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Adopting a Shelter Dog - Are you Ready?

Adopting a dog changes your life forever. You gain a loving companion who greets your homecomings with joyful abandon (irregardless of if you were gone five minutes or five hours), an eager partner to join you on every adventure (whether it’s placing your recyclables at the curb or visiting a park), and an inspirational sidekick who lives each moment to the fullest.

Adoption also changes some of the people in your life (dogs attract new friends!), your activity level (lace up those walking shoes), your schedule (dogs need companionship and can’t be left alone for long hours) and your spending habits. As you consider whether or not you are ready to adopt, keep in mind the commitment and responsibilities involved.

To help you make your decision, below is information on ownership responsibilities, general characteristics of each age group, and a quick quiz to determine if your reasons for adoption have the best interests of the dog at heart.

General considerations

  • Small dogs may live for 15 or more years and large dogs typically live less than 12 years.
  • Dogs need regular exercise and should be walked two or three times a day (the backyard does not provide enough exercise, stimulation or fun). Some dogs require vigorous off-leash exercise too.
  • You should attend training classes to help you understand your dog and develop a clear and consistent way of communicating - most lessons are one hour a week in class for eight weeks.
  • Dogs require regular grooming to keep their coats healthy and clean (you will need to do this yourself or take him to a groomer who may cost $160 to $200 per year depending on the breed and frequency).
  • Dogs require regular nail trimming and teeth brushing (dogs use special toothpaste available at pet stores).
  • You will need to clean your home more, particularly if you have a long-haired dog.
  • Dogs need and crave companionship and should spend most of their time inside with their family.
  • The cost of adopting a dog is only the initial expense. You will need to provide food, identification (dog tags, microchips and licensing your pet); ongoing veterinary care, including vaccinations, possible surgeries and dental care; and ongoing supplies, such as food, dishes, toys and grooming tools.
  • The Ontario Veterinary Medical Association estimates that it costs $1,065.14 annually to care for an adult 40-pound dog, $1,970.74 for a female puppy and $1928.91 for a male puppy (2005 figures).
  • Studies have shown that dogs are good for your health and can help you withstand life stresses!

Age considerations

The puppy years (Eight weeks to 20 weeks)

Few can resist the soft and loving face of a puppy - yet caring for a puppy and helping shape its temperament is a great responsibility. Without a proper foundation in life, puppies often develop future behaviour problems. To help determine if you’re up to the challenge of raising a puppy, consider that puppies are like babies. They learn from every interaction with you and require consistent guidance, a patient teacher, and an extraordinary amount of attention. Puppies may engage in play biting and chew furniture or other household items, and a seven to nine week old puppy will need to go out and eliminate approximately every three hours during the day. Even puppies older than nine weeks can only be left alone for short periods. Puppies must be supervised continuously when you’re together until they can hold their bladder and bowels and eliminate in the chosen area. In addition, you are raising a puppy during its critical socialization period. If you spend little time at home and the puppy is not adequately socialized during this time, you can contribute to future fear and/or aggression. For a puppy, socializing is meeting new people and dogs of all ages and experiencing new places and objects every day.

The teenage years (five months to 18 months)

Adolescent dogs are like giant puppies; however, even if they’re not fully housetrained, they can hold their bladder and bowels longer - making them a better choice to adopt than a puppy if you work outside the home. While housetraining may be easier with an adolescent dog, adolescence has its own challenges. Consider that during adolescence, dogs, like teenagers, become more independent and develop competing interests, many of which become distractions to training. To maintain response reliability, all of the dog’s hobbies and competing interests should be used as rewards. For example, requesting a sit before feeding a meal, or a down-stay before taking the dog on a walk. Indeed, training is essential at this age to give the dog clear guidance and gentle leadership. Adequate exercise is also essential at this age. Two or three vigorous walks a day or visits to a secure off-leash area for doggie play or a rousing game of fetch is necessary to burn off your dog’s youthful energy. With too little exercise, your dog can start other recreational habits such as chewing, digging and barking to release pent up energy and to relieve boredom.

The adult years (One and a half to eight years)

Adult dogs (dogs don’t fully mature until they are three to four years of age) typically present less challenges than puppies or adolescent dogs - and in the mid-to-older-adult range (five and older) generally need little training. Consider that many adult dogs are often housetrained and already have some training. Adult dogs are almost always finished with destructive chewing. Dogs who are two-years-old or more seldom chew your belongings for reasons other than severe separation problems - which is quite rare. Additionally, you know the dog’s full-grown size and have a better idea of his temperament since the adult dog is done developing most of his behaviours.

The senior years (Eight years and older)

The beauty of senior dogs is that they usually come as perfect packages. Consider that senior dogs are almost always housetrained. Even if a senior dog is raised outside he will generally be clean inside because he’s used to eliminating on outdoor surfaces (he’s developed a surface preference for grass, dirt etc.). Additionally, senior dogs have long-since given up any destructive chewing habits and most senior dogs require minimal to moderate amounts of exercise making them ideal for people who do not have a very active lifestyle.

Quiz: Why do you want a dog?

There are many good reasons to adopt a dog. You may be looking for companionship or want to help a homeless animal. But other reasons do not benefit the dog, such as “for protection,” as a gift for someone, or “for the children.”

For protection: As your dog’s guardian, it is your responsibility to protect your dog, not vice versa! Not all dogs are protective, even if physical characteristics may make the dog look “tough.” On the other hand, encouraging protective behaviour is very dangerous; not just to strangers, but also to you and your family. If your dog bites someone, you can be prosecuted under the Dog Owners’ Liability Act.

As a gift: An animal that is given as an unwanted gift may be neglected or end up homeless. The recipient may not be prepared to provide for their needs, or may wish to choose their own pet. If you believe that someone close to you wants a dog, give them all the “dog stuff,” like a bed, collar and leash, toys, brushes, treats and bowls. Then let them choose for themselves.

For children: Parents must realize that it is their responsibility to properly feed, exercise and train the family dog. Dogs are wonderful companions but both dogs and children can be unpredictable if left unsupervised. Parents must always supervise the dog when he is with young children.

Now what?

If you are convinced that you are ready for a dog in your life, please visit your nearest Ontario SPCA adoption centre. Adoption centre staff will help you through every step of finding your special friend - one that is just right for you. They will answer any questions, help you decide which pet is a good match, and be available for any advice you may want following your pet adoption. Also read Choosing the Right Companion and 10 Tips to a Successful Adoption to help prepare you for a successful adoption.

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