You’ve spent more hours than you’d like to admit perusing sites like Petfinder and PetHarbor and looking at page after page of adorable shelter pups who are ready to be adopted into good homes. But while your heart may be ready to shower a dog with all your love, it’s important to consider whether you have enough time, space, and especially dollars, because caring for an animal companion is a big financial, as well as time, commitment.

Jovie Kiwanis Snuggling

Here’s what you need to consider before you and your family drive your compassionate selves down to the local shelter and take your new best friend home:

1. Take your time when making a decision.

Chris with Mae

I know it can be hard, but really try to consider everything before just adopting the first dog you meet. For example, do you live in an apartment or in a house with a yard? Do you travel a lot? Who’s going to let Fido out when you’re not home? Are roommates going to be OK with a new dog? These are all things that you should think about before you commit to adopting an animal companion.

2. Make sure your wallet can handle it!

This may seem like a no-brainer, but remember that dogs require A LOT of care that can add up to big bucks—this includes grooming, regular and emergency vet visits (you never know when they’re going to be necessary—trust me), bedding, a collar, a leash, high-quality food, toys … the list goes on.

3. Always, always, always make sure you get your dog spayed or neutered.

Jovie Cone

Seriously, people, this is really friggin’ important. The only way we can combat animal homelessness is to make sure that no more puppies are being born into a world that doesn’t have enough homes for the ones who already exist. Many shelters require that this procedure be done before any animal can be adopted out, but not all, so be sure and have it done if that’s the case in your area. Plus, dogs live happier and healthier lives after they’ve been spayed or neutered—so no excuses. 😉

4. Proper identification and microchipping are a must.

Pixel Tags

Accidents happen, and you never know if or when Fluffy will get lost or run away. 🙁 Get a nice collar with proper tags that have her name and at least two ways to contact you or your family. Get her microchipped, too! When you move, make sure that you update the tags and give the microchip company your new information.

5. Your dog’s teeth need brushing, too.

Pixel Underbite

No kidding—you’re going to have to make sure Champ’s pearly whites are just as clean and healthy as yours are. Dental health is important for overall health, so remember to brush his chompers several times a week. Introduce him to the toothbrush slowly with lots of positive reinforcement, and make this a fun habit by rewarding him after each brushing.

6. Don’t forget about your pup’s nails …

Mae Paws

Dogs’ nails should be trimmed regularly so that they don’t break or get snagged on something, which can be painful, or get too long (which can affect their gait and even their nervous system). Some dogs take exception to having their paws handled, so if you and Fluffy find nail-clipping stressful, go ahead and just take her once a month to the vet or a groomer, who can make the experience quick and easy.

7. … and fur!

Iggy Bath

Brushing dogs regularly helps prevent nasty matting and increases circulation to their skin. It’s also a nice bonding experience. Some dogs require regular professional grooming, so educate yourself and find out how much coat maintenance your new friend will require. Bathing dogs is only necessary if they have a skin condition or roll in something nasty, so don’t go overboard with the shampoo—it dries out dogs’ skin and robs it of its natural oils. Always use a dog shampoo, which is specifically formulated for a dog’s skin.

8. Be mindful of what your dog eats.

Baxter Treat

Pretty much everyone knows that chocolate is bad for dogs, but there’s a long list of other “human foods” that could be harmful to your dog if ingested—like onions, grapes, macadamia nuts, and other stuff. Make sure you give your pup high-quality dog food, and be careful not to overfeed. Obesity causes major health problems in dogs and makes them seriously uncomfortable. Regular meals are much healthier than leaving food out all day long.

9. Dogs need toys and mental stimulation.

Amadeus Toy

All your prized possessions are fair game if you leave them out where your pup can reach them. Dog-proof your crib! Make sure that you stow anything that could potentially be viewed as a new toy in a safe place, especially dangerous items (such as chemicals, electrical wiring, and sharp objects), and leave plenty of dog-friendly chew toys out.

10. They also need exercise. (They’re dogs, after all.)

Iggy Playing

Remember to take Fluffy on at least one nice long walk every single day and play games with her when you’re home, such as fetch or “hide and seek.” Plenty of exercise and fresh air makes dogs into happy campers, and as they say, “A tired dog is a well-behaved dog.”

11. Start training your new companion ASAP.

Jovie Treat

This is a big one. The key to having a happy dog is setting consistent boundaries and rules and expectations and making positive rewards the cornerstone of your relationship. Never confine Champ to a crate, and never yell at or hit him for “misbehaving”—that would just make him afraid of you and not trust you, and it would damage your bond. Dogs can’t possibly know how you want them to behave until you teach them. They respond beautifully to rewards, and they’ll repeat good behavior if they’re praised for doing the right thing. 😉

12. Prevent fleas, ticks, and worms.

This is especially important from late spring on into the fall, when the little buggers are in their prime. Purchase effective flea and tick preventive products (such as Comfortis, a once-a-month tablet) from your veterinarian. Don’t forget about heartworms, either. Where there are mosquitoes in the U.S., you can usually find heartworms, and heartworm disease is potentially fatal. Thankfully, protecting Fido from heartworms is as simple as giving him a monthly heartworm preventive medication such as Heartgard (available from your veterinarian).

13. NEVER leave your dog chained up outdoors …

Dog Chained in Snow with House

Seriously, don’t f***ing even think about it. It’s very cruel and very dangerous. If you know anyone who leaves a dog chained up outdoors, SAY SOMETHING! Call animal control or local authorities. Also, be sure to familiarize yourself with the chaining ordinances in your area to stay informed.

14. … and NEVER leave your dog in the car.

Kiwanis Hot Car

Temperatures inside cars can skyrocket in a matter of minutes on even a mildly warm day. If you see a dog locked inside a hot car, report it immediately. We even have a handy video that tells you what to do if you see a dog in a hot car, so do yourself a favor and watch it—you never know when you might need to take emergency action.

15. Give your canine pal plenty of love and affection. <3

Amadeus Love

And remember, a dog’s life is relatively short and it goes by quickly, so seize the day and be your dog’s best friend every single day.

Share with all your friends and family, so they can be prepared too!

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