Listening to the questions from people who are either planning to get their first dog, or have recently gotten one, one thing quickly becomes apparent: many people like the idea of having a dog more than they like actually having one. They just aren't being very realistic about what actually having a dog means.
There is a difference you know. There is nothing wrong with really enjoying a dog sometimes, but not other times. The question is - how much of the time are your really enjoying the dog, and how much of the time are you putting up with the dog?
A lot of people get dogs having some kind of "vision" about what having a dog will be like - one that is usually far from reality. For example, in times past there was usually one adult at home all day. A lot of the daily activities took place out of doors - gardening, hanging laundry, feeding the chickens, watching the kids at play. The family dog spent most of its waking hours in the company of people, even though it spent most of its time outside. As our society became more urbanized, and as it became more common for both adults to work outside the home, our vision of keeping dogs forgot the necessity of social interaction. So "new" dog problems began to arise as a result of that lack of social interaction.
The most frequently asked questions are very basic and could have been easily avoided if the person had known to start manners training from the very beginning. If they knew, for example, that puppies bite and mouth, that it is normal, that it will be especially so with kids, and how to correct it. It helps to know that it will take time. They need time to mature enough to actually behave.
Lots of people have this idea that dog training is "easy" well it certainly is for some people. Those are people who are naturally in tune with their dogs, and by their behavior direct the dog into meeting their expectations. They may be naturally both persistent and consistent - lack of which is the biggest source of training failure. They are likely also naturally good at timing - the biggest factor in training success. These skills can be learned through practice and under the guidance of someone who can give feedback to improve them. So for most people taking a class in how to train your dog is a must.
I know that lots of sources talk about what a responsibility a dog is - but few put it into concrete terms. Different dogs have different needs to be sure, but what exactly does "lots of exercise" or "not much exercise" mean? What does it really mean to have a dog. I'm not talking about the ideal home for the stereotypical dog. That would be great but if we only had dogs in ideal homes there would be a whole lot more dead dogs because a relatively few can meet the ideal. What we do need, however, is a way to make sure that people are prepared to make it work. That means having realistic expectations about what having a dog is all about. Lots of people like the idea of having a dog - the reality is something else entirely. What I'm looking for is a livable workable situation for both dog and family. Oh, and I'm talking about things that will usually work, not the exceptions.
When you think of having a dog what do you envision doing with the dog? Of those things which do you view as things you "get to do with the dog " and which do you view as things you "have to do with the dog "? Rank them on a 5 to 0 basis. A five means "I want to do it. That's why I want a dog " A one means "I don't want to do it. I won't if I don't have to. " 0 - "I'd get rid of the dog before doing it ( or wouldn't get it in the first place) " A three would be neutral "I don't mind doing it, and I wouldn't mind if I didn't do it " Two and Four well . . . you know a "two " is something between "1 " and "3 "
When you think of having a dog how do you rank the following:
Spending an hour walking with or playing with the dog on my weekend.
Spending an hour walking with or playing with the dog every day.
Going with the dog outside for bowel and bladder relief.
Having the dog lie next to me on the floor while I watch TV.
Grooming the dog once a week.
Grooming the dog once a day.
Licking me in the face.
Plopping its head on my lap while I am reading.
Cleaning up runny dog poop out of the rug after a case of diarrhea.
How do you feel about a dog waking you up at night to go out?
How do you feel about a dog waking you up at night to go punish the critter walking across the back yard.
How do you feel about owning a dog (depends on breed) that other people are afraid of? (helps in breed selection)
How do you feel about needing to find a house sitter/pet sitter/kennel and paying for it if you plan to travel much without the dog.
How will you feel about holes in the lawn/vegetable garden/flower garden
How do you feel about a dog sticking his/her head in a guest's crotch.
How many hours a day do you exercise ? Do you want to do them with the dog?
Will your dog be allowed in every room in your house?
Do you have company over frequently?
Do you plan to have kids in the next 3 years? (or do you have kids under 3?)
Are you willing (scale 1-5) to constantly keep an eye on kids and dogs and paying for it if you plan to travel much without the dog.
How do you feel about bathing a dog in the bathtub?
How about drying a dog 14 times in one day when he goes outside in the rain and then comes in...and goes out...and comes in...and goes out....just to keep the mud/water off the dog bed/walls/baby.
What will your reaction be if your dog eats cat poop/his poop/other dogs poop/other critter poop/....
I want a dog that likes to chase and hunt things.
I want a dog that never chases things.
I want a dog that likes to play games/retrieve/play Frisbee over and over and over and over and over even if it is raining and 35 degrees out.
I want a dog that will sleep on the bed.
The dog will never be on furniture in the house.
I own exceptionally valuable or fragile antiques or other household
I have recently recarpeted my home.
I can never remember to take medication when the doctor gives it to me. (figure they'll either forget to feed or treat the dog)
Stick a pill down a dogs throat...multiple times if necessary
Feeding a dog pepto bismol for upset stomach/loose bowels
Forcing a dog to vomit to get rid of the corn cob he ate/snail bait she got into.
Teaching your dog to be a total member of your family.
Spending money on vet visits, shots, heartworm and flea preventative, as well as leashes and collars, toys and beds..
Coming straight home from work or school EVERY DAY to let the dog(s) out, feed and water. And spend time with them..
Making arrangements for your dog in the event something happens to you..
Consulting the experts (including paying a dog trainer) if you need help training your dog..
Spending an hour walking with or playing with the dog when it's raining/snowing/below zero
Consider this commentary
"As to the generic question, it boils down to putting a dogs needs above your own wants. Doesn't matter how tired you are, if your back hurts, how great the party is, if it's raining or -10?F, dogs still need to be walked. They throw up, get sick at 4 am Sunday morning, and track in dirt.
Novice owners first need to realize that dogs are not children- they are a whole different species than our own. As the "smart one", owners need to educate themselves regarding communicating with this new species. They need to learn to observe canine behavior without anthropomorphizing. Not easy for most of 'em.,
My last rescue Wolfhound was relinquished because their vision was of a huge, noble beast lying decoratively next to the fire. Their vision did not include hairballs or diarrhea.
When you invite another species to live inside your home, you cannot then turn around and blame it for being a dog! If every word that you direct towards the creature is no", "stop that", "git"--- how is that a positive experience for either of you?
Your dog(s) should enhance your life, and you theirs. If this type of daily, even hourly, interaction would INTRUDE on your time, then a pet as demanding as a dog is not the right choice for you.
I believe that we agree to an unspoken covenant when we bring a dog into our family. We silently agree to care for (whatever the difficulty), provide for (whatever the cost), and nurture the spirit of the dog for the extent of his life. Quite a commitment!
A dog is a living, sentient being who gives his entire soul to you. He has feelings, problems, and needs that are your responsibility to deal with whether you are in the mood or not. Dogs deserve so much from us, yet ask for so little.
I would only ask that prospective owners consider their acquisition of a dog AT LEAST as carefully as the purchase of a car.
There are a few facets of dog ownership that "new" owners tend not to consider:
1. The fact that they are making a lifetime commitment (10-15 years) to the animal - with all the impacts this will have on future events in their lives (moving house - finding dog-friendly apartments; having kids - introducing the dog to the baby, etc.).
2. The cost involved (shots, municipal license, accessories, emergency vet treatment, training courses, boarding ... it all adds up to around $1000 during the first year)..
3. The amount of time they will need to invest - mornings, evenings, weekends, vacations, 365 days a year..
4. The fact that their house will (in most cases) be full of dog hair, slimy rawhide bones, shredded toilet rolls, etc..
Some potential new owners seem to have a very "idealized" view of dog ownership, and are not really prepared for some of the realities of the situation. Others swear they are prepared, listen to our explanations that the dog will need an adjustment period of several weeks before it really settles in, and then come back to the shelter two days later because their new dog threw up on the sofa. We always ask questions such as "What will you do if the dog eats your furniture/best shoes?", "How will you react if your dog pees in your house?", "Are you prepared to use a crate?", and so on.
Another problem that crops up, also related to inadequate "socialization", is the reliance on the luxury of having a yard to "exercise" the dog. Unfortunately two things happen.
The first is that the dog isn't exposed to a wide enough variety of situations on a regular basis to be able to handle unusual events. As a result the dog may show signs of "aggression" or fearfulness when it does actually get out. Sometimes this seems to happen suddenly - usually as a result of something that to the dog owner appears perfectly normal and non-scary, but one that the dog's limited experience hasn't given it the skills to handle.
The second is that the dog really doesn't get adequate exercise. No matter how large the yard is few dogs will actually "exercise" in it, except when displaying aggression such as fence fighting and fence running. Both these activities can lead to some very serious behavior problems.
Don't get me wrong. It's great to have a yard to use as a quite place for play and training - it just is an inadequate substitute for the daily walk. Lack of socialization is the biggest cause of death in dogs - they are either "Put down" directly by their owners or abandoned at shelter with behavior problems. So the first thing to know is that having a dog will be a time commitment on a daily basis. If you select the most lethargic, least needy of exercise, dog you can expect that the time commitment will be about an hour a day.
Getting a good handle on the rest of the stuff will help as well. There are two good books to read that may help people get a realistic idea of what is involved in dog ownership. "Surviving Your Dog's Adolescence" by Carol Lea Benjamin helps by going over some of the more "normal" problems, the solutions and some general idea why those problems occur. The second is "The Body Language and Emotions of Dogs" by M. Milani. The vast majority of dog "problems" are perfectly normal behaviors arising out of lack of knowledge about how human behavior influences canine behavior. This book helps explain that, and the choices of the dog owner in dealing with the situations. For more information on that see page on Choosing a dog
Copyright © 1999-2003, Diane Blackman
Created: February 23, 1999
Updated November 12, 2007