How old is your pet in human years?

Ask yourself the right questions before adopting a dog

They’re beautiful… adorable. You can already see them in their favourite spot at home. If you have children, a dog will be a faithful protector in addition to being a playmate on days off from school and during holidays. To you, the dog will be a friend; a comforting presence that will always be there for you. Yes, this dog is the embodiment of a lovely dream for your welcoming home.

But remember, this little puppy is also a living thing: it moves, eats and has feelings. And you can’t always predict how it’s going to act. A dog simply doesn’t have an on/off switch.

We asked Dr. Mélanie Mireault of l’Hôpital Vétérinaire St-Jean, what advice she’d give to anyone thinking of adopting a dog. According to Dr. Mireault, people should first ask themselves, “Why do I want to do this? Why do I need this?” In some cases, getting a dog means getting security; it represents protection. In other cases, the dog is just for companionship. Do you want a dog that will become, literally, a member of the family? Be honest, because your choice has consequences. You should also be asking yourself:  “Do I have time for a pet?”

Dr. Mireault relays a story: “One day, friends of mine absolutely wanted a dog. Since I thought they didn’t really have the time for a pet, I suggested that they act as a foster parent for a few weeks. I knew that that way they would see how much work could be involved.”

She also advises people to really think about what they would do with a dog on a daily basis. “Will you walk and run with your pet? Will the dog be stuck in the yard? Will this be an apartment dog?”

In order to get a clear picture of what you can expect, Dr. Mireault recommends discussing all this and more with a veterinarian before making the decision to adopt a dog. Will you adopt an adult dog or a puppy? “When you adopt a puppy, even if you’ve had dogs before, it’s a good idea to attend training classes with the dog. And just as children make friends at daycare, puppies love and need to socialize with others their age. What’s more, each dog should be regarded as unique… an individual.”

You should also consider that a dog needs a lot of attention and training to cover many aspects of their day. And of course, when out and about (or even in your home), you have to guide your dog when interacting with the world. Your dog needs to know and obey your rules. And like humans, a dog learns through repetition. You have to be patient! “It’s often easier with a puppy,” says Dr. Mireault, “because they’re sort of like a brand new hard drive. They don’t have any unwanted baggage from another family yet.”

But adopting a puppy can also cost more than adopting an adult dog. “Puppies cost a little more because people have to buy everything from scratch as the puppy grows… a leash, then a bigger leash; a harness, and then of course, a bigger harness. There are more vaccines, more visits to the vet, sterilization, etc. You have to expect to pay a little more.”

A puppy or an adult dog?

If you have young children, it might be better to adopt a puppy that will grow with them. The dog will get used to the sounds and noises of the house. Unlike an older dog, a puppy won’t have to adapt to a different environment. However, current statistics show that for every four puppies that are adopted every year, at least three are relocated. Their new “parents” don’t want them anymore, or they weren’t prepared for the work. They were misinformed. Will that be you?

We repeat, before adopting a puppy (or adult dog), you should consult a professional, like a vet. Eventually, the vet will be able to recommend the appropriate resources because they will know and appreciate the credibility and professionalism of experts in animal behaviour, for example.

If you’re thinking of adopting an adult dog, “it’s a really nice thing to do,” says Dr. Mireault. And if you know a thing or two and have a bit of experience, it’s actually preferable to adopt an adult dog: “Unlike a puppy, an adult dog is already “fully formed”. You already know the dog’s personality, and it’s not going to suddenly change. When you adopt, you already know what the dog’s needs will be and what kind of challenges there are ahead in order to integrate with a new family.”

An adult dog was probably trained a little differently than what you would have done with a puppy. Your house rules might not be the same as what the dog was used to in their previous home. For example, maybe the dog was allowed up on the sofa in their old home but that’s not something you want. Your dog will have to “unlearn” some old rules that were learnt when they were young. This re-education may be difficult for you.

Dog size

Some dogs are huge; others aren’t any bigger than a rabbit. Is your house (or your car) big enough for a Saint Bernard? Do you live in the country? Genetically, some dogs need to run every day. If you keep them in a small space or studio apartment downtown, for instance, they might become unhappy and that distress will manifest in their behaviour. “One of my clients,” says Dr. Mireault, “had three Great Danes, but a small car. It was impossible to have an appointment with all three dogs at the same time!”

How much will all this cost?

In general, there are fewer costs associated with an adult dog, since all the expenses associated with a puppy have already been taken care of. And because the dog has stopped growing, it won’t be necessary to buy numerous harnesses or leashes, or to modify their diet. It’s quite simple. However, like humans, an adult dog is more mature and therefore, not as excitable as a younger dog. “Childhood” is over.

In the U.K., pets can be found in about 80% of households. In the U.S., that figure is more like 10%, and in Québec, the percentage is even lower. However, insurance can be very advantageous for dog owners. Accident? Disease? Simply setting aside a fixed monthly amount can provide enormous peace of mind. Of course, you also have to budget for food, accessories, grooming, boarding, permits, etc.

On the AMVQ site, in the Public section, at the bottom on the home page, you’ll find different charts showing the maintenance costs for dogs, cats and other types of pets. Visit the website