When I went into this whole thing – the dog ownership thing – I really thought I was prepared. And I probably was, to some extent. After all – experience taking care of dogs, check! Experience giving dogs pills (and it was definitely the unhappy taking pills type dog, too)– check! Experience with dog-aggressive dogs – check! Experience with dog pulling on leash (and helping to train it out of the dog) – check! Before even ever having owned a dog, I had already scooped poop, picked burrs out of paws, done some unholy-early-morning-walking, and trained a dog to sit, lie down, and come back to me. I did the research – what breed should I get, what should I look for in a breeder, where the nearest dog obedience class was, which veterinary clinic I wanted to use (IE – NOT the one where we had our cat put down – there are people in this world who shouldn’t be allowed near animals. But that is a different story). When it comes to big commitments – of the time and money type, I’m not about to jump first and ask questions later. I’ll be the first to admit, however, that there are HUGE differences between doing these things for someone elses dog, and doing them for your own dog. There are also some very critical steps in the ownership process that someone pet-sitting skips entirely. I had some idea of what was necessary – I wasn’t completely unaware of the things that people had to get for their dogs. And, in talking with my many dog-owner neighbours, I tried to sort through the many lists of “What you absolutely positively must buy for your dog or it will be miserable, violent, and a poop-eater”, to cull out the things that really won’t affect future-dog’s welfare. A quick note – I’ll be referring to my dog as ‘Dog’ most of the time… and, because he’s a boy, I’ll probably refer to dogs in general as ‘he’ the entire time.
A crate – I’ll admit, when I first started dog-sitting, I thought the idea was barbaric, possibly abusive, and something I’d never every consider. Why I thought, would I EVER consider locking up my beloved fido at night or when I’m out of the house? Well, because putting him in a crate every night means I know exactly where he’s been all night, and what things he had access to. And, if he did decide to defecate all over everything he can reach, it will be contained. For the same reason as people put their toddlers in playpens – it ensures that they aren’t wandering around with their newly discovered freedom of movement and destroying things or hurting themselves. One neighbour laughed when I said my plan was to keep Fido (no, I really didn’t name him that, it’s just a vague name for the nameless, faceless dog I hadn’t bought yet) in a crate at night. His dog grew out of the crate before reaching the 6 month mark, and the crate he could have fit in was bigger than a table for 6 – then again, I wasn’t planning on getting a newfie, or anything else quite that massive. I did make some mistakes with the crate, however. I got a size up from what I should have gotten. Dog would have been just as happy with the slightly shorter, much narrower crate that wouldn’t have come to take over the room it is kept in. However, I saw the height that Dog was predicted to reach(I’m pretty sure he’s full height now, and definitely not as tall as I was expecting), saw how it matched the height of this small-medium crate, and returned it, to get the much much more massive next-size-up. Dog has a spine like a snake, so the extra width of this crate is entirely unnecessary for his ability to turn around. He isn’t nearly as big as I thought he’d be, and likes fitting into small spaces anyways. He really doesn’t need all that space.
Collar – this one is an obvious ‘need to have’ for getting a dog, however, the sizing on them is not. The nice collar and leash I picked up for Dog (bear in mind, he was already 6 months, so basically full-grown) seemed practical – they were a nice color, durable, the collar was adjustable, and the buckle was easy to use and felt solid. My stumbling block in this instance was that, apparently, somewhere in my mind, I had decided I was getting a bulldog the size of a Great Dane. I could have leash-walked a dragon with the collar I bought to bring with me to pick up my lab-sized 6 month old dog. Even on the smallest setting, I could probably have fit it around Dog’s waist. Perhaps my Bull-dragon (designer breeds are all the rage right now) would have found the crate I settled on to be a bit tight.
Time – While imagining my new pet bull-dragon, I also made the assumption that house-sitting for someone was harder, and more time-consuming, than actually owning the dog on your own. Why? Clearly I was delusional – I was buying a dragon-bulldog mix, after all. If anything, having my own dog takes up more of my time. For one thing – training! Yes, all the dogs I have house-sat for before now were fully or at least partially trained (and, in any event, if I’m taking care of them for a week, I really don’t care if they behave well or if they jump up all the time), house-trained and able to sit and stay on command. Also, things I might have shifted to another week when house-sitting, really can’t be shifted. I can’t decide to not go for a check-up, or to a dental appointment until after I don’t have the dog – I have to make sure that things that don’t relate to the dog at all still happen. And on top of that, a new type of appointment – visiting the vet. So… owning my own dog = more walking, less time to fit in appointments, and more appointments. I guess the Giant bull-dog I bought a collar for was also lazy (or able to walk and entertain itself), and possibly came with an off-button.
The first two weeks of owning a dog (and keep in mind – he was already 6 months old, and I had 4 other people to help me!), I was exhausted all the time. I was waking up earlier, to incorporate a walk into my morning routine. I was staying up later, because the dog wouldn’t go into his crate for anyone except me, and would cry loudly and pitifully if he was put in the crate before everyone had gone to bed. I was the only person he would get off the porch with (ie, if Dog has to ‘go’, I need to go outside). This meant I was driving home from work at lunch to let the dog out, because my sister (who was already home) couldn’t even get him to go out the back door with her. I was walking more, and constantly on high alert, even when in the house. I still am far less likely to fully immerse myself in any task, because the minute I do, Dog will rip a toggle off someone’s boot (not anymore, though… all the toggles have already been ripped off), or start positioning himself to do his business on a backpack someone foolishly left on the floor, or any number of things that are not allowed. Dog was also the most timid creature I’ve ever witnessed, scared of everything from car-rides to fire-hydrants, which certainly didn’t help to convince me I hadn’t somehow gotten a lemon. Every time I turned around, someone was giving me new advice, most of which rapidly eliminated all of the treats I had bought for him from his diet (rawhide can swell and clog their intestines, and will kill him, pig’s ears are high in salt and fat, and therefore not healthy for him, don’t give him rib-bones, those will splinter and kill him.).
Owning a dog is stressful – the struggle to give affection, but at the same time, raise him to be obedient and relaxed, feels like an epic journey through the jungle, with a nail file instead of a machete. What the hell was I thinking?!
Clearly, I was thinking of all those other things, even the ones I didn’t really know were coming. Or at least, that’s what I’d like to think.
Man’s best friend – From day 1 – from bringing him home in the car – Dog has known exactly who ‘the Boss’ is. He is friendly as can be, and affectionate towards everyone in my family(he has seriously come out of his shell since his scared of life phase), but there has never been a doubt in his mind or anyone elses as to where his loyalties lie. He has an eerie sense of timing, according to my sister, and will abandon his nap, a tummy rub, or anything else he’s in the middle of about 5 minutes before I get home, to wait at the door.
Training – It is amazing just how pleased I was with myself and my fiendishly intelligent pooch (clearly he is!) when he learned the art of SIT, and DOWN so quickly. I was squealing in delight when he mastered ‘shake a paw’ with me, and I proceeded to go through the house making everyone else use the command and give him a treat.
Walking – spending so much more time in the park, seeing all the pretty gardens in my area, and the leaves change, and talking to so many more people I wouldn’t have ever run into. I feel like I’ve been missing a huge part of my neighbourhood just because I haven’t spent enough time in it. Walking around with Dog is like walking with new eyes – because, no matter how often we go down the street, he’s still excited to be seeing everything.
This went on faaar longer than I had planned for it to go. Basically, what I have learned about owning a dog is that I don’t know nearly as much as I thought I did before getting him, and I doubt I know nearly as much as I think I do now.