Are you thinking of getting a pet dog? If you’ve been longing for canine companionship or feel that the family is simply not complete without a four legged addition, you’re definitely not alone. Britain is a nation of dog lovers, that’s for sure. In fact, so obsessed are we with our pooches that 26% of people own one – making a total of nearly 9 million pet dogs in the UK.
But bringing a dog into your home is a huge commitment. A dog is for life, not just for Christmas, as the well-known saying goes. Rather than acting on a whim, it’s only fair for all concerned (including the animal) that you think very carefully about what it means to be a responsible pet owner. Getting a dog may well mean big changes to your lifestyle and a certain amount of dog proofing of your home.
Whether you choose a puppy from a breeder or an older rescue dog, they will need time to settle into their new surroundings and understand the rules and routines of their new home. You and everyone else in your family must be prepared for this, which is why it’s important to think things through in detail before you make the commitment.
1. Have a family discussion
First off, if you’re thinking of bringing a pet into the household, you need to have a proper discussion with everyone in the family to see how they feel. Getting a dog will mean a number of changes to the home that everyone should be on board with.
Kids may be ecstatic at the prospect of getting a puppy, but who is going to volunteer for daily walkies? Will the family be happy to change their holiday routines so that Rover can come too? Once the initial excitement of a new dog has died down, the commitment to looking after your pet will remain for many years. Dogs can live up to about 15 years.
If you have children and/or other pets, you need to carefully weigh up how well they will interact with the dog, and vice versa. This may affect the suitability of certain breeds.
2. Establish rules at the outset
Once you’ve decided to bring a four legged friend into your life, it’s a good idea to allocate responsibilities at the outset. Feeding, walking, exercising, play time, bath time… there are many duties involved with looking after a dog that you can share between family members. It’s important that, as a family, you are prepared to make time for your new best friend and integrate your pet into family routines.
Crucially, dogs are social creatures and shouldn’t be left alone for hours on end. Left to their own devices, they’re likely to get lonely, bored and agitated, which may manifest in barking, howling and destructive behaviour – all warning signs of a dog that it not happy.
3. Make space and adapt your home
Bringing another family member into the home has very practical implications on the physical space you will be sharing. Your new pet will need their own space in the house – somewhere to eat and a place to sleep. As a general rule of thumb, it’s a good idea to have somewhere in every room that the dog can relax in. That way there’s less temptation to clamber onto chairs and sofas!
Take a look around your home and assess how dog suitable it is, making adjustments as necessary. Are you more laissez faire than OCD when it comes to tidiness? Things left lying around may be seen as a toy by your four legged friend or, worse, could be a health hazard. Knick-knacks and decorative objects may need to be repositioned so that they’re not in danger of being knocked over and damaged by an enthusiastic dog exploring his new environment.
When it comes to safety, make sure there is nothing in the home that is unpleasant or dangerous to your dog. This includes common houseplants that are toxic to dogs as well as household cleaners and toiletries that should always be kept out of reach.
Looking beyond the house, your pooch will love a garden to run around and play in. But if your outside space is not securely walled or fenced in, you will almost certainly have to put measures in place to stop your pooch from getting out.
4. Get ready for the big day
Once you’ve set a date for d-day, it’s time to get organised. Shopping wise, there are a few pooch basics you need to have ready, such as a dog bed, collar and leash, food/drinks bowls and some nice toys. A dog crate is particularly useful if you’re getting a puppy, since it will help with toilet training and provide a safe space to retreat to when it all gets too much for him.
Crucially, now is the time to find a good vet – someone you can trust to look after your pet from cradle to grave. Ask friends for recommendations and ideally make an appointment in advance of getting the new dog.
Your vet should be a valuable and reliable source of information for anything and everything concerning your pet’s health. Ask about the best type food to buy, how often your dog should have a check-up, what signs and symptoms to look out for, and get advice about microchipping, neutering and vaccinations. Once you’ve got your pooch, take him to the vet for a full check-up for your own peace of mind.