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Pet Set

Are You Two Dog-Worthy?

Sunday, December 5, 2004; Page M10

You and your partner share everything: a home, a bed, a Blockbuster membership. Since things are going so well, you've been thinking it might be time to lavish that love on a dog, too. You're not the only ones: Almost 10 percent of the nation's 65 million pets were originally given as gifts, according to the American Pet Product Manufacturers Association (APPMA). But is your relationship ready for a four-legged friend? If you answer "no" to any of the questions below, you might be better off sticking to stuffed animals this holiday.

1 When it comes to chores, do you happily share the load?

Best friends forever, or caught between? Sometimes, couple + pet = bad news. (Chris Craymer -- Getty Images)

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Make no mistake: Dogs need a lot of care. They must be fed, walked and cleaned up after -- often multiple times a day. (A new pup needs to be taken outside every two to three hours.) And that doesn't include vet visits, which can be required as frequently as every three to four weeks for the first few months of a puppy's life. Both of you need to be committed to all that work -- and able to discuss it. (Try, "I'll scrub the urine out of the rug if you walk him every morning at 6 a.m.")

2 If you came home to chewed-up CDs, could you discipline -- and deal?

When you've got a pet, "you should expect that you're going to lose something valuable," says Nancy Peterson, an issues specialist at the Humane Society of the United States in the District. Chewing or knocking things over is "normal" behavior.

3 If you had to, could you each spend an extra $1,000 a year?

On average, dog owners south of the Mason-Dixon Line spend close to $2,000 on vet visits, food, grooming and other items for their pups, according to a 2004 APPMA study. If you're not willing to cut back so Wilbur can have his special chow, having a pet isn't for you. Ditto if money is already something that causes strife. Andrea Arden, author of "Dog Friendly Dog Training" (Wiley, $17.95), says you need to discuss how much you expect to spend -- both financially and time-wise -- before you get a pet: "If you're one of those people who prepares special food and buys pet clothes and your partner isn't, that could cause a lot of conflict."

4 If someone had to be home early to feed or walk the dog every night, could you agree to a schedule?

Pooches need a lot of attention to feel loved and stay healthy -- as does a relationship. If you already fight over how often your partner hangs out with buddies after work instead of coming straight home, a pet will only make the situation worse. The same is true if one or both of you are time-crunched workaholics.

5 Do you often have ugly arguments?

Like children, dogs can pick up on elevated stress levels, so if you're having knock-down, drag-out fights on a regular basis, put off that trip to the pet store, says Marsha Reich, a veterinary behaviorist in Silver Spring. "Plus, if you're yelling at your partner, your pet doesn't know that; he might think you're yelling at him," she says. And keep in mind that owning a pet instantly adds stress to a relationship. "I see it all the time in the dog-training classes I teach, especially with puppies," Arden says. "It's amazing how stressed couples get." Michelle Hainer

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