Do you have the time for a dog?
Dogs are the most popular pet in the United Kingdom, according to PetPlan’s 2018 survey of UK pet owners. That means many of us already know what a huge commitment having a dog can be, as well as the fact that they are absolutely worth it! For prospective dog owners, it can be difficult to work out whether a dog will fit into our lives – this is why we’ve decided to write this blog, to cover just some of the things to think about if you’re considering taking on a dog. The biggest thing we need to offer our dogs is our time – many aspects of raising and caring for a dog cost considerable amounts of time and, in the long term, our dogs are social creatures who want to spend as much time with us as possible. So, what are some of the biggest things to consider to work out whether we have the time for a dog?
Whether you are bringing home a new puppy or adopting an older dog, every dog will need time to settle into their new homes. Dogs, young and old, need to learn to feel safe when they are left alone in their homes. Puppies are going through a huge adjustment, having just left their mum and littermates – leaving them alone too early is not only stressful, but can lead to lifelong and debilitating separation anxiety. Older dogs may already suffer from separation anxiety, particularly as rescue dogs – even those from loving homes – have often had a stressful time before reaching us. We recommend taking a week or two off work or at least working from home when bringing any new dog home, to ensure they can settle in gradually with you there to support them.
(If you are adopting an older dog who you know already suffers with separation anxiety, tackling this can be a gradual process lasting months – be prepared to adapt your schedule massively to take the time your dog needs, as rushing the process can make the issue even worse, and speak to a behaviourist ASAP to make sure you have a training plan in place.)
Every dog benefits from structured, ongoing training – a weekly, hour-long class with a qualified trainer should be standard for any new puppy owner. It is recommended that puppies attend classes for at least the first year of their lives, if not longer, as attending group classes is a wonderful way to make sure our dogs get the correct socialisation they need to be calm and engaged around other people and dogs, can reduce the incidence of aggression towards other dogs and help ensure we stay on the right track as our dogs go through adolescence.
If you are adopting an older dog, training is a wonderful way to get to know one another and build a relationship with your new family member, and can help to iron out any wrinkles you come across as they settle in – many dogs end up in rescue because owners didn’t have the time for them and so haven’t put in the training hours to ensure they know how to behave appropriately around humans.
It’s not just the class time we need to commit to, but we need to make training a part of our day to day lives with our dogs if we want to see results. You don’t have to have a full hour to drill through exercises, but several 5–15-minute sessions throughout the day as well as taking the time to find ways to apply your training to real life will make a huge difference when it comes to getting results.
A lack of training can not only lead to behaviours we humans don’t want our dogs to do, but also causes confusion and frustration for our dogs. It’s therefore vital that any new dog owner is prepared to put the hours in to work with their dogs and meet their training needs. For help with your training needs you can join group classes here
We all know that dog walking is a big part of having a dog! Exactly how much exercise your dog will need each day will depend on their age, breed, personality, individual metabolism and overall health & fitness. Many dogs enjoy between 1 and 3 walks a day ranging from 20 minutes to an hour or more. What space you have at home, indoors and out, will also impact how much dedicated time out on walks you need to offer your dog to keep them happy and healthy. Even at home, your dog will be grateful for the chance to run around, play and enjoy themselves!
As well as physical exercise, mental enrichment is another thing we should commit to providing for our dogs. Some of this can be provided alongside physical exercise (walks can provide lots of mental stimulation for our dogs) and the training we’ve discussed above is also a great way to enrich our dogs’ lives. At home, things like food puzzles, a variety of fun toys, time interacting with us – whether it be snuggle time on the sofa or play time in the garden – are all ways to add spice to our pups’ days and make sure they have the best lives we can give them.
Possibly one of the biggest hurdles for dog owners is fitting our dogs into our daily routine. It is advised that dogs shouldn’t be left alone for more than 5 or 6 hours at a time, with some saying that a maximum of 4 is the most ideal. This is important to ensure our dogs aren’t spending their days feeling lonely and also have regular access to somewhere to go to the toilet. Many people will visit their dogs on their lunch breaks or change their work schedule to ensure they never have to leave their dogs for too long. Alternatively, many modern dog owners are turning to dog walkers to give their dogs a midday leg stretch and ensure they are enjoying themselves while their humans are stuck in the office.
If you like to go out in the evenings, having a dog may change all that – like a parent needing to get back to let the baby sitter go home, dog parents need to be mindful of how long they are going to spend having dinner with friends, going to the movies or at the pub before they need to get back to check on Fido (although this is also a benefit of dog ownership, if you ever need an excuse to leave the party early!).
This is not an exhaustive list of everything we need to consider! There are many variables and things like daily grooming, tooth brushing, clearing up in the garden, additional housework to rid the house of dog fur and muddy paw prints etc are other small ways that owning a dog may cost us time. Ultimately, it’s important to be honest with ourselves about the commitment that a dog requires and whether we can really meet their needs sustainably. We should remember that dogs are living creatures who we choose to bring into our homes – our lives should adapt to their needs, not the other way around. Trying to cut corners or compromise can quickly lead to an unhappy dog, which can progress to behavioural issues. Not only is this stressful for and unfair on our dogs, but it actually costs us much more in both time and money as behavioural issues require intensive intervention and support from highly qualified professionals to resolve.