Oakland, CA — First-time dog ownership is a special experience, a rite of passage for any adult-ish animal lover. No more ogling corgis at the park — you can finally have a best friend of your own to offer you cuddles and unconditional love.
On the flip side, you’re also about to become a low-key servant to a furry pee-monster.
Growing up, I was always around people and pets. So when I recently moved into my own apartment (no roommates woohoo!), I was eager to get a dog of my own.
But I discovered that being a solo puppy parent is a lot different than just being a part of a family who has a dog. Dogs are lovable but also super needy. The more prepared you are for the commitment, the better off you and your doggo will be.
Here are just a few of the things you should know before you start looking for a dog of your own.
1. Don't pick your dog's breed using social media.
Everyone and their momma want a Shiba Inu or French Bulldog, but in reality they’re not a good fit for everyone. It's important to be mindful of your needs versus the dog’s needs when you pick a breed. Rather than go for maximum cuteness, choose a companion that best suits your personality, lifestyle, and temperament.
Just a few things to ask yourself:
- Are you prepared to run? Some dog breeds need to go out a lot.
- Do you have a lot of space? Apartment people may need to look for couch-potato dogs or stick to small breeds.
- Does your lease ban certain dog breeds? This kind of sucks, but real talk, you need to have a place to live.
- Do you have the time to train/play with your pup? Certain breeds need entertainment or they will destroy all your possessions.
2. Get offline and actually go to the shelter
Alright so I'm aware that we all like to turn to the Internet for finding things. But when it comes to finding your furry companion, falling in love with a particular dog online can lead to heartbreak. Depending on the site, that list of adoptable pets may be outdated, meaning your chosen dog may no longer be available. Or, the dog you thought would be a perfect match based on their profile may not actually have good chemistry with you in person. In my experience, pets choose you, not the other way around.
So do yourself a favor and just go to the shelter to see who is available. But a word of caution — you may think you’re just browsing and end up going home with a new furry friend.
3. If you don’t have a yard, be prepared for a LOT of walks
News flash — dogs need to pee. A lot. You’re going to have to invest in training, good cleaning products, a vacuum and some scented candles. But don’t be afraid fellow apartment dwellers! You don't necessarily need a home with a backyard.
The key here is making the time. When I got my dog, Charlito, I realized quickly that I had to plan ahead when I wanted to have a late night out with friends. Now, I budget 15 minutes of my getting-ready time for dog walking. When I get home, no matter how tired I am, the first thing I do is grab his leash and take him out.
Once you have a good walking/potty routine down, the number of indoor doggy accidents will decrease. But in the meantime… maybe say goodbye to your nice rug.
4. Puppies are typically harder to care for than adult dogs
Puppies are seriously adorable, but they’re also a serious amount of work. In addition to needing to go out more often, puppies still need to learn the basics, like being comfortable spending time alone and not jumping all over strangers. And who gets to train them? You!
So don’t be surprised when you’re camped out with a pee pad staring with bloodshot eyes at your young dog, who is refusing to take a potty break. It’s part of the process.
5. Think beyond the honeymoon stage
When you first bring your dog home, everything is new and exciting. Your dog wants to play? How cute! Your dog wants to go for a walk? Good idea! But it’s normal for both of your attitudes to change once your companion has gotten comfortable in their new home. For some dogs and their humans, it’s like the honeymoon stage is over. It’ll take continued creativity to keep your dog entertained, and what used to be cute can suddenly drive you crazy.
My advice is to be patient. Invest in training your dog early, and establish routines. Know that dogs take time to adjust to changes, and cut them some slack. If all else fails, invite a dog-less friend who loves your pet over for some play time.
6. Got more than one animal? Budget time to introduce them.
One of the trickiest parts of dog ownership is trying to make them get along with other animals.
I have a dog and a cat and I’ll letcha know it was a process to get them used to each other.
Try to get a gato breed that gets along well with dogs (and vice versa). Beyond that, it’ll come down to pet-owner diplomacy.
Some people I talked to recommended taking up to a week(!) to introduce animals at home. I was able to do it more quickly, but it still wasn’t easy. I got both my pets as six-month-olds within the same week. Loki (my cat) is incredibly mischievous and social. Charlito is clever and playful. I highly recommend having a friend help out with the introduction process. For me, I put my cat and dog face to face in separate crates for 30 minutes, then I fenced off an area of my apartment and let them roam near each other.
Once they seemed to be a little used to each other, my friend and I held them in our laps until Loki wasn't hissing and Charlito wasn't barking. Carefully, I put them on my bed and we all watched TV together. The rest is history.
7. Prepare to spend $$$
Having a dog adds up — and I’m not just talking about food and toys. You’ll likely have to invest in a crate, bed, leash, collar, and license, not to mention medical expenses. All of these costs can add up to hundreds of dollars in the first year alone.
8. You can’t feed a dog anything you want
I loved pizza dog on Instagram looking so happy holding human food. But being an actual pet owner means you can’t just give your pup people-treats in place of their own dog food. Some foods are ok, like peanut butter, yogurt, and sweet potatoes. But others, like grapes, chocolate and avocados, can make them really sick. Not only do you have to stop guests from feeding them scraps, you’ll need to monitor your trash cans or it can mean another trip to the vet.
Deciding to get your own dog shouldn’t be taken lightly. But once you’re ready for the responsibility, the good news is the fun times usually outweigh the tedious aspects of first-time puppy ownership.