Today we are going to look at what is involved in keeping a dog. And try to help you answer that all important question: Should I get A Dog.
We’ll look at what dogs like, and need, and the kind of changes you might need to make to your life in order to live happily alongside your four legged friend
- What do dogs need
- What do dogs eat
- Where do dogs sleep
- Can dogs be left alone
- How long does training take
- How much exercise does a dog need
- What medical costs do dogs have
- What do dogs like
- What do dogs do all day
- How much space does a dog need
- How much mess does a dog make
- Dogs and kids
- The costs of owning a dog
- Should I get a dog – summary
This is quite a long article so feel free to use the pink menu to jump to the bits that interest you.
Puppies are truly adorable of course. But the idea of bringing such a beautiful, vulnerable and helpless little creature into your life, can be a little daunting.
Don’t worry if you feel this way. It’s a good thing!
Feeling a bit daunted, shows that you recognise the responsibility you will be taking on. Those that don’t feel daunted may not have really thought it through.
If you have never owned a dog before you may be wondering what dogs do all day! So we’ll talk a bit about what dogs like and what dogs do.
What do dogs need?
A dog’s needs are actually quite basic.
Like us, dogs need
- Medical attention
Dogs also need
Food – What do dogs eat
Because dogs have a different digestive system from ours, they can’t simply share everything we eat with our dogs.
So feeding your dog a balanced diet designed just for him, will be an important part of looking after him
Fortunately, commercial dog foods that contain every nutrient a dog needs, are widely available all around the world. They are not the only way to feed a dog, but they are certainly the most popular
Commercial dog foods vary in price from reasonably cheap to very expensive.
The bigger your dog is, the more expensive it will be to feed him.
Finding out how much it will cost you to feed the kind of dog you would like to have is an important step in answering the question “should I get a dog”.
It is possible to create a good home cooked diet for a dog yourself, though it probably won’t save you a lot of money because dogs need to eat a lot of protein. This tends to be one of the most expensive ingredients.
It is also possible to feed your dog on a natural diet of raw meat and bones. There’s quite a lot to think about if you want to do this and you can read up about it in our raw feeding articles
Some human foods are safe to share with dogs of course, usually in small quantities or as special treats. Others are not safe at all.
You can find out more about what dogs can eat in our feeding articles
Shelter – Where do dogs sleep
In most parts of the world nowadays, dogs live indoors with their owners. Many dogs even sleep on their owner’s beds.
People used to think that sharing a bed with a dog would make him dangerous, but we now though this isn’t true. Indeed, it can be a very good thing, especially if you have to leave your dog alone quite a bit during the day.
Some dogs still do live outside. Either for all or part of their day or night. In the UK, many working gun dogs sleep out in kennels.
If you want your dog to sleep outside you’ll need to provide him with a very secure, waterproof, draught proof, kennel with an exercise yard or run. Remember that big dogs can jump over six feet in height so the fencing won’t be cheap.
If you can afford to fence your entire yard then you won’t need to exercise yard, unless you want to protect your plants from digging.
Did I say digging?
Yes, dogs left outside for long periods of time may turn a garden into a moonscape quite quickly. They may also get lonely and take to howling, or to barking at passers-by.
If your dog lives indoors he will sleep happily on your chairs but if you want to buy him a basket of his own, he’ll sleep there too.
You should know that dogs shed hair, and you’ll find this hair wherever your dog sleeps, and drifting around your floors. So owning a dog means a bit more housework (or a hairier house)
Company – Can Dogs Be Left Alone?
Dogs are social animals. Just like human beings. They are descended from wolves who live in family groups, and this is still an important part of being a dog.
If you go out to work all day, and your dog lives indoors, you’ll need to arrange for someone to visit while you are away. This person needs to let your dog outside to empty his bladder, and to be willing to spend some time with him
Sometimes a friend or relative will be willing to do this, but most working pet parents will chose to pay a dog walker or pet sitter and/or send their dog to doggy daycare. This can be a significant expense so it’s worth thinking about it in advance.
Training – How long does it take?
All dogs need training. Bigger dogs need a lot of training because they are a danger to humans if not controlled.
I’m not talking about aggression here, that’s another topic entirely. I’m talking about knocking people over by jumping up, or pulling over a person holding the leash.
The first and most important part of training a dog starts with socialising a small puppy. This is a vital process which makes puppies friendly and prevents aggression. Then your dog is going to need some obedience training
Training sessions are going to take up at least ten to twenty minutes of your time each day. Preferably twice a day. But you’ll also need to learn how dogs learn so that you can be constantly modifying your dog’s behavior during the day.
This essentially involves noticing when he is being good, letting him know you like what he did, and rewarding him for it. There’s a learning curve involved for you though as it is easy to get this badly wrong if you don’t know what you are doing.
Exercise – how much does a dog need
Most dogs need daily exercise. That means you getting yourself out with your dog, morning and evening, no matter what the weather. I say most because some very elderly or very tiny dogs have minimal exercise needs
In a good sized yard, with a dog that enjoys playing fetch, some of this exercise can be provided through games. But at least one substantial daily walk of an hour (more for some active breeds) is essential.
Even in the unlikely event that your dog never ever gets sick, he is still going to need to see a vet. He’ll need shots each year to protect against some pretty nasty diseases. And the reality is, he will get ill from time to time. This is going to cost you a LOT of money unless you insure him
So dogs need medical insurance.
How much this veterinary insurance costs depends on the breed of dog you buy. And on the age of your dog. Some sickly breeds are very expensive to insure, and insurance premiums go up as dogs age.
Do find out if you can afford the insurance, before you buy that puppy.
What do dogs like?
Dogs are fairly uncomplicated. They don’t care whether or not their basket has the latest cushion, or whether their food is organic. What they do care about is the fundamental pleasures in life. Things like:
- Being close to you
In other words, what they like is pretty much what they need. Most dogs love to eat, your biggest challenge in that respect will be preventing your dog from getting fat. Especially if your family keep trying to sneak him treats. Dogs also like regular mealtimes and will remind you if you forget to feed them!
Many sporting dogs and scent hounds love to ‘hunt’. That is to say, they like to put their noses on the ground and follow a scent trail. There are ways to encourage and control this – tracking games for example. Most sighthounds and some other breeds (Border Collies for example) love to chase a moving object, and many breeds love to play fetch.
Basically, dogs love exercise and they enjoy training sessions too, provided those sessions are reward based.
What do dogs do all day?
This is a surprisingly common question, and it really does depend on you. Left alone, a happy and relaxed dog will sleep a lot. A lonely or bored dog will look for trouble.
He’ll find things to chew or scrape up. He might soil your carpets. Or simply sit and howl, and howl, and howl…..
Obviously these are not good choices, and can end up with the dog being abandoned by his family
Before you decide if you are ready for the commitment of having a dog, let’s look at some of the questions people who were not ready for a dog, ask me after bringing a dog home
Questions people ask
These are some examples of actual questions people have asked me after they have bought a puppy:
- “My puppy messes when I am at work, I am away 6 hours, what should I do”
- “My dog sheds hair all over the house, tell me a pill I can give him”
- “Tell me how to stop my puppy biting my children or I will have to get rid of him.”
- “My neighbour says my dog barks all day while I am at work, he has my company all evening and at weekends”
- “My puppy is frightened of strangers, why is this”
- “My dog won’t stay in my garden/yard, how can I teach him?”
- “My puppy does not do what I say – I have tried smacking him but he still doesn’t listen”
- “My dog keeps running away, what is wrong with him”
Very sadly, in each of the above cases the new owner could probably have done with additional help, support and preparation before they committed to owning a dog.
Let’s take a look at why, and at some of the other factors involved including the timing of your puppy’s arrival. And sum up what we have discussed so far
What does being ready for a dog involve?
Many new dog owners get off to a bad start, because they don’t understand how much care and attention a small puppy needs. Within a short time, the new puppy, instead of being a joy, becomes a resented nuisance.
You can avoid this happening to you by arming yourself with information before making that final decision, to bring a puppy into your life.
Remember, puppies have very few material needs. Somewhere dry and safe to sleep is important. And enough of the right kind of nourishing food. They don’t need fancy, expensive beds, or loads of toys. But what they do need a lot of, is your time.
Time and attention
Small puppies need a lot of attention. They have small and immature bladders, some will need to wee more than once an hour during certain times of the day, and someone needs to be there to help them do this in the right place.
For the first couple of weeks, many puppies will also need to wee at least once during the night. Broken sleep is a given with a new puppy in the house.
Puppies also need to be socialised, or they will be frightened of anything new, and may become aggressive.
Socialisation involves taking the puppy to lots of different places and exposing them to lots of different experiences whilst they are still small. This will require a reliable method of transportation, and a hefty chunk of your time.
The first few weeks with a puppy
For those first few weeks in your home, your tiny, baby dog, needs to be your sole focus. If you have important family events coming up, if you are about to go on vacation, to redecorate the house, or move home, this is not a good time to get a puppy.
He is bound to get neglected, and his potty training and socialisation will suffer
The right space for a dog
Raising a puppy in a flat can be done, but it is hard. Especially for the first few weeks. If you don’t have a garden you need to think about how this will affect you and your life.
You will need to teach your puppy to urinate and defecate in your home in a specially designated area. Then, when he is older and can go for walks, you will need to teach him all over again, to do this outside.
Once he has learned to use the bathroom outdoors, you will have to take him out at regular intervals, including early in the morning, no matter what the weather or how ill you may be.
No more Sunday morning lay-ins. Unless you move to a home with a garden.
Remember that many dogs are extremely good at escaping, and dog proof fencing is not cheap. You cannot expect a dog to ‘respect’ a low fence or open gate, for an indefinite length of time, especially in your absence.
There is no ‘training programme’ that will achieve this for you.
Puppies are messy
Puppies like to dig holes in your flowerbed, chew your chair legs, and jump on the furniture with muddy paws. Sure, you can teach them not to do these things, but it takes time.
As they grow, most breeds of dog moult, or shed hair. Some shed a great deal. This all has to be vacuumed up on a regular basis, but you will probably never have a hair free house if you own a dog.
If you are very house proud, these are important factors to take into account.
Dogs get lonely
This is perhaps the most important point of all. Dogs are highly social animals. Some breeds of dog are more social than others, but all need company on a regular basis.
Most of us work these days. If you work full time, or even more than half a day, away from home, you will have to make arrangements for your dog to have some company.
Dogs left alone may bark constantly, which will certainly annoy your neighbours, and dogs left home alone are likely to be destructive, long after they should have grown out of this phase.
Dog walking in the dark
If you work all day, you will also have to spend your evenings and early mornings walking the dog. No matter how tired you are.
This might seem ok in the summer when it is light, but can be less appealing as the nights draw in. And if your neighbourhood is not safe at night, this is something else you need to consider.
The truth is, being a dog owner is not something you can cram into evenings and weekends unless you have very good daycare arrangements in place. And this can be expensive.
Puppies and small children
Puppies and very small kids can be a challenging combination to manage. All small puppies bite. They may bite children especially hard.
This is a phase and it passes but, you cannot avoid it. If you have a toddler, you will find you spend a lot of time separating your puppy from your toddler and drying your toddler’s tears.
Experienced dog owners usually cope well with mixing small children and puppies. But for a first time puppy owner, it can be extremely stressful juggling the needs of small children and puppies.
Growing up together?
Having a new baby and a puppy at the same time might seem like a good way of getting the difficult bit out of the way at once. The idea of a dog and child that grow up together can seem a wonderful thing.
But in reality you will actually need every last scrap of sleep you can snatch with a new baby in the house, and the very last thing you need when you have just got a baby off to sleep, is a whining, pooping, puppy to contend with.
The baby must come first and the sad truth is, that with the best will in the world, a puppy’s needs are unlikely to be well met when there is a small baby at home.
Many people find that it is much easier to cope with a puppy if they wait until their youngest child is over five years old. And many good breeders will not sell puppies to homes with small children for this very reason.
Time of year
It is also worth considering the time of year before you purchase your pup. It is so much easier to care for a puppy in warm weather.
Standing in the garden at 3am with a torch, waiting for a puppy to do a wee, is a lot more bearable if the temperature is not several degrees below freezing.
Persuading small puppies to wee outdoors when there are several inches of snow to contend with can be problematical. And getting up for a puppy at 6am, seems a good deal more civilised when it is daylight.
Late spring or early summer is a great time to have a puppy. By the time autumn comes around he will be able to sleep through the night and so will you.
The cost of owning a dog
Puppies can be quite expensive to buy. But that is not the major cost involved. As you have seen there are a number of other costs to consider. You need to work out a budget to include
- Health insurance
- Day care /dog walkers
- Training classes
Most people also want to buy a dog crate, and bed or basket, and you’ll need a collar or harness and leash, and a few toys. And don’t forget to include the cost of boarding kennels during your annual vacations
Should I get a dog – summary
In order to own a happy, healthy dog, you need to be able to meet that dog’s needs. As we have seen, those needs are not complicated but they involve two important contributions from you – your time and your money.
Let’s summarise the key points here
- Are you free from major commitments for the next few months?
- Are you willing to learn about your puppy’s needs?
- Will your salary cover the costs involved in raising a puppy and caring for a dog?
- Are you prepared for some mess and possible damage to your furniture/posessions?
- Do you have a secure outdoor area, where your puppy can go to the toilet?
- Have you got plenty of time to spend with your puppy – especially in the first six months?
- Are you comfortable with getting up in the night, and can you arrange for a responsible adult to be with the puppy for much of each day during the first three months?
- Are your children old enough to understand and respect the puppy’s needs and to follow your instructions with regard to caring for the puppy
- Are you happy to devote daily time slots to training your puppy and willing to learn about the best ways to do this?
It’s a lot to think about isn’t it! But if you can answer ‘yes’ to all these questions, or think you will be able to do so in the near future, then you are probably ready for a dog!
The next step will be to decide what kind of dog appeals to you, and which is the best type of dog for you and your family
For a detailed guide to choosing the right dog for your family, check out Pippa’s latest book ‘Choosing The Perfect Puppy’