A DOG is not just for Christmas. Every December, welfare organisations and animal professionals take it upon themselves to send out yet again the same message. A message they most likely tire of saying but something they know is a very important. Why? Because there are still many people out there who think a cute little puppy dressed in a red bow tie is the perfect festive gift for a loved one. The reality is of course that while a dog is not just for Christmas, it is also not just for the spring, or just for summer walks along the beach, or even for autumn strolls around the reservoir. A dog truly is for life – come rain or shine.
If you have been thinking of getting a puppy – whether it is for a Christmas gift or something you have been planning for a while – you should be asking yourself a number of questions before you make that call to the breeder. After answering these key questions you should have a much better idea as to how suited you, and your lifestyle is, to being a dog owner. If you are not suited and are not prepared to change your lifestyle, then you should ask yourself how fair it would be on any new pup entering your life.
You might now be thinking about what those questions are. Training methods might have moved on a lot since you last had a dog or you might be looking to be a first time owner and therefore have no idea what the future entails. So here are five questions you should ask yourself and a quick guide to the reasons why.
1) Why do you want a dog?
It might seem like the obvious question and many people might overlook it when making their decision. It is number one for a reason – it is the first question you should ask yourself.
Do you want a puppy because they look cute and cuddly? Do you want a puppy because your sister’s friend has one and everyone is in love with it and you want that too? Do you want one because your children keep asking all the time and you want them to stop? Do you want to rescue a dog because it looks sad in the rescue centre or shelter from the picture you have seen on Facebook? Or do you want one because your lifestyle lends yourself to having a puppy, because you want to put the time into training it, because you want to feel rewarded when you see it develop and because you would like the companionship?
There are many reasons people cite for wanting a puppy or rescue dog but wanting one for the wrong reasons could land you in an awkward situation going forward. Dogs are not a fashion accessory so saying you purely want one because they look cute and everyone will be in love with it is not enough. You could get one that looks like a teddy bear as a puppy but is a working dog breed cross, which needs a lot of exercise and mental stimulation to keep it feeling fulfilled. It’s not going to stay like a teddy bear forever. Many people also make the mistake of getting one because their children want one and keep asking, but if you know you’re lifestyle is not suited to a dog, don’t give in unless you’re prepared to change it. The ‘sad face’ of a rescue dog in a shelter is also a reason many people decide to bring one home without really thinking about it. Re-homing rescues is a fantastic idea if you have the lifestyle for a dog, but many need the same amount of training as a puppy, some have behaviour challenges and all need to have exercise and mental stimulation just like any dog. Are you ready and equipped for that?
Getting a dog is a massive family decision – make sure you are not taking a pup home on some misguided belief that it will be easy.
2) Have you got enough time for a dog?
I’ve mentioned lifestyle as a key factor for your decision to get a dog and this comes hand-in-hand with time. Put simply, if you cannot make enough time to give a dog what it needs then please don’t take one home. As above, every dog needs exercise and mental stimulation and depending on breed and personality, some need more than others. Many people who home a puppy or rescue will consider the time they will need to walk the dog but tend to underestimate the time they will need to train it. Our canine friends are quick learners, they are incredibly clever and we can teach them to do so many things from detecting drugs to firearms to being of assistance to people with disabilities. However, you’re not going to be able to click your fingers and suddenly your pup is toilet trained. You can’t expect your dog to learn overnight the rules of the home and what is and isn’t acceptable. You have to put hours and hours of time in to teach and train your dog. To expect them to know without putting that time in would be unfair.
3) Can you afford it?
So you know you are getting a pup for the right reasons and you have prepared yourself to dedicate hours of time to raise a fulfilled and trained pup. Now you need to ask yourself whether you can afford it. What do you need to pay for? Well, food is the obvious one and the cost of this can range depending on what diet your dog is on and how much food it needs depending on its size. You will also need to factor in treats and toys. Be prepared to pay around £50 to £100 a month on food alone.
You will also need to consider the cost of parasite treatment – something that is very important in maintaining good health for you pup. Again this depends on size, weight and brand, but to give you an idea it can be around £50 for three months’ worth of treatment.
Sticking with health matters, you then have to consider veterinary bills. You’ll have to get your pup vaccinated and vets recommend yearly boosters. Will you want your pup neutered? If so, that comes at a cost too. What if your dog is ill and needs scans and treatment? Then your bill can run into the hundreds and if not thousands if they are not insured. It is strongly recommended that you get insurance for your dog and while that will avoid large bills down the line, it is yet another monthly cost. How much you pay again depends on breed and how much you wish to be insured for.
Grooming and training are other costs you might like to factor in. Will the breed you get need to be regularly groomed? How much would it be to have your dog groomed and do you wish to join a puppy class or get in a trainer to help? Do your research and find out how much all elements will cost and make sure you can afford it before you jump into making that decision.
4) What is your house set-up like?
This is another important factor to consider. When I say set-up, I mean the structure of your home as well as family dynamic. It is wise to look at the size of your home before you decide on getting a dog then what breed. Can you accommodate a dog? Where will it sleep? How big is your garden? Is your garden secure? Do you need to do work to your home and garden before the dog arrives? They are all questions that you need to answer first. Work to make your garden secure could come at yet another cost and larger dogs need a lot of space.
Family dynamic is important because it can affect the personality of your pup and its training. Do you live in a busy, stressful household? Do you have young children and if so, are they old enough to understand training? A busy, stressful household could result in a busy, stressful dog so make sure those in your family are prepared for a new addition. Young children can struggle to understand why you are training the dog to do something and can sometimes teach your dog to do something you would rather they not do. Are your children old enough to understand and if not, would it be better to wait until they are older before you bring a dog home?
5) What breed is best for you?
If you have read the first four questions and you are content with your decision to take a puppy or rescue home, then the next thing you need to consider is what breed is best for you. There are now so many breeds and it is important that you do your research before deciding what one to get. Things to consider include: What was the breed originally bred to do? How much exercise do they need, how big do they grow, what kind of coat do they have and what breed traits do they have? The breed of dog you get needs to match your lifestyle. If it doesn’t, you could end up with a frustrated dog developing unwanted behaviours.
Some breeds need more exercise and mental stimulation than others and many breeds have been bred to work all day. If you’re at work for long hours and only want to spend an hour or two a day walking and training your dog then a Border Collie is not going to be the breed for you. Poodle crosses are now becoming more and more popular as people think they are an easy choice. But do not underestimate the poodle. They are intelligent dogs and they also need to use their brains. If you are unsure as to what breed to get, ask a professional, they will be happy to help.
If you follow my guide and make sure you do your research, it will help you be as prepared as you can be before taking your pup or rescue home.