.

After reading your replies, I took the step to ask a friend about dogsitting his fox terrier mix (she's a laid back girl though, I only ever see her hanging out on the couch) for a week. Kindly, he trusts me and I'm really excited!
posted by teststrip at 1:49 PM on August 9, 2006


Please don't get a Chihuahua. On behalf of people everywhere who like good-looking, well-tempered, fluff-snuggly dogs of decent intelligence, please help end America's Chihuahua problem.
What would I recommend instead? Well, lately all of my favorite dogs are mutts.


Ignore this. We've taken care of two different Chihuahuas for a few years each, and they are both awesome dogs. One is an absolute couch potatoe with little-to-no maitnence. He's either a) sleeping when not there or b) sitting in your lap but doesn't mind walks. The other one is a bit more active, but still awesome in an apartment setting and after getting past the whole baby-stage, he's a good lap dog if you want that (I did and trained him as such). Both of them are complete attention whores when it comes to strangers and wants nothing more than to be picked up by new faces. But we also raised them in the context of allowing anyone and everyone to pick them up and hold.
Whereas others suggest getting a dog whose been trained, I would suggest the opposite with a Chihuahua- if you want to make sure it's not the stereotype of annoying & yipping who hates strangers, you need to make sure it's trained as such.
posted by jmd82 at 2:18 PM on August 9, 2006


As for the chihuahua thing, I'm glad you guys have challenged me about the "small dogs are apartment dogs" thing.

well, they're not necessarily "apartment dogs" because they tend to be high energy, *but* depending where you live, good luck getting an "apartment" with anything larger than 25 pounds.

my girlfriend and I just found a place (admittedly, in the bay area, where rents are getting ridiculous again -- up 6% this year! YAY) and having a dog severely limited our options -- and that's with a 15 pound pug. My estimate is that having a dog here means you'll have to add $300/mo to get an equivalent apartment to one you could get without a dog. Not that we would consider ever living without her, but we probably won't be getting another dog until we get into a real long term housing situation.

If you live somewhere with a craigslist, try checking the little "dogs are ok" box and seeing what it does with the listings.

Not that this is a reason *not* to get the dog you want -- in fact, most of my friends who got dogs in their twenties found it to be a very beneficial and positive move for them -- but just a practical consideration that you should take into account.
posted by fishfucker at 4:53 PM on August 9, 2006


oh, and I'd totally recommend a pug or a french bulldog. they're little dogs with more of a big dog attitude -- not shaky or fluffy or anything. I was never a huge small dog fan, but my girlfriend's pup has totally won me over.
posted by fishfucker at 4:54 PM on August 9, 2006


I hope "professionally trained" means "take the dog to classes taught by good and experienced dog trainers where you learn how to train your dog yourself"
Oh goodness yes! I didn't make it clear, but what I meant was "take classes (together with your puppy) which instruct you in good training techniques." At the end of the day, you need to be the one the dog listens to, not the trainer. When I said "professionally," I meant "don't think, especially as a first-time dog owner, that you can do it yourself without a bit of guidance on the part of someone more experienced."
posted by anjamu at 7:18 PM on August 9, 2006


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