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It’s so easy to love dogs – you look into those big, brown eyes, and how can you not just melt? The loving is easy – it’s the commitment that can be difficult. I talked about this in How to Keep a Dog When You’re on a Tight Budget. It’s one thing to have good intentions, but it’s another thing to let those good intentions cloud other important considerations. Simply stated, it’s important to be sure that you’re ready for what is going to be a commitment that will last for probably at least nine years, and sometimes longer.
Often, people end up with 20/20 hindsight – learning, well after the fact, that loving a dog is easy, but owning one is sometimes difficult. You need to go into adopting a dog with your eyes wide open, knowing exactly what you’re signing up for. There are seven main considerations when it comes to committing to a dog. Here they are.
I once took a wilderness survival course. The instructor spoke about staying warm if you’re lost in the woods, and he said, “You need to gather up firewood. So, go and get as much as you think you’re going to need. Then go out and get twice as much. Then, get four times as much as you brought back when you doubled. You might not freeze to death with the amount of wood you’ve brought in, but if you can manage it, go out one more time.”
It’s pretty much the same when you own a dog. It’s not just the purchase price, it’s the feeding and the veterinary care. So whatever you think you’re going to spend on your dog in any given year, double it. Then quadruple it. Then double the quadrupling, and you might have a good handle on what your dog is really going to cost you in terms of care and feeding.
You have to consider annual vaccinations, flea prevention, heartworm prevention, licensing, and even set aside a budget for emergency care in case your dog should become injured or ill. The thing with veterinary costs is that they’re not always predictable. In fact, it might be advisable to buy pet insurance – which is, of course, going to be another cost.
Of course, if you’re anything like the typical dog owner, you won’t just spend money on your dog – you’ll also spend money because of the dog. Especially in the early months, dogs can be very destructive. You might have to deal with soiled carpets, chewed furniture, holes dug in your yard, and any number of other expenses.
Unless you’re a “do it yourself” type of person, there are also going to be grooming costs. And don’t forget things like crates, beds, collars and tags, leashes, and maybe even boots and sweaters if you live in a cold climate. Your dog will need toys, too.
Unless you’re an old hand with dogs, you’ll probably also want to enroll your dog in obedience classes. If the dog has issues, you might need one-on-one assistance.
Now, what if you need to travel? If you have to board your dog, that’s another cost. If you work all day, someone is going to have to exercise your dog, and that will mean hiring a dog walker or enrolling him in a dog daycare program to make sure that he gets enough exercise. We’ll talk a bit more about travel later.
By now, you know that when I said you should quadruple your original estimate, I wasn’t kidding.
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t get a dog – it just means that you should make sure that you’re ready financially. Loving dogs means accepting that financial responsibility.
If you don’t use a dog walker (thereby incurring expense), then you have to commit to making sure your dog gets enough exercise. That means that even if you come home worn out after work, you still have to look after your dog. Virtually every dog needs an hour-long walk each day. Even senior dogs need a good bit of exercise. What that means is that as soon as you get home, and want to just crash, you can’t. You’re going to have to snap that leash on, and take your dog for a walk.
You also have to train. Not just when you feel like it, but every single day so that your dog is well-behaved and confident. If your dog is anxious, fearful or aggressive, then you need to devote even more time. So, if you don’t have the energy to work on training, you probably should re-think getting a dog.
It’s a mistake to think that you can just take your dog to obedience school, and then you’re done. Dogs are constantly thinking, and some will be thinking of ways to get around their training. They can be tempted, for instance, by food left on a countertop, no matter how vigorously you’ve worked to prevent counter-surfing. You might have trained your dog to sit and stay, but if you don’t keep on reinforcing the behavior, there’s no guarantee that he won’t one day decide to run into traffic, ignoring your commands.
Simply stated, life is challenging – not just for people, but for dogs as well. So you have to keep on reinforcing your dog’s training, every single day of his life.
I live alone, except for Janice and Leroy, so I don’t really have to worry all that much about this. If you don’t live alone, though, you can end up experiencing a fair bit of drama when it comes to having a dog in your household. You might have somebody (kids, usually) who is supposed to do things for the dog, but doesn’t. Sometimes, that can cause issues. You might also find that some people in your family let the dog get away with things that other people find unacceptable. You need to work out who does what, and set standards for behavior.
It’s great if you’re all glad with getting a dog, but anytime more than one human is involved in the equation, issues are almost certain to crop up. The trouble, too, is that you really can’t predict what’s going to be an issue until it actually occurs. So before you get a dog, have it etched in stone who does what, and what will and will not be tolerated. If problems occur, talk about them – don’t let resentment fester.
Another type of drama that you might encounter could depend on the breed you choose. Some breeds have a bad reputation, often unjustified. I know a lot of people who have adopted Pit Bull types, Rottweilers, and other large breeds, only to have family members get their knickers in a twist over it. If you’re choosing a “difficult” breed, be prepared for drama, and be willing to fight for your dog.
Loving dogs might dramatically curtail your ability to travel. If you’re thinking it would be great to bum around Europe for a few months, forget it. You’ll never be able to afford to board your dog for that length of time.
Even a weekend getaway is going to require making arrangements for your dog – it’s not like you can leave him in the house and have him go potty all over the place. It’s also not fair to leave a dog cooped up, alone and wondering why you’re not there with him. So, you’re going to either have to board your dog, or find a pet sitter.
Even if you do take your dog with you, much will depend on the type of trip you’re taking. If you’re going to be camping, you’ll have to be sure that you can find campgrounds that will allow your dog. If you’re flying to your destination, you’ll need to arrange to have your dog travel with you, or have him shipped. Keep in mind that not all airlines will accept all breeds, and there can also be restrictions on travel depending on temperature, availability of staff to handle the dog, and other factors.
Loving dogs means that you might as well just accept the fact that you’re not going to be able to travel all that much. If you’re a bit of a homebody, as I am, that might not be a big deal. On the other hand, if you like to travel a lot, maybe owning a dog is not right for you.
I’m directing this to people who have experience with loving dogs, and who have lost a dog. If you’re not fully ready to commit to a new dog following your loss, please wait. Your new dog is probably going to be nothing like the dog you lost.
It’s wonderful that you want to love again, but know that just because you had a snuggly, dependent sort of dog before, that doesn’t mean that the new one will be the same. He might be a bit more aloof. The sensible, steady dog you had before might be a far cry from the skittish guy you have now. That’s not to say that one dog is necessarily better than the other, he’s just different, so don’t make comparisons or expect the new dog to live up to an impossible standard.
Even when you’re dealing with the same breed, there can be significant differences. So, don’t set yourself up to be disappointed. Even though your second dog might be very different, you can still have an amazing experience with him. Allow him his own personality, get to know him, and learn how to appreciate his differences. Loving dogs means being accepting of differences.
For that matter, you should probably get rid of any and all of your expectations. If you’re getting a dog, and you have it all mapped out how you figure life is going to pan out with him, you’re bound to be disappointed.
You might have a “hearts and flowers” scenario set up in your mind when it comes to loving dogs, in which your dog responds to your every command, protects you against all threats, lies calmly by your side at the end of a long day, rescues Timmy from the well and so on, then again, you’re bound to be disappointed. Most of the time, your dog is going to require a fair bit of work, and he’ll also be a lot smellier and dirtier than you thought he would be.
That said, though, I think that your life will be enriched by having a dog.
I really don’t think I need to say anything more here. If you’re not in it for the long haul, just don’t get a dog.
So, there you have them – the seven reasons why loving a dog is a huge commitment. Are you ready for it?
Loving dogs is, as I’ve said, a big commitment. It’s going to involve considerably more work, and considerably more expense, than you might have believed. It’s probably also safe to say that whatever you imagined your relationship with your dog would be like, it won’t quite fit your original assessment. It might be a bit close, or it might be very, very different, but for sure, it’s not going to be what you anticipated.
One thing that I can tell you with absolute certainty, though, is that loving dogs is very much worthwhile. For every ounce of love you give a dog, you’ll get a pound back. Personally, I can’t imagine having a life without dogs. Loving dogs is what makes my life worthwhile. Well, that and marshmallow banana candies.
Seriously, though, if you want to own a dog, go into it knowing that it is a huge commitment. It’s something that you absolutely have to get right – you have to be sure that you’re willing to put your dogs, if not above yourself, then at least equal. You have to make sure that you know that loving dogs is no different than loving any other living creature – you have to enter into it without any reservations whatsoever.
If you’re not ready to do that, then you’re not ready for a dog.