Families just seem to need a pet – they complete the picture and can be a fun addition to any household. Cats, birds, hamsters, lizards, bunnies, fish… even horses and turtles… can make good pets. The all-time American favorite, though, is the dog. Canines have been the number one choice for decades. We can probably thank the 1954 television star, Lassie, for that! But before you rush out to a breeder, pet store, or rescue group to bring home Fido, there are a few things you should know.
What makes a dog such a good pet? Companionship! No other animal is so devoted to its master. Fido will greet you at the door after a hard day's work with wiggles, a wagging tail and a big doggy grin. For the rest of the evening, he's your shadow. Wherever you go, he goes. He's missed you! Enter the kitchen and he's right there. He wants to know what you're doing. Throw the ball, he'll fetch it. Don't want to throw the ball? He'll do his best to convince you that you do! Time for a walk. Fido loves his walks. Even with a fenced yard, he still wants to go walking with you.
Dogs are also great protectors, comforters, playmates (some better than others) and are inexpensive to care for. Medical costs will come into play if your dog gets sick but, generally, the cost of having a dog is minimal compared to the joy he brings.
Dogs are forever! Owning a dog is a life-long commitment. Dogs have a life span of approximately 12-15 years. A dog needs a loving home where he will be a cherished family member from start to finish.
Where to begin? Owning a puppy is like having a baby. They need constant attention, consistent training and lots of play. Do you have the kind of time that a puppy requires? Elderly dogs have their own set of needs. Are you prepared to keep your new dog "forever"? Fido will be faithful to you; he needs you to be faithful to him.
Dogs chew things. That's how they were made. Give your new dog a place in your house to call home along with his own bed and toys to play with. If you keep him supplied with dog-safe bones and other appropriate toys, you will minimize the chance that he will chew up your shoes, furniture and clothes. He still requires watching, though. He's a dog.
Dogs have accidents. No matter how well he's trained, there is the occasional accident. If a dog eats something that doesn't agree with him or has the flu (dogs can get sick, too), he may throw up in the house. He'll try to do it in a discreet location, but it is never where you want it to be.
Dogs bite. We hear horror stories about pit bulls and other dogs attacking people, even causing deaths. The stories are sadly true. According to Amy Holtz, founder of Hope 4 Your Canine in Pittsford, more often than not children are bitten by the family dog. "Yes, children are bitten by dogs more often than adults. Of those, most of the time they were bit by their own dog." she says. The reason? The child has not been taught how to properly approach a dog. Poking the eyes, overly teasing, pulling his tail, taking away his toy while he's playing with it, interfering while he's eating or sleeping all can lead to a snap, nip or worse. There are a myriad of cases where the dog was instinctively reacting to protect himself and the child was hurt.
Amy has devoted much of her life to providing training for dogs and their families. She teaches strategies that work. Her expertise in canine training and behavior has earned her the title of "New York's Dog Whisperer."
One of Amy's newest programs, "When Baby Comes Home," helps families with pets adjust for the new arrival. She begins working with the expectant mother, spouse and family months before the blessed event to make their house is both baby-friendly and dog-friendly. "New babies are a big change in everybody's lives," she explains. "If you already have a dog, the little bundle-of-joy may not be such a welcome arrival. After all, your dog was there first!"
Amy aims to make it a smooth transition. She instructs on how to get a house ready, practice new routines that will affect your dog. Amy is even available to be a "Dog Nanny" for those first weeks after baby comes home, which allows new mothers to concentrate on getting some rest and taking care of the baby, while she walks, plays with and cares for the dog.
But Amy also likes to remind parents of something very important, "Never, ever leave a dog alone with a child. Dogs are still dogs, no matter how well behaved they are with your children." She sternly warns, "I mean it. When you go to the bathroom, either the dog or your child comes in with you. They should never be left alone together."
Picking out Fido
Find the right breed. Young families with little tykes will need a dog that is gentle and patient with children. Young dogs need as much play as toddlers do, maybe even more. All dogs need exercise and attention. Athletic owners will probably want a dog that can go running with them. In that case, don't pick a low-energy, couch-potato dog. Take your time to study the breeds and ask questions. Talk to dog owners, dog trainers or even find an online dog forum to get sound advice.
Puppy or adult? Puppies are babies. They eat and go potty often and they put everything in their mouths. Be ready to take them out when they wake up, when they go to sleep, before they eat, after they eat, and in between. Train yourself to take them outside frequently and, eventually when they're older, they will tell you when they need to go. Keep a close watch, too. You'll be taking things away from him often, until he gets the hang of it. So much of training a dog is a matter of the owner being well-trained.
If you wish to start out with an adult dog, why not adopt? Contact a dog rescue organization like Rudy's Rescue in Pittsford, or visit Perinton's Lollypop Farm. Make sure you ask a lot of questions about the dog's history beforehand. Some rescue organizations, like Rudy's, have had the dogs live with a family for a while, sort of like a canine internship. The host family is trained to observe the dog and gather information that will indicate what type of family might be the best fit.
So, What is "the Ugly"?
It is realizing (after the fact) that owning a dog is not for you. It happens. Do not despair, there is help. Rudy's Rescue, also founded by Amy Holtz, is one of many dog rescue organizations in the Greater Rochester Area that you can call on for help and advice. Rudy's was founded to rescue Labrador Retrievers but they are very willing to advise you in finding a solution for any difficult dog situation. And they may have some suggestions that can even turn your situation around.
If you aren't sure that your family is ready for a dog, why not start out with a pet that requires a little less attention, or with a shorter life-span? Do some online research about cats, birds, fish, bunnies, rodents (hamsters, gerbils, mice) to see if any of them is a good fit. Having a pet can be a great adventure for you and your family to embark on together.
Sinea Pies is a contributing writer to Rochester Area & Genesee Valley Parent Magazine. She lives in the Rochester area. She is a wife, mother, grandmother and great grandmother who often writes about her passion – the value of being organized and personal success strategies: getting your "ducks n' a row". Visit her at www.ducknarow.com
This article originally appeared in the March 2011 issue of Genesee Valley Parent Magazine. Copyright 2011.