“If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.” ~ Will Rogers
Pictured above are my two boys Juno the Great Dane and Bruno, the German Shepherd. Yes, Bruno and Juno.
It’s no secret: if you know me, you know I am preoccupied with dogs. I’m the kind of person who is much more bothered by a dog being hurt than a human, and I’m am also the kind of person who believes there are “no bad dogs, only bad owners.”
Following are a few things I have found over the years which make my life with dogs much better.
I offer them to you in the hopes they will do the same for you. I am by no means an expert or a paragon of virtue—I have been a bad dog owner and I have been a good one—but experience makes a great teacher, and after 45 years of living beside my canine loves, I’ve gathered a modicum of knowledge.
First things first:
1) Know your breed.
People—including me—will often choose a dog for the way that they look. I’m a Great Dane girl, no two ways about it. I love everything about Danes, but originally I was simply drawn to their massive stature. They reminded me of those super sized stuffed animals I always asked for at Christmas and never received. But it is much more important to know who a dog is, rather than how he looks.
I was lucky and discovered that Danes match my lifestyle well—they like to stay close to their people, walk about an hour a day, eat a lot of stuff and climb on top of you so their drool strings hang down and attach to your face. (It’s the same with the German Shepherd my husband picked out—except for the sitting on you and drooling part.)
Not so with the Chocolate Lab I inherited years ago. A tenacious, high energy guy, he was labeled a trouble maker by ignorant me simply because I wasn’t giving him enough exercise. He was a field dog and he needed to run. Our little walks around the block on a leash weren’t cutting it.
There is an old saying, and probably the best dog advice out there: “a tired dog is a good dog.” Prospective dog owners need to do their best to discover exactly how much walking/running/playing their intended will require to make him tired, or good.
This can be hard if you have adopted a mixed breed baby from a shelter (a great thing to do—more on this in point two) but not impossible. You can get a general idea of any dog’s energy levels just by playing with them for an hour or so. If they are still hyper after an hour of play, and you have a full time job which will keep the dog the locked up in a crate for eight hours a day, look for another friend.
2) Never ever (ever, ever, ever, ever, ever) buy a dog from a pet store or a backyard breeder.
Dogs purchased at pet stores likely come from puppy mills, and by buying them there you are supporting a horrific, cruel and unethical industry.
Fortunately pet stores aren’t hard to spot. A backyard breeder is much more difficult. Backyard breeders are people who carelessly breed dogs without regard to health, genetics or breed standards.
How can you tell a real breeder from a backyard breeder? In this day and age anyone can put up a shiny web page and look respectable. The only way to truly know who you’re dealing with is to get several personal references and visit them on site—hopefully more than once—to get a sense of what they’re doing and how they’re doing it.
Trust your instinct and watch how they treat their animals. I went to a GSD breeder once who screamed at her crated Shep intermittently the whole time I was there. Needless to say, I wouldn’t recommend her.
Rescues or properly bred dogs are the only way to go.
3) Plan your finances.
Another old and accurate dog-ism says: “the bigger the dog, the bigger the bills.” I will add that even a Chihuahua can wreak havoc on your bank account.
On average, my husband and I spend about $2,500 annually per dog (we have two). That’s an expensive habit. Yes, one of our dogs has Addison’s disease and the other one has epilepsy, both requiring expensive lifetime medical care, but we didn’t know that when we got them. Any dog—just like any human—can get sick or get into an accident and need major health care.
Back in the day, people put a bullet into a sick or injured animal. Now they are treated medically just like humans, with the bills to match. I strongly advise purchasing some kind of medical insurance for every animal you have, as well as spaying/neutering and micro chipping.
Besides vet stuff, you will need to pay for food, toys and babysitting when you go out of town. It adds up. If you can’t afford it, don’t even go there.
4) Realize this is a life long commitment.
The average life span of a dog is 10 to 15 years. A lot of things can happen in a human’s life during that time frame: babies, job changes, moves, sickness. Often, when people’s personal lives or finances get rough, the first thing to go is the dog. The shelters are full of them. Please don’t be that person.
Before we bring a dog home, we should make sure we ourselves are healthy. Do we have a good job or a reliable source of income? Do we eat well and exercise consistently? Are our personal relationships with spouses and children functional?
The more of these elements are in place, the more likely we will be able to handle whatever bumps in the road arise without abandoning our animals.
Training your dog, and more importantly yourself, so the two of you can work together as a team is going to take more than a few group classes at PetCo. Training needs to begin immediately and continue each and every single day you are together for the rest of your lives.
There are many different styles of training—I won’t promote one or the other here. I will simply say that it’s best to find a reasonable method and stay consistent. Dogs are smart, but they aren’t mind readers (well, some are, but anyway…) Training opens the doors of communication between you so you can have a happier, more calm, peaceful and mutually enjoyable life.
Don’t let this caveat put you off getting a dog. Dog training can be really fun and satisfying work, and doesn’t take up that much time at all. Realistically, 15 to 30 minutes a day to start will give you great results. After that, it’s just a matter of reinforcing good behavior.
If we can offer all the aforementioned things to a canine friend, then we will both be happy indeed. I know that, for me, my relationships with my dogs have been some of the deepest and most satisfying I’ve ever had. Despite the cost, the drool, the wayward fur and the incessant poop pick up they can fill my heart in a way nothing else in this big, wide world ever could.
Author: Erica Leibrandt
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photos: Author’s Own