Adopting a dog is a major responsibility.

It's also an awesome adventure as you and your new pup forge a unique friendship that makes all of the exhausting morning walks and frustrating training sessions worth it.

Before you make the 10-12 year commitment with your four-legged partner-in-crime, give this guide a quick once-over.

We've identified the 27 things you need to consider before bringing your new dog home.

To make everything easy to digest, this guide is broken up into 3 sections:

  1. Finding The Right Fit: Things to consider before you set foot in an adoption facility
  2. The Adoption Process: What to expect from the adoption process
  3. Once They're Home: The problems, responsibilities, and costs all dog owners face

Don't forget to bookmark this page for later reading. (Trust me, you'll want to.)

Let's get started.

Finding The Right Fit

Before you set foot inside an adoption facility, it's important to understand the type of life you want to live and the type of dog that fits your life.

happy dog by the water

1. Breed characteristics are important but all dogs are unique

Not all dogs are the same (though they all go to Heaven).

When looking for the best dog for your family and lifestyle, it's important to broadly consider breed with the understanding that each dog is an individual with its own personality.

Your dog's breed, even if they're mixed, can tell you a lot about what life with them will be like:

  • Size and weight
  • Coat
  • Stubbornness and trainability
  • Potential health issues
  • General disposition
  • Barkiness

This guide from Marin Humane is a great roundup of the general characteristics of specific breed groups.

When we got our dog, Olive, the adoption facility told us she was a Plott Hound mix. Without knowing anything about Olive's history or personality, there were a few things we could assume:

  • She'll weigh about 50 lbs.
  • She's a scent hound.
  • She'll probably have a strong prey drive and hunting instinct.
  • She'll need a lot of running room.
  • She's smart.
  • She should live about 12 years.
  • And she's going to bark for every single one of them.

Of course, those were just guidelines for the dog we were adopting, but they gave us a good place to start.

2. Are there kids or other pets in your family?

This is a colossal one.

(Maybe the most important item on this list.)

As a new member of your family, it's important your dog mesh well with the existing members of your family. And this goes beyond your immediate family to include brothers, sisters, parents, aunts, uncles, close get the picture.

If you're getting a puppy, your dog's affinity for existing people and pets will be easier to mold, though you may have preferred breeds due to their aforementioned breed-specific characteristics.

If you're adopting an older dog, you have to be much more careful about how your prospective dog deals with young kids, crowds, and other pets. Unfortunately, there's an optimal socialization window that closes after a dog's first 3-6 months, after which it's much harder to change ingrained behaviors.

This doesn't mean it's impossible to teach an old dog new tricks, but it may not be best to welcome a resource guarding work-in-progress into a home with young kids that just want to pet and play with their new friend.

There are plenty of adoptable dogs that are good with kids. (PxHere)

3. How much free time do you have?

Dogs are a major commitment. It's almost impossible to understand how much your life will change if you've never had one (though kids are a good approximation).

While every dog is different, there are some universal truths about dog ownership:

  • They need to be walked regularly.
  • They can't just be crated for 6-8 hours while you're at work.
  • They need routine vet checkups and care.
  • They need regular socialization.
  • They need regular training (no, this isn't optional).
  • They don't understand that you're busy and can't play.
  • And puppies need approximately 12 times more attention.

On top of that stuff, your lifestyle will change dramatically. Out having a drink with friends only to run into Crazy Rob from college? While your dogless friends are reliving the glory days and crashing on someone's couch, you need to get home to feed Fido.

Planning vacations and trips out of town just got harder, too.

4. What's your energy level?

Olive can run 10 miles per day and never get tired. When she was 18 months old, we introduced her to our friend's 8-month-old lab mix and they wrestled for 5 hours straight.

Is that energy level something you can handle?

Much of that is Olive's age, but her breed is a factor, too. Plott Hounds are high-energy dogs and very intelligent, so Olive needs a lot of physical and mental stimulation.

While what follows is by no means an exhaustive list, here are a few of the more common high and low-energy breeds:

10 High-Energy Breeds

  • Beagle
  • Border Collie
  • Dalmatian
  • German Shepherd
  • Golden Retriever
  • Husky
  • Labrador Retriever
  • Poodle
  • Springer Spaniel
  • Welsh Corgi

10 Low-Energy Breeds

  • Basset Hound
  • Bulldog
  • Chow Chow
  • Great Dane
  • Greyhound
  • Maltese
  • Pug
  • Saint Bernard
  • Shih Tzu
  • Whippet

If you're looking for a mellower vibe, consider adopting a senior dog. They're often overlooked because they lack a puppy's cuteness and have fewer good years left, but senior dogs are just so grateful for your companionship and will let you know it.

Are you ready to handle the demands of a high-energy dog? (Flickr)

5. Do you rent or own?

I know far too many people who got a dog in their early-20s because they wanted one. Most were ready for the subsequent sacrifices, but too many weren't.

If you don't own your own home, you need to accept that getting a dog means fewer rental options. Many places flat-out don't allow pets. Those that do often have breed restrictions (ahem, Pit Bulls), size restrictions, pet deposits, or increased monthly rates.

Before you get a dog, make sure you have your housing situation figured out because it breaks my heart every time a see another "looking for a loving home for Charlie" post on Facebook.

6. What are your local leash laws and license requirements?

Every country, state, county, and city has different pet regulations. Make sure you know yours before bringing your new dog home.

  • Does your town require a license to own a dog?
  • What is the maximum number of dogs per household?
  • Is a rabies certification required?
  • Does your dog need a rabies tag on its collar?
  • Can your dog run off leash? If so, where?
  • Are retractable leashes allowed?
  • If not, what's the maximum leash length?
  • Is your city dog-friendly in general?

The last thing you want to do is move or, worse, be forced to relinquish your dog because you didn't know the requirements.

7. How much space do you have?

Young, high-energy dogs need more space than older, low-energy dogs. Before choosing a dog to bring home, make sure you have the space to support them.

  • Do you have your own yard?
  • Is it fenced?
  • Does your apartment complex allow dogs on shared grounds?
  • Is there a dog park nearby?

Confining an active dog in a small space with no outlet for their energy will drive both of you crazy.

dogs playing in dog park
Even if you don't have much space, a nearby dog park can give your pet plenty of room to run. (Aviano Air Force Base)

8. How much barking can you tolerate?

Olive is a hound and hounds bark. We knew this going in.

Now, I've always been a "keep to yourself and don't make waves" type of person, so getting used to Olive's barking has taken time. Ideally, she wouldn't bark quite as much. (Especially those deep, booming hound barks that rattle my soul.) But, in the end, we can tolerate the barking and it isn't a major issue with our neighbors.

If you just don't want to deal with a barky dog, look for low-bark breeds or smaller dogs that don't quite have Olive's vocal might.

(But, if you ask me, annoying little-dog yipping might be worse.)

Here are 12 breed generally regarded as low-bark:

  • Australian Shepherd
  • Basenji
  • Bernese Mountain Dog
  • Bulldog
  • Chinook
  • Chow Chow
  • Collies
  • Newfoundland
  • Saint Bernard
  • Shih Tzu
  • Wheaten Terrier
  • Whippet

9. Consider their coat

All dogs shed, but some dogs shed more than others.

A lot more.

This is an important consideration for cleaning, maintenance, and your overall comfort, especially if you or anyone you know has allergies.

Here are nine groups/breeds of dogs generally regarded as minimal shedders:

  • Afghan Hound
  • Basenji
  • Havanese
  • Irish Water Spaniel
  • Maltese
  • Poodles
  • Portuguese Water Dog
  • Schnauzers
  • Shih Tzu
  • Terriers

Keep in mind, not all low-shed breeds are easy to maintain. Terriers don't shed much, but their dense, wiry hair requires regular brushing and clipping.

The Adoption Process

Even though this is a "before adoption" guide, most of the included advice applies to all means of acquiring a dog:

  1. Shelters
  2. Breeders
  3. Pet stores

Each has its own pros and cons, and I won't judge you regardless. (Unless you buy a dog from a pet store after having read this guide.) You can put me firmly in the "adopt from a shelter" category.

(By the way, find a shelter near you by browsing our listing of animal shelters by state.)

Shelters and humane societies have millions of dogs willing to exchange their love for your companionship. (PxHere)

10. 3.3 million dogs end up in shelters every year and 20% are euthanized

Am I intentionally tugging at your heartstrings? Yes. But the sad truth is that these animals didn't do anything to deserve being left at a shelter and are in need of loving homes.

(Even "bad dogs" generally were raised to be that way.)

Besides the warm, fuzzy feelings you get from rescuing a dog in need, there are great reasons to adopt a shelter dog:

  • They're less expensive.
  • They've usually received good medical care with necessities like spay/neuter surgery, vaccinations, and their first few doses of flea, tick, and heartworm prevention included.
  • The shelter often serves as a lifelong support team should you have questions or need help finding community resources.

Shout out to Austin Pets Alive! in Austin, Texas. They were amazing to work with during the adoption process and have been so supportive as we've worked to correct some of Olive's trauma-related behavior problems. You guys are awesome!

Plus, you've probably heard the old adage that shelter dogs know you saved them and love you harder because of it. Is it true? I can't say for certain, but yes.

11. Don't buy from a pet store

Almost every puppy unfortunate enough to find its way to a pet store was raised with one goal in mind: maximizing profit. Their breeders, usually puppy mills, never had their best interests at heart. Here are some sad truths about pet store pups:

  • Given the bare minimum of care to improve profit margins.
  • Separated from their mothers too soon (because younger equals cuter).
  • More likely to have aggression and other behavioral problems.
  • Harder to housetrain due to repeated experiences eliminating in their personal space.
  • More expensive than shelter dogs.
  • More likely to be sick when you take them home.

It's tempting to think that buying a puppy at a pet store and taking them home is saving that dog, but in the grand scheme of things you're just rewarding the unscrupulous breeder. Those 3.3 million shelter dogs need saving too, and your money will benefit a good organization.

And since we're on the subject, I'm not a huge fan of buying from breeders either. While there certainly are reputable breeders that do things responsibly, I just don't like the health consequences of selective breeding.

The list goes on.

Because most shelter dogs are mixed breed, they tend to have better genetic profiles. While they still get many of the positive and negative characteristics of their dominant breeds, they're much less likely to have inherited many breed-specific health conditions that arise from an overabundance of recessive alleles in the gene pool.

To sum it up, mixed breed dogs are sturdier.

If you buy from a pet store, you're supporting the inhumane breeding of dogs at puppy mills like this one. (Wikimedia Commons)

12. Shelter dogs have more behavioral problems

Unfortunately, like many pet store pups, shelter dogs often have traumatic pasts that result in a few common behavioral problems:

  • Anxiety (especially separation anxiety)
  • Aggression toward both people and pets
  • Resource guarding
  • Destructive behavior
  • Housetraining regression
  • Poor social skills
  • Leash reactivity and barrier-related aggression
  • Constant whining

Double unfortunately, many of these traumatized shelter dogs are older, making it tough (though not impossible) to correct these problems. Going back to the second item on this list, make sure your household (kids and other pets) can accomodate your shelter dog's issues.

13. Shelters also have a lot of Pit Bulls

Shelters are stuffed with Pit Bulls. Though the exact percentage isn't known, I've heard the number could be as high as 40%. A study of Missouri shelters put it at 20%.

Either way, it's a lot.

First, "Pit Bull" isn't even a breed of dog. It's a catch-all term for stocky, short-haired dogs with that stout fighter face. Typically, there are five breeds lumped into the Pit Bull group:

  • American Pit Bull Terrier (OK, so this one has it in the name)
  • American Staffordshire Terrier
  • American Bully
  • Staffordshire Bull Terrier
  • American Bulldog (sometimes)

Second, the aggressive Pit Bull stereotype is way overblown. National Geographic has a great article on the subject with the author writing the following:

When people say, “Oh, these dogs are bred for fighting,” it’s true that the original breed, the American pit bull terrier, which originated in 1889, was developed for fighting. But the three other breeds that are lumped into this category have always been dog show conformation breeds. They don’t have that heritage. The fact that they get lumped in is part of the problem because we’re basing things on what they look like and not necessarily what they are.

The point of this section isn't to convince you to get a Pit Bull, so I won't belabor the point. But shelters are full of pit bulls, and you shouldn't avoid shelter dogs just because you might get a dog with some pit bull in the mix.

Pit Bulls actually make great pets!

  • They're extremely loyal.
  • They love to cuddle.
  • They have a ton of personality.
  • They're great with kids (yes, you read that correctly).
  • They have great genetics, meaning fewer congenital conditions.
  • They require very little grooming.

Admittedly, there are important reasons you may want to cross Pit Bulls off your list. And, sadly, this was the case for us when adopting.

Many landlords, apartment complexes, and even whole countries ban Pit Bulls. As renters who travel frequently, a pit bull just wasn't a good lifestyle choice for us. That's it.

But want to know a secret?

Olive is a Pit Bull!

Technically, her paperwork says "Hound Mix" so we're 100% in the clear legally, and that's why we had no problem bringing her home despite her (in my opinion) inarguable Pit Bull facial profile.

The summary? Animal shelters are stocked with one of the best dog "breeds" to own: Pit Bulls.

pit bull smile
Pit Bulls have a bad reputation but are some of the sweetest, most loyal dogs you'll find. (Pixabay)

14. Puppies go quickly

Almost as soon as they come through a shelter's front doors, puppies are on their way back out. Frequently, they only last long enough to get medical attention, including spay/neuter surgery, and surpass any legally-mandated minimum stay requirements.

Puppies are great. They're adorable, they (usually) don't come with irreversible traumas, and you can have them for their entire lives.

But puppies also are a lot of work. Aside from the constant attention they need, like any baby, they also have underdeveloped bladders and can't hold their pee very long. A good rule of thumb is not to crate a puppy for more hours than it's months old. (So a max of 3 hours in the crate for a 3-month-old puppy.)

This is a good time to talk about adopting puppies that have been spayed or neutered too young. Most dogs shouldn't be fixed until they're at least 6 months old. For larger breeds that need more time to grow, that can extend to 1-2 years. However, most shelters require puppies be fixed before they go home with you, even if it's before the 6-month mark. This can lead to several problems:

If you're lucky enough to find a wonderful puppy at your local shelter, bully for you!

15. But if you can get one, DO NOT get two

Resist the cuteness! When adopted together, a pair of puppies can completely upset the pecking order in your home. This phenomenon is so common that it has its own name: Littermate Syndrome.

It's marked by several common behavioral issues:

  • Hyper-attachment and extreme co-dependence
  • Difficulty training
  • Heightened sibling aggression

One puppy can be hard enough. Wait until you've had the first puppy for at least a year before you add a second to the mix.

16. Be prepared to leave emotion at the door

It's hard to think rationally when you have a loving ball of joy squirming at your feet.

Just ask my wife.

When we adopted Olive, it took me less than 10 seconds to blurt out, "We'll take her!"

Now, we'd already met with the adoption team at the shelter to review Olive's history and heard glowing stories of her immense affability. In fact, Olive was eighth on our list but was the first dog we even deemed a potential fit. (Too many resource guarding issues with the others and we have a young nephew in the family.)

I definitely should have exercised more restraint. Ultimately, we got lucky that the adoption team at Austin Pets Alive! was so thorough. Not all shelters have the resources to be so diligent. Not everyone is as lucky as us.

Take the time to really assess the dog you want to adopt. Let them meet your family. Schedule a time to bring other pets in for a meet and greet. The absolute worst time to realize your new dog is a bad fit is when they walk through your front door.

Every dog needs a loving home, but the right home might not be your home.

Once They're Home

Congrats! You found the right dog and brought them home. Here's 12 more things to consider about the newest member of your family.

dog sleeping at home

16. Shelter dogs need to settle in and decompress on their own time

When you bring your new dog home, it's easy to forget they have no idea what's happening and little idea who you are. And if we're being honest, you have little idea who they are.

The 3-3-3 Rule helps set expectations for your dog's adjustment in its new environment:

  • 3 Days: Compared to the shelter, your home is Disney World. Your dog is amped up on all the new sights, scents, and space and has no idea what to do with any of it. There's probably a lot of excitement, a lot of energy, and a lot of unpredictability.
  • 3 Weeks: Your dog is starting to understand your routine and get more comfortable in their new home. Their personality will start to shine through, and you'll begin to identify any behavior problems that need to be corrected.
  • 3 Months: Your dog knows that your home is their home. Shelter dogs with behavior problems, especially over 1 year old, may still need time and training to ensure a successful transition to their new life.

Dane County Humane Society has a great one-page PDF explaining the 3-3-3 Rule in detail.

We've also put together a great resource with 9 Crucial Dog Adoption Milestones From Minute 1 To Year 1.

(Well, at least I think it's great.)

17. Dogs crave routine

We touched upon this above with the 3 Week benchmark, but dogs crave routine and order. The easiest way to integrate your new dog into their new home is to keep things simple and structured:

  • Feed them at the same times in the same place.
  • Take them for walks at the same time.
  • Have one spot they can eliminate in and go directly there each time.
  • Let them eliminate on a set schedule, such as every 4-6 hours.
  • Keep their toys in the same location.
  • Have them sleep in the same spot every night.

Ultimately, the routine doesn't matter as long as it meets the needs of both you and your dog.

woman walking dog on leash
Routine is very important to your dog, so take them for a walk at the same times every day. (Pikrepo)

18. Be ready to be the alpha

Dogs are pack animals, and you need to be the leader of your pack. When you're the alpha, your dog will be happier, more responsive, easier to train, and generally just a better pet.

How do you teach your dog who's in charge?

  • Be quietly confident. It isn't about yelling. It's about poise and demeanor.
  • Make them work for everything. No down? No dinner. (Not forever, just wait until they listen.)
  • Be in control of your dog's toys. You choose when they're out, not your dog.
  • Don't let your dog pull on leash. If they do, stop walking until they make eye contact.
  • Keep your dog on their heels. Interrupt your walks with occasional obedience commands.
  • Don't let your dog jump on other people.
  • When playing, you decide when play time begins and ends.
  • If your dog bites (even lightly or playfully) give a sharp verbal correction.
  • Clean and groom them often. No part of their body is off limits.

Your dog wants you to be in charge. But in the absence of a leader, they'll step up to fill the void.

19. Training is important, ongoing, and time-consuming

Olive is a very reactive dog, especially on leash. One of her major triggers is other out-of-control barking dogs. Every time we see one, she loses her mind and there's no salvaging the walk.

What's most frustrating is that most of these out-of-control barking dogs are tiny, annoying ankle biters maxing out at 10 pounds. Just because your dog is tiny with a mouse-like bark doesn't mean you can let them misbehave!

Training is vitally important, regardless of your dog's size (but especially for your medium and large dog owners out there). Not only is it crucial for teaching your dog necessary commands and good behaviors, but it's a great way to assert yourself as the alpha and maintain a great relationship with your four-legged friend.

Plus, it's always cool when your dog knows a few parlor tricks.

three dogs training
Training is an important part of dog ownership. It builds good behaviors and strong relationships. (Pixabay)

20. To crate or not to crate?

It may seem cruel to crate your dog—for adopters, you just saved them from a tiny kennel!—but your dog actually wants to be crated. They need a small, cozy place to curl up and feel safe. Through repeated positive experiences, you can make their crate that place. That means do not use their crate for punishment, and don't leave them in there for extended periods of time.

How long is too long?

  • Puppies can't hold their bladders very long, so don't leave them for more hours than they're months old (3-month-old puppy = 3 hours max).
  • Dogs 6+ months shouldn't be left in a crate for more than 6 hours, though more active breeds may max out around 4 hours.

But as said several times in this article, every dog is unique. Shelter dogs frequently suffer from severe traumas and separation anxiety that make crate training difficult, if not nearly impossible. Just keep working on repeated positive experiences and don't push your dog faster than they're capable of going.

21. Dogs can get expensive

Maybe this should be higher than 21st on the list, but dogs can be expensive. Let's look at some necessary and optional expenses.

Note: This is just the quick summary. Our Complete Guide To Dog-Related Expenses goes into way more detail.

Necessary Expenses

A lot of guides explaining dog-related costs include things like daycare, dog walking, or pet insurance. Not everyone wants or needs those expenses.

But these 8 things? Unavoidable.

  • Getting your dog: Free-$11,000
  • Spay/neuter surgery: $50-$400 (usually included in adoption fee)
  • Food and treats: $250-$1,500 per year (size-dependent)
  • Bed, leashes, collars, and harnesses: $50-$100 (one-time)
  • Grooming equipment: $20-$30 (one-time)
  • Annual vet visit: $50-$100
  • Monthly flea, tick, and heartworm prevention: $125-$300 per year
  • Basic toys: $50-$100 per year

That's $475-$2,000 per year ($40-$170 per month) for the absolute bare minimum of care, plus about $70-$130 in one-time costs (not including the cost of your dog, which varies wildly).

Optional Expenses

Most dogs need more than just the essentials above. I mean, $100 per year in toys? Olive chews through that in 2 months.

Here are some additional expenses you may (or may not) incur.

  • More toys: $3-$10 per toy x 2-3 toys per month
  • Crate: $20-$150 (one-time and size-dependent)
  • Grooming: $30-$90 per visit
  • Microchipping: $40-$60 (one-time)
  • Licensing and registration: $10-$20 per year
  • Training: $25-$100 per hour x 6 sessions (average)
  • Dog walkers: $1 per minute (so $20-$40 per day)
  • Daycare: $15-$40 per day
  • Boarding: $40-$80 per night
  • Emergency vet visits: $250-thousands per visit

Those costs can add up quickly.

Regarding that last one, my friend has an 8-month-old Lab/Pit Bull mix named Bailey (go Pit Bulls!) that eats everything. One of the first nights they had her, she ate a huge piece of towel. They had to take her to an emergency vet to make sure there wasn't a blockage. Surgery was on the table, but Bailey ended up passing the towel naturally. The bill? $1,300 with a $7,000 estimate if surgery was needed.

The moral of the story? Invest in pet insurance.

22. My God, the toys

I'll reiterate this again. Your dog will destroy so many toys. Olive is a 50 lb chewer that ate through a snake-shaped piece of repurposed fire hose in 6 minutes (but somehow the flimsy plastic squeak ball survives?).

If your dog is a chewer, you'll learn to laugh at anything labeled "durable" or "indestructible." In our experience, nothing is as indestructible as Olive's desire to tear the stuffing out of every toy we give her.

dog playing with red toy
You won't believe how quickly your dog will chew through their toys. (Wallpaper Flare)

23. You may need to spay or neuter your dog

Most dogs adopted from shelters must be spayed or neutered before you can take them home. If your shelter doesn't require this, your dog is too young, or you get them from a breeder, you'll have to handle it yourself.

(Not the surgery, just the scheduling.)

Small and medium-sized dogs can be fixed at 6 months of age, but you need to wait longer with bigger dogs so their sex hormones can help their bodies fully develop. Spaying too soon has been shown to increase bladder incontinence in female dogs. For both male and female dogs, fixing them too early is associated with additional health issues:

On the other end of the spectrum, male dogs that aren't neutered begin marking, may become hyper-aggressive, and will hump everything in sight.

Female dogs that aren't spayed will go into heat, a time when their only mission in life is to procreate. You'll experience bloody discharges that will stain your furniture, and every dog in a 3-mile radius will know she's in heat. Worst of all, unfixed female dogs are at serious risk of a life-threatening condition called pyometra, which is a severe infection of the uterus.

So just listen to Bob Barker. Spay and neuter your pets.

24. Dog tags and microchipping

These are important in the unfortunate event your dog gets lost.

Dog tags are an easy way for anyone to see who your dog belongs to and where they live.

Microchipping is when a vet implants a small RFID chip under your dog's skin to aid in identifying them. Your dog's chip is assigned a unique number, which is included in a national database. (Don't forget to register the chip!) Many shelters include microchipping as part of your adoption fee. Yet another reason to adopt!

25. Routine care

Like you, your dog needs routine care (though not quite as frequently):

  • Flea/tick prevention: Monthly
  • Heartworm prevention: Monthly
  • Nails clipped: Every 2-4 weeks (depending on their activity level)
  • Baths: Monthly
  • Coat brushing: Every few days
  • Toothbrushing: 2-3 times per week (possibly less if you use dental chews and other means of fighting plaque build-up)

Yes, you'll want to brush your dog's teeth that frequently. Frequent toothbrushing has a host of benefits from avoiding bad breath to fighting plaque, periodontal disease, and even heart disease.

Coat brushing is important even if your dog has a short coat. Not only is it good for removing dead skin and debris, but it keeps their coat healthy and is a great bonding experience!

woman brushing shaggy dog
Regular brushing is important for your dog's coat and skin but serves as a good bonding experience too. (Pexels)

26. Their death will be heartbreaking

Sadly, one day, your dog will die. And equally heartbreaking, you'll probably have to decide when that day is.

Growing up, we had a lot of pets in my house. I remember each of them fondly, and we had to euthanize every single one of them (except two cats that went missing days apart, which we suspect were eaten by coyotes). Our 13-year-old Golden Retriever (Carmen) developed hip dysplasia, which affects 8.5% of the breed, and had to be put down even though she was still there mentally. Our 14-year-old cat (Brisco) got lung cancer and was in so much pain that we had no choice but to put him out of his misery.

Each time it was absolutely gut-wrenching. I miss them all, but the in time the pain subsides. As a young kid, it took me a solid 4-6 months to really move on. As an adult, the hurt lessens more quickly.

Even sitting here now, I look at Olive curled up on our couch and dread the day she closes her eyes and her huge heart stops beating. But I know the next 10-12 years of morning face licks, playful wrestling, floppy dog tongues, wide-eyed excitement when she sees her favorite ball, and all of the other special moments we'll share more than make up for the awful pain I'm sure to feel later.

Twenty years after my dad took Carmen out of my arms and carried her out of sight for the final time, it isn't the image of her broken body whimpering in the corner that sticks with me. It's the image of a strong, youthful Carmen leaping high over my head, reaching for a chewed-up tennis ball on a picturesque New England fall day.

While the final moments may be painful, the journey makes it worth it.

27. Above all, be flexible

I've tried to make this list as complete as possible so you can welcome your new dog into your home with confidence, but the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. No matter how much planning you do, you just have to roll with the punches. The only certainty about getting a dog is that your life is about to get a lot more interesting.