I’ll admit it. I was looking for a short-term relationship — a low-risk commitment, if you will. I wanted a trial run with a guaranteed “out” if need be.

What I got was a great friend and an excellent motivator.

I initially decided to foster Chester — a 75-pound black lab/Newfoundland mix — after a friend sent me his photo and told me he was going to be put down the next day if no one agreed to foster him for a couple of weeks.

Of course, I couldn’t say no — not only because my girlfriend and I wanted to save the poor guy, but also because I wanted to experience having a dog without making a long-term commitment to pet ownership.

Fostering a pet, it turns out, is a total ruse. The emotional attachment often becomes too strong to give the animal up after just two weeks.

But that’s OK with me.

Today, Chester gets me up earlier than I ever thought possible, forces me to get outdoors and be active, and helps me meet all kinds of new people I never would have talked to otherwise. Who knew having a dog could do so much for you?

The Benefits of Pet Ownership

As it turns out, lots of people already know the benefits of becoming a pet parent. Animal Planet says pets give their human friends a sense of purpose and can improve a person’s mood. A study from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology shows that pets make us happier and healthier. Even the Centers for Disease Control say that pets can increase our opportunities for exercise, outdoor activities, and socialization.

More companies are starting to discover the benefits of allowing pets at work, but I don’t need research to convince me that it’s a smart move. Here are just a few benefits I’ve gained from having a dog around:

1. I get up earlier.
As a business owner, I had the option of rolling out of bed at 9 a.m. As a dog owner, I don’t have that option — and that’s great for my overall health. Nature calls, forcing me to get up by 6 a.m. to take him out for what’s become our morning walk — a walk that’s now as much for me as it is for him. These days, I’ve worked out, showered, and had a high-energy breakfast by 8 a.m. By 8:30, I’ve caught up on emails; half an hour later, I’m refreshed and ready for a productive day. Thanks, Chester.

2. I get a midday break.
If you work from home, having a dog forces you to get outside. That’s a great way to recharge in the middle of the day. I’ve found that I come back to work feeling refreshed and reinvigorated, making my afternoon more productive than it was when I worked through that hour.

3. I meet new people.
There are a lot of dog lovers out there, which means that owning a dog gives you an instant connection with a lot of people. When you have an adorable dog next to you, it’s easy to strike up a conversation with a total stranger that ends in a nice ear scratch for the dog and a smile from the other person.

Things to Consider Before Getting a Dog

For me, fostering a pet was a great introduction to pet adoption, which has become an important and fulfilling part of my life. That’s not to say that it’s for everyone. There are a few things to consider before rushing out to the local rescue center:

  • Be prepared to be responsible for a living creature.
    If you’re up for it, that’s a wonderful experience. You’ll start putting yourself second and thinking of others first. Just make sure that you’re prepared to take on that responsibility.
  • Think about your schedule.
    If you travel a lot or are gone for more than 12 hours a day, ask yourself how your animal is going to be fed, go outside, and get the attention it deserves.
  • Be prepared to exercise.
    You’ll find yourself walking — even running — more than normal. Again, that’s a wonderful and well-known benefit of having a dog if you’re ready for it.

Fostering Chester was one of the best decisions I’ve made for my health and, yes, even my business. He’s improved my daily routine and helped me meet new people.

Don’t get me wrong; dogs aren’t networking tools. Frankly, Chester hasn’t introduced me to anyone who’s led to a business outcome or partnership — and that’s fine. But the unexpected conversations, laughs, and pleasant interactions with strangers are certainly worth it. If business does come up, we’ve already bonded through a lighter conversation about our mutual love of dogs.

Pets, especially dogs, are a big responsibility, and the decision to get a pet shouldn’t be taken lightly. If you’re curious but hesitant about getting a dog, do what I did and foster first.

But be warned: You might find yourself falling for your new furry friend.