There are four requirements in my opinion that are essential for owning a dog; Commitment, Time, Patience and Money, without these things you may unwittingly harm your dog either physically or psychologically. Do you want to raise a healthy happy well adjusted dog? then ensure these four elements are in place, otherwise, don’t bother, you may cause more harm than good and cause yourself unnecessary stress if you have to give the dog up. There are enough people who give up their dog/s because of unforeseen circumstances such as ill health, but there are plenty of people that give them up because they did not realise the commitment, time, patience or money that was needed. I believe if you don’t apply what it takes to own a dog you may end up with a unhealthy, anxious, nervous or even aggressive dog.
In the U.K. alone “In total 102,363 stray and abandoned dogs were handled by Local Authorities between 2014 – 2015” The Dogs Trust
Some people give up their dogs because of a dramatic life change or even death, but, many do simply because they didn’t realise the commitment it takes to raise a dog. Most people bond with their dogs and the love they have for their dog makes the required commitment easier, but there are some who acquire a dog for all the wrong reasons and then discard them. Imagine how a dog would feel, finding themselves in a shelter or kennels, everything and everyone they know has disappeared, how would that make you feel? We as humans need to minimise the negative impact we have on dogs, read on to find out how.
Commitment is something most people don’t understand until they have a dog, you may go through a stage where you have just had enough of you dog chewing furniture, or being unable to go on holiday because there is no-one to dog-sit. For me personally, I would not recommend putting a dog in kennels for when you go on holiday, whilst some dogs may be okay it can be quite stressful for most. Neither do I recommend having your dog stay with someone else overnight, I speak from experience here so maybe some dogs would be okay. It is better to keep them in their own environment, i.e. their home and let the dog-sitter stay in your home, they are going to miss you, try not to add to their stress by changing their environment too. They don’t understand you have gone away for a short time, to them it may seem that they have been abandoned.
Your dog will usually be with you for a long period of time, usually 10-15 years, are you planning changes in your life within that time that may cause you to have to give your dog up, e.g. a move overseas, a new baby, an increase in your working schedule, these are some of the reasons people give up their dogs. Whilst not every change in life can be foreseen, you just need to think things through first. It’s difficult, because people get so excited about getting a dog whether its a puppy or adult dog, many times the future is not even considered.
There are exceptions, but most dogs need lots of attention, especially when they are pups, if you work full-time then you don’t have the time, unless you put your dog in doggy day care or someone spends time with your dog whilst you are at work.
You need time to take the dog to training classes, you need to taken your dog out and about to get it well socialised, with people (young and old), other dogs, possibly other animals. You also need to expose a dog to the outside world including traffic, noise, and vet visits. You need to fully socialise your dog as early as possible if it is a pup, an older dog will need gentle slow introductions to new experiences including other dogs and people.
In the outside world, a dog should experience cars including travelling in one, traffic including buses, lorries passing by and travelling within public transport including buses and trains. Start slow with short journeys or exposure to traffic, when you first take your pup or dog outside, don’t respond if they get scared, they will pick up on your anxiety, just gently and confidently guide them away from what is stressing them
When I used to take my previous dog out as a pup, he was terrified of cars driving past, so much so that one time he ran head first into a wall, I started to take him out of a night when there was less traffic, I didn’t respond I just carried on walking, I didn’t pick him up when he was scared, even when he was jumping up at me to pick him up, as there was no real danger, he was on a lead. Slowly but surely he gained confidence to the point where he was not afraid of traffic at all.
Most dogs need a daily walk, you need the time to do this, a dog also needs some playtime with you, most dogs love to have you throw a ball so they can fetch it, or play tug-of-war with you. Some dogs love to do agility training, you could have some equipment in your garden (if you have one) and teach them, most dogs would love this. A word of warning when playing with your dog, never ever ‘play rough’ with a dog.
Do you have a back up plan for times when you need to go out or away for long periods of time, in times of crisis, is there someone who can be with your dog or at least visit to take it outside to the toilet, feed and water it, take for a walk and generally spend some quality time with it. If you leave the house for long periods of time, someone should either be with your dog or at least take it outside to go the toilet or for a walk, feed and water etc.
Some dogs, especially pups will chew your slippers, the furniture and even door frames, this is natural for some dogs, sometimes they are just teething or being a pup, other times they are trying to tell you something such as ‘I’m bored’ or ‘I need more attention’ or ‘I miss you when you are gone’. You must never lose your temper with them when they do things you don’t agree with. You may need to source training for dealing with behavioural problems or nervous dogs and reduce separation anxiety by not leaving them alone for long periods (no more than four hours), you may need to build up to this gradually. You may also need to find ways to keep your dog entertained whilst left alone, by leaving treats or toys hidden for them to find or buy an interactive toy for them.
You need patience for cleaning up when your dog has a toileting ‘accident’, has been sick. Sometimes at the most inconvenient time, when you are in a rush to leave the house, you have to stop and clean up after your dog. You also need patience to take your dog for regular check ups, booster needles, flea and worm treatment, administer medications when it really does not want to take them.
If you like a meticulously clean house, forget it, your dog will come in from the rain, just after you have mopped the floors and make a mess of it, it will shake its wet coat all over your sofa, if the thought of this gives you cold sweats, you probably won’t have the patience.
I am not saying you need to be rich to care for a dog but you will need pet insurance and some extra money aside for expenses that may fall outside what the insurance covers, such as an expensive operation and most pet insurances have an excess amount you would need to pay when making a claim. Vet costs are not cheap, whilst you may have pet insurance as your dog ages the insurance premium will rise because like humans, dogs get all sorts of age related ailments, some of which can be cured or treated at great expense. There may also be exclusions on the insurance policy because of your dogs age.
Don’t assume because your dog is young it won’t need vet care from time to time or if they are unlucky develop an ongoing ailment from a young age that needs lifelong treatment or medications. I recommend having a backup fund in case your dog needs expensive treatment that many pet insurers do not cover.
Other costs include training, unless you are a qualified trainer, all dogs can benefit from training, from cute commands like ‘sit’ and ‘roll over’ to commands that may keep them safe like ‘recall’ or ‘stop’. Socialisation skills are often learned in group training, again this can keep your dog safe and make them less stressed and able to enjoy ‘walks’ or ‘play-time’ with other dogs.
If you work you may need to put your dog in day care, these are not cheap, or you may need to pay for a dog walker or sitter to go visit your dog during the day, again this is not cheap, but good for your dog to have something to break the day up, be able to go the toilet and enjoy a walk.
And of course, there are the costs of dog food, treats, dental chews, puppy pads, booster needles, flea and worming treatments, it is never ending!
Alternatives to Having your Own Dog
I personally don’t feel my life is complete without a dog, my dog passed away four months ago, but my life circumstances changed during the time I had my dog, so I currently don’t have the money or time for a dog. If, after reading this, you realise you don’t have all four requirements needed to raise a happy, healthy, secure and sociable dog, there are alternative ways to be around and give love to dogs. You could do this by volunteering at kennels, rescue centres, walking a dog for a neighbour, friend or family member or consider volunteering at an animal sanctuary working with other animals, cows, horses, pigs, goats, or chickens. I know its hard especially if you love dogs, but please consider whether you have the commitment, time, patience and money for a dog, if you can’t say yes to all four, then say ‘No’ to getting a dog. If you are able to provide all four requirements, then please go for a rescue dog, there are tens of thousands of dogs every year looking for loving homes in the U.K. alone. Life in a kennel no matter how good the facilities and their carers are, is simply no match for a loving home. Consider an older dog, a dog with health issues or a disabled dog, these dogs need love and attention just as much as a young healthy dog, and it is so sad to think some dogs will live out the rest of their lives in shelters or kennels, never knowing a loving secure home.
You may find you have some requirements to offer such as commitment, time and patience, but not money, in these cases you could foster, as many rescue centres pay for equipment needed, vet fees and even training. Although, a rescue dog often needs even more patience than usual, some of these dogs have been neglected or abused and need time to trust again.
Know the breed you are acquiring, although all dogs are individual, there are certain traits particular breeds have, some need long walks, some need short walks, some are very protective of their ‘family’, some have particular health risks, learn about a breed before you acquire a dog.
Finally, please stop and think before you acquire a dog, they have emotions, many do not deal well with a change of routine, if you decide after acquiring a dog the it is not for you, you are adding to that change of routine that distresses many dogs, do you want to risk that? By all means, if you have all four basic requirements for keeping a dog and you have a lot of love to give to a dog, go for it! Make no mistake, it is hard work, they are a worry, their wellbeing and life is in your hands. On the other hand, the rewards are amazing if done right, for you, your family and the chosen dog. There is nothing like the love of a dog, it is pure, unconditional and I believe good for the soul, once you have loved a dog you see the world differently it is relaxing (mostly) and fulfilling.