Getting a dog is a very personal decision that should not be made impulsively without a great deal of forethought about the responsibility of caring for another creature for its entire life.
When a dog is brought into the home under the right conditions, the relationship is guaranteed to succeed. With forethought, the owners are prepared for whatever curveball the dog ownership road might throw at them. When done with impulse and afterthought, the relationship never really thrives and the dog is often considered just that - an afterthought. The biggest issue really is responsibility, but what does that mean? Most people understand the lifetime responsibility of dog ownership includes the obvious daily exercise, quality food, a warm secure safe place to sleep and dwell - but those are just the basics. The often overlooked parts of the responsibility circle are the time required to socialize and train a dog so that it is not only a great companion but also a social, welcomed member of the human and dog community, as well as the financial responsibility.
Financially, it can be costly if you are not prepared for the unexpected. High-quality food - whether it's commercial-based kibble, cooked or raw food - is expensive. The better the food, the lower the chance of unexpected health issues such as stomach upset, allergies and intolerances to food that can deplete your bank account when a trip or two or three to the vet has to be made.
Finances aside, what I think gets most new dog owners in trouble is the emotional responsibility. In general it takes about two years (sometimes longer depending on the breed) to train a dog so that it is a well-mannered, social and welcomed member of your home. The first two years are the hardest because the dog can be challenging as it goes through stages of maturity and intellectual development.
Dogs are not like the dogs of children's movies - cute and funny when they get in trouble. There is a reason that the majority of dogs in shelters are younger than two years of age: people give up on them because they were not expecting the level of emotional commitment required to train a dog, constantly, from the moment it wakes to the time it goes to sleep.
Another emotional element to consider is the reason for getting a dog. Is it to fill an emotionally empty spot in your life or is it to add to the joy you are already experiencing in your life? Is it to get you off the couch or is it to have a companion that will be ready and willing to join you on whatever adventure you wish to take on that day?
These emotionally based questions are hard to admit to. Having a dog in your life will not make you feel fulfilled or energetic, but a dog will positively assist with whatever healthy changes you have begun to undertake in your life.
Bringing a dog into your life with forethought gives you time to consider what type of dog you want. Do you want a social dog that is everybody's friend or one that is a bit more protective and thus at times a challenge in the friends department? Do you want a dog that is highly obedient or one that you are just happy comes when called and is a good companion?
Do you want a mixed breed or pure breed? Does it matter? Take the time and research dog breeds and find one that you are drawn to, not only in physical appearance but personality traits as well.
Everyone loves the appearance of my dog Raider. Being a border collie blue heeler cross, his 45-pound frame with merle markings gets a lot of attention. But he is not a dog for the inexperienced and unprepared. He has energy, drive, focus and speed. Having had my 50th birthday this year, he is a test of my physical endurance.
With all that said, dogs are awesome! When you bring a dog into your life with forethought and for the right reasons, it ends up being the best decision you have ever made in your entire life. Dogs do nothing but enhance your every minute with joy and love - things we all need more of!
Joan Klucha has been working with dogs for more than 15 years in obedience, tracking and behavioural rehabilitation. Contact her at k9kinship.com.