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Should you get a dog? Pros and cons of owning a dog

By Michele Welton, Dog Trainer, Breed Selection Consultant, Author of 15 Dog Books

Woman with small dog

The Positives (Advantages, Pleasures) of Dog Ownership

A dog offers you the opportunity for accomplishments. There is great satisfaction in providing a dog with a great life, taking great care of him and training him well.

A dog offers you companionship and exercise on walks and hikes and trips to the beach.

A dog offers you the chance to join in fun and play – great for your spirits and your blood pressure. You can roll around on the floor with a dog. You can fling autumn leaves into the air for him to catch. You can dress him up for Halloween.

There's an old saying: "The great pleasure of a dog is that you may make a fool of yourself with him, and not only will he not scold you, but he will make a fool of himself, too."

A dog is a furry shoulder to cry on when you're feeling depressed or lonely or sick. If you're homebound, or grieving from personal loss or stress, a dog gives you something to live for. Elderly people benefit enormously from keeping a dog.

A dog offers you unconditional love and devotion that is neither greater nor lesser, but simply different, from its human counterpart.

An epitaph on a beloved pet's gravestone reads: "The reason I loved him is plain to see – with all my faults, he found beauty in me."

Girl with Labrador Retriever

All of the above benefit children, as well as their parents. Growing up with a dog, when the dog is raised and trained properly,  and when the CHILD is taught how to behave respectfully around the dog, teaches valuable lessons to a child.

Senator Graham Vest may have said it best when he spoke his famous "Tribute to the Dog" over a century ago:

"The one absolutely unselfish friend that man can have in this selfish world, the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous, is his dog. A man's dog stands by him in prosperity and in poverty, in health and in sickness.... When all other friends desert, he remains. When riches take wings and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens."

The Negatives (Disadvantages, Responsibilities) of Dog Ownership

We've talked about the great pleasures of owning a dog. Now let's talk about the responsibilities. Because there's more to owning a dog than how much fun they are to walk and play with.

Dogs are expensive.

There's the purchase price or adoption fee, then one-time costs like buying a crate and other doggy essentials. But the most expensive canine costs are recurring costs:

  • Food. Dogs require a meat-heavy diet – either homemade or prepackaged/frozen.

    Chopped beef

    Meat is expensive! If you don't have a lot of money, opt for a small dog whose meat needs you can afford. Don't choose a large dog, then complain that the food he needs is too expensive, so now you're forced to feed an inferior diet. That's not fair to the dog.

  • Vet bills. If you feed the right food (see above) and if you skip the yearly booster shots that veterinary immunologists say your dog doesn't need, your vet bills will be lower. On the other hand, if you choose an unhealthy breed or get your dog from the wrong place, your vet bills will probably be higher.

    Vet examining sick dog

    Don't underestimate the astronomical costs of veterinary emergencies and specialist care – $1200 for knee surgery.... up to $15,000 for cancer treatment. Owners have had to take out loans just to pay their dog's veterinary bills. So when you bring home a dog, I recommend looking into pet insurance.

  • Grooming costs. If your breed needs trimming or clipping, you'll need to do it yourself, or else pay a professional groomer every few months.

    You need to be able to pay whatever it costs to care for a dog. It might not seem fair that you shouldn't get a dog if you can't afford one. But it's more important to be fair to the dog.

Ongoing companionship

Dogs should have companionship throughout the day.

I don't recommend getting a dog if you work all day. Dogs are social animals who need ongoing companionship. No dog is happy being left alone when their people work or go to school most of the day. [read more]

Dogs take up a lot of your time.

Even if you don't work all day, your life might not have enough free time for a dog. Maybe you're busy with the kids, or out shopping or visiting friends, or participating in hobbies that eat up many hours. Maybe you take a lot of business trips or vacations.

A dog will make a lot of demands on your time.

  • Meal preparation twice a day. You've probably read my articles on feeding (see above), so you know that feeding a dog properly doesn't mean pouring kibble into a bowl. It takes more work than that.
  • Housebreaking. You need to take a puppy outside every two hours. Once housebroken, a dog still needs to relieve himself multiple times a day. Dogs who are forced to "hold it" for many hours can develop bladder stones.
  • Exercise. Daily walks. Trips to the park. Trips to the lake. Fetch games in the back yard. Certainly it can be great fun, but it does take time.
  • Grooming. All dogs need their teeth brushed, toenails clipped, and ears cleaned. Long hair needs to be brushed and combed to avoid painful mats and tangles. Shedding dogs need lots of brushing to pull out the dead hair. Many breeds need trimming and clipping.
  • Training. Sit, lie down, stay, come, no (among many other words). Don't pull on the leash, don't jump on people, don't bark at everything, don't chew things up. Get along peacefully with other people and animals. All of this takes lots of time to teach.
  • Vet visits. You have to make the appointment, drive to the vet, sit in the waiting room, have the actual visit, drive back home. Right in the middle of a work day, which is when the vet is open.
  • Health care. The vet might give you the instructions, but most of the time you're the one who actually has to "do" the health care.

    "Administer medication three times a day, at least an hour before a meal and two hours after a meal." You'll need to rearrange your own schedule to fit your dog's medication schedule.

    "Keep on-leash for 4 weeks – no running, no climbing stairs, no getting onto furniture." You'll need to rearrange your house to help your dog heal from leg surgery.

    Changing bandages. Medicated baths. Coaxing a sick dog to eat. Getting him to take a pill....

    Health problems tend to occur at the most inconvenient times. A sick or injured dog can't wait while you take college exams or go on a business trip or vacation. Being available to provide health care is another reason I don't recommend dogs for people who work all day.

Pug behind fence

Dogs should have a fenced yard.

Without a fenced yard, you would need to take your dog outside on a leash even for bathroom breaks. That really isn't fair to any dog larger than a Chihuahua.

Dogs want and deserve a safe fenced area where they can stretch their legs and run around a little, several times a day. Dogs don't like being tethered to a leash all the time. [read more]

Dogs do things that require patience on your part – and sometimes a strong stomach.

  • It's hard to stand outside in the rain or snow every two hours trying to housebreak a puppy. It's harder still when he simply gazes around at all the sights, then pees on the floor as soon as you come back inside.
  • It's difficult to resist "strangling" a dog who chews your shoes into sandals, or who tears all the Christmas paper off the presents under the tree (which my young German Shepherd did!).
  • It's frightening to wake up in the middle of the night to find bloody diarrhea all over your bedroom, followed by a frantic race to the emergency veterinary clinic.
  • It's annoying when a dog drools or slobbers on your clothes and furniture.
  • It's hard to bandage a bleeding paw, or use a rectal thermometer, or pluck off a tick engorged with blood.
  • It's gross to find a decapitated squirrel on your patio – a little gift from Rover.
  • It's irritating when your beautiful hardwood floors get scratched from a dog's toenails, or when your beautiful grass turns yellow and brown from a dog's urine.
  • It can get tiresome to keep vacuuming dead hair off your floors, upholstery, and throw rugs.
  • It's frustrating when a dog gleefully tracks in mud and debris, overturns the water bowl, throws up on the carpet, and sweeps his tail across the breakables on the coffee table.

    If you like an immaculate environment, a dog is not the right pet for you.

St Bernard, happy indoors with owners

A dog needs to live indoors with you.

Every companion dog should live indoors with you, except for exercise and bathroom breaks.

Dogs are sociable animals who need to live WITH their family. If you're indoors, they should be indoors, too.

Dogs who spend their days or nights outdoors are living outside their family – on the edge of it, never really immersed in day-to-day family life. They're bored, lonely, and likely to bother the neighbors with their barking.

Outdoor dogs never develop the intelligence and good behavior of an indoor dog who is a true part of the family.

You'll need to do some reading about dogs.

Just as prospective parents should read up on raising a child, prospective dog owners should read up on raising and training a dog.

Don't bring home a puppy – or "surprise" someone with a puppy – if you don't yet know about proper feeding, which vaccinations he should and shouldn't have, how to recognize canine symptoms of illness, and how to communicate with him so that you can actually train him.

You will need to teach your dog all sorts of polite behaviors – not only for your own benefit, but out of consideration for the rights of other people. You can't allow a dog to bark incessantly, threaten the mailman, stalk the neighbor's cat, knock over visitors, or snatch ice cream cones from little children.

That requires training. And to train a dog, you need to learn how to communicate with him so that he understands what you want and respects you enough to do it.

Girl and dog communicating

You and your dog are two different species. He is not a furry person. He is a wonderful creature with talents and abilities all his own. It is not only incorrect, but wasteful and demeaning, to consider him a furry person.

A dog's thought processes are different from yours. When you interact with a dog, you need to know what his canine eyes are seeing, what his canine ears are hearing, what his canine mind is understanding. YOUR interpretation of your words and actions are usually not the same as his interpretation, and his interpretation is what counts. You must communicate so that HE understands.

The hardest part of owning a dog

So that's a look at the pros and cons of dog ownership. If you want a dog, you should be willing and able to take on the pleasures and  the responsibilities.

You should be willing and able to make compromises in your life that favor the dog's needs. And you should be willing and able to make a 10- to 15-year commitment to be responsible for the life and happiness of another living creature.

If you have a child, you already understand that this type of commitment requires that you love, provide, teach, share, enjoy, discipline, worry, laugh, cry, and eventually let go.

But there is a difference – a big one. With a child, your relationship changes as he grows; as he gradually becomes more independent, you gradually let go.

Your dog, on the other hand, regards you as his whole world throughout his short life, and the letting go is often sudden and always final.

Old dog

This may be the biggest negative, the biggest disadvantage, the biggest responsibility of owning a dog. You will lose him, and your heart will shatter.

Someday you will find yourself standing in the veterinarian's office for the last time, having reached the final and most difficult stage of the commitment you made when you brought home your dog.

When you think you want a dog, it's understandable that you focus on the joys and benefits. That's why I've spent so much time in this article writing about the challenges and responsibilities – to provide balance so that you don't overlook important aspects of dog ownership.

You thought you might want a dog. Do you know for sure now? I hope I was able to help you decide.

Michele Welton with BuffyAbout the author: Michele Welton has over 40 years of experience as a Dog Trainer, Dog Breed Consultant, and founder of three Dog Training Centers. An expert researcher and author of 15 books about dogs, she loves helping people choose, train, and care for their dogs.

My best-selling books – now available  FREE  on my website

book coverRespect Training For Puppies: 30 seconds to a calm, polite, well-behaved puppy is for puppies 2 to 18 months old. Your puppy will learn the 21 skills that all family dogs need to know. Click here to read for free.
book coverTeach Your Dog 100 English Words is a unique Vocabulary and Respect Training Program that will teach your adult dog to listen to you and do what you say. Click here to read for free.
book cover11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy helps your dog live a longer, healthier life. Get my honest advice about all 11 Things before you bring home your new puppy, because some mistakes with early health care cannot be undone. Click here to read for free.