Years ago I adopted a dog on the fly. I went with a friend who was adopting a dog at a ‘farm’ and in a moment of irrational craziness I came home with the sibling of the dog my friend adopted. They were named Reuben and Loo-is before we even left the barn.
I had never been a parent to a dog and I had no idea what I was doing. Neither had I given any thought to where I was living (a studio apartment with no dogs allowed) or how I would cope (I was single at the time and working full time with an energetic sporting schedule). Everything felt poised for disaster and in the intervening days I felt something close to panic.
I have always been a believer in jumping off cliffs…taking big leaps and seeing where I land. In this case, however, I had a puppy in tow and for the first time I felt the burden of real responsibility. Reuben would look up at me with these beautiful dark eyes and from the get go would follow me around no matter where I went…a habit he kept for the 11 years he was with me.
It would be an understatement to say he changed my life. I ended up changing everything about my life in order to give him a life I thought he deserved…even though I wasn’t even sure what that was yet.
It turns out I really love animals and slowly but surely I figured out what I needed to do. But there was a steep learning curve along the way. So here are a few things to think about for anyone thinking of bringing a dog into their life:
- Breed – I had no idea what kind of breed Reuben was. It turns out he was a black lab something…the something part made him gigantic possessed with an old soul. It turns out that was perfect for me. What wouldn’t have been perfect would have been a super aggressive dog, or a dog that would be dominant over me. In retrospect, doing some research over the type of dog that best suits your personality or family needs is an important thing to consider.
- Lodging – As mentioned I adopted Reuben when I lived in a studio apartment. In the eleven years we had him he lived in a house that had a backyard, as well as in a condo. Some people say you can’t have a dog in a condo which I disagree with. You can have a big dog or any kind of dog in a condo. The key is exercise. Wherever you live, in a house or a condo, your dog needs to be walked. Once in the morning, again in the afternoon and again in the evening. Most dogs need a good hour (or more) of exercise a day. If you can’t commit to this, then don’t get a dog. Owning a house is not a good excuse for never taking your dog out. Most dogs won’t walk themselves in the back yard.
- Backyard dogs – People who get dogs who only want to keep them in the yard shouldn’t bother getting a dog. If you have a yard where you can let your dog rip around for a bit every day that’s great. A yard is not a home. A porch is not a home. A dog is a social, loving animal who wants to be a part of the family. They need to be walked and loved. That means having them be a full fledged member of the family inside the home.
- Exercise – I mentioned this above but it bears mentioning again. Dogs, all dogs, big and small, need exercise. They need to be exercised every day, outside their yard. My guess is that a lot of behaviour issues could be solved by fulfilling this basic need. This means giving them exercise, every day rain or shine. Just going on shine days doesn’t work. You have to ask yourself if you’re the type of person willing to do this. If for whatever reason you can’t do this, there is a dog walker and they provide an essential service. When I got Reuben I was armed with two big problems. One I was hugely fearful of all other dogs, and two I worked full time and needed to get him walked. I dug into my entertainment budget, the one where I used to go out for dinner and drink vast quantities of wine and I re-directed it to his walking fund. It helped socialize him and he was given a much needed break during the day and I lost weight. Yes, dog walkers are expensive but it’s worth it.
- Training your dog – As mentioned Reub came into the world an old soul and really didn’t require a huge amount of training. He didn’t bark if I left him alone, he followed me everywhere so he always came when called, I could walk him off-leash due to his following me everywhere…so I had it easy and I admit that. He was an ABNORMAL puppy. But I have seen a lot of dogs who are a bit wilder or simply need to be trained to be good canine citizens. You want your dog to get along with other animals and to be reliable with people and to be manageable in all situations. It’s good for you and its imperative for them. This means spending time in the first year training your dog. If you don’t have the time to spend doing this then I would think twice about getting a dog. So many animals end up in the shelter or being re-homed because they can’t be managed and the responsibility for this failure belongs entirely to the dog parent.
- Dogs are forever –Dogs are highly emotional, intelligent and loving sentient beings. They form strong attachments to people and families. Giving them up because you’re moving, you had children and now it’s too much, or worse they’re too old, isn’t good enough. You need to see this through and that means a 10 to 15 year investment. Can you commit for that amount of time?
- Families and Dogs – We had two sets of neighbours. Each was a young couple. Couple one had a dog before children…and then the children came along. This couple spent time training their dog before they had children and then spent time socializing their dog with their children. Every day you saw them out walking their dog with their kids. It worked. Couple two had a dog who I used to walk. I walked the dog because they never walked the dog. When they had children things went from bad to worse because now they didn’t have time for the dog, which they barely had before they had kids. Then guess what? They couldn’t take the time to train their kids how to be with the dog and vice versa. Before long the dog was confined to a small space within the condo where I could hear her barking all day long. That’s when I started walking her every day (while my dog went with a dog walker). This is an example of a dog being given a good shift sideways by the family.
- Cost – I found out quickly that dogs are expensive. My pup was sick from the get go and I spent the first year at the vet with ongoing problems throughout his life. Get insurance, it helps. Food adds up. I don’t like to cheap out so we buy good food and cook half of all of his (now her) meals. Shots, vets, food,….all these things cost money. Do you have the budget or can you make room in your budget for a canine family member?
- Emotions: Dogs are emotional. Like people they come wired in different ways. Unlike people dogs are dogs and sometimes their behaviour means something different than you think. What is universal is that dogs want and need to belong. They need to be loved, cared for, they need consistency and most of all they need people to follow through with their commitment to giving them a meaningful and safe life.
- Sticks – Don’t ever let them eat sticks. We let Reuben do it and it almost killed him when he was five. We also spent close to a downpayment on a house to keep him alive. Seriously, if you can’t eat something, your dog shouldn’t be eating it either.
- Dogs don’t lie. Dogs don’t lie. If they’re behaving oddly them more than likely something is going on. They’re in pain, something hurts, or something happened. Take it seriously and go to the vet.
Dogs are work. They are a commitment.But the effort, the time and money spent are all well worth it. You won’t ever have the kind of unconditional love that this beautiful animal has to offer.