Tuesday, March 20, 2012

the truth about having a dog

Warning - this is a really long post

its been 7 months since we got Sage home. He's gone from this....
to this

there are a lot of things he's brought into our life. Apart from endless unconditional love there is also an unending amount of dog hair on every possible thing at home, from the furniture to the vessels in the kitchen. I meet different people while i walk him about 5 times a day and invariably someone or the other will gush about how much they want to get a dog too and ask for the how, what, where and how-much details. So there are a few things i want to talk about here.

  • be prepared for a lot of hard-work. combine it with patience if you can. a dog, especially when it is a puppy is a lot of hard-work. Most breeders will give you a puppy at about 28 days. trust me, this is too early. mark your choice, pay an advance (if buying one) and wait till the pup is atleast 8 weeks old. they are too young to be separated from the mother and litter at 4 weeks. 
  • the hard-work continues till the puppy is about 4 months old or more. this means that you will be feeding the pup every 4 hours, yes you will set the alarm and wake up in the middle of the night, either to feed it, or clean up its pee and poop, or to soothe a crying / whining pup. 
  • be prepared with a spray can of diluted liquid soap, diluted solution of savlon and a lot of paper towels. I found kitchen towels to be very convenient and better than newspaper, cloth or toilet rolls to clean up after the puppy. 
  • don't take the puppy for a walk till all immunizations are done - about 4 months. they tend to sniff and put anything into their mouths and they are susceptible to infections and worse still, the fatal hepatitis. 
  • your puppy has only you. if you are working full time and leave the house locked for 8 hrs a day or more, your pup will be terribly lonely and get destructive. and remember they are pack animals. if you dont have the time to spend with it in its care and upkeep, no matter how cute the dog is (all puppies regardless of their pedigree are heartmeltingly cute) dont succumb and bring one home. it is insanely cruel to keep a pup locked up and alone that long. the result will be a very cranky, destructive and difficult to control pooch. this means at the end of a tiring day at work, you will really want to tear your hair out and give back the pup. just take my word for this. 
  • be prepared to walk / exercise your dog atleast three times a day. if you dont have the additional 2 hours this is going to take, please dont bring home a dog. dont expect good behaviour from a dog that has been shut in a house the whole day devoid of any channel to drain its pent up energy. they get very destructive. 
  • forget your social life till you have trained your pup to 
    • not jump on people
    • stay home alone for a few hours if you need to go out etc. 
    • this takes atleast 2 months
  • start leaving the pup alone for small periods of time, with water and a few toys starting the week after you get him/her. i did this initially for 10-15 minute intervals the week after we got sage. increasing the time by 30 minutes each time you leave it. At 5 months, i was able to leave Sage home alone for 8 hours without having any kind of mess or destruction at home. this may differ with the breed, i have a golden which is generally easier to train as they love to please their master/mistress. leaving the dog alone is possible only after they are potty trained, either to wait till you get back or use a spare bathroom. whichever you choose, train consistently, reward, praise and be prepared for the occassional unavoidable accident.
  • regardless of what people tell you, getting a dog is akin to getting a baby home. sleepless nights, anxiety, tiredness and equal amounts of joy and love. 
  • its socially more acceptable to take a baby everywhere you go but not a pet, so be prepared to confine your pet for a small period of time when you have guests who aren't comfortable around a pet. Always tell people you have a pet at home and check comfort levels. I always leash Sage up where he can see me for about 15 minutes till everyone has settled, or when we are eating. i then leave him, but have an eye on him at all times, especially if there are children around. if you have to entertain people who are just not comfortable with a pet around, entertain them outside. its punishment for the dog to be chained/ confined for long periods of time for no fault of theirs. 
  • Always have the pet on a leash or have a hand on his collar when kids are interacting with it. if you have an unfriendly dog, tell people. Kids have a way of irritating dogs, either intentionally or unintentionally. Dogs don't like excessive petting and forget about pulling body parts or poking them. they will retaliate, and most people especially people will automatically blame the dog even if he's not at fault. so its better to be safe than sorry.
  • housekeeping wont be the same. you can kiss your impeccably kept house goodbye, unless you have round the clock help who can keep surfaces hair free. also some dogs are slobber fest, so be prepared for wet and dry dog saliva on your upholstery, clothes etc. i have dog hair all over my clothes, bed, sofa, cushions and even on vessels. ofcourse i have a hairy dog, but regardless of what any breeder tells you, there is no such thing as a non shedding dog. be sure to dust everyday, change bedsheets and table cloths often, rinse your washing machine after every cycle so that residual hair doesnt get into other stuff, rinse every vessel/ crockery/cutlery before using and just suck it up and bear if you find hair in stuff like your cosmetics!
  • travel will be hit bigtime. till your dog is atleast 8 months old, you can forget about travelling unless you have someone who can watch/keep him. this someone has to be a person who is competent enough to handle the dog, has the time and energy to do it and most importantly, the dog is comfortable with. i have found a dog hostel and plan to leave sage there for a few hours a week even if i am not going anywhere to get him used to the place so that i can leave him there for a few days when i need to begin travelling again. 
  • its expensive to keep a dog. the food (mine is fed homemade, so account for the time and energy), medical expenses and toys and grooming products are expensive. there is limitless choice for everything, but even the most frugal spending will amount to about 1.5k per month. be prepared. toys are addictive and expensive, but i've found my dog prefers empty bottles and empty coconut shells over anything else. 
a lot of what i have written here i am experiencing for the first time although Sage is not my first dog. i grew up with dogs and cats and hens and chickens. but i lived in an independent house with a lot of space for the multiple dogs we always had to run about. we never had to walk the dog or exercise them as they got it all by playing with the other dogs. We also always had someone to care for the dogs when we traveled. this is the first time i am raising a large dog in an apartment. this means a lot more work for both you and the dog. exercise and walks are non negotiable. if you arent able to drain the energy of the dog, no amount of punishment will stop destructive behaviour.

Why am i painting such a grim picture?
Its not a grim picture, its the truth. I am always amused by people who want to bring home a dog because the pup is cute. remember they will look like a little teddy bear for just 3-4 weeks. when the hardwork and effort of keeping a pet is realised, most people turn angry and frustrated. Its unfair on the dog.

the bright side?
the brightest part of everything is the dog which will love you like no other living thing on this earth can - not even your spouse or significant other. 

the welcome you get when you walk through the door, even if you have left for 5 mins only is unlike anything else. that in itself is enough incentive to get one.

you will be forced to keep a schedule for feed and walk times, this helps if you are a lazy ass like me. i've lost 4 kilos over the last 7 months doing nothing more than walking sage and playing with him. i think i eat a lot more than i did before.

you make friends with people. my friends are as young as 7 month old babies who gurgle in delight when they spot Sage to 70+ people who stop to pet him and talk to me.

pets are an amazing stress buster. ask K he will tell you. they take away your tiredness and irritation at the end of the day.

it makes you less selfish and more conscious of other's needs. because regardless of how tired or stressed you are, you are greeted and treated with so much love, sometimes it makes you want to cry. it also means that you are forced to care for the upkeep of another living thing, share your living space with it and realize that the most expensive things you posses are just that - things... sometimes they get chewed!

I'm more in love with dogs than people.... i would love for everyone to have atleast one in their lifetime... but make no mistake, with great unconditional love of the dog comes great commitment and responsibility too. so choose wisely and know love like you've never experienced it ever. 

and here's a video of Sage, full grown and playing with Gangaram, our maintenance incharge at the apartment. 

Sage sends his woofs!


Anonymous said...

Beautiful post. LONG and Yet Insightful.

Scarlett O'Hara said...

Very well written, practical set of points. I am sharing them with all and sundry, coz it would be something like this if I were to write it too... :)

aaaalu said...

Excellent a one Anu. Got me nostalgic. I had two pets (white rats) during my high school days. Thanks to this post, I spent some time standing and staring in an otherwise busy schedule. Thank you for the experience.

Anonymous said...

Sage is beautiful!! Ours is a 4 yr old labrador retriever very kind to my 1 yr old daughter.

Well written article. Good that you took time to pen it. We live abroad and it was very expensive to bring him from India. But ya, worth all the unconditional love he gives us all.

Siri said...

.."With great unconditional love of the dog comes great commitment and responsibility too".. well said babe and Wow, Aparna was right. With two legs up, Sage is as tall as Gangaram himself. Adorable and very useful post with valid points. :-)


Anonymous said...

Very well written..was a joyful read...Convey my "Hello" to Sage :)

Anonymous said...

Fell in love with sage and dogs all over again. the post was very insightful. even though I knew it all, reading this felt closer to reality than anything else i've read before. I still love and will always love dogs.. Cant wait to get one myself...

Woof back ... :)


Emma Green said...

Thank you for the very good information that every owner should consider before getting a dog! If everyone would read and follow your tips, there would be less dogs purchased on impulse, and they wouldn't end up in shelters! Sage is a very handsome boy, I love the video!

Kamini said...

Every word is true, well said. People need to know that cute furry little pups grow to be cute big dogs and a lot of work. Thanks for doing this Arundati.

Sig said...

I have to send this to Siv. We have been considering this for a while, but I know how lazy we are. he on the other hand is very optimistic that we can just manage without making any lifestyle changes. So not true! Anyway, I don't think we are there yet but the time we will come. Thank you Aru, for writing this!

Anonymous said...

Any first time dog owner should read this! You put it all out there, the good and the bad. A dog is like having a child. It's just a lot of work and can be frustrating. What a great post, I will for sure pass this along to all of my "new pet owner" friends. btw- I have pugs and the dog hair is EVERY WHERE!


sumathi said...

Very well written and articulated. So true...agree with every word say. A little time, a bit of effort, some planning and a few conversations is not too much to ask for in return of so much of everything they give us.
I have always been with pets and cannot imagine a life without them...
While I have been working so much with rescues, adoptions etc. The idea of my pet home stay evolved thanks to pet parents like you, who give their pets everything. When the parents are away it creates such a void and that is where I thought I could make a difference, by opening up the doors of my home to them for that period, and giving them all the attention they need and getting so much love in return.
Believe me, it's so rewarding to see that sigh of relief on the parents' face, or that little smile...those few encouraging words...As for the pets, those licks, wags, and all the love is what keeps me going...
People ask me if I do it for a living!!! I do it to LIVE...my pets along with those who come to stay have added so much meaning to my life...
Sorry said so much...but when the topic is pets, I get carried away :)
Keep writing Aru...fabulous....