Hello and welcome to my dog manifesto,
We live in a dog friendly condo where I have the opportunity to be exposed to a number of families who own dogs. On our floor alone there is a cross section of pet owners who range from excellent to situations which I call abusive. I don’t think these people consider themselves abusive but they are.
It made me think about how much I knew about dogs when I adopted Reuben 8 1/2 years ago. And truthfully I knew nothing. I was armed with great intentions and lots of love but as a species I knew very little about dogs when I got Reub.
Even though I was prepared to do whatever it took to keep my dog happy, well exercised and healthy, I actually had no idea how much work and commitment it would take and how expensive it would be.
Becoming a good dog owner was a work in progress and in retrospect was something I should have been aware of from the get go.
1. Ask yourself this, are you really ready to own a dog?
Dogs are a time commitment. They need to be walked every day, 365 days of the year. If you live in a condo, they have to be taken out at least 3 times a day, in the morning, afternoon and night. This doesn’t include the extra times because your dog is a barfer or has the runs. Believe me we live in a condo and sometimes that sucks. That means, if you’re a half decent dog owner you’ll be taking your dog out at least 4,380 times a year. Do you really want to do this? Seriously.
I think about our neighbour next door. He laughs when he says his dog goes twelve hours without having to go outside. Well I guess his dog can’t talk, otherwise she’d say, “Jesus asshole, I need to pee and go poo BADLY and I’m so bored being locked in this room 23 3/4 hours a day I feel like I could shoot myself.”
I take her out almost everyday because I can’t stand it anymore and she races to the door, and goes to the bathroom immediately and in the space of 5 minutes does three dumps. Yes, she CAN hold it, but just because she can doesn’t mean she should have to be constantly holding it in. Think about it, how much does he like holding his bladder for hours on end?
Even if you have a yard, your dog still needs to be walked everyday. Yes, walked. That means to a dog park, around the block, out on trails for 45 minutes to an hour every day of the year.
Like people, dogs get bored and need stimulation and they also need regular exercise. Exercise means moving your legs so she can move her legs. Standing on the corner of the park while she runs for 3 minutes doesn’t count as a dog walk. That’s a pee break.
A bored, unexercised dog can get into trouble, like chewing, barking, snapping and depression.
Dogs cost money. Do you have money in your budget for your dog? This includes half decent dog food, possibly a dog walker once or twice a week if your dog has to be left alone and unexercised for long periods of time and then of course there are vet bills.
Let’s start with the food. We have an 80 pound dog who eats premium food (why would you feed your dog cheap food that’s made in China and has god knows what in it?) He gets two full cups of crunchies a day plus one can of potato and salmon wet food. Affter his walks he gets a cookie. His food bill comes to about $300 per month.
His dog walker comes to $180 per month. Some people ask us why we have the dog walker. Well, mainly because we don’t want to leave him for hours on end without a pee break and no exercise. He’s crazy at night if we don’t exercise him properly. This also means we’ll take him for another 20 to 30 minute walk again at night.
I was also a bit nervous with dogs when I got him which made him nervous with dogs and I found sending him to the dog walker really helped to socialize him while I worked on learning to socialize myself as a dog owner.
3. Medical costs:
Okay, so our dog ended up costing an extraordinary amount of money way more than possibly any other dog in Canada, possibly the world but that was our choice. Even before the 4 major surgeries he had thanks to stick chewing (that was an expensive lesson we learned by the way…don’t let your dog chew sticks, it can kill him and cost you a lot of money)
But even before that, his vet bill was a bit of a shocker from the very beginning. I didn’t know that the puppy I chose at the puppy mill (I hadn’t clued into that for some reason) was quite sick. I fell in love with him so there was no way I would take him back or drop him off at the SPCA (which I wouldn’t do anyways) so I was stuck with a sick little dog.
The first year alone cost me about $1500 in vet bills before I had him all sorted out. Throughout his life he’s had the normal thing a dog has….ear infections, shots, check-ups, medications, nail clipping etc…All this costs money. Vets are your first experience with privatized health care.
Ask yourself if you’re willing and able to cover these sometimes enormous costs. Unless you’re one of those people who’s just too cheap and has their dog put down in which case you shouldn’t own a dog at all because likely you’re not doing a bunch of other things either then.
Dogs require other things as well, like flea medication, dog beds (fair enough you can get blankets at Value Village for next to nothing) toys and training. These things all have to be included in the cost of a dog.
4. Dog Training
This really falls into cost and commitment categories. From the moment you get a dog you have to work with it so it knows how to behave with people, children, other dogs and animals, in your house and outside in public spaces. If you nail this early on you will have a happy dog and therefore you’ll be a happy dog owner.
Dogs don’t come trained. It’s best to train your dog especially if it’s a big dog before it reaches a year otherwise you’ll have an out of control monster that you won’t want to walk or have hang out at your house. This is going to suck for your dog, you and others.
We have two young couples on our floor. Couple number one had a dog before the baby. They trained the dog well on leash and take Pan Pan out for regular walks. Now that the baby is here they’re teaching the baby to respect the dog. Often you see either parent with the little girl who is walking the dog. The dog is calm, the little girl knows not to pull or maim the dog. All the work these guys did prior to having their little girl has paid off. All the work they continue to do with their dog and little girl so they can exist as a happy family is also paying off.
Another young couple who lives right next door also have a dog (the one I walk) and they had a baby at the same time. Brodie was never trained on leash and they find it too tiring and cumbersome to work with the little girl and the dog so that they respect each other. Instead they let her pull at the dog and her face and climb on her. Here’s a dog who’s not used to kids (she’s 7 and the baby is only 11/2). Because she’s not leashed trained, she’s too unmanageable to walk with…and because they don’t want to set boundaries with their kid, the dog now lives in either the laundry room or their bedroom. Their unwillingness to train their dog and work with their kid results in Brodie being consigned to not having a life at all. These are what I call shitty, lazy dog owners.
If you’re thinking of getting a dog make sure you calculate the time, effort and money it will take to properly train her. In the beginning it’s not unlike having a young child and you’ll have to constantly be paying attention. Believe me all this hard work will pay off and you’ll have an awesome pet that you can take anywhere with you.
I was relatively lucky with Reub. He is a really mellow dog and always has been. He lives to please so the only thing I really worked with him on was sit, come, shake a paw (just for the hell of it). I also worked with him to make sure he wasn’t aggressive around his food bowl or freaked out when people touched his paws. I still went to dog training with him and he’s super awesome well behaved boy.
5. Research Breeds
If after all this you still think you want a dog then do yourself a favour and do some research on breeds before you get one. Before I got Reub I did an online personality match test to see what type of dog would best suit me.
Dog personality and behaviour is largely determined by their breed or mix of breeds.
Because I was adopting him as a single woman at the time, I needed a super easy, unaggressive and mellow dog. Doberman’s German Shepherds, PitBulls Rotweilers, Sharpei, Akitas and those kinds of dogs were not a good match for me because I’m a marshmallow. I also wanted an athletic dog who would run and bike with me.
My online test pointed me to a lab cross which is what Reub supposedly is. Anyways, the one thing about not fully knowing what your mutt eally is is that you don’t quite know what you’re getting. In my case my dog looks athletic but he isn’t. He hates moving and prefers to play games at home or sleep on the couch. There’s no evidence of athleticism in him whatsoever and it’s not because he’s 8 it’s because of who he is.
6. Building a family
If getting a dog is step one to building a people family then really think about it. Couple A in my above example is a rarity. They’re committed dog owners and in their particular situation I’d say that’s unusual (ie., both parents working with a dog and young child) who continue to give their dog quality of life. Couple B aren’t. And my educated guess tells me that most people are in the couple B category. Kids are hard work and dogs are too. Often dogs are left by the wayside once the baby arrives. So a good question to ask yourself is “are you in this for the long term?” Can you sustain a committed relationship with your dog until the end of its life? And trust me they can live a long time…
Anyways, there’s a lot more you can say about dogs but witnessing the cross section of owners on our floor made me realize that people are sometimes well intended but don’t really understand the full breadth of this commitment. I haven’t even gotten started on the guy who crates his dog 10 hours a day (and didn’t train him….)