Published in The American Dog Magazine, Spring 2011
Adopting a dog is a much bigger event than most people consider it to be; it is an investment of your time, energy, money and emotions. This reality is often ignored when a person is staring into the big eyes of a new puppy or a dog in need. All you can imagine are scenes of cuddling up to a warm, fuzzy body, and a smiling face to greet you at the end of a long day. These images feel great, but what about the reality of getting up at 2 am because your dog is sick? How about the time you call your dog to come and he runs off in the other direction and you have to search the neighborhood for hours? How are you going to feel when you come home to a chewed up pillow or worse yet a shredded IPod? Oh, and don’t forget the stains on carpet that never quite come out. This is the real world of having a dog in your life, are you prepared?
The responsibility of another life that depends solely on you should not be taken lightly. You would never adopt a child and simply leave her in the house to fend for herself while you carried on with your previous schedules and duties. The same rules apply with a new dog and there are changes and bumps along the way that you will need to work out to make life with your new dog harmonious.
Before anyone impulsively adopts a dog they should think of all the responsibilities that accompany having a dog. Before you adopt you can prepare by imagining your life with a dog and go through all of your doggie routines & responsibilities ahead of time.
Potty breaks - set a timer for every
30 minutes to let the new dog out until house-training issues are worked out.
Feeding schedule - 3 times a day for a puppy, and 1-2 times a day for an adult.
Training sessions - an ongoing activity for the life of the dog.
Exercise & play times - how many times a day can you set aside for one-on-one with your dog? How long can you commit to that schedule? Dogs live to be 10-15 years old and your life is going to change along the way.
Containment – where will your dog be when you aren’t with him? A crate? The yard? Loose in the house?
Financial requirements - food, medications, vet visits, grooming, toys, crates, boarding/house-sitter fees can all add up very quickly.
Mental stimulation - how will you engage your dogs mind? Agility, obedience, tricks?
Sleeping arrangements - how will this effect your household structure?
Socialization – Dogs are highly social and need the opportunity to meet all kinds of dogs, animal and people. How will you be able to incorporate this in to your life?
It may seem silly that we have to point these things out to you, especially since you are savvy enough to be reading this magazine. If you are a person who has never given up on an animal we applaud you, but unfortunately there are far too many people who bring dogs into their homes and are simply not prepared. Dogs are surrendered to shelters every day due to the persons’ lack of knowledge, experience, understanding, patience, or commitment.
People have different levels of skills and/or knowledge and should take the time to review the issues raised above. Find a support group consisting of quality professionals: vet, trainer, groomer, dog daycare, boarding, local dog groups, safe dog parks, and a subscription to American Dog Magazine :) . Knowledge is power, and you will be well equipped to make the most of your new relationship so you are never faced with the thought of giving up on that little fur ball with the big brown eyes.
It’s rather like finding a partner in life, you have certain requirements, i.e. tall, dark and handsome…but does he cook? Is he outdoorsy? With a dog you shouldn’t just look at breed characteristics but look at the individual’s dogonality. Find the right match for you, your lifestyle, your family, and even your current pack.
Set your new relationship up for success by teaching good manners and committing to a training program. Don’t just bring the new dog home and hope for the best, because you will likely be setting the dog up for failure. Remember that when a dog does something you don’t like you cannot blame the dog. You need to ask yourself what YOU could have done differently to prevent the incident, or could you have been more proactive in teaching. All dogs are sponges for learning, and actually crave mental stimulation. Finding a great trainer gives you a resource to go to when your dog’s behavior is heading down the wrong road. If you have an established relationship with a trainer it should just take a phone call or a quick session to help things smooth out, but people often wait until the dog’s behavior is so out of control that they feel powerless to make a change and they give up.
The rules of the house and healthy structure are often established in the first few weeks of bringing a dog home - this means the person is setting up a positive routine for themselves and their dog, and it helps the dog to settle into his new home with harmony, and calm behaviors. For example if you greet your dog with high energy every time you walk through the door, then don’t blame the dog when he jumps on your mother-in-law and knocks her down when she walks through the door. So teach your dog what you do want him to know from the very beginning.
Dogs do what works and when it works they do it more. If pulling you on a tight leash from point A to point B gets them where they want to go, then that’s what they will do. Every step a dog takes on a tight leash is a reward for pulling. The dog thinks they have to pull their person everywhere they go because the person taught the dog that pulling works. If every dog were taught to give to the pressure of the leash there would never be any pulling. These are things you will learn from a good trainer; they will show you how to create a loose leash and walk in peace.
The more knowledge you have the better you will do. For humans, this means a good education and for dogs this means a large working vocabulary. If you only had a five word vocabulary you wouldn’t get far in the world or in your relationships, you would have limited understanding, and it is the same for your dog. Dogs are capable of so much more than people give them credit for. Maximize your dogs learning potential and you will maximize the experience of having a dog in your life. Don’t give up on your dog – you can teach him just what he needs to know, and he has great things to teach you too: love, patience, and commitment.
Love Them & Lead
Doug & Elizabeth Simpson