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What should you think about BEFORE you bring a dog into your home?
Material on this page is edited from original material belonging to LRC of the Potomac Lab Rescue, with their permission.

Many people want the companionship and love that a dog brings into your home. However, it's hard sometimes to think about what is best for you and for the dog before the dog actually gets to your home. Before you get your dog, everything might seem like it will be wonderful-- just like those happy families in the dog food commercials. Think, though, about what having a dog, and specifically a lab, will mean every day of your life for what could be the next ten or more years (a list of other Internet resources on this topic appears at the end of this page):

Labs are active dogs.
They need a lot of attention and exercise. If you don't have a fully fenced yard where you can play with the dog every day, you'll need to walk your dog consistently and for a long way. This means rain, shine, blizzard, in sickness and in health. If you don't exercise your dog properly and according to its needs, you'll both be unhappy. The dog will be at your heels, trying everything in its power to get you to play, and you'll be grumping and annoyed that the "!@&% dog" won't leave you alone. If you don't have time for the dog, it's best for both of you to wait to get a dog until you do have time.

If you think you want a puppy, but aren't home most of the day, think again.
Puppies need even more attention than adults. They need to be socialized with people and other dogs (though be careful about this before your pup has had all of its shots) and trained--both obedience (even if it's just sit, stay, come, and down) and housetraining. In general, a pup can "hold it" for an hour more than its age in months--in other words, a 4 month old puppy can usually go 5 hours before it needs to relieve itself. If you can't be home every 3 hours for an 8 week old puppy, you shouldn't have the puppy for this reason, if no other.

Every dog needs training.
Some people train their dogs to obedience titles, others just want a well-behaved dog. Whichever you want, you need to have time to work with the dog, and you need to make sure you (and everyone else the dog lives with) are capable of consistently enforcing the rules. Decide how you want your dog to behave, learn how to train the dog to elicit those behaviors (there are many great training resources out there--from books to community obedience classes to private lessons to Internet FAQs), and then apply your knowledge. Training helps your dog understand what it can expect from you, and it helps you understand what you can expect from your dog. Your dog will love the time you spend with it, you'll love how your dog behaves, and you'll both be a lot happier.

Unless your dog is VERY well trained and obedient, your dog should probably be on-leash or in a completely fenced area at all times.
Unless you absolutely know that the dog will come to you no matter WHAT it sees across the street or park or yard--cat, rabbit, other dog, anything--you should have your dog on leash. Many labs love to explore and roam, and unless you have trained your dog very well, it should be on a leash.

Your dog needs you.
Every day. Twice or more each day. Big dogs like labs should be fed at least twice a day (once a day can cause them to ingest too much food too quickly and lead to an often-fatal condition called bloat). Your dog needs to be fed and to be let out for exercise and to relieve itself. It needs to see you and be with you and to love you and to have you love it. Labs are sociable dogs--they love people and want to be with them. If it's 6:00 p.m. and everyone at work is going out for drinks, and you don't have anyone else helping you care for your dog, you can't go out drinking--your dog needs you. That's not to say that dogs can't be flexible, but it is to say that they can't take care of themselves. You need to be responsible not only for yourself, but for the health, life, and happiness of your dog.

You have to be able to keep your dog inside when you're not home.
Dogs kept outside not only become less of a family member than inside dogs (and one of Lab Rescue's goals is to find new homes for dogs where the dogs can be a part of a loving family), but they are subject to all kinds of potential trauma: dogs are regularly stolen for research or other purposes; they are abused and tortured by those who don't know any better or those who are cruel; they are subject to the elements (including sudden rain or snow, heat in summer, and freezing in winter); they need a water supply that won't run out or get knocked over; they can be preyed upon by other animals who get into the dog's area; and they can get loose and be lost, hit by a car, or taken to a shelter. Please keep your dog inside. If chewing or some other behavioral problem exists, you can keep the dog in a confined area or in a crate (with adequate exercise before and after crating periods).

Think like a dog.
What's a dog supposed to do? What does its genetic makeup make it inclined to do? Dogs are omnivores. That means that they will eat anything--depending on the dog, don't be surprised if it tries to jump on the counter to eat your dinner (what did you leave your dinner unattended on the counter for when you have a dog???) and to sit next to you and watch intently as your hand moves from plate to mouth and back again. Be prepared to train your dog as to what behaviors are acceptable and what are not--and to realize that there could be relapses. They're only dogs. Dogs are also intelligent beings. They need stimulation and attention. If they're bored, they'll let you know, often by chewing, barking, or other unwanted behavior. Make time to spend with your dog.

Make sure all of the people who will be living with the dog are willing to care for the dog, accept the dog into the household, and be responsible for the dog.
However, don't expect too much from young children. Labs are big dogs, and they usually outweigh and far out-muscle young children. That means that you need to supervise your child's playtime with the dog, to take the dog on walks yourself (your child isn't strong enough to do it and might not be mature enough), and to teach both the dog how to behave around your child and your child how to behave around the dog. Don't invite disaster by assuming they will know how to get along. Always supervise the dog and the child when together.

That's a lot to think about, and there's more, too: What supplies do you need to get for a dog? There are dishes, food, leashes, collars, heartworm preventative, rabies and DHLPP inoculations, and toys (galileo bones and kong toys are frequently mentioned toys that Labs love and stand up to tough chewers). These supplies cost money! You can cut your costs by using a mail-order discount store (such as Foster & Smith 1-800-826-7206 or R.C. Steele 1-800-872-3773), but expect to spend quite a bit on your dog. If you go away on vacation, kennels cost a lot (and ALWAYS make sure you visit the kennel and are satisfied with the quality of care and housing that your dog will receive while you're away). You should get your dog a physical examination within a week or two of getting it, to make sure everything is OK, to receive advice from your vet about care for your new family member, and to receive any information you need about shots, heartworm preventative, etc.

If you have questions about whether a dog is right for you, You can refer to one of the following excellent resources available on the net:

Thanks for thinking about what it means to live with a dog before getting one!

Material on this page is edited from original material belonging to Lab Rescue of the LRCP, with their permission.


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Originally created: 1996; Last Updated: May 27, 2018