Find out whether a canine friend is the best pet for you before you make the leap from dog lover to dog owner. Clinical animal behaviourist Inga MacKellar gives some advice on things to know before getting a dog.
Why do people like to keep pets?
There are a variety of reasons people like having a family pet from companionship to reported health benefits.
‘There’s nothing nicer than coming home to a warm welcome from your dog,’ says Inga. ‘They’re lovely sociable animals, but a real commitment on your time, energy and bank balance.
‘Dogs are a 24/7 job. You need to be prepared to train your dog to respond to your commands and to be sociable. Plenty of physical and mental stimulation is essential to keep a dog happy and healthy and a rewarding addition to your life.’
With that being said, we’ve compiled 6 interesting benefits of pet ownership that you may not have realised before.
Should I get a dog with my lifestyle?
However badly you want a lively loving pet, be clear if there are genuine reasons not to get a dog.
‘Do you have space in your home, somewhere for him to sleep, suitable outside space nearby, and enough time and financial resources to make a good life for your pet?’ says Inga. ‘If you’re out of the home for long periods of time during the day, is this fair on your dog, and you?
‘An adult dog shouldn’t be left for more than about four hours alone, and puppies need to be taken out for a loo break up to 12 times a day. Daily walks are essential come rain or shine, but are you prepared to get up early for a pre-work walk and go again when you get home?’
Although they can be hard work, dogs can bring great pleasure and enhance your social life. ‘They’re a good way of making friends, and studies have shown that people are more likely to talk to you if you have a dog with you,’ says Inga. With 41% of owners referring to their pet as their best friend, the companionship benefits of having a pet are clear.
The cost and responsibility
The cost of getting a dog varies depending on the breed, and whether you’re buying a dog from a breeder or making a donation to a rehoming centre. You also need to factor in the long term expense of his care: insurance, good-quality food, annual vaccinations, neutering, regular worming and flea treatments and other veterinary fees throughout the dog’s life.
‘Add on the basics such as leads, harnesses, dog travel crate for the car, and any dog grooming expenses,’ says Inga. Holidays and short breaks will need to be dog-friendly, or add costs for kennels or dog sitters to your budget.
Whilst costs can be high, the rewards of dog ownership can be tremendous. ‘I’d rather have a night in having a cuddle on the sofa with my dogs than spend money going out,’ says Inga.
Owners have legal responsibilities too, such as having their dog microchipped for ID should he go missing, keeping their dog under control and cleaning up dog mess.
Frequent problems dog owners encounter
‘A bored or lonely dog can become highly aroused by everything around them. He may start to bark at noises or chase shadows, leap about uncontrollably, and forget his basic recall training,’ says Inga.
‘Young dogs can chew furniture and shoes when teething so will need suitable distraction and supervision. If you don’t neuter your dog, then you will have a bitch’s season twice a year, and uncastrated dogs may wander.’
Difficulties faced by pet owners
‘It’s pretty much a full-time job for the first six months, so be realistic about the commitment,’ says Inga. ‘Too many puppies end up in rehoming centres at around six to eight months, once they’ve lost their cute appeal.’
When you have put in the hours of dedicated training and care to ensure he becomes a healthy, happy, well-socialised dog, there can still be challenges.
’Dogs can go through patches when they’re quite stressful to care for, acting up with other dogs you meet when out, or generally being a bit disruptive to your routine,’ says Inga. ‘They’re well-tuned to their owner’s tone of voice and moods and need you to be patient and consistent in what you expect from them, which is not always easy if you are tired or busy.’
It can also be difficult to do things spontaneously if you have a dog to get home to, and there’ll be times when you can’t go into a shop or cafe where dogs aren’t allowed. Throughout their life, and increasingly as they get older, there is always the possibility of sickness and injury, which can be hugely stressful and costly without the right dog insurance.
How to choose your pet dog
Do plenty of research on the breed of dog, says Inga. ‘It’s no good just choosing because of the look of the dog. The character and temperament of the breed is vital.
‘Volunteering as a dog walker for a rescue centre is an excellent way to know if being a dog owner is right for you, and which breeds or type of dog may best suit you.’