Should You Get a Dog?

Pros, cons, choosing, and getting off to a good start with Doggie.

Posted Feb 10, 2020

Marty Nemko
My doggie and me
Source: Marty Nemko

I need to acknowledge my bias... toward having a dog. But lest you worry that I’ll present an unfairly positive view of doggie ownership—or if we’re PC, doggie guardianship—I’ll start with reasons to be dog-free:

Reasons to just say no

Even if your child begs—“I want a doggie!  Please! I’ll walk it. I promise!!!”—there are barking-good reasons to just say no:

  • Having a dog is like having a baby that never grows up. Even if you have a doggie door, Buddy needs exercise: That means two, three, even four walks a day. (Calm down. It’s good for us sedentary types—it makes us get out of the chair. Remember, sitting is the new smoking.)
  • Owning a dog is expensive, even if, as I urge, you save a life by getting your Sadie at a pound, rescue, or humane society thereby potentially saving thousands. A friend paid $2,000 for some doodle. There are the routine vet fees, plus kennel or in-home care when you’re away. And if Bella gets sick, you’re into the thousands, maybe many thousands.
  • Doggies are a worry. In the beginning, you need to be hyper-vigilant unless you want your home’s permanent fragrance to be Eau de Elimination. Forever, you need to remember to feed Godzilla two or three times a day (yes, there are automatic feeders) and change the water daily. When you leave for work, you better hope your dog walker shows up to keep Einstein from crossing his legs for the hours until you get home. And if Cream Puff gets a health issue, oy!

Reasons to just say yes

  • Unconditional love. Sure, some hard-noses scoff: “Yeah, you need a cur to give you unconditional love. What a loser you are!” Dog crap: Life is hard, and unconditional love from a human is hard to find, even assuming that unconditional love from a human is a wise goal. Mightn’t it be better to find a person or two who loves you conditioned on your being a decent person? Unconditional love from Doggie Romeo is a balm from life’s slings and arrows.
  • Enforced exercise. Without a trainer's guilt trips, Toodles forces you to exercise.
  • Huggies. No, not the diapers, the real kind. On a feeling level, hugging your doggie, giving belly rubs, and getting kisses simply feels good. And I don’t want to hear from curmudgeons who remind us where doggie’s mouths have been. No one’s saying you should allow your dog to french-kiss you.
  • Friend magnet. A sweet-looking doggie attracts smiles, maybe even from a potential romantic partner, and especially often from kids. When walking my dog Hachi (see the movie, really) and I see a kid staring eagerly at him, I get a kick out of being a doggie ambassador: “You want to pet him? He loves kids. He’s a kissing doggie.”

The right doggie

Unfortunately, the pounds and humane societies are very over-represented by pit bulls. While most are safe, the FBI reports that 82 percent of all fatal dog maulings are by one breed: pit bull. They kill more people than all other breeds combined. The breed has been bred to have jaws that inflict maximum damage. Even if you need a watchdog, you needn’t be macho about it—nearly any dog will bark when strangers come to the door. Pick a sweetie. That way, instead of making people’s hearts pound, they’re more likely to say, “What a sweet dog!”

To find the right size, age, and breed-mix for you, sign up for one or more online alerts at petharbor.com, adoptapet.com, or petfinder.com

A few tips for the new dog owner

It’s wise to take the first few days off from work. To reliably house-train Cooper, you want to be there to take him out to the pee/poop place as soon as s/he gets up from a nap or starts to sniff. Of course, give high praise and a favorite treat (Hachi's fave is a morsel of Kiwi Kitchen lamb dinner) at the very moment s/he eliminates in an acceptable place. (I keep a little baggie-full next to his leash.) When Bailey has an accident, at that moment, in a firm (but not yelling) voice, say, “No!” and carry or leash-walk ol' Bailey outside.

Positive reinforcement, no hitting. Praise and food-reward good behavior and dispense a firm “no” for bad behavior. Hitting a dog is no more acceptable than hitting a child. Tarzan may never be perfect but will be worse if you hit. Period.

Bed. Unless perhaps if you have a Great Dane, I suggest allowing Snookums to sleep in your bed. Not only does that avoid nights of yelping, both owner and doggie find it comforting. I’m not alone in this view: 62 percent of small dogs and 41 percent of medium ones sleep in their owner’s bed.

The takeaway

Doggies are a big responsibility and a big life-enhancer. It’s important to make the decision rationally. Should you have a doggie? My Hachi would give that a two-paws-up.

I give a half-hour talk on choosing, training, caring for, and getting your workplace to allow doggies on YouTube.