If you’re like me, you have spent a lot of time thinking about having a pet of your own. Although I love all animals, I definitely self-identify as a “dog person”. I spent most of my childhood begging my parents for a dog of my own, but the time was never right and my mother was never fully on board. Until I was 13, and my dad finally brought home a tiny curly poodle that stole our hearts and took over our home. Fast forward to college when I was on my own with a quiet apartment void of any of the little pitter patter those 4 paws had so lovingly made. I started pondering the thought of bringing home my very own dog, a pup that would truly be mine. I thought I knew everything about dogs there was to know, I had spent the last 7 years with a family pet after all.
What I had glossed over is that my mother did most of the dirty work when it came to caring for our dog, and there was another side of pet-ownership that I had not been exposed to. When I brought home my own toy poodle Oliver he was 4 months old…and ready to turn my world upside down with his tiny button nose and sneaky disposition. If I had known what I know now would I still have two dogs at home? Of course. Would I do things a little differently? Absolutely. These are some things I have learned about owning a dog and that may aid you in making the decision or improve your own journey of dog-ownership:
It Might Be a Disaster (For a Little While)
Bringing home a dog is an adjustment, especially if your new family member is a puppy. Both of my dogs were puppies when I brought them home, and required A LOT of attention and time. They also wreaked their own small disasters on my apartment on a weekly basis until we got settled into a routine and they got a little older. I see so many new pet owners who get adorable (and often expensive) puppies and bring them home for a few weeks and then decide it is too much for them. Before you get a dog you need to really understand the time and effort it takes to give your dog a good life. This is not something I was fully aware of before bringing my first dog home, but once I understood I was willing to put in the work to make sure my pup was living a happy and healthy life. My literature books have been chewed to shreds, blinds torn out of my windows, and carpet ripped from the floor (sounds pretty extreme, right?) but I still stood by my dogs and vowed to give them the time and training it took for them to mature. This wasn’t easy; it took research, time, and establishing a routine in their lives in order for their behavior to improve. Sometimes being a pet-owner means weathering through tough stages in your dog’s life, such as the puppy phase. Your favorite shoes may get chewed up and you’ll probably step in a few puddles of pee, but if you are okay with that then pet-ownership is probably right for you.
They Require More Time Than You Realize
Did you know that most dogs need to be exercised for at least an hour a day? I didn’t. When I lived at home our dog had plenty of room to run in open fields and didn’t require a daily walk or exercise. However college towns are a little scarce when it comes to places you can let your pup loose without his leash, and I had to start finding ways to get my dog moving as an alternative. Aside from the time it takes to potty train a new dog or puppy, even when you have established a routine within your lives dogs still take up a significant part of your day. I take my dogs out to use the bathroom between 4 and 6 times every day, each trip lasts an average of 10 minutes or longer, totaling between 40 minutes to 1 hour spent just letting them do their business. I also walk my dogs twice a day, once in the morning before I crate them for the day and once after dinner. In addition to this, I spend time feeding them, brushing and bathing them, carting them to the groomer and the vet, and playing with them. Dogs NEED this type of attention; they need to know they can rely on you for what comes next. A dog is not a passive family member you can ignore until you want to play a game of fetch, in order to live their best lives they require owners who are willing to meet all of their needs and invest the time.
Exercise is Essential
You may have noticed I mentioned exercise several times now, that’s because it is one of the biggest lifesavers I have discovered when it comes to owning dogs. Not only is it good for their health, but it does wonders for their behavior as well. As I mentioned before, this is a pretty big commitment for new pet owners. I spend at least an hour of my day (this is a lot if you’re as busy as me) making sure my dogs are properly exercised. Most days this means getting up early to take them on a walk before I leave for the day and another after dinner, but sometimes it might be that it’s cold or raining and in this case, I have to figure out another way to get them moving. Some ways I do this is having them chase a laser pointer up and down the stairs (we love this!) or playing fetch in the living room. Before I got a dog of my own, I never realized exercise was so important. Now that I am taking them on daily walks they go willingly into their crates to rest while I am gone for the day and don’t have so much pent up energy and frustration that when I let them out that they chew things or pee in the floor. They are better behaved toward each other and are much happier dogs overall.
Crate Training is Your Friend
My family looked horrified when I told them I crated Oliver while I was at work. But the truth is, it’s better for everyone involved. Not only are dogs den animals that enjoy having a safe space to rest and relax, but it prevents them from being destructive and harming themselves or regressing in potty training while you are away. If you are giving your dog’s enough exercise and making the crate a positive place where he or she can go when they feel stressed or need to rest, crate training will work wonders in your life. By exercising my dogs beforehand, giving them something to occupy themselves (like a Kong filled with spray-treat) while inside, and dispensing their meals and treats in their crates both of my dogs look at it as their personal dens and go willingly. Oliver often gets inside when his brother is bugging him or he wants some space, all I have to say is “get in your crate!” and he goes zooming inside on his own. The number of bathroom-related accidents as well as chewing incidents went down significantly and then disappeared altogether once I started using the crate to my advantage. Although crate training is a wonderful tool, always remember to never crate your dog for the entire day, not provide enough exercise before and after, or place your dog inside when you are angry or as a punishment. Crate training only works if you make it your dog’s “happy place”.
Consistency and Patience are Key
Because I was not consistent in the beginning, I was seeing lots of trouble with my dogs when it came to potty training and behavior issues. They were peeing on the floor and barking insanely at strangers. I finally realized I wasn’t doing something right, and I went to the internet to find the cause. From my findings, I concluded I wasn’t spending enough time walking and training my dogs. So from then on out I have done my best to be consistent in their daily routine (walks, feedings, potty breaks) and I have used positive reinforcement as a training tool to better their behaviors such as barking and jumping. Are they perfect dogs? No. But they are getting better every day. I am keeping at it and seeing little improvements every day. I think as a dog owner it’s important to be patient and understand our dogs are not doing things to displease us, their behaviors are usually as a result of confusion or ignorance. It is our job as their owners to show them what we want them to do and be patient as they learn. Most of the time our dogs only want to please us, so if you are consistent and patient with your furry friend odds are that eventually, he will catch on!
Being a pet parent is not easy, and I wish I had known all of these things before I brought my first puppy home. All I had when I got back to my small college apartment was a little fur ball in my arms, some dog bowls, and a whole lot of love and determination to raise my new pal the best way I could. Sometimes it has been a frustrating and tough road, but the rewards of owning dogs are never-ending.