Becoming a dog owner is an exciting yet often challenging adventure!
Are you ready for what may lie ahead?
Your precious new puppy arrives, fills your home with laughter and love, and everyone is happy. As time passes, the wonder gives way to frustration as you discover that your new puppy pulls at the leash, digs holes in the yard, steals food off your table, and even has developed a tendency to nip! Frantically, you search online for a “new puppy owner’s manual” and realize—oops—you didn’t prepare for, or anticipate these challenges!
Could these behaviors have been avoided?
This article is part 1 of a four-part series which will lay a foundation for a successful journey as a dog owner and help you to avoid as many “puppy parenting” mishaps as possible.
- Part 1: Reflecting on the responsibilities of dog ownership and asking, “Am I Ready?”.
- Part 2: How your role as leader will be foundational for a successful journey.
- Part 3 How socialization can help prepare your puppy for life’s challenges.
- Part 4 How positive reinforcement keeps learning fun for all.
For the sake of the parenting analogy, I will be using “Puppy Parent,” and similar terms in this article. Of course dogs are not truly our children, and we are not truly their parents.
PART ONE: Am I Ready For A Puppy?
For me, raising pups is something like parenting. When we become a parent, an exciting, fun, and rewarding journey begins! Yet this journey holds great responsibility and therefore requires thoughtful preparation.
Having a child is certainly not a decision most parents enter into lightly. Unfortunately, the decision to become a new “puppy parent” is not always taken so seriously. Pups, like children, need discipline, training, attention, and of course love. All this takes time, effort, perseverance and lots of patience. This is why I like to think of it as a Journey. But before we being the journey, we must ask ourselves;
Am I ready to be a “puppy parent”?
Am I sure I want to take this journey?
Let’s consider what might be involved.
Your journey will be unique. Puppies, much like children, are unique. Like a puzzle, various pieces are involved; genetic make up, breed type, and environmental factors, all of which create a unique puppy with its own set of challenges. To add to the mix, each owner is unique; age, culture, experience, and background all play a role in our style of parenting. Even our preparations will be unique; however there are some basics we can think about when considering to bring home a puppy:
- The importance of choosing the right companion for your journey.
- Questions you can ask to help you evaluate your readiness.
- How lack of preparation can lead to parenting and puppy mishaps.
- Useful tools to help you prepare.
Choosing the right companion for your journey
How lucky that you can choose your very own companion! In most cases, from eye color and fur color, size, temperament, age, pure breed, mixed breed, or rescue, you have a choice. You can prepare for this exciting adventure by researching the different options in order to have some idea which will best suite your life style. With this choice lies great responsibility, for in choosing a dog that’s not appropriate for your lifestyle or expectations, you’re not offering the best scenario for his needs.
Here are some awesome questions to help you determine if you’re ready for the challenges of dog ownership!
The following 13 questions are quoted with permission from the CKCSC web site,They were written specifically for those searching for a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, but apply to most anyone searching for a dog.
Are you prepared to . . .
- Take full responsibility for this dog and all its needs for the next 10–15 years? This is not a task that can be left to children!
- Invest the considerable time, money and patience it takes to train the dog to be a good companion? This does not happen by itself.
- Always keep the dog safe—no running loose, riding in the back of an open pickup truck or being chained or penned outside.
- Make sure the dog gets enough attention and exercise?
- Live with shedding for the next 10–15 years?
- Spend the money it takes to provide proper veterinary care including, but certainly not limited to, puppy vaccinations, heartworm testing and preventative, spaying or neutering, dentistry, and annual checkups?
- Become educated about the proper care of the breed; correct training methods, and how to groom?
- Take your questions to the breeder or other appropriate professional before they become problems out of hand?
- Have the patience to accept (and enjoy) the trials of Cavalier puppyhood and each stage afterwards?
- Continue to accept responsibility for the dog despite your inevitable life changes such as new babies, children going off to school, moving, or returning to work?
- Accept responsibility for the dog’s inevitable changes due to old age and/or ill-health?
- Resist impulse buying and instead have the patience to make a responsible choice?
- Install fencing, even if you live outside of an urban area? Cavaliers are notorious for being hit by cars. If you allow a Cavalier to run in any area where a moving vehicle may pass by, there is a huge chance that your Cavalier will be killed. Many are killed by their owners in their own driveway. Cavaliers are perpetual adolescents and require constant vigilance in unsecured and unfamiliar areas.
Once you’ve decided you’re ready for a puppy, you might also like to prepare a list of questions to ask a breeder or organization about your future companion. Be prepared also to answer questions about yourself. Most reputable breeders will want to get to know you before entrusting you with a puppy.
How lack of preparation can lead to parenting and puppy mishaps:
Newly married and living alone in France with no family nearby, I was desperate for the familiar comforting companionship of a dog. I admit I didn’t do tons of research into the breed I chose ( a Labrador), or the breeder. As a result, I found myself in a crash course on raising a challenging “puppy child” who did not have the good fortune of being well socialized before she came to us.
I remember the day we picked her up. She was the last pup to be “chosen,” appeared fairly shy and was hiding under the table. It broke my heart but I couldn’t leave without her. While relishing the joys of puppy antics, cuddles, and wet kisses, I was unaware that her fearful streak could pose a problem. Then one day, while playing with my son, she showed a small sign of aggression towards him over a toy. Needless to say I became concerned for our children’s safety. But rather than blaming my pup, I became proactive, read relevant books on dog behavior, and consulted a trainer. Had I done more research before bringing home a pup, and understood the unique challenges of her shy nature, this situation might have been avoided. Lesson learned! Fortunately, it wasn’t too late. Our family learned the skills we needed to better communicate with our dog. She proved to be the best dog a family could ever hope for!
Of course in a perfect world we’d all be experts on parenting before having children or adopting dogs, but its unlikely this will come to pass. Even with the best preparation, there will always be surprises (unannounced challenges) along our journey. Be encouraged! Just remember,
“A mistake is never a failure unless you fail to learn from it”—Anderson Miller.
Tools and ideas for more learning:
This article is only a glimpse of all the fabulous information already out there to help you prepare. The following web sites are filled with information for those desiring to learn more about being a responsible dog owner.
• Ask for recommendations: Ask current dog owners who have taken the journey for recommendations; Veterinarian, training schools, pet sitters, foods, etc.
• Reading Stories to children: Stories are a great tool for reaching our future generation with the message of responsible dog ownership.
Last thought: shelters are full of dogs whose owners didn’t prepare or take seriously the responsibility of owning a dog. That cute puppy left to its own without training has now grown up and become a nuisance to its family. If these dogs could speak, would this poem possibly reflect their thoughts?
DO I GO HOME TODAY? —Author Unknown
My family brought me home cradled in their arms. They cuddled me and smiled at me and said I was full of charm. They played with me and laughed with me and showered me with toys. I sure do love my family, especially the little girls and boys. The children loved to feed me; they gave me special treats. They even let me sleep with them—all snuggled in the sheets. I used to go for walks, often several times a day. They even fought to hold the leash, I’m very proud to say! These are the things I’ll not forget—a cherished memory. I now live in the shelter—without my family. They used to laugh and praise me when I played with that old shoe. But I didn’t know the difference between the old one and the new. The kids and I would grab a rug, for hours we would tug. So I thought I did the right thing when I chewed the bedroom rug. They said I was out of control and would have to live outside. This I didn’t understand, although I tried and tried! The walks stopped, one by one; they said they hadn’t the time. I wish that I could change things; I wish I knew my crime. My life became so lonely in the backyard on a chain. I barked and barked all day long to keep from going insane. So they brought me to the shelter, but were embarrassed to say why. They said I caused an allergy, and then each kissed me goodbye. If I’d only had some training as a little pup, I wouldn’t have been so hard to handle when I was all grown up. “You only have one day left,” I heard a worker say. Does that mean I have a second chance? Do I go home today?
Leila is the recipient of the AKC Responsible Dog Ownership Public Service Award. She writes to inspire love, care, and compassion for dogs. About the Author.
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