By Lisa Kerley
For many of us who have shared our lives with dogs, it’s hard to explain everything they mean to us. People have dogs for many different reasons – companionship, friendship, to enjoy the outdoors together, to participate in activities and sports together. We grow up with them, raise our families with them and if we are lucky, they are with us for many years.
Yet to some, having a dog is just what people do and not a lot of consideration is put into the decision of getting one beyond picking the colour of leash and collar to buy or what type of bed to get. Having a dog is a big responsibility. Deciding to bring a dog into your life requires careful thought and planning. Raising and keeping a dog happy and healthy takes time, consideration and commitment.
Are you ready for that commitment? Take the short quiz to see. Pick the statements that describe how you feel or that you think are appropriate.
Choosing a Dog
- Oh my gosh, that puppy’s just too cute. I wasn’t planning on getting a dog, but I can’t resist.
- A puppy would make a great retirement gift for Sally. She’s had dogs before and am sure she would love to have another. What a great surprise!
- Our kids want a dog. We think it would be a good way to teach them responsibility.
- I’m allergic to dogs, so we’re getting a labradoodle.
- I want a border collie because they’re very smart and easy to train.
- Our kids want the shy puppy in the corner.
Socializing, Health and Training
- I need to wait until my puppy has finished all her shots before we start socializing and puppy classes.
- I will just do what I did with my last dog for training.
- I’ll get my vet to decide about what vaccines my dog needs.
- My designer pup cost $3000. I can’t afford puppy classes.
- I’m going to get a rescue – purebreds are too expensive.
- I’ll get a purebred so I don’t have to worry about behavioural problems. Rescues are too risky.
- Theo pulls on leash. He’s stays with me when he’s off leash anyway, so I usually let just let him off.
- Bailey’s fine in the house alone during the week. I make sure he’s gone to the bathroom before I go to work and he doesn’t have accidents while I’m gone.
- We’ve just renovated. Baxter always gets into stuff and chews on our things, so with everything being new, we’ll keep him in the yard. He likes it out there.
Keeping Your Dog Safe
- I just need to pop into the shop for in minute. My dog will be fine tied up outside.
- Fluffy likes to sit in my lap when I’m driving. She’s my copilot!
- My dog is nervous about other dogs, so I’m taking him to the dog park so he will get used to them.
How did you do? How many selections apply to you or you agree with? Let’s go through each of the sections and see how you did.
Choosing a Dog
Although it should go without saying, dogs (any animal for that matter) are living beings that require years of care and commitment. Before getting one, there are considerations and decisions that need to be made. No animal should ever be an impulse buy. If you live a life that’s free and easy, you need to think hard about whether you’re willing to give that lifestyle up. If you are busy already, can you handle even more responsibility? You’ll now have someone in your life whose entire care and well-being is up to you.
If your family is considering getting a dog, it’s crucial to discuss things together as a group. Is having a dog something that you all want and you’re all willing to share in the responsibility of their care? Getting a dog because your child wants one often ends up not being what you planned on. After the initial excitement wears off, its typical for one parent to ultimately do everything. You can’t return the dog because your kids aren’t keeping their end of the bargain. Are you prepared to care for the dog yourself? Could you fit the extra time required into your daily schedule? Even teenagers get distracted with studying, romance, work or travel, and the dog often becomes the responsibility of one adult.
Dogs should never be gifts. They should not be given to people who have not been involved in the choice to get one. That person may not be in a position to care for the dog properly, either financially or time-wise.
Where you choose to get your pup or dog from is important too. Choosing to purchase from a pet shop or the internet continues the demand for puppy mills. You’re not rescuing a dog, you’re supporting an industry that imprisons and causes unbelievable suffering to 100,000’s of dogs used for breeding. Instead, save a life by rescuing from a reputable organization. If you do choose to purchase a dog, do your homework. Make sure the producer’s breeding stock is healthy, both physically and in temperament, and raising the pups to be balanced family dogs.
Choosing a dog solely on the way it looks, its breed or its reputation for being intelligent is a recipe for disaster. Deciding whether you can handle a super-sized dog rather than a more petite version is a reasonable consideration; as is choosing one that won’t take a lot of grooming versus a shaggy-coated one. Other factors should take precedence in the selection process, however. What do you plan to do with your dog? Will you participate in a sport with them? Are you an active person that likes to get outdoors often or do you enjoy quiet, indoor past times? If you are looking for a companion dog, is the dog you are considering bred to do something specific and can you provide an appropriate lifestyle for them?
Working breeds typically need more mental and physical exercise than those bred to be lap dogs. Appropriate mental and physical activity needs to be provided to prevent emotional issues and inappropriate behavior from developing. Guarding breeds or breeds labeled as ‘loyal’ can be suspicious and reactive to people and dogs outside their family. They require exceptional early socializing and may require extra management or training to help them be comfortable and appropriate in an ordinary household. Do you live alone or do you have a hectic household full of kids? Your personality, lifestyle and household all need to be factored into the type of dog that you choose.
The temperament and personality of the dog are also important in the selection process. Do you have the time, skill, personality and lifestyle to suit a shy pup or a really gregarious one? Although every dog is an individual, with dogs from the same litter even varying greatly in personality, it’s important to do some good research before deciding on any particular dog.
Research the breed and check out the personality of the dog you’re considering to make sure it’s the right match for you and your lifestyle.
Socializing, Health and Training
I’m always amazed (and very disappointed) by the number of people getting new dogs that haven’t already educated themselves regarding socialization, vaccination and training. The number of people getting new pups that don’t know that socialization and vaccination need to occur simultaneously is truly upsetting. By the time we see them in puppy class, their pup’s critical imprinting phase is pretty much over. Along with a lack of early socializing, the majority of my behavioural business is helping clients that have made bad training choices, Missed the memo that you shouldn’t rub your pup’s nose in his accidents? Think your dog jumping on you means they’re dominant? Outdated and misguided ideas can land both you and your dog into a whole lot of problems. And we still see way too many dogs who are following out-of-date vaccine protocols, including continuing to give their dogs annual boosters. All of these are symptoms of not being properly informed. Thanks to studies conducted over the last 20 years we now have a better understanding of the importance of socialization early in life; we better understand the efficacy of vaccines and how immunology actually works; and we have a better understanding of how dog’s think and learn and the damage that confrontational and corrective methods have on our dogs as well as our relationship with them. Many problems could be completely avoided by doing good research. This includes using reputable sources, getting information from more than one source and discussing the options that best suit you and your dog with your trainer or vet before going ahead with anything.
Many people make the mistake of not planning for the real cost of having a dog in their life. They may budget for the cost of purchasing the dog and the first round of puppy shots, but not beyond that. Actually, the purchase price of the dog is the least expensive part of having a dog. Routine expenses include food, regular checkups, medications, training, care, (daycare, walkers, overnight care during holidays). And what if your dog develops a serious health condition or is injured? These unplanned expenses can really do a number on your pocket book. Paying hundreds or thousands of dollars for the pup but not being able to afford appropriate training or emergency care is unacceptable.
Are you willing and able to teach your dog the skills they need for their lifetime? Training involves more than housetraining and obedience. It’s vital to give your dog the skills they need to live comfortably in your life. Ultimately it is YOUR responsibility to help your dog be successful. Whether that means helping your be OK being home alone during the day, being crated, having guests in the home, OK with kids, or walking nicely on leash – you need to figure out what’s necessary and take the time to get it done. And in case your lifestyle or circumstances change, you need to be prepared to help your dog get the new skills they need to cope. Moving or having a baby is no excuse to abandon your dog. If you’ve spent the time to raise and care for them well, you won’t face this problem.
Not bothering to teach the skills your dog needs doesn’t only impact you and your dog, it can also impact others. For example, dogs lacking proper leash skills that aren’t being managed sufficiently, can be a menace in public. Those without adequate social skills or reliable recalls often harass or frighten other dogs or people by inappropriately running up to, barking at or jumping on them. It’s typical that the dogs with the least skills are given the most freedom. It’s a strategy that’s often easier for the owner, but puts both their dog and everyone else in difficult, potentially dangerous situations.
Under the Animal Cruelty Act, a minimum level of acceptable care is defined as:
- ensuring that the animal has adequate food and water,
- providing the animal with adequate care when the animal is wounded or ill,
- providing the animal with reasonable protection from injurious heat or cold, and
- providing the animal with adequate shelter, ventilation and space. Most of us would agree that dogs’ requirements go far beyond this. Being sentiment beings, they require not only appropriate physical exercise, but also a sense of safety and security, companionship and mental stimulation. Are you able to enrich your dog’s life on a daily basis, not just spending time with them or doing things together when it’s convenient? Many people quickly become fair-weather owners, only taking their dogs out for more than the obligatory potty walk on days that suit them. They’ll stay at home just on those days when they feel like doing nothing, otherwise they’re gone, leaving the dog to languish at home alone.
Although its important for dogs to be comfortable being on their own, leaving them all day without some form of mental stimulation is unfair and will typically lead to problems. Without an appropriate balance of physical and mental exercise, any dog can become destructive, hyper-active, depressed or clingy.
After getting a new dog, many people don’t take any time off to help get them settled into their new life. Those that do, often don’t help teach the dog the skills they need to adjust to their regular lifestyle. As a result many dogs quickly become stressed by their inability to cope with their daily life. Even if you’re weren’t planning on using daycare or walkers, you may need to if your dog has separation anxiety. And what if your dog is fearful, reactive or has behavioural issues that are impacting your daily life? Are you willing to hire a certified, experienced professional trainer? Can you afford to?
Keeping Your Dog Safe
Again and again I see dogs tied up unattended both in yards and in public places. Although we would consider our yard to be a safe place, dogs can be at risk if there is no one there to watch them. In addition to becoming entangled in the line, other dogs or wildlife entering the area can be both physically and psychologically dangerous when the dog has no way to get away. Dogs tied up on sidewalks and parking lots are put at risk to a wide array of dangers. Only a couple of weeks ago I had to go over to stay with a traumatized dog that was tied up to a shopping cart kiosk. Every time someone returned their cart, the poor dog was trapped as the cart rolled towards him and crashed into the other carts. Unbelievable.
Our vehicles can put dogs at risk as well. Too many are not stationed safely – riding in laps, stationed in front seats exposed to the risk of airbags or even loose. People are still leaving their dogs in cars on warm or sunny days or in the backs of their trucks even though the risks have been in mainstream media for years. Apart from health and safety issues, they are at risk of being stolen and being the victim of fight rings as bait dogs, or sold for other unimaginable horrors.
For many dogs, daily life can be challenging. Whether they are uncomfortable meeting new dogs, nervous about people outside their own familiar group, or anxious in the presence of children, they may be experiencing stress regularly. Many dogs are expected to do things they’re not cut out for or comfortable with. Are you your dog’s advocate? Are you aware of potential stressors? Can you recognize signs of stress and manage the environment to minimize their exposure? And are you willing to help them become more confident instead of just leaving it, hoping it will get better?
So how did you do? Although many of the statements in the list are commonplace, I hope you can see that none of them are desirable. Most of them will negatively impact the quality of the dog’s life. The choices you make ultimately determine whether your dog can be successful with you AND in your life. Too many dogs suffer because of poor or irresponsible choices that people make. If you are considering getting a dog, the decision should not be taken lightly. Not everyone is cut out for the responsibility. If you do choose to bring one into your life, make sure you’re ready and it’s the right time.
A dog is for life.