Saturday, April 21, 2012

What I Wish I Could Tell Them...

There are a large number of dogs sitting in shelters because their owners belatedly discovered that they were too busy to provide a home for a dog.  This saddens and aggravates me, because it adds a complication to the dog's life.  First, he's been abandoned, which has to do some psychic damage to an animal that is created to belong to a pack.  Second, he's in a shelter, where nothing is certain, not even a continued existence.  No one knows how long he'll sit there in a cage, in limbo.  Third, it ties up a cage in a world where cage space is not as plentiful as the unwanted pet population.

I wish that I could speak with first time dog adopters BEFORE they adopt.  It seems counter-intuitive, because a candid talk about what to expect might make some of them walk away.  But maybe that is for the best, before any damage is done?  (Then again, something might sound daunting enough to prevent someone from trying, someone who might be good at it when the time came.)

I don't know the answer to that; of course it's going to vary from person to person.  But for me, I will always say that more information is good.  Jeff and I researched like crazy before we became dog owners.  Not just about breed specifics, but on the day-to-day care.  We talked long hours about our lifestyle, and what type of dog would be able to come into our family with the most ease.  Although we didn't prepare for every eventuality, I think that we were very well-prepared for taking care of a dog when we did finally "take the plunge" and adopt Argos.

Here is what I wish that I could say to EVERYONE who is adopting for the first time:

1.  Dogs need attention.  If you're going to want to ignore the dog most of the time, or expect him to lie quietly in the corner while you live out your life, he isn't going to be happy.  They want to be petted, cuddled, loved.  The intensity of this desire is going to be different for different dogs, but it will be present in nearly any dog who is ready to be a pet.

2.  Dogs need exercise.  And you'd best be prepared to give it to them, or out of frustration and pent up energy, they will cause trouble, chew things, and there will be mayhem in your house.  Can you spare at least a couple of walks a day?  Can you play with the dog in the yard?  This is every day.  Even if you have the flu.  Even if you don't feel like it.  Even if you have deadlines at work.

3.  Dogs poop.  There will need to be bathroom breaks.  If you work incredibly long hours, you will need to find someone to take your dog outside.  It's not fair to ask them to hold it for umpteen hours and then get mad at them when they have an accident on your floor.

4.  Dogs take time.  Jeff calls it the "dog tax" that we have to pay whenever we get ready to go somewhere without them.  They have to be reassured.  We have to quickly survey the living room to make sure that it is "Maera proof."  We have to take them out for a quick potty break.  We have to structure our outing around their bathroom, exercise, and meal breaks. We have to make sure that the cats are all shut upstairs so that they don't mingle with the dogs.

5.  Dogs have to be taught.  Even the best-trained dog is not going to know your expectations when they first come into your home.  And let's be honest, the majority of dogs, upon adoption, wouldn't qualify as the "best-trained."  You are going to have to be prepared to teach them.  Are they allowed on the couch?  Where should they sleep?  How are they to let you know they must go outside?  What are the rules for eating?  How should they interact with other pets?  They might need some remedial training on begging, jumping up, or even house-breaking.  Be sure that you know what you're in for, and have an idea in mind for how you plan on training them.

6.  There will be damage.  I don't care how well-trained your dog is, there are going to be things that happen.  There may be scratch marks on the sofa, from where a dog scrambled up.  He might stain a comforter by puking on it.  He might have house soiling accidents.  None of these are fun for anyone to deal with, but they do happen and you have to be OK with that.  Dog ownership does not often (ever?) go hand-in-hand with a pristine house.

7.  Are all family members on board?  Does everyone know what is expected of them?  . Make sure that everyone is willing to do their fair share, and that you know what each other's definitions of "fair share" are.  If you find out that you're going to be the only one disciplined enough to consistently take the dog out for bathroom breaks, is this going to become a problem?  We split the "dog chores" very evenly in our house, which works out really well.  It means that if I need a break, then I can take one without guilt, because I know that Jeff will take up the slack.

8.  Dogs require routine care.  They need to be taken to the vet. Sometimes they may need their teeth cleaned.  They will need to be groomed.  Their nails will need to be trimmed.  Their ears will need to be cleaned out.  They will require basic preventative maintenance.  Heart worm preventative.  Vaccinations.  They will probably need to be licensed with your city or county.

9.  You are responsible for your dog's actions.  If your dog is put into a position where he bites someone, or someone's pet, both you and your dog are in serious trouble.  Train him not to do so if that's possible.  If you have a reactive dog, take steps to isolate him from people and animals that he might hurt.  Don't set him up to fail.  Don't let your dog roam freely.  Most dog attacks that I read about were caused by dogs being allowed to roam around and terrorize the neighbors.  A dog that is gnawing on a bone on his bed or sleeping on your couch with his head in your lap is not causing trouble for others.

These are the big ones that I can think of.  Probably most of my readers have had dogs for far longer than I have.  Can you think of any that should be added?


  1. I think you have it all about covered. I hope all first timer's take head.

  2. There is also the poop scooping! With cats, its the litter box, with dogs, it is your yard.
    Kozmo (for queen Penelope)

  3. I'd like to add that if you want a puppy, they take twenty times more of all of the things you mentioned than an adult dog. Puppies aren't for everyone. Also, think about your lifestyle when you decide to get a dog, and be realistic when choosing a dog so you'll get a good fit. For some people, an older dog is perfect and those seniors make fantastic pets. Also, realize that your dog is going to get old a lot faster than you are, and you have to be committed to seeing them through their sunset years, which often isn't easy.

  4. Great post! These really should be handed out to people thinking of adopting any animal.

  5. Truer words haven't been spoken. and.. I love the pic of dad with the pup :)

  6. What Angela J. said. You know, another thing I love about this post is, I have always felt resentment toward my parents for denying us a dog when we longed and pined for one -- and then, when my baby brother was the only one left at home (and at that, not for long), getting a dog for him and then making the poor thing (the dog, I mean, although come to think of it, not just the dog) neurotic as all hell. Now I see -- a dog was just not a fit for my parents, and they would have hated the whole exercise. It's a cold empathy I'm feeling -- but I'll take it, any day, over resentment! Many thanks to you as ever.