There are many reasons that people become dog owners. Often parents get a puppy for the children. Some people live alone and get a dog for companionship. Some people get an older dog because they may not want to deal with the issues involved with having a puppy in the house such as chewing and toilet training. Or they get an older dog to help out another family that can no longer care for their dog, or go to a shelter and get a dog that was abandoned or mistreated by previous owners.
In our family we got a puppy because our daughter wanted one. Although almost in her teens, we found that she was not ready for the responsibility of having a dog. Of course, this does not apply only to children; there are plenty of adults that find out after they get a dog that they are not ready for it. I want to emphasise to parents, that no matter how much your child pleads with you, and promises to take care of it, that in my experience you should only agree and get a dog when you, the parent are prepared to take care of it.
So what does taking care of a puppy involve?
With a very young dog of six weeks old, that can mean feeding four times a day. Not a good idea if everyone is out of the house during the day, either at work or school.
Toilet training is essential, and requires some dedicated time to train the dog and also to clean up after accidents, especially if the puppy prefers to use carpets as a toilet, as they are hard to clean, and to keep smelling fresh.
A dog has to have a suitable place to sleep, and a new puppy may fret at first, crying through the night. This of course means disturbed sleep for the household and bleary eyes the next day. Some puppies will scratch at the door if confined in a room, such as a laundry, causing damage in the house.
Puppies and young dogs are usually full of energy, and need to be exercised. Play can be a form of exercise where there is a yard or garden where the dog can play. This may involve throwing a Frisbee or a ball, for what can seem like hours. I remember our young dog never tired of these games before we did! It is good if there are multiple family members who can take a turn with playing with the dog. Also taking the dog for a walk becomes an essential part of the daily routine for someone. And of course, don’t forget that you need to scoop that poop, at least you need to where I live.
Then we come to the subject of vets. Dogs need regular inoculations, and treatment for worms and perhaps heart worm. Then are the mysterious ailments, like when our puppy one day just couldn’t use her back legs. A day at the vet, and she was alright again, but it was always unclear what caused this condition. Another time she got a bee sting on her face (she liked to try to catch the bees hovering in the flower beds). Her face swelled up, and we had to find a vet on a Sunday afternoon (weekend rates anyone?) Many dog breeds have particular susceptibilities. It can be eyes, or ears, or hips, or skin complaints, and some of these can be very expensive to treat.
Being a responsible dog owner
Apart from taking care of the dog in terms of housing and feeding and health, there is the important matter of being responsible for the dog in the neighbourhood. Firstly, the dog needs to be confined, so that it cannot wander the streets. Most places have animal control regulations that frown upon unaccompanied dogs. For the owner this means adequate fencing, and secure gates that are always kept closed. Alternatively, the dog can be trained to stop at the property boundary. Speaking from experience, this can be a long and tedious job, although we did eventually manage to train our dog not to take off and run to the next suburb if she ever got the chance. Well, mostly. There were times we would take our eyes off her just for a moment, and off she went.
One of the most contentious issues with dog ownership is a dog that barks excessively. Our dog barked a lot. She barked at the birds in the trees, and sometimes just at the trees; at the leaves rustling in the wind, or at the wind, and on full moon nights, she barked at nothing in particular. We tried a number of methods to control the barking.
We bought a special collar that sprayed out citronella when she barked (quite expensive it was too). The dog found that all she had to do was to tilt her head back and hold her chin up really high, and the spray did not affect her at all.
Another recommendation was to use a spray bottle of water, and to spray her in the face to stop unacceptable behaviour. Instead of finding this a deterrent, she loved it, and enthusiastically licked the water.
One thing that was effective was using a small length of chain, and throwing it down next to her, to startle her. It took many hours of reinforcing the training for her to stop her behaviours, and even then, they had to be followed up regularly or she slipped back into the old behaviours after a time.
Nigh time barking was a problem as every time we let her out at night, whether we went with her or not, she would run up to the back fence and bark her head off. Neighbours complained. The only solution we found was to take her out on a lead every time she needed to go out into the garden after eight thirty at night; we could not trust her to be quiet if she went alone.
So there are many things to think about before deciding to get a puppy or a dog: housing, health, training and costs.
A final thought
There is a final issue that I suspect most people never think of when they decide to get a puppy – the future. As the puppy grows into a dog, it will often grow into being a family member. Unfortunately for us as the humans in the relationship, the life expectancy of a dog is so much less than that of a human, and one day we will have to deal with the aging and the loss.