Dog Owning 101

Dog Ownership 101: The Basics
The things I wish all dog owners knew, or knew to consider.

1.  What type of dog is best for you?

Granted, it might be too late, but this is something that should be given huge consideration for someone getting a (or another) dog.

Becoming a dog owner is not just adding a cute, furry addition to your daily routine; dogs are a commitment of your time and money, and becoming a good dog owner requires a life-style change.  Different breeds have different needs and will provide you with different challenges, and you have to be very honest about what will be best for both you and your dog.  Sure, Australian Shepherds are darn cute, but do you actually have 2-3 hours per day (every day, for the next 12-15 years) to dedicate to providing your dog with the physical and mental stimulation it needs?

Make a frank assessment of your lifestyle and what kind of companion you’re looking for.  In addition to how cute the dog is, consider energy levels, size, type of coat (shedding), etc.  Great Danes make very cute puppies, but shelters and rescue organizations frequently see them surrendered once they are full grown and the previous owner decided they couldn’t handle a dog that size.  But with a little foresight, these and similar situations are entirely preventable.  Do your research; know what you’re getting yourself into.

2.  Where to get your dog from?

I am not going to go into detail, and I honestly don’t think I should have to in any event, because information concerning the horrors of puppy mills abound.  Everyone considering a puppy should do their best to ensure their money is not funding these organizations.  Yes, puppies sold in pet stores are often from puppy mills.  Stay away.

Also beware of the notorious “backyard breeder”.  These are breeders who are trying to turn a profit, and who treat the dogs akin to livestock.  They do not pay attention to breeding lines, hereditary diseases, or cases of inbreeding, and often have one female giving birth to multiple litters per year.  Watch out.

And if you are seeking a dog from a breeder, do your homework and ask lots of questions.  A good breeder will ask you lots of questions, too.  Make a visit to see the puppies and any other dogs they may have in advance and check out the living conditions.  If you’re not comfortable, don’t support them.

If you want to rescue a dog, research is again very important – both into your potential new dog, and into the organization itself.  Have a lengthy conversation with the people at the organization who have spent the most time with the dog you have in mind, since they should be able to give you good insights about your chosen dog.  And remember, when adopting a rescue – whether adult or puppy – you may be also adopting a variety of potential mental or physical problems (also possible when getting a dog from a breeder, too, of course), so ensure you are prepared (mentally, physically, financially) to deal with what may arise.

3.  Exercise!

First, lets be clear on what I mean by “exercise”:  I mean a proper WALK.  I do not mean running around the backyard, playing fetch, or going to an off-leash park.  I mean walking with your dog heeled next to you.  The other aforementioned activities are play-time perks you dog can certainly enjoy after his or her daily walk.

A proper dog walk is important for several reasons.  Some are:

a)  Physical exercise.  Obviously.  Many pet dogs are overweight, and lack of physical exercise is half the problem (being over-fed would be the other).  Our dogs need exercise to build muscle and be physically fit, just like we do.  At minimum, your dog needs an hour walk per day.  Every day.  For his or her entire life.  This is a responsibility you agreed to when you decided to get a dog.

b)  Release of pent-up energy.  In addition to the physical health benefits of walking, there are mental benefits as well.  Dogs that have pent-up energy from lack of physical and mental stimulation tend to take it out at home, and chewing and digging are great indicators of this – they’re just trying to keep themselves busy.  A daily walk will help alleviate boredom and keeps them mentally and physically engaged.

c)  Bonding.  An hour or more of walking per day is a great opportunity to build a bond with your dog.  With them heeled next to you, they have to pay attention to you when you turn, stop, and change pace.  Their attention is focused on you, and they look to you for leadership.  This can actually improve other aspects of your relationship with your dog, such as their obedience to commands and rules and your other expectations of them.

d)  Socialization.  Getting your dog out daily to see, and possibly meet, people and other dogs along the way is a great way to ensure they’re polite when greeting new people and other dogs.  Getting out regularly to new locations and on different routes also helps them to be relaxed and confident in all sorts of situations.  Our dogs are our companions, so the more places we can take them with us, the better.

e)  Gives your dog a job.  While dogs are believed to have been domesticated since as early as 10,000 BCE, dogs have only been urban, household pets for the last 100 years or so, a trend that developed as a status symbol, together with the modern kennel club institutions.  All breeds of dogs were engineered for one type of job or another: herding, hunting, drafting, tracking, guarding, etc.  And yes, even Fido, as he sleeps on your couch, has instincts associated with his intended “job”.  So even if you’re not able to take your dog to herding trials or tracking classes, at the very least his or her job can be to walk nicely next to you for an hour or two per day.  It’s not asking a lot, and they are receiving a much more luxurious lifestyle than the working dog of centuries past as it is.

4.  Training

All I am simply going to say here is: train your dog! I am going to try to remain uncontroversial here and avoid commenting on the different schools of thought, but the importance of training your dog in general is huge.  All dog owners represent the whole dog owning community when they’re out in public (which should be daily, if you’re exercising your dog regularly), so just as it’s important to pick up after them, it’s also important to ensure you don’t have a crazy furry monster at the end of your leash.

I am going to go out on a limb and say that there’s probably not one style of training that will work for every single dog and every single owner, so it’s important to look into local training organizations and pick one you agree with and think will work for both you and your dog.  And once you’ve picked it, for the love of Zeus, try it!  Give it 100% for the duration of the class.  Do what your trainer tells you, and if you don’t see drastic results immediately, be patient and consistent and practice at home.  While one method probably won’t work for everyone, no method will work unless you actually give it an honest effort.  Because, yes, what they say is true and it’s more like people training anyway.

I’d also like to take this moment to say that training isn’t a one-time fix for anything.  Just because you signed up for a 6 week course, doesn’t mean you can throw it all out after the class is over and will have the perfect dog for life.  Training, and maintaining rules and boundaries, continues throughout the lifetime of your dog, and is just another responsibility you accepted upon getting a dog.

5.  Diet

If you can purchase your dog’s food at the grocery store, simply put, you’re probably feeding them garbage.  Information on the perils of feeding cheap, poor-quality dog food can easily be found once one looks for it, so I invite you to do so.  There have been lots of pet food recalls in the recent years among those “grocery store brands”, and as a responsible dog owner, it’s up to you to educate yourself on what exactly is in that kibble and what it means for your dog.

A dog fed a proper, healthy diet has fewer medical issues, a healthier body weight, and a longer life-span.  Look into raw diets or quality dried foods that aren’t full of grains and unnecessary ingredients.  Your dog will like them better and be healthier for it.

And that’s it: the very basics of dog ownership as I see it.  While there is really a lot more to it than that, these are the big-picture concerns, which, if addressed, would lead to more fulfilled dogs and happier owners alike.

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About ThatJenK
Writing from Calgary, Alberta, Canada. 90% pictures of my dogs; 10% miscellaneous opinions nobody asked for.

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