Did you finally decide to take part in the Coronavirus Puppy Boom and get a dog? Great – I applaud your ability to persuade yourself and partner to bring this fantastic companion into your life. But maybe you are doing this to win that coveted award from your kids: Best Parent of the Year award. Whatever your reasons, congrats. I must warn you, however, that dog ownership is no joke; many people have gone down this path but ended up failing due to lack of planning and not being adequately informed of the full extent of a dog owner’s responsibility. Recent reports had shown that dogs were given up to shelters for losing the “cuteness” factor, which is usually after six (6) months, and they became too much to handle. A study by Petfinder investigated the reasons for pet brought to shelters and concluded the following:
- The majority of dogs had been owned from 7 months to 1 year.
- Approximately half of the dogs surrendered were not neutered.
- A third of the dogs surrendered had not been to a veterinarian.
- A third of dogs acquired from friends were surrendered in higher numbers than from any other source.
- Most dogs (96%) had not received any obedience training.
1. Training starts with you. Train yourself first, then the dog.
If you look at the list above, you’ll agree that the terrible decision to surrender a dog could have been avoided by owners being well aware of their responsibility and taking the time to be mentally and financially prepared. I’m no saint in this arena, as I thought I was well prepared when we picked up our Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy, Nairobi. I will be honest in saying that I wanted to take him back to the breeder within the first month. It was a lot of work, and he was a troublemaker: he nipped on our fingers and arms with his shark-like puppy teeth, he jumped on us, and acted like he was getting murdered every time we cut his nails, among other antics. However, with constant training and a partner that did all the heavy lifting, we now have a somewhat well behaved 16-month old who has become a permanent member of our household. I do not have the magic potion, but I can share some of the not-so-obvious advice I wish someone had given me before getting a dog.
A dog is simply a bundle of joy. Nairobi does all the right (read: cute) things to make my heart drop. And like a fool, I give in to his demands and manipulative ways. I tried so hard to be likeable that I treated him like he was the pack leader. But, my partner – the strict disciplinarian – would have none of it. She would chastise me for letting him lead the way on walks or for giving him treats for “free” (he must work for every treat given, I learned, by demonstrating good manners or doing the trick on command). I was reprimanded for being a doormat and reminded that, if my servility were left unchecked, we would have an unruly dog with no manners. It might be cute when you have a Chihuahua jumping on you, but the same cannot be said for a 100-lb Ridgeback, she would say.
We made a plan of the right behaviours we wanted to foster and what we absolutely would not tolerate of our dog. I needed to be on board and agree to these rules. If not, Nairobi wouldn’t see me as an authority figure and would be confused about what is allowed and not allowed. All dogs need structure and pack leaders that are stable. My best advice here is to start prepping yourself to be the pack leader; don’t let the dog train you to give in to his every whim. And do not think a one-time obedience class is all a dog needs; that is just the minimum. They need consistency and constant reinforcement. For example, if you have a no-dog-on-the-couch rule, letting him on the couch once in a while is not acceptable and will only confuse him; either let him on the sofa or not at all. If you enforce consistent rules, your dog will know what is expected of him and will respect your authority. The result? Good behaviour. The stats show that 97% of dogs given up to shelters did not receive any obedience training.
2. A dog is not cheap!
I did as much research as possible before getting a dog, along with cost estimates – I was proud. I thought my spreadsheet was comprehensive…until it wasn’t. One big expense has been dog sitting. I still wanted to go on vacations and had assumed that my parents or in-laws (both willing and able) would take care of Nairobi when we couldn’t. But you must understand: our boy isn’t small; he isan enormous and extremely stubborn teen with a rebellious streak. We simply didn’t trust our parents to enforce the behaviours we wanted to cultivate. Nairobi is manipulative and can be a lot of work; he knows how to truly use his charm and sad puppy eyes to make you bend to his will. We needed an experienced individual to take care of him. Enter dog sitters. They charge up to $100 a day. That is no trivial sum of money when you’re talking days of vacation. For example, if I went on a 2-week vacation and used a dog sitter who charges $50/day, the total cost is $700. Say you go on a 2-week vacation every year, and the average lifespan of a Rhodesian Ridgeback is 10 years, then you’re paying $7000 for dog sitting services alone. The more vacation days you want to take, the more that cost goes up.
So, before you get a dog, ask yourself these questions:
- What is your lifestyle? Can you really fit a dog into your lifestyle? If you enjoy travelling extensively or would not be home all the time, rethink if you genuinely have the time and energy to devote to caring for a dog.
- The stay-at-home order is temporary. How do life and work look like after COVID-19?
- Can you truly afford a dog? Make a budget and consider the following expenses (these are estimates, and there is a lot of variances):
- Vet visits: ~$100 per visit (will need quite a few the first year)
- Vaccines: $100-150 in the first year
- Purchase of Pet: There truly is no average that would be meaningful to provide here. You can adopt or go to a quality breeder. You get what you pay for, so beware of backyard breeders on Kijiji.
- Dog food: $400 – $1200 a year (depends if you choose kibble or go raw). Remember, more $ does not necessarily mean more quality. Do your research and make decisions backed by science and not based on what is trendy.
- Dog sitters (overnight boarding): $50-$100 a day (depends on sitter’s experience and sometimes size or age of pet)
- Dog walkers: ~$30/half hour
- Obedience classes: $400 and up (you may not need these if you are experienced and can train your dog on your own)
- Neutering/spaying: $200-$700 (the bigger the dog, the more $$$)
3. Be emotionally ready for the ups and down
As much as I love Nairobi, I had once thought about giving him up because he was just too much work, and I felt I would not be able to give him the attention he deserves. When I was at work, I was always worried about having left him home alone. He would howl in his crate for the first few weeks of being left alone. I worried that my neighbours would file a noise complaint. While in the office, I would periodically check on him through the baby monitor to see if he was okay. I would try to leave work around 2 or 3 pm so I could get home before the 7-hour mark to let him out to relieve his bladder, and I would continue working from home. It was a lot, and I had to adapt my lifestyle completely. When I travelled, I also worried about how the dog sitters were treating him: are they showing him the love I show him every day with cuddles and kisses? Is he getting his long walks and runs? I worried a lot. You never will stop worrying, which is normal because you love your dog, and he is part of your family. I do not have a kid, but I believe parents know what I mean. The difference, however, is that you would not give up your child after 8 months because he is a terror, and you cannot handle it. Giving up a dog is not like giving up a human child; we see the consequences for each of these as being very different.
I understand that the transition to fully working from home has created the perfect opportunity to raise a puppy. So many people who have always wanted a dog now have the time for a dog. I get it; it makes sense. But I strongly urge you: if you are planning to get, or recently got a dog, please give it some more thought and reflect on what dog ownership means to you and whether you would make a good owner. If you would like to talk about it, please feel free to reach out and I can share some hard-earned wisdom. A dog is a wonderful addition to any family and they can bring much joy and love to your life.
I leave you with these last words: a dog is only 12 years of your life, but you are his whole life and world.