Any time you head to a shelter there’s the overwhelming temptation to adopt a dog and call it your own. Giving an animal a better life is the morally right thing to do, but it needs to make sense for both parties.

Here are a few things to keep in mind before taking the plunge, and some common mistakes first-time owners make.

How do I know if I’m ready to adopt a dog?

You have the time to invest in an animal

Dogs are a lot of work and unlike a cat, they need regular individual attention, as well as plenty of walking, to stay happy. If you work long hours it’s not fair to leave your dog home alone all the time. Either try and get a more flexible schedule or see if you can take your dog to the office.

You have the money

Consider the monetary investment too: on average a dog in America – for the first year – costs north of $1,000. That’s a not insignificant sum, especially if you are just starting out in your career. It’s not a fly-by-night investment either. Certain breeds, like chihuahuas and Jack Russells, can live as long as sixteen or seventeen years, with the average lifespan between 10-13 years.

You have space – or access to space

While we don’t all have the luxury of a yard, at the bare minimum a dog should have a space it can call its own replete with a bed and several toys. If you are in an apartment in a big city, see whether there is a park near to you, or a good walking spot you can use day in day out.

How do I know if the dog is right for me?

Take the dog out for a walk before deciding

Ask the shelter for thirty minutes alone with the animal and take it for a walk around the block; here you should be reading their body language – is there a compatibility issue, or are they relaxed in your presence? Work on your own energy too; as we’ve stressed in several other articles, you want to exude a calmness but also a firmness. Dogs are incredibly good at “reading” subtle tells we don’t even know we’re projecting.

Don’t let emotions cloud you

It can be incredibly heart wrenching seeing dogs in a shelter. The temptation is to make a kneejerk decision and to adopt one on the spot. But remember: taking a dog back to a home that isn’t equipped for an animal will do more harm than good. Choose a dog with your head, not your heart.

What are some mistakes first-time adopters make?

You only consider puppies

We’ll let you into a secret: puppies are more work than adult dogs. Plus, there’s the risk they’ve endured a traumatic upbringing that will manifest itself in less than endearing habits later down the line. With an adult dog (given that their personality is more or less set in stone) you’ll quickly be able to tell whether they’re a good fit, and you can also ask the adoption home about the dog’s strengths and weaknesses. A left-field idea is to go one step further and favor a dog in middle-to-old age; there’s nothing more heart-breaking than a dog in its later years deprived of a loving family home.

You choose a dog based on the way it looks, not the way it acts

Many adopters will see a dog they like the look of and overlook anything and everything else in their pursuit of it. Always keep in mind the dog’s energy levels; the way it’s reacting to you.

You don’t get it microchipped

Microchipping is a godsend that can be used to keep track of lost dogs (and cats too). We recommend it for first-time owners.