Throughout the centuries dogs have proved invaluable to man in many different ways… they have been used as sled dogs, warriors, sporting companions, guide dogs, hearing aids, farm workers, guards, policemen and soldiers among other things. In today's society one of the main roles of the dog is to serve as a companion to the young and old alike. Many people own dogs simply as household pets which are there to greet us when we return home from an outing, a walking friend, or a childhood playmate. There are also many who derive pleasure from showing dogs and entering them in obedience and agility classes.

A dog is not a judgmental creature… they love you unconditionally and remain loyal to you whatever you look like, whatever your mood. They are not hypocritical, talking about you behind your back but being nice to your face. A dog is consistent… accepting you for who you are and never letting you down. They can comfort you when you are sad, share your happiness and want nothing more than to be with you, joining in with your activities. They seem to be telepathic, always knowing your mood. No one knows you better than your dog… often confiding in them those things that you cannot tell another human. 

You are never alone when you take a dog into your life. They are affectionate creatures, always willing to please their master, but you must remember that he/she needs you as much as you need them. A dog is a living creature who must be properly cared for, not just until the novelty of the puppy wears off, or until they chew your best training shoes, but for hopefully, at least ten years. A dog cannot be discarded without reason, or because the dog didn't quite understand you.

A dog needs attention, physically and mentally every day of their life with you, whether you feel good or not, whether your time is limited or not. A dog needs exercise, discipline and love and in that order to become a well adjusted family member. Understanding your dog and providing what your dog needs will ensure your success as a responsible guardian and earn the dog's trust. A happy dog has the desire to please you and will remain faithful to you to the end.

Do not think lightly of getting a dog, particularly if you are a first time dog owner. Consider the responsibilities, the cost and maintenance, your environment, how much time you are able to spend with a dog. Can you afford the initial price you would pay for a dog, what about the vaccinations needed, a good quality food, Vet treatment from time to time, securing the yard, obedience classes, if necessary? Is your home and environment suitable for a dog? Are all family members on the same page about wanting a dog? Having a dog in your life is your responsibility. He must be properly cared for and loved.

Ask yourself these questions before you decide to take a dog into your home:

Is someone at home for most of the day?

No dog, especially a puppy should be left on his own for more than just a few short hours a day. If you work full time… then be sure to have someone check on the dog or hire a pet sitter to let him out several times. If this is not plausible then you may consider getting a cat instead.

Can you afford to keep a dog?

Whether you choose to get a free dog, adopt a dog or purchase one (which could be several hundred dollars for a pedigree), there is also the cost of his food, pet care during the holidays, essential vaccinations, other vet expenses from time to time which can be very costly. Although pet insurance is available, it is generally costly and usually only covers catastrophic injury or illness… plus the fact that few if any provide 100% coverage. Charitable organizations may (if you qualify) offer free emergency treatment for the pets of needy owners. Some breeds need regular professional grooming which should also be taken into consideration when adding up the cost.

Do you have time to exercise a dog?

Happy, healthy dogs with proper exercise are good, tired dogs and less likely to get into mischief. If you have a large yard don't rely on that to give your dog proper exercise… many will romp for awhile and then lie down for a good portion of the day… walking is beneficial not only for the dog but for you as well because you establish a good bond during this time. Toy breeds are no exception as many are high strung and full of energy that walks can help alleviate. If you cannot, due to health issues or other reasons, exercise your dog, but still feel the need for the companionship a dog provides, perhaps consider adopting an older dog which might be content simply spending time with you and not need vigorous exercise.

Would a dog fit in with your family circumstances?

Most children and dogs get along well together and it is the responsibility of the parents to teach kids and dogs how to coexist. There are some considerations to be made when taking a dog into a home particularly one with young children. Puppies have sharp claws and teeth and a playful nip could severely hurt a very young child. A boisterous young dog can easily knock a child over, frighten or cause harm to the child. On the other side, young children do not always realize that puppies are living creatures and often treat them as if they were cuddly toys. Puppies can be badly hurt, even having fractured limbs from children squeezing to hard when hugging them, picking them up and dropping or even throwing them. Just like human babies, puppies need lots of sleep and children should be discouraged from waking the puppy, or teasing him while he's resting. 

Do all your family members want a dog in your home? It can be disastrous if one partner, particularly if it's the partner who spends most time at home with the dog, does not want a dog. The dog would be resented causing problems within the family. Prospective dog guardianship should be fully discussed with all family members.

Can you cope with hair, grooming and dirt?

Long-coated breeds need regular daily grooming which can be time consuming. If you cannot provide this, then choose a short-haired breed. Some breeds which shed little or no hair may need professional clipping occasionally. Even if grooming is not essential to your chosen breed, the dog will shed hair on your carpets and furniture. It sticks to your clothing and clogs up your washing machine. Even small short haired dogs can shed surprising amounts of hair which is disagreeable to many people, so warn visitors that their new dark colored clothes could be covered in light colored hairs by the time they leave your home. 

If anyone in your family is a particular sort, can you cope with the inevitable messy times that come with dogs living in your home? Muddy paw marks on the newly cleaned kitchen tiles, splash marks up the walls after a dog has shaken off when coming in from walks on a rainy day all have to be cleaned. 

It is also a good idea to check local laws concerning dogs and dog owner responsibilities. Some breeds are illegal to own in various locales and all cities have specific ordinances and laws. Be sure to check with your home owner's insurance agent as some home owner policies will not insure homes with particular breeds.

Dogs can be hard work and require a commitment from you for many years, but if you don't mind that and are prepared to properly care for and love your dog, then you will find you have a special companion. 

Are you Ready to be a Dog's Guardian ?

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