Raising a dog might be one of the coolest things you’ll ever do.
It will definitely be one of the WEIRDEST things you’ll ever do.
I mean, really. What makes us decide, “you know what I need? A 12 year commitment to a toddler-brained predator beast who will eat up immeasurable quantities of my time and money and complicate my life even more than it already is?”
What makes it cool is that, if you do it right, you get a bond with a member of another species. A generous helping of love and joy and other such intangibles that make the… less pleasant parts worth it.
In our last post, we talked about the most important thing to know before you get a dog. The basic message is that bringing a dog home is only the beginning of the adoption process. The real work is in building a strong relationship.
Expanding on that theme, here are some more things that are good to know before you begin your adventures in dog adoption.
1. Dogs are disgusting.
I sometimes forget this. More than a decade of cleaning up the messes of my dogs and hundreds of shelter dogs has desensitized me to canine grossness. Dogs roll in dead things, track muddy paw prints on the carpet, puke next to your bed in the dark, shed on everything you own. They poop in public and you have to pick it up with a flimsy plastic bag.
Puppies are the worst grossness offenders – a staff member at a shelter where I used to volunteer observed how much our puppies enjoyed finger painting with poop on the kennel walls. You’ll need to invest in some good pet stain and odor remover.
Dog ownership is not for the faint-of-heart nor the sensitive-of-nose.
2. Dogs complicate everything.
You suddenly have to think about things that used to be second nature.
You can’t rush out the door for work in the morning; you have to exercise and train the dog first. When you get home from work, you can’t vegetate in front of Netflix – you have to exercise and train the dog first. When you invite people over, you have to supervise the dog and make sure she doesn’t learn any bad greeting habits.
You can’t let your small children play on the floor without blocking the puppy from biting them (if that sounds ridiculous, trust me – puppies harrassing little kids is a big issue. Many people get rid of their pups because of it).
You can’t leave the house for a few hours without planning for how the dog will go out to pee. And is he going to bark and infuriate the neighbors?
A lot of folks like the idea of adopting a puppy at the same time as they have a baby. The hope is that the two “kids” will grow up and be BFFs. My serious question to these people: do you ENJOY pain? No judgement if you do. I’m just sayin’. There will be pain.
Wherever there is chaos in your life, a dog will amplify it. If you’re dealing with any major stresses -pregnancy, university, moving, divorce, caring for a sick relative, parenting a toddler- consider holding off on getting a dog until you’re in a more stable situation. Or at least be prepared for things to get crazy.
3. Your new dog will utterly consume your life for a while.
Potty training. Obedience training. Socialization. Walking. Constant supervision and management to prevent bad habits from forming. Not to mention all the fun parts like playing and getting to know each other. You won’t get to go out as much. You won’t have as much energy to wash dishes, do laundry or cook nutritious meals.
This stuff is a full time job, especially if you get a puppy, or an adult with behavior issues.
But this part doesn’t last forever. I get a lot of emails from sleep-deprived new puppy parents. “I’m a prisoner in my own home!” They lament. “I had no idea how much work this would be. I can’t keep doing this.”
It gets easier. Fido will settle in and learn the rules. The brunt of the training, socialization, and supervision takes place in the first few months. But the more work you do now, the better your dog will be later. So make sure you can commit to putting in the hours to get this right.
4. Consider not just what a dog can do for you, but what you can do for a dog.
We usually get dogs because of how we imagine they will fulfill our lives. Yay for unconditional love and puppy kisses! But dogs need lives, too. They are happiest (and best-behaved) when they have something challenging to do. From Siberian huskies to shih-poos, dogs are adventurers at heart. What kind of adventure can you offer yours? Long walks to explore the woods or the city. Joining an agility class. Hiking and camping. Puzzle toys that put his brain to work. Trick training. The possibilities are endless.
A lot of people get dogs without having time for them. Dogs are brilliant, beautiful beings, and their short lives are wasted one day stuck at home in a crate at a time.
Sucks, right? It doesn’t have to be like that.
When you get a dog, you are responsible for providing everything she needs. That includes not just food and water and walks, but, you know… a real, like, life.
5. You don’t have to be the alpha. You do have to be worthy of your dog’s trust.
The old myth that you have to dominate your dog to keep him in line is way, way outdated and obsolete. It still persists, though. It’s like a Furby that refuses to die even after you’ve removed its batteries and smashed its brains in with a hammer.
Don’t worry about that stuff.
If you want a good relationship with your dog, you have to earn his trust and respect. This is especially true for a rescue dog who has had little reason to trust people. You can’t know for sure what a shelter dog has been through, but it’s safe to assume it wasn’t fun. He may need time to catch his breath or grieve his losses. This is your chance to be his hero. Arm yourself with patience and compassion.
In every decision you make, from which training method you’ll use to how you let others treat him, ask yourself: is this going to build trust between us or will it damage his faith in me? This is a guiding principle I use with every dog I work with. It hasn’t failed me yet.
Bonus: 6. There is no cure for a bad day like a puppy licking your face.
This is one of those stupid cutesy sayings about dogs that get passed around the internet. And this one, at least, I can confirm to be true.
Just don’t think too hard about where that puppy’s tongue has been.