So you want to get a dog

What woman in her 20s, 30s, 40s or 50s doesn’t want to get a dog? Okay, lots don’t, but there are a lot who do. Here are my tips if you’re thinking of getting yourself a dog or puppy.

There is so much to getting a dog, I could write a book on it. (And in fact, many have. I like Dr. Ian Dunbar: https://www.bookwarehouse.ca/?searchtype=keyword&qs=dr.+ian+dunbar&qs_file=&q=h.tviewer&using_sb=status&qsb=keyword). (Also notice, no Amazon link- small bookstores deserve our business!).

As my other blog mentioned, dogs are the best! BUT there is a lot of time and work involved before, during, and after getting a dog or puppy. I will tell you a little about how I got started with dogs- I adopted a huge shepherd/husky cross from the S.P.C.A. while in my 20s. I lived in an apartment, and I was a substitute teacher, and knew nothing of dogs, other than I had always wanted one since I was a child. My dog was a year, full of energy, handsome and hard to train. He had the intelligence of a shepherd, and independence of a husky. He was not the easiest dog for a new-time dog owner. However, he taught me a lot and was the absolute love of my life.

I went to training classes through the S.P.C.A. that were terrible- one trainer actually threw water on my dog when he wouldn’t listen. I never went back. I went through a number of trainers until I finally found one that felt like the right fit- one that used positive reinforcement, instead of punishment. My dog didn’t respond to treats, but I didn’t want to use things like heavy-pronged collar either- (since then, more and more trainers, including the S.P.C.A, endorse positive training techniques) . What my dog did respond to was me. Dogs are social animals, and my dog looked to me for guidance. Shortly after, I began volunteering with the Vancouver Animal Shelter (Vancouver pound) and learned a wealth of information about dogs, and people.

Let’s start with the ‘firsts’ of getting a dog:

WHY DO YOU WANT TO GET A DOG?

Do you want a dog who you can go running with? Do you want a dog who will be great with your kids? Do you want a dog who will go hiking with you? I wanted a dog who would get me out and I wanted a ‘buddy’ to exercise with.

SIZE

There are many, many bigger breed dogs who are more low-key and easier to train than smaller dogs. As a matter of fact, some of the worst behaved dogs I have met are small. To me, when people say ‘small’ they mean ‘easy’, or ‘manageable’. To want ‘easy’ is just fine- but do your research and make sure you are aware and up to the task of getting what fits your lifestyle. You might want to make a list of what your perfect type of dog would be like, and don’t worry too much about size yet. Research breeds and decide which characteristics, energy level, and grooming needs various breeds have.

EXERCISE

If you have seen dogs happily running along a beach, or hiking with their owners in the summer- you are right, that that is one of the many lovely things that comes with owning a dog. However, those same people also go out in the wet, cold, and dark rain to walk too which is far less romantic. Having said that, one of my favourite times to walk my dog is early in the morning, before work, and when it’s raining- all the better. It is quiet. The dark I like far less, and when the rain really pelts down, it isn’t all that pleasant. I live on the west coast- and during the winter months, it is very rainy and can get very dark before and after work.

I have heard people tell me they can barely get their dog out in the rain- but my large labrador retriever loves water, and is quite happy in the rain. Of course, the age of the dog is going to make a big difference- when my dog was a year, she needed a good one hour walk whereas now that she is 12, a half hour is just fine. Smaller dogs will need less time outside. I have a friend who got a cavalier king charles spaniel who she says does not need consistent walks.

You have decided what kind of dog you want- NOW WHERE DO YOU GO???

I implore people not to go to Kijiji or any other type of ‘cheap’ site or ad. You will most likely be adding to the puppy mill industry. The puppy mill industry consists of people over-breeding dogs, and you often won’t know what you’re getting anyway. I have seen dogs and puppies advertised as ‘rescues’ (because people like the word, rescue) and then asking a $500 fee for vaccinating, de-worming when there has been no vaccines or de-worming given. If someone wants to take your money, does not ask you a lot of questions about what kind of home you can offer a dog or puppy, then stay away. My aunt got a puppy this way, and thought she was getting a kind of border collie but ended up with a very shy, scared whippet dog that was difficult to train.

Here are your options:

  1. Local animal shelter- there are lots of great dogs at your local shelter. Take your list of what you are looking for when you talk to shelter staff. The dogs are often feeling traumatized in the shelter so keep in mind the dog you are interested in might appear shy and nervous, or are barking more than usual. I have friends who always go to a shelter to get their dog. They find the friendliest dogs, and have had great success. The dogs from shelters are often neutered or spayed, and have been vaccinated and de-wormed as a bonus. The demand for small dogs is high, so often it is larger dogs in the shelters.
  2. Animal Rescue group- These groups are volunteer run, and many of these small groups use their own money to help pay for food and vet bills for the animals. They will often have on line applications to fill out. Their dogs may be in foster homes, which gives the group (and you) a great sense of the personality and needs of the dogs. They may ask you a lot of questions- but remember, they have put a lot of time and effort into their dog rescue program so they want to be careful who the dog goes to. What you do get in return is a dog that is well-fitted to your family or to you. You can google dog rescue organizations in your area.
  3. A reputable breeder- A reputable breeder will often put you on a wait list for their puppies. And their puppies are expensive (ranging in the $4-2000 range). The initial investment and the wait is well worth it however. Reputable breeders take pride in breeding dogs that have solid personalities, and good health. They will often breed a dog three times maximum in her lifetime. If you go to a reputable breeder, you know what you’re getting and you are supporting breeding dogs with sound dispositions. Reputable breeders often belong to the CKC (Canadian Kennel Club) or AKC (American Kennel Club). That is a good place to start your search depending on what breed you want.

I am a fan of larger dogs, as that is mainly what I worked with when I volunteered. My first large dog was from a shelter, but when I went to look for my next dog, I went to a breeder. I had two young children at home, and I wanted to know the dog would be okay with kids, cats and the general chaos of family life. I got a family friendly labrador retriever who is lovely. Along with family friendly, on my dog-want list was a dog who gets me out daily, and no grooming needs (I don’t want to be tied to having to get my dog’s hair cut every few weeks). The labrador fit the bill.

Now what?? (or those first few days)

I do not have experience with puppies – my labrador was 6 months old when I got her. I fostered many dogs for the Vancouver Animal shelter, as well as bringing my own 2 dogs home. So, my advice is if you adopt an older dog.

I tied my dog to my waist with his leash, and took the dog out EVERY hour to go to the bathroom and made a big deal of ‘good for you’ and ‘good doggy.’ I did this for a few days, and then slowly started to wean back the amount of time I went out, to the point of a more set schedule of going out (i.e., going out for walk times and to pee before and after work). Tying the dog to me meant the dog found out what I was like, what my daily routines were, and made sure he didn’t chew or go to the bathroom in the house. Note- that when I fostered or adopted a dog, I did it when I had at least 5 days off of work. It is very difficult to adopt a dog (or puppy) and then go to work for 8 hours and hope everything – bathroom breaks, not chewing on anything- all works out. Your dog will be making a big adjustment coming to your house or apartment for those first few days.

I will offer a little advice about crate-training. My first dog, my shepherd-husky needed a LOT of exercise- approximately 2 hours a day. Ultimately I took up running so that he would be tired out. He did not chew, and was not that interested in food. I never felt a need to crate train him, so I never did. As long as he was tired, I could happily leave my suite and he was fine on his own. My next dog, my labrador didn’t need as much exercise- but boy, did she chew, and she was and still is very much is interested in food. This makes training a lot easier than with my shepherd cross, but it also makes it a challenge to ALWAYS be telling my family to NOT leave food on the counter. Because I had never crate trained my previous dog I thought I would not need to crate train my lab. BIG mistake. One Christmas, I felt badly that I hadn’t spend enough time with my lab, and so rather than putting her in a room, or in a crate, I let her have the run of the house while we went for Christmas dinner. I came home to find that she had got through some doors to our living room, had eaten some fudge, and had thrown up everywhere. This sent us to the animal emergency room. SO, from then on, I crate trained my lab. A crate is not meant to leave your dog in for long periods of time, but it is meant to keep your dog safe. When kids’ birthday parties went on, and there was food everywhere, as well as a lot of screaming, happy children, I put my lab in her crate. My dog’s crate sits in a room that she can go into when she needs her quiet time. She is unbelievably friendly and happy, but she needs her quiet time too and her crate is a respectful space that is hers.

I also encourage you to find a really great trainer. Find a trainer who uses positive training methods (not fear or punishment). You will meet other dog owners, exchange information, and learn about your dog. Dog trainers will often not only offer training but also dog socialization classes, and even agility. There are so many FUN things you can do with your dog. Go to the trainer FIRST before going to off leash dog parks! I am not a fan of off leash dog parks- and I have yet to meet a dog trainer who is either. A dog trainer will offer structure to the socialization you want for your dog. Dog parks are often a mess of dogs not reading social cues and owners standing around, not really understanding when to intervene.

Lastly, if you have a small dog, I implore you to take your dog to a trainer. Yes, I am more of a big dog fan, but I am appalled at how many smaller dogs have charged the big dogs I own, barking. Small dogs are often intimidated by larger dogs, and will bark. Small dogs are intimidated by a lot of things as they are small- my hope is that people with smaller dogs will teach their dogs confidence so that they don’t feel the need to be so scared.

Having a dog will teach you so much, will get you out for exercise and of course, dogs are experts at giving unconditional love.

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I am a teacher in the lower mainland, juggling teens and living ethically...

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