Do You Have Time for a Dog?
No doubt about it, a dog needs your time. If you get a puppy and you want him to develop into a well-adjusted, well-mannered dog that's a pleasure to live with, you need to invest a lot of time in the first year or two. Puppies aren't born knowing how to behave any more than children are. Your pup will need to be taught how to live properly in human society. Besides, he's a social animal and that means he will thrive on companionship, friendship, and love.
Puppy kindergarten classes are for puppies from two to five months in age, and emphasize socialization with other puppies and with people, leash control, and a few simple obedience commands.
Puppies, and many adult dogs, need to go through at least one obedience class. Many people take their puppies through puppy kindergarten and then at least one obedience class. Most classes run from 6 to 12 weeks, and you should plan to spend at least a half-hour every day on doggy homework (which should really be called “doggy home play for education”).
You'll also need to spend time exercising your dog. How much time you'll need will depend on the kind of dog you have. Many sporting, herding, and working breeds need at least an hour of serious exercise a day—some need more than that! If you're gone during the day, plan to get up early enough to exercise your dog before you leave, and plan to spend at least an hour in the evening walking him, playing ball, or otherwise giving him a chance to run off energy. Lack of exercise leads to boredom, which leads to many problem behaviors. If you aren't willing to spend that kind of time exercising a dog, then choose an older dog or a breed that doesn't need so much exercise.
Puppies learn faster between seven and eight weeks of age than at any other time in their lives. If you can spend time with your puppy in several short, positive training sessions each day, he can learn a lot in this one week. At this age he can learn simple commands, including Sit, Down, Stand, and Come, and he can learn to walk quietly on a leash.
Many families get a dog for the kids, but don't really think about how much time is available for the dog. I have a lovely Labrador Retriever who was returned to her breeder by her first purchasers. They bought her because they thought a Lab would be great for their “active family”—but they forgot that their activities (baseball and soccer practice, gymnastics, music lessons, and Mom and Dad's clubs and sports) wouldn't accommodate an active puppy. Fortunately, they realized early that the dog didn't fit in, and their lack of planning has been my good fortune for the past nine years. But many dogs in similar situations end up in shelters, and many of those wind up dead.
Dogs are not appliances. Don't get a dog as a status symbol. Don't get a dog as a “mate magnet” to attract members of the opposite sex. Don't get a dog because your friend or neighbor has one. Get a dog because you truly like dogs, for better and for worse, in sickness and in health.
If you love dogs, then time spent with the dog is its own reward, whether you're outside throwing sticks and balls or inside reading with a soft, fuzzy muzzle on your lap. But it's important to realize that dogs aren't furniture or appliances. They miss you when you're not there, and they need great chunks of your time. If your schedule is full right now, then please wait until you have the time a dog deserves. No dog should live lonely.
Do You Have Room for a Dog?
The vast majority of American dogs are house dogs. That's because most people get a dog first and foremost to be a friend and companion. Many dogs also participate with their people in dog shows, sports, leisure activities, and even some kinds of work, but the rest of the time (which usually means most of the time) the dog does what he does best—he's a buddy. But even if he's content to lounge around watching TV with you in the evenings, he still needs room to stretch his legs.
A small dog can often get all the exercise he needs in a small apartment, with on-leash outings thrown in for variety. Some large breeds are very sedate as adults and may also do fine in smaller homes or even apartments. A truly dedicated dog owner can probably do well with nearly any breed in a small home, but in most cases an active medium to large dog will do better in a reasonably large house with a reasonably large, fenced yard where he can exercise safely, and where you won't trip over him every time you turn around.
The key to success, then, is to be realistic about how much activity from what size dog your home and yard can accommodate, and how much you will be able to take the dog out for additional exercise if the home space is insufficient.