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Dog Co-Ownership: Is Co-Owning a Dog Right for You?

Are you considering dog co-ownership? While this arrangement is most often seen in the show dog world, many people–either due to divorce, lifestyle constraints or financial reasons–consider co-owning a dog with a friend, former spouse or partner. We recently received a reader email that I wanted to share along with our suggestions on the subject of dog co-ownership.

Dog Co-Ownership

Is Co-Owning a Dog Right for You?

Hi, I really need help cause everyone seems to be rude. A friend and I plan on buying a dog together. The problem is we both can not take care of the dog by ourselves so we decided to share him. The dog would spend one week at my house and spend another week at their house (if the time needs to be extended it will).

We visit each other all the time so my bird is use to him and his cat is use to me. Our families are close, plus we are a 15-minute drive away.

We plan on having the same vet for the dog, put them on the same diet, walking and exercise time. Only difference is the family and houses. We really desire a Siberian husky, especially when he’s a puppy. Not to be rude, but if a divorced couple can do it, can we do it? Please help, thanks 🙂 — L.N.

Dear L.N.,

Thanks for writing us; we’re a place of positive reinforcement for dogs AND for dog lovers so feel free to ask questions without worry of rudeness here!

I applaud you for writing and asking questions in advance of getting a dog! I wish everyone would think through the decision and get other opinions before taking the big step to bring a dog into their home. It is a big decision and one that you may live with for 15 years so it’s great that you are thinking about the impact of this choice before you make it.

You are correct; many divorced couples share custody of dogs…and many do it very successfully.

Sadly, many dogs that wind up in shelters due to divorce and neither person wanting to assume custody of the dog.

And I know that in the show dog world, it’s not uncommon for dogs to have shared ownership.

I know there are other situations where dog custody is shared; I remember seeing a news segment recently about an older couple and a young family that shared custody of a dog. He stayed with the older couple in the day and the family at night. In this case, though, one of the families was the actual “owner” of the dog; the other, from a legal standpoint, was actually providing like daycare for the dog.

For shared custody to work, I think there should be a legal agreement to share the dog…or a single owner with the other person simply sharing care of the dog.

Divorced couples have a legal agreement about the dog’s care and visitation, and show dog co-owners do as well. I’m not an attorney but I know in many states the owner of the dog’s microchip is considered the dog’s legal owner.

I’d urge you to talk with a lawyer if you enter into this kind of dog co-ownership arrangement and obtain a contract spelling out the arrangement.

Questions to Ask When Considering Dog Co-Ownership

Speaking from a training and care angle, though, I’d say you need to have a very serious “what if” discussion with your friend including:

  • What if the dog becomes ill and one of you can’t afford the veterinary bills? Will the other pay 100% of the cost?
  • What if one of you needs to move? Who will take the dog?
  • Who will have responsibility for taking the dog to the veterinarian? To training classes?
  • Who will pay for spay/neuter of this dog? Who will care for the dog during its recuperation?
  • What about future illnesses, surgeries, possible long-term treatments?
  • What if your living situation should change, perhaps with a child, a health situation, etc. Would your friend be willing to take the dog 100 percent of the time?
  • What if your friend’s cat doesn’t get along with the dog? Are you willing to assume 100 percent of the dog’s care? What if one of you adds a pet, spouse or partner the dog doesn’t like?
  • What if you no longer agree on the dog’s diet? Or no longer agree on preventive care like flea medications and heartworm preventatives?
  • What if the dog should bite someone? Do you have a legal arrangement in place so both of you take financial and legal responsibility, regardless of whose care the dog was in when the incident took place?

Training the Dog Together

It’s great that you’ve already talked about the dog’s diet, walking and exercise time!

I’d also urge you to talk about training styles so you can be consistent. Even better, if you get this dog together, go to training classes together.

Just as everyone in a family might go to the training class together so they can be consistent in dealing with the dog, the two of you should be sure that you have exactly the same training style to make life easy and fun for you all.

It’s tough to look down the road for 15 years and think where your life might take you. Unless you and your friend know that you will both be right where you are 15 years from now (and not many people can say they really know that), I’d suggest holding off on this decision until you are in a place where you can have your own full-time dog.

In the meantime, I’d suggest volunteering at a local animal shelter, even just for a month or two. You can volunteer to walk dogs, and you’ll have the joy of being around dogs but without the responsibility of your own or a shared dog.

During your dog walks, think about your decision and decide if it’s the right one for you, for your friend, and for the dog at this time in your life. All the best of luck, Paris

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Dog Co-Ownership: Is Co-Owning a Dog Right for You?

Lloy (L.N.)

Tuesday 24th of July 2012

Thank you so much Paris. This helped me alot. We have officially agreed from the start that if any separation was to happen, the dog would go to my friends family. The thing is my friend is actually my long time boyfriend and we was hoping we could pull this off. We have discussed the financial issues of vet cost and training classes, equality. I have vet friends who could help also. We already desire to be there for our little puppy fully like a mother and father including his very large caring family. Thank you very much and we'll hold off for a while :)

Paris & John

Tuesday 24th of July 2012

I think you're doing such a great thing by just talking it all out and exploring all the "what if" kind of questions BEFORE instead of after. I wish more dog lovers were like you and really took a lot of time to think about the decision before they had a dog in their life. At some point, now or later, you are going to be such a responsible pet parent!

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