If you’ve ever stayed up watching one too many videos of adorable, goofy pups - or uttered the words, “aw, can I pet him?” to a complete stranger - you might just be ready to get a dog of your own, but before you dash off to the local shelter there’s a few things worth bearing in mind - dog beds, dog collars and dog leads are all useful, but a (good) dog’s life involves a lot more:
Be honest: are you ready? Depending on their age when you get them, the average lifespan of a dog is 10-13 years (a lot more in dog years!) While you might love the idea, consult other more experienced dog owners to get a sense of what it’s really like. Can you afford vet bills? Insurance? Food, equipment; toys? Do you have time for exercise, training and play? And when you’ve answered all of those questions, ask yourself again - do you really want a dog?
If it’s still a resounding yes, think about things like lifestyle and location: if you live in an apartment building, a large dog may not be suitable. Do you love going for long walks in the country, or are you more of a homebody, content with a leisurely daily stroll? Do you mind brushing your dog? Or are you looking for something a bit more low maintenance? Remember: your lifestyle should fit the dog, not the other way around.
While it’s true some breeds are more independent, dogs are pack animals and need companionship - so if you’re off to work or anywhere else, bring them with you or consider a pet-sitter (for longer stints ask a registered kennel). Socialising your dog early (with proper etiquette) is also a good idea as it helps them to become calmer, confident and less scared or aggressive. Never leave your dog tied up outside - it can be extremely distressing to their wellbeing.
As much as pedigree breeds have gained popularity in recent years, they tend to be more prone to hereditary illness than “mixed-breed” dogs. Buying from breeders or worse, puppy mills also encourages cruel practices like tail docking and selective breeding - whereas so-called “mutts” tend to be hardier and live longer - owing to a mix of healthy genes from various breeds. Dog owners always see their pet as one-of-a-kind - but mongrels have a uniqueness all their own.
This comes with it’s own pros and cons - never bring home a pup younger than seven weeks, as their mother still needs to teach them essential discipline skills they can’t learn from humans. Puppies require a huge amount of time and energy to give them the best start - and while adult dogs may have health or behavioural issues they tend to be more settled. And - contrary to popular belief, you can teach old dogs new tricks!
6. To the Rescue
That’s not to say you can’t own a pedigree dog - but consider adopting a dog first. An estimated 130,000 dogs enter UK welfare organisations each year - some old, some young, some with health conditions that need a little extra care; others that just need love and attention - especially “overlooked” dogs who have been waiting to go home for a long time. Rescue dogs sometimes come with unhappy stories - but you can make their next chapter a positive one - so look for a registered animal shelter.
Hopefully you won’t spend a lot of time there - but finding a good vet for your furry friend is essential. Proper vaccination, tablets for parasites, spaying/neutering and microchipping are all vital to give your dog the very best start. Make their diet varied and nutrious: ensure their food and water is fresh, from clean bowls, as bacteria can lead to infection. Check regularly for ticks, fleas and parasites and most importantly - get to know the signs that they might be feeling unwell.
Before bringing your dog home, ensure you have the essentials covered: including beds, dog leads, dog collars, harnesses and bowls. Puppy proof your home from household dangers like poisons, toxins, climbing risks and electricals - even if you have an adult dog and are no longer puppy proofing these are still important. In winter, protect paws from poisonous rock salt and ice melters using booties (they can also burn paws. In summertime, take care on hot pavements and of course, never leave them alone in hot cars - overheating can lead to death.
Introduce your dog to grooming slowly, using clicker training (and treats) to create a positive connection. How often you bathe or brush depends on the dog - check with your vet for a suitable routine. Dogs require bathing every three months (more if they also like a mud bath too). Regularly check their ears for parasites and bacteria - but never insert anything into the ear canal. Claw and fur trims can be done at home: be extra careful not to cut across the “kwik”, the vein running through a claw. If you’re not totally confident, you can always ask a groomer or your vet. Teeth should be brushed 3-5 times a week with dog-friendly paste (chew toys and dental treats also help) - and gums should be pink - not white or red. Dog breath is par for the course - but if it gets too stinky watch out - it may be a sign of perodonitis, or poor gut health.
Let sleeping dogs lie - whether it’s a cosy choice from a range of dog beds - or whether it’s your own sleeping spot is up to you: while co-sleeping with pets can be a nice way to bond, it can also disrupt your sleep and isn’t that hygienic. Then again, if the thought of also sharing your bed with pet hair, drool and anything else they may have tracked in from outside doesn’t put you off, perhaps nothing will!
Dogs need mental and physical exercise, particulary energetic, bouncy types like border collies. Boredom can lead to problems like weight gain and depression so make time to interact with them through play and at least one 20-30 minute walk a day depending on age and condition. Yes,dog training can be time consuming - but with consistency and patience, it really does pay off (especially house training!). Puzzle toys are also great fun, allowing your pup fulfil their hunter instincts with a tasty reward at the end.
While it might seem a bit grim, consider drawing up a “pet-nup” (the Blue Cross website offers a template). Breakdowns in families or relationships affect the dog too, so ensure you’ve got this covered. Dogs are family members, not part of the furniture - so get everyone to pitch in with things like meals, playtime and brushing. They’re also are a great way to teach kids essential life skills, from caring for another living creature, to how to cope with loss when the time comes to say goodbye. Dogs offer companionship, improve our mental health, lower our blood pressure and even encourage us to exercise - all with the wag of a tail. It’s only fair we look after them too.