So You Wanna Be a Good Dog Parent?

 

IMG_20180308_175527_669.jpgI adopted Nova from the Animal Humane Society, and the beginning of our story together is very cute, but this post isn’t about that. It’s about now, 8 months later, when my neighborhood mailman stopped me to say that he often saw us walking and thanked me for always having my dog under control. It’s about my friends messaging me to ask me when I knew it was the right time to adopt Nova, and “how is she so well-behaved?” Owning a dog isn’t easy, and at 24-years-old (now 25), I knew I’d have to be on top of things if I wanted it to work out. Thankfully, adopting Nova has been one of the most rewarding decisions of my life, but it wasn’t without its challenges.

If you’re thinking about adopting a dog, here’s some realistic and honest thoughts based on my experience as a single dog-mom to help you figure out whether or not a pup is right for where you are in life.

1. This train(ing) don’t stop.

First off, if you don’t have the time to train a dog, then you should not adopt one. Many people expect me to first mention the cost of owning a dog as a hurdle, and while I’ll certainly get to that, even more important is that you be committed to making sure your future pup is well-behaved. This isn’t just for the sake of your new shoes and carpet: having a dog that’s well-trained is crucial for the safety of your pup, yourself, other pups, and other people.

It’s irresponsible, yet common, for folks to consider training as an after-thought or something they’ll get to “eventually.” In reality, training is something you’ll begin doing the minute you bring your dog home, and will need to continue doing for much longer. And unless you’re a professional trainer, you’ll likely need the help and support that comes from enrolling in a training class. Because here’s the secret: you need to be trained just as much as your dog does. Being in class with Nova has taught me how to lead her outside of class, and how to be an owner who knows and understands my dog intimately, and other dogs generally. My devotion to training is what keeps her safe and happy and, ultimately, makes her a joy to be around.

I’m no Cesar Milan, okay?  There are some parts of Nova’s personality that I had nothing to do with, but go under the “good” dog category:

  • she never barks
  • she’s not aggressive
  • she plays well with other dogs
  • she likes to cuddle
  • I can leave a full plate of chicken nuggets in the living room and she won’t eat them even if I leave to go to the bathroom

That last one was a recent discovery, but the point is that she’s naturally a great dog in these respects and I’m well aware how lucky I am.

And then there are the Good things that took 8 months of hard training and diligence on my part to help her do, because she either didn’t know how or would do the opposite:

  • walking up and down stairs
  • sitting
  • laying down
  • laying quietly while mama has a beer on a patio
  • not jumping on strangers
  • not rushing up to people on walks
  • ignoring rabbits and squirrels
  • happily going on car rides
  • going into her kennel on command
  • staying
  • not pulling on her leash
  • walking by my side
  • coming every time I call her
  • not guarding her food
  • etc. etc.

My beautiful, loving, sweet angel baby of a dog is a lot of hard fucking work. Unless you’re #blessed with a dog who magically knows how to walk on a leash, every single walk will be a training session until they get the hang of it. Every time a friend comes to visit will be a training session. Meals. Car rides. Patio hangouts. You will be training your dog almost every moment you spend together, and if you can’t commit to that…don’t adopt one. For everyone’s sake.

(For local readers, I highly recommend training at The Canine Coach, as they’re affordable and their trainers are knowledgeable every step of the way)

2. Keeping up with the bills.

You have the time and resources to train a dog? Great! Now you need to make sure one fits into your budget. I don’t believe owning a pet should be a classist thing, and there are certainly low-income individuals who are able to make it work…but there are certain things that you can’t/shouldn’t skimp on for the sake of your pet. This includes:

  • nail trim (monthly)
  • grooming (varies, as needed)
  • flea/tick medicine (monthly)
  • heartworm medicine (monthly)
  • food (bi-weekly to monthly)
  • training
  • leash, food/water bowls
  • toys
  • vet visits

IMG_20180816_093456_837.jpgThese are things that your dog absolutely must have, and does not factor in the costs for things like adoption fees, poop bags, pet deposits (if you live in an apartment), treats, blankets/towels, a kennel, or services like Wag or Rover for those times when you work late or are out of town. Sometimes the costs are unexpected: Nova chews through a toy in a day or two, to the point where I had to start getting creative with making toys from scratch because it became so expensive to replace them. Altogether, I spent close to $800 in the first month that I adopted her, and it’s been about $60-$100 a month since then.

3. What’s your plan?

Lastly, you need to have a plan, and it’s best to come up with it before you sign any adoption papers. If you’re single or live alone, how will you make sure your dog is taken care of when you aren’t home? If you live with your family or roommates: is everyone on board with a pet and are they willing to also be a part of training your dog (or risk confusing your dog with inconsistent training). If you’re adopting with a partner: discuss whether either of you would realistically be able to take care of a dog alone, in the unfortunate case of a breakup. Does your housing allow dogs, and do you have the resources to find dog-friendly housing in the future? What breed/size of dog will work best with your activity-levels, home, and interests? Do you have any vacations planned in the next six months, and if so, what will you do for dog care? Why do you want a dog and are you committed to caring for one for the next 10 years?

IMG_1519405927664.jpg

These are all questions I made sure to answer before even logging onto the animal shelter’s website to see which ones were available. And when I did meet Nova and decided that she was the one for me, I took two days to make sure I had everything she’d need before I brought her home. To some folks who didn’t know, it might have seemed like I suddenly adopted a dog out of nowhere, but there were months of planning and saving involved. I’d encourage you to take at least a month after saying “okay I’m gonna do this,” before you actually do this. It’s a huge responsibility to own a dog, and setting yourself up for success beforehand is the best way to make sure that you’re ready.

And when you’re ready, cheers! Loving and being loved by a pup is one of the greatest experiences you can have. Tell the world, get lots of cuddles, and be prepared to start every conversation with, “Have you seen my dog yet?”

On Pets and Anxiety

20180102_145601.jpg

When I went to the Humane Society, my hands were shaking despite the fact that I was very certain of the type of dog I was looking for. Not breed-wise…I didn’t really care about that…but that I wanted a quiet, medium-sized pup that liked to cuddle and was at least 8 months old. My therapist had given me a written letter prescribing me an emotional support animal, and I was thrilled. And terrified. Going to a shelter when you have a specific idea of the kind of dog you want can be hard, because it just might not be there. I couldn’t tell if I was more worried about going home without a pet, or going home with one.

However, as I walked along the kennels, a dog caught my eye that seemed to fit every criteria I was looking for. She was 40 pounds, ten months old, silent as the dogs around her barked their heads off at the visitors, but still came up to lick my hand when I walked up to her. She was beyond cute.

I flagged an employee down. “Can I visit with her?” They gave us a small, concrete room to play in, and this pup walked up to me and set her head right in my lap like we’d done this before. She looked up at me with mismatched eyes — one was blue with speckles of brown, the other brown with a blue streak coming out of the iris — and I fucking melted. I put a hold on her immediately, and took her home a few days later.

I think it only fitting that an anxious person ended up with an anxious dog. Or fearful? I can’t tell which one it is, but listen…Nova does not like doing new things. A list of things Nova was scared of the first couple days after she came home:

  • Going into the car
  • Walking into buildings
  • Going up stairs
  • Going down stairs
  • Playing with toys
  • Going into her kennel
  • Going into the hallway
  • Walking past cars

You get the idea. All of these things seem ridiculous when you’re an adult human, but I tried to imagine being a creature that was low-to-the-ground and possibly hadn’t spent much time outside of a cage…it became easier to be patient with her.

I quickly learned that “patient” does not mean “without anxiety.” Every time she didn’t listen to a command, my pulse would rush. Even though she’s now doing a good job at all of the things she was initially afraid of, there are still moments when she misses a command, or doesn’t want to go into her kennel, and my brain goes wild. What if she refuses to ever go in her kennel again? What if she gets loose and doesn’t come when I call her and gets hit by a car? If I bring her to puppy training, will she be okay? How come she didn’t do this thing? Is it my fault? Should I have a dog? What if I can’t take care of a dog? What if I can never take care of anything except for myself for the rest of my li-

My brain on its anxiety setting is the actual worst. Imagine thinking this way about…literally everything?? I’m a goddamn mess. I haven’t written on this blog for about two months because I was anxious about it. In fact, I haven’t written anything, not even just for myself. What if I’m wasting my time writing? What if I’m actually a terrible fucking writer? What’s the point of practicing writing if I suck so much that I’m never going to do it professionally anyw-

Again. You get it.

But having Nova, and working with her to get past the seemingly-silly things she’s anxious about, has been nothing short of amazing for me. I look at this puppy and think, “If you would just get into the kennel, you’d see that nothing bad would happen.” Then I look at myself and wonder, oh shit…what am I avoiding that, if I just did it, I’d see that nothing bad would happen? What’s the car I’m afraid to jump into because “what if?” When Nova doesn’t follow a command, am I anxious because I always expect perfection in my life, and that’s unreasonable with a puppy? Why am I uncomfortable and anxious about imperfection?

My therapist has fucking loved our last few sessions.

Nova’s done some amazing work in the past week. Repetition and forcing myself to stay calm when she doesn’t want to do something has resulted in a scared pup turning into a pup who loves her kennel, enjoys meeting people when we go on walks, comes when I call her, gets into the car (as long as there is a treat involved), and runs up and down the stairs like she was born to do it. All my anxieties about her were just that…anxieties. Thinking of “what ifs” in a loop doesn’t make them true, and she’s helping me realize that every day.

So here I am, in my favorite cafe, writing my first blog post in months because my beautiful, lovely, anxious puppy got into her kennel so I could have a couple hours to write and read.

Cheers!