Why do silly people never THINK before they get a dog?
(The correct answer is "because they're silly", but let me rave.)
There are so many questions you have to ask yourself before you get a dog.
Who am I?
Am I financially independent and secure?
What's my living situation like?
Where will I be in five years?
Who do I live with?
Do I want a family in the near future?
Is a dog going to have the best possible life with me?
Students are among the silliest out there. I can think of some people who thought it would be a bright idea to finally get that puppy they've always wanted as soon as they moved away from home (thank God most DIDN'T). That's brilliant. You're going off to college, it's exciting and tumultuous, what better than a dog to comfort you in this changing period of your life?
Now good luck finding a place to stay, kiddo. Most college residences have a fish-only policy, and people who rent rooms to students are usually pretty specific about no pets. Some people actually sneak dogs or cats into residence anyway. Awesome. Keep that dog locked up in a crate while you're at class all day and partying all night. And if it barks? What are you going to do with it short notice? I believe you get one warning and then the boot. Oh boy.
Say you do find a place with your dog; do you know how many hours you're gonna be putting into school? And then into your career? Are you gonna have a job all lined up as soon as you leave school? Suddenly you've got to find a dog-friendly apartment, and be able to provide for yourself and your furry friend, while trying to find a job - and a dog isn't a hamster. Your 20s are a turbulent time, and some people cope better having man's best friend at their side, but others have to give their dogs up when a significant other hits the scene, or a baby, or life doesn't go the way they planned...
Think hard, students.
Then there are the folks who are recently married, always wanted a puppy, start off their family with a furry little bundle of joy; maybe as "practise" for the real deal. Which is cool - but do you know how puppy is going to react if and when the infantile interloper invades his territory? Why didn't you think of that in the first place?
Always always think AHEAD when you decide to get a dog. This could be a fifteen-year commitment, if the worst shouldn't happen. There will always be change in your life over this period. Oftentimes, you KNOW what that change is gonna be - or have a rough idea. Plan for it so that your dog can adapt with you. Want to start a family? Socialize, socialize, socialize! It's so crucial to a little dog. When puppies are small and rather harmless, they can be taught to get along with all kinds of other critters and people. Introduce your dog to some small kids when he's little. Let them run around and play. Teach the kids that when puppy bites, they need to say "OW!" and stop playing - even at light nips. Trust me, your puppy can understand when he's gone a little too far in his play: his brothers and sisters probably yelped and quit the game when he bit too hard, too. Make him think, "Geez, these little humans are so sensitive!" and get gentler if he wants to keep playing with them. Now you're better prepared if you acquire toddlers of your own. (Even if you don't, I believe puppies should meet small children while they're still puppies and learn their manners - just in case.)
And most important of all, mind YOUR attitude around the little ones, especially if they're your own and you've got a dog. It doesn't take the smarter ones long to pick up on the idea that the kids are yours and therefore need guarding, like all your other possessions. Ideas of household hierarchy will come later. Puppies are taught to respect what's yours and not to chew on what's yours, like your shoes, or your kids, and if you've got to give up a dog because he's chewing on your four-year-old, that's YOUR fault.
Do I have dog experience?
Is this breed right for my lifestyle?
Does this breed make for a good first-time owner's dog?
Do I know what I'm getting into in picking this breed?
If you're dog-savvy enough, and you love and care for your pet enough, you can adapt a dog to almost any situation life throws at you. My dad's Border collie was a year old when I showed up, and we grew up alongside each other no problem. (Well - he was a grumpy old bastard, and we weren't exactly BFF, but we didn't have any of the problems that get some Borders dumped.)
If you've never owned a dog before, on the other hand, and have your heart set on a Siberian husky... Think again! Know your dog's characteristics and how you're going to deal with him before you get him. Of course it's not that simple, but getting a purebreed and researching can give you a rough approximation.
Sometimes an older dog lands in your lap unexpectedly. Those can make for the best relationships. Just take the time and care to help your dog adapt to new things.
I'm all ranted out for now. Just remember, whatever comes your way in life, your dog can help you through it only so long as you help him. So think ahead.