When visiting a client's home for their first lesson we discuss any behavioural problems, bad habits and annoying traits their dog or puppy displays. We then discuss how their dog views life through its eyes. How it regards us, its environment and lifestyle.
In the main it becomes apparent very early on that the owner does not appreciate life from their dog's point of view. Your dog is a thinking, feeling animal with various requirements. It is as dependent upon you as a young child.
When it comes to choosing a dog what factors need we take into consideration? The following is not definitive but will hopefully provide food for thought to those looking at bringing a dog into their home.
What is your motivation or reason for getting a dog? Everyone loves a cute, cuddly puppy but this should be a lifetime commitment. Nobody should get a dog on a whim or because they walked past a pet store displaying a litter of appealing bundles of fluff! I often hear it exclaimed that raising a dog is more difficult than a child. If I had a dollar for every time I hear "Why don't they tell you that when you get a dog? " Ultimately you should have done your homework first.
Please take your time to research and ask questions of friends or family who have dogs. They are more likely to tell you the truth than those with a vested interest in removing a large sum of money from your pocket! Are you as clued up as you think you are? Have you considered how much of your time your new dog will require? Have you thought about how best to puppy proof your home? Have you researched the minefield of canine nutrition and veterinary care? Where should your dog sleep and how often does it need to eat? How do you go about toilet training? The list goes on........
Most people have in mind that they would like a certain breed of dog. Examine your personal reasoning behind this. For instance would it be wise to get a Great Dane if you live in a flat or townhouse and you have severe shoulder pain due to a chronic medical issue? Should you get a very active dog if you are not? Should you get a dog with high prey or play drive if you are not assertive by nature when required? Be realistic when it comes to selecting a dog purely by breed. I see many clients who by their own admission, in some cases, chose the wrong dog. You might love staffys but if you do not have the knowledge and are not capable of controlling one that comes from a rescue organisation and it has a history of pulling towards and being aggressive towards other animals, do you need to re-think your choice? Should a thick coated dog or those known to have breathing issues such as bulldogs be chosen if you live in a hot country?
How physically active are you? Do you relax in front of the TV or computer most evenings after work? Are you willing to get out of bed earlier in order to exercise your dog or to give up that leisure time that your dog would like to spend with you? Remember your dog will need his fair share of your time and attention. You can't just ignore him and expect him to entertain himself. Its quite simple; If you are not mentally and physically fit enough to exercise your dog frequently then do not get a dog. If you are suffering from a chronic depressive illness or housebound owing to age or lack of capability then perhaps it is not in your or a dog's best interest to live together. Dogs can become prisoners of their human's circumstances. They can easily become stir crazy if they do not get enough stimulus.
Consider your own environment and how that might impact upon your dog. If you live in a densely populated environment are you able to find space for your dog to walk and exercise on a regular basis? Likewise just because you live on a large rural property does not mean that your dog does not need to be walked because it has the space to roam on its own. There is absolutely no substitute to putting your dog on a lead and walking with it. As a wise person once told me "Fish swim, birds fly, dogs walk!"
How many hours in a day are you away from home? In other words, is it fair to leave a dog on its own for extended periods regularly? I frequently see clients who are away from home for ten hours a day or more and whom believe that a walk every couple of days is sufficient enough for their dog. Is it any wonder that so many dogs develop issues when left to their own devices more often than not? I have witnessed situations where dogs have caused thousands of dollars of damage to gardens, cars, motorcycles, furniture, etcetera and the owner does not understand why their dog is so destructive or why it suffers separation anxiety!
If your lifestyle is one that takes you away from home frequently or for extended periods of time is there someone else in your household who is willing to share the raising of your dog? Would your dog's welfare be adversely affected by long periods of absence?
Are you willing, on your days off to take your dog places with you? Are you able to socialise your dog early on in it's life in order to avoid problems later? Are you able to commit to providing the stimulation that your dog requires by walking, playing and training?
If you live with other people have you taken them into consideration? Often one partner will inform me that they did not want a dog in the first place. Plenty of parents are left with the responsibility of raising a dog once their children have themselves flown the nest. I have known lots of situations where one partner works away from home and has left the other to bring up children, organise the household and deal with an out of control dog. If you live in shared accommodation are your housemates responsible enough to respect your dogs rules and boundaries? Is everyone likely to play their part in raising a dog properly? Does anyone in the household have a fear of dogs?
Raising a dog can be an expensive undertaking. Do you know how much it costs to feed your dog properly on a balance diet? Do you know which foods are nutritious and which are an expensive waste of money? Take veterinary bills into consideration too. If your dog were unfortunate enough to become ill or to develop allergies can you afford to take care of it? Some treatment can become exceptionally expensive. Consider pet insurance but read the small print. Many people pay a large amount of money to purchase their dog without realising that the cost of raising a dog is continuous for the rest of it's life.
When it comes to owning a dog there is a legal responsibility placed upon you. In public it is incumbent upon you to have proper control of your dog at all times. In a public place you must be able to call your dog back to you. I deal with many instances where dogs become aggressive because other, irresponsible, dog owners allow aggressive, dominant or out of control dogs off lead in public places. Just one attack on an otherwise sociable dog can be enough to turn that previously calm dog aggressive. If your dog was off it's lead in public how would you feel if it took off and caused an accident and who do you think would be found responsible for such actions? Likewise think about the consequences of your dog chasing a timid dog towards a road, approaching a snake or an aggressive dog.
Let's imagine that you have considered all of the above and that you have reached the conclusion that you believe you can successfully raise a dog properly. What about training your dog? Have you considered why that should be a necessity? After all, you may end up paying a great deal of your hard earned money towards obtaining your new best friend, would it not pay to ensure you know how to make his life as easy as possible, where there is a mutual understanding concerning rules and boundaries? After all, you wouldn't allow a child to set their own rules and boundaries, would you?
There are many differing philosophies regarding dog training. My own particular belief is that training must be balanced. More on this particular subject in future articles.