Dear Professor Newton,
I recently completed college and started a new job in a city far from my family and friends. I’m single and live alone in an apartment. I’m lonely, so I’m thinking of getting a dog. What things do I need to consider before I start searching for my new best friend?
Congratulations, Graduate, on your sheepskin (not to worry, sheep. That is what they call a diploma. It is printed on paper now)!
I am pleased that you are giving serious thought about this big step rather than rushing out and getting a dog. You are making a life-long commitment, possibly 10 years or more. That is longer than many marriages last. Family dogs should not be seen as disposable items, although the high number of us in shelters indicates that far too many humans believe we are. Obviously, people do not put enough careful thought into this decision.
The most important question you need to ask yourself before taking any further action is: HOW MUCH TIME DO YOU HAVE FOR A DOG? We are very social animals with a need to be around other dogs or people (although a cat might do in a pinch). Our ancestors survived as members of a pack and our brains are still wired that way. A bored dog, without structure, love and discipline from our people, can easily become the poster pooch for behavioral problems, and eventually the homeless dog.
Consider your current lifestyle. Sharing your life with a dog brings tremendous benefits but you also lose some freedom. Are you willing to make the necessary changes so both you and your dog can live happily ever after? Be honest in your self-analysis!
For example, you mentioned living in an apartment. Dogs, like humans, have physical needs that must be met, regardless of where we live. Besides feeding and being sure fresh water is available to drink, your dog will need to be walked. And I am not just talking about getting exercise to stretch our paws (although that is highly recommended). Your new roommate will need to “go walkies” to relieve him or herself before you leave for work as well as when you come home, no matter what the weather is like or how tired you are.
I hope my comments have not discouraged you from adding a dog to your life as the joys can be tremendous. Just remember that if you honestly do not have enough time to devote to a dog, both you and the dog will be hurt in the long run. You can satisfy your “canine fix” by volunteering at an animal shelter. Teaching dogs to walk on a leash or maybe sit on command makes them more adoptable, too, and likely saving a life.
If you are ready to take on the responsibilities and delights of being a dog owner, you should next research what type of dog would be best for you. There are excellent resources online, such as Petfinder.com, which can help you determine whether to get a purebred or a mutt, a male or a female, and a puppy or an older dog. Puppies are cute, but a mature tail-wagger is often housebroken, less rambunctious, and equally loveable. Forget the saying “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” because it is simply untrue. Frequently adults canines available for adoption already can walk on a leash, know basic commands, and are very well-behaved. Sadly, the most important reason to adopt a grown-up is they are at greater risk to be euthanized than an adorable pup.
If you are ready for a dog, there are plenty of dogs out there who are more than ready to find YOU! Good luck in your search. Maybe you will even find your own Mrs. Robinson.