Friday, January 31, 2014

Things to Consider Before Getting a Dog, Part One

This is written for first-time, potential dog-owners who might not realize the implications of having a dog. For all you dog-owners out there, please feel free to add your own views on the subject or point out any flaws in my reasoning.

Disclaimer: I'm not making end-all-be-all statements. I realize each situation is different and each person is different; I'm simply asking questions I wish more potential dog-owners considered and giving examples of what having a dog is really like/what can go wrong if you answer NO to one of the questions below. I realize I may come off a bit judge-y at times, but keep in mind that my main concern is for the welfare of the dog, not so much whether you think I'm being kind of rude by asking you pointblank if you're sure you know what you're getting into.

So many animals end up at shelters because their owners realized after bringing them home that this pet-owning-thing isn't what they've imagined. And since I can't adopt them all, this is simply my way of bringing awareness to the matter. I hope you can respect that. I'm more than willing to answer any specific questions that arise from this post or point you in the right direction so you can get the resources you need. Thanks.


Sometimes I worry. Well, I lied, I worry about a lot of things and quite frequently. But one of the things that often bothers me is how many people flippantly say, "Oooh, I want a dog!" after (1) meeting someone else's dog who's super well-behaved and happy and friendly, (2) seeing a cutesy breed EVERYWHERE on the Internet and deciding they need one of these in their lives, STAT {corgis and french bulldogs, I'm looking at you}, or (3) believing that the unconditional love of a dog will make their lives so much happier/better/less stressed.

That last one may be true, to a point, but I don't think people realize all the things you need to consider before getting a dog. And there are a lot of them.

If you're wondering by what authority I can speak on this subject, consider the fact that the majority of my life has been spent as a dog owner {over twenty out of twenty-two years of my life}. I know things. *mysterious hand waving, a la the Penguins in "Madagascar"*

Also. I'll probably write most of this as if addressing "you," the reader, but don't be offended, dear ones, if you're like, "I WOULD NEVER. THAT'S NOT ME." It's just a lot simpler to write "you" than clarify "non-dog-owners/they" every time.

What to Consider Before Getting a Dog {aka You Sure You're Ready for This?}, Part One:

So many people don't realize how much time a dog takes up. Naive non-dog-owners have this vague notion that a dog will be there when you want to play or cuddle with it, and it magically won't bother you when you're busy or want to go out with friends for the day or plan on sleeping the weekend away because your work week was ridiculous.

I'm bursting that bubble. Dogs take time. A lot of time. And depending on what type of dog you get, maybe even more time on top of that. Time, to me, means chunks of your day when your full attention is focused on your dog, be it exercising them, playing with them, feeding them, letting them out to go to the bathroom, etc.

Dogs who do not receive this attention and time can get destructive or fearful or aggressive or... well, any emotion you would have after a close friend promised to show up at a certain time to go hang out, but didn't arrive until hours later. If this happens once, okay, maybe it was just a mistake, a memory lapse, an accident. But if this happens all the time... no bueno.

Keep in mind that getting "destructive" might not only affect your stuff/house/etc, but potentially the dog itself. As in, getting "self-destructive." For example, we got Zoe, our border collie, from the shelter. And whoever her previous owners were, they were negligent and neglectful of this dog. How can we tell without meeting them or knowing who they are?

She has no teeth.

To clarify, where long, white, sharp, border-collie teeth should be, there are itsy-bitsy nubs that barely peek through the gums and, in some places, straight up holes.

And she got this way by chewing rocks. When we first got her, she would pick up rocks from the sidewalk and chew on them-- partially a nervous gesture, like little kids sucking their thumbs, but partially because she was so used to being bored and having nothing better to do. If you leave a four-year-old alone, outside, for hours and hours a day, how do you think they feel? What are they going to do during all that time? Do you think that's dangerous?

"Well, duh, Sam, but four-year-old humans can't be compared to dogs."

Uh, actually, they can. You think dog owners would consider dogs "part of the family" if there weren't a number of characteristics that are similar between dogs and humans? Personality, ability to use logic/figure out problems, penchant for mischief, emotions... dogs have these, too. And you can really, really damage them psychologically and behaviorally if you don't give them the attention they need.

Another aspect of time that dogs require is "planning ahead" time. Once you have a dog, you can't just up and go to Vegas for the weekend for an impromptu road trip. If you do go on vacation with dog, you need to spend more time searching for hotels, restaurants, and areas that allow pets. As my mom can tell you, it's not easy. We're talking major Internet research.

Example: we go to Pacific Grove annually{ish}. Most hotels, inns, and B&Bs either don't allow dogs or charge something exorbitant per night for a dog. We end up eating a lot of restaurant takeout in our hotel room or picnic-style because restaurants don't allow dogs and we can't leave her by herself in the hotel room {a stipulation at any hotel, dog friendly or not} or in the car {it gets really cold out there}. The majority of the beaches and tourist spots prohibit dogs, so our visits to those are either cut short, or we're limited to the one dog-friendly beach there is. AND PACIFIC GROVE/MONTEREY IS CONSIDERED A DECENTLY DOG-FRIENDLY PLACE. 

You have to plan ahead.

This includes packing for your dog-- food, bowls, treats, vitamins, toys, leash/halter, brush, towels in case your dog gets wet {lots of hotels, even if they're dog friendly, don't love washing dog-furry towels and will warn you about that}, etc.

There is no such thing as a spontaneous vacation. {Well, I know some people can pull it off, so hats off to them. But in general, those people are the owners of super-active, outdoorsy dogs who themselves are super-active and outdoorsy. The more you travel with dog, the easier it gets, I'm sure. But for the average Joe, travel with dog takes more planning and effort}.

If you decide to go on vacation without dog, you still need to find someone willing to dog-sit, whom you trust, and pack up all the stuff listed above and write out directions for the dog's care.


Sometimes, it's the little things. Dogs do well with routine. You want to sleep in late because it's the weekend and you stayed up too late last night? Too bad. The dog needs to go to the bathroom at 8am. Get yourself out of your nice, warm bed and go stand outside in the cold for ten minutes. You want to go out to dinner right after work with friends to celebrate someone's promotion? I'll meet you there; I have to go home to let the dog out and feed her. There's an all-day family get-together an hour away? You have to leave early because the dog can't wait that long to go out. Hoping to skip the daily walk in favor of an afternoon nap? When your dog is super hyper and in your face later, you might regret not exercising her.


My point is not to scare you away from dog-ownership. It's to give you a glimpse at the REALITIES of dog-ownership. It's not always cuddles and kisses.

However, that being said, dogs are worth the time and effort. Hands down, no questions, final answer. If you put in the time and effort and give your dog love and attention, their unconditional love is so worth whatever sacrifices were made along the way.

Again, dogs are like kids. Yes, they take up lots and lots of time, BUT. If you honestly love them and care about their welfare, that time isn't something you begrudge them or give sparingly. You enjoy time spent with them just as much as they enjoy spending time with you.

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