Dogs — they’re like babies except far less work, right? Well, not really. Think about it. You can take a baby to a holiday home (via aeroplane), a restaurant, a friend’s house, a festival… a hound, not so much.
So you have to think first and foremost, are you ready for a 15-year commitment that will shape your holidays, your social life and maybe even your job and where you live? Then think twice more, once with your heart and once, for a bit longer, with your head. Especially when it comes to the breed. I’d love a greyhound (rather large), collie (rather energetic) and/or a labradoodle (large and energetic). My two bed first floor flat has other ideas. So for now I have to speak to friends with dogs and be an owner/dog botherer by proxy.
And here’s what I learned…
How do I know which dog is for me?
Well, apart from that inexplicable emotional knot in your stomach when you meet him or her for the first time, it’s about matching your life to the dog you want – and compromise, big time. My friend Vanessa points me in the direction of The Kennel Club and their online tool to help you choose the right breed. “You enter all details about your lifestyle, for example how much exercise you can give, if you have kids, how long it’d be left and so on, then recommends breeds.”
Like online dating – but with a furry reliable partner. And none of that “You were better looking in your picture” malarkey.
But what about work?
A four-legged bundle of energy needs lots of exercise. So whether you choose small or big, they will need company and fresh air. Even supposed “low exercise” breed like Yorkshire Terriers, Greyhounds, Shih-Tzus or those daft little things that supermodels carry round in heir bags need some exercise. Most dogs need one hour of off-leash frolicking a day to stay healthy and sane.
How do you square that with work? The best and most economical solution is a good early morning walk round the park — good for you and the hound too. But the dog still has the rest of the day to get bored and restless. If you can’t bring him/her to your workplace then a dog walker is a must. Budget for this before you get the dog, because it’s a necessity not a luxury.
Get personal recommendations from friends and make sure you “test drive” the walker first —let them walk your dog but tag along to see if they’re unduly harsh or lackadaisical. Don’t let them walk your dog in giant packs of four or five (this can freak new dogs out) but don’t expect them to train your dog for you either. That’s your job.
Choosing a breed: It’s got to be about them, not you
Don’t just plump for a breed because it looks good with your shoes, or a footballer has got one. Dogs aren’t fashion accessories. You have to fit with their needs and lifestyle. “Don’t choose a breed that needs proper exercise if you’re not willing or able to walk for miles in the pouring rain,” says journalist and dog owner Lesley Jones. “And don’t buy a working spaniel, pointer or border terrier if you’d rather just mince round the block once a day.”
Homewares will become dogwares
Sofa? Will get chewed. Rug? Will get peed on. Bed? Will end up covered in hair from those mornings you give in and let the dog jump up to help you read the papers. Getting a dog is a great way to realise the meaninglessness of material things, largely because they will have been chewed to pieces or scratched to matchwood. But never mind! There’s a lovely dog in the house!
So be prepared. “We had to ensure we were set up in a home that would work for a big dog,” says Anna, who owns/is owned by Archie the Golden Retriever. “With both of us working, we would need to factor in the cost and logistics of day care — I wouldn’t have left a dog at home alone all day.” Also, learn to love cheapo Ikea furniture and invest in high, high shelves for your more precious possessions.
Insurance, insurance, insurance
You should no more get a dog without taking insurance than you’d drive a car without one. It’s not actually illegal but it’s asking for trouble. There is as yet no Dog NHS. “Puppies get themselves into all sorts of trouble,” says Anna, “and vets cost the earth. Archie has just cost us nearly £2,000 — he swallowed a bone and had to undergo emergency surgery. Insurance is expensive but worth it. Ensure you get enough cover and it is a ‘for life’ policy.”
Course you are. Just don’t tell the cat.