Dog Contemplation

Dear Ms. (Mrs.?) Regarding –

I guess I am confused because technically your husband is Mr. Regarding – in these feminist times? ANYWAY, here is the deal: I want a dog! I feel such a deep longing for one and I even looked at some on the internet already (they all are so nice looking, and they all need homes!). I have wanted a dog for many years and think I am good to dogs and nice to them, etc. However, I also know that they are a lot of work and time and basically add this whole other thing to your life that you cannot neglect. I work 40 hours per week at a job that I could not take my dog to. My good friend lives across the street and could walk it each week day while I am at work. But I do live in a house with 5 other roommates. We do have a yard that I could build a little gate on to let the dog out in the mornings. My parents do live about 40 minutes away and I think I could get them to dog-sit for me as needed. My partner does not live with me (but only 10 minute bike ride away) and is very gung-ho about dog helping out. So I keep going back and forth. One main thing I am wondering is that, as a 26 year old who is working a lot but also learning to skateboard, go to punk shows and other social events, will having a dog greatly hinder my currently very independent lifestyle? Will this make me someone who spends all the outside work time taking the dog to exciting places and feeling like I can’t party hard for too long lest the lonesome doggie is alone and sad? I mean, I don’t want to be a helicopter dog friend, but I certainly don’t want to not give my future dog all the opportunities for a fulfilling life. I am fraught with indecision. When will I ever feel ready?

I know that you recently did the damn thing, so any thoughts would be appreciated.

Dog Contemplater

First of all I will point out that in real life my husband did actually take my name, which does make it really weird to be called “Mrs.” I can’t imagine ever thinking of myself as “Mrs. My Actual Last Name.” I am the patriarch here, and I would really prefer that my husband be called “Mr. My First Name Last Name,” as in “Mr. Jennifer Fremont,” but that will never happen.

Dogs! I will write at length about all the things to think about and ponder when considering dog ownership. This is everything I could think about when reading your letter, so it is very long. Some of it may apply to you, some may not, but I really think the more you know about dog ownership before you get a dog, the better. So here we go!

The first thing I recommend, before you get a dog, is reading this book Inside Of A Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know. It’s an awesome book and I cried like four times reading it. Read this book because ideas about dogs are changing, and a lot of things you think you know about dogs are actually not true, or at least this was my experience. It’s fascinating stuff, dogs. It’s really humbling and heavy to realize how fundamentally dogs are interwoven into humanity. They basically don’t exist without us. We invented them. They form stronger bonds with humans than they do with other dogs, which is heavy as shit to contemplate. And for 100,000 years dogs have existed as constant members of various human groups–not separate from them, but fully involved within them. Only recently have we started requiring our dogs to spend massive amounts of time locked up alone in a building. It’s fundamentally unnatural and not what dogs are made for. Thus it is perfectly reasonable that they prefer to be with you and not by themselves. The first thing to realize is that: Dogs fucking hate being left alone, or at least a lot of them do, or at least they do at first.

Okay. So some dogs don’t seem to care that much about being left alone all day, while other dogs hate it and spend the entire day barking and howling, which is really really unhealthy for them as well as for your neighbors. You don’t know what your dog’s going to be like in this regard, so just PREPARE AS THOUGH he will hate being alone. Then if he doesn’t, well, great! No harm done.

So: Is your house like a big punk rock house where somebody’s always at home throughout the day, making art or whatever? And, are these roommates stoked about hanging out with a dog? If these two answers were “yes” then I think you are good to go. If somebody’s around throughout the day, and if they are willing to sort of co-parent the dog with you (in terms of understanding/committing to its routine and being on basically the same page in terms of discipline, code words, etc.), then you’ll be fine!

Even if you can only get someone (roommate, partner, parent) to commit to spending, say a couple hours a day with the dog, even that seems okay to me, although I feel sketchy about doing it right away–the dog needs time to gain trust and confidence in his new home and in his relationship with you. Ideally you’d get a dog when you had a bunch of time off work and then you’d hang out with the dog constantly and build a cool friendship before you started leaving it alone. And definitely read the dog training books, because there are tricks to teaching him how to be alone. You leave for five minutes, over and over again, giving him a treat every time you come back. You gradually lengthen the amount of time you’re gone. This is why it’s ideal to have A LOT OF FREE TIME when you first get a dog–you have to work on shit like this. It’s not something that comes naturally to a dog.

But once trust and friendship are established I think having someone come by for an hour or two each day could work. I definitely know dogs who lead this kind of life and are totally mellow about it. It’s hard to imagine my own dog living this way but probably he’s just spoiled. But this is the thing–for a lot of dogs, especially younger dogs, it’s not just about “letting it out to pee once a day,” it’s way more about the actual human contact. So somebody would have to commit to really hanging out at your house for sizable chunks of time while you are at work. They’d have to come hang out and read on the couch for an hour, or play fetch in the yard for awhile–not just running across the street once and letting your dog pee and then shutting it up again.

This is also an issue if you get a puppy. Because puppies need to be housetrained, and you can only really do this to the max/quickly if you are spending tons of time with them for basically weeks. They have to go outside every hour and you have to get up in the night with them and stuff, like a real baby! Because they are a baby. So, you might also think about getting an older dog. Our dog was six months old when we got him, so still kind of a floppy pup, still very impressionable and cute, but he was housetrained in like two seconds. I think he peed in the house ONCE, and then had it figured out. If you do the thing where you get an 8 week old puppy from some breeder (PLEASE GO TO THE POUND, please do not buy from a breeder, millions of beautiful dogs are euthanized every year and lots of them would make such good buddies if someone would just give them the chance), you’re going to have to devote a lot more time to housetraining. Puppies are so beautiful but there is definitely a good side to getting an older dude.

Yard: Yard is so awesome! It sounds like you are set up really well for a dog. I wish we had a fenced yard so we could let him out while we’re cooking dinner or whatever, and he could sniff around in the sun. But remember that the yard is NOT a substitution for human contact time. A lot of dogs actually find it stressful to be alone in a yard all day, and they bark hysterically at everyone who walks by, because they are on Stressful Alert all day long, thinking they are on duty protecting the house. Don’t get a dog if your plan is to just let it sit in the yard alone for 9 hours a day. The MAIN THING is human contact.

Okay. So lets assume you’ve got all that covered–your cool roommates are like “yeah groovy man, we’ll hang out with the dog while you’re gone, no sweat.” Your partner’s able to commit to biking over REGULARLY and hanging out with the dog. You plan on getting a bit of an older dog so housetraining will be less long-term. Great! This is probably going to work out just fine, congratulations! But now you are wondering about the other stuff, the lifestyle stuff, how it changes your day-to-day to have a dog. Again, I commend you for being so responsible. So many people don’t think about this stuff and just get a puppy and then are confused when it’s a living creature with needs. You are already ahead of the game!

So yes. Getting a dog does change your life, especially at first, unless you just don’t care that much about your dog’s feelings, in which case why did you even get a dog?? So yeah, for like 5 months it was like, oh my god, what have I done. I’m never going to leave the house again. The dog screamed and screamed if you left him alone for even 3 minutes. He threw himself around and bit the furniture. He ate a library book. He got in this weird habit of waking us up at 6 a.m. etc. etc. He was afraid of fire hydrants. For awhile he had horrible diarrhea and we could not figure out what was going on, and we spent weeks just fucking around with his diet and talking about it incessantly, and finally found this really expensive fancy food that made him stop shitting. Then you have to switch the food slowly over the course of a week. Etc. Maybe the dog you get will be really easy but you should be prepared for stuff like this! He doesn’t just fit immediately/seamlessly into your life. You will do a lot of insane Googling and then you will regret it because the internet will tell you your dog has canine AIDS or whatever.

But after awhile, you start communicating, you start learning his cues and he starts figuring out what his place is in your life. That’s all he wants, really–he wants to know what his place is, what his duties are. Once he’s confident about that, he will probably calm down. Now we leave him alone for 4-6 hours (NOT every day, but just like if we are going out or something) and he’s fine, but it took a long time to earn that trust and get comfortable talking to each other. Like, at first, you don’t even understand when he’s telling you he has to pee. He doesn’t know what any of your words mean. He has no idea what he’s supposed to be doing. It’s not obvious, to him, what’s “outside” and what’s “inside,” and which one of those places is appropriate for pooping, or, once he does figure this out, it takes him awhile to figure out where “outside” even IS, and how you get to it. His brain doesn’t work like yours! You have to teach him, and to teach him you have to know how his brain works, and you have to read a book about it and actually spend enormous amounts of time just hanging out with him and watching him and catching him in the act (peeing, chewing, whatever) and trying to explain to him non-verbally, etc. etc. and it’s intimidating. But after awhile you get used to each other. He learns so many of your words, without you even trying! If you say “lets go” to your partner, the dog will leap up and go to the door and you have to be like “I wasn’t talking to you, dumbass!” Our dog rings a bell when he has to pee, but these days I don’t even need the bell, I can just tell by the weird way he stands by the door staring at me. Also I just know his schedule and I don’t even think about it anymore. At first though the schedule is stressful. “Does he have to poop? Is he about to poop right now?” “I don’t know, I don’t know!!!” But after some months pass you get used to his poop vibe and it’s not scary any more. Now I literally never, NEVER, worry that he’s going to poop in the house. But at first, this will be an all-consuming worry for you and you will feel like you are going crazy.

So you get used to each other, and it gets easier, and you have more faith in one another. He has faith that you WILL come back, every time you leave. You have faith that he PROBABLY WILL NOT take a dump in your bathtub even though he did that one time. Every once in awhile you’ll come home to find he has inexplicably eaten one of your shoes. That’s life with a dog! You’ll start worrying about things you never even thought about before. House fires. What if you die in a car crash and nobody goes to get him out of your house and he starves to death! What’s this weird bump on his foot? And at first it is really scary to leave him alone while you go to a show, and you’ll be worried the whole time you’re out. BUT, this gradually gets better as you get to know him better and vice versa.

You definitely can still go out to punk shows, it’s just that you have to be aware of getting back by a certain time. If this is a sacrifice you feel is too great to make then you shouldn’t get a dog. For me it is mellow because I actually like leaving things early and going to sleep. But yeah, you absolutely will not be able to have the exact same lifestyle–however, your lifestyle doesn’t have to become COMPLETELY lame and different, either. Obviously you want something to be different or you wouldn’t be wanting a dog! Think about why you want one and what you imagine it will bring to your life, then ponder whether having to be home by roughly a certain time every day/spending a certain amount of time with the dog every day is a sacrifice worth making.

Also: MONEY. Especially at first, you will be spending a lot of money. His food should be decent food, not Purina or whatever other cheapo mass market stuff which is basically just chopped up euthanized dogs and cardboard or something. You need things for him to chew and play with, and a place for him to sleep, which you can make yourself out of pillows but still. And then there’s the vet. The vet is expensive and at first you’ll feel like you’re going all the time, because if he’s below a certain age he’ll have all these weird rounds of shots he needs. And then there’s the monthly heartworm pill and the monthly flea medicine pill and yadda yadda, it definitely rachets up, the price. It’s not like having a cat. I’ve had both and I know. But then after awhile it calms down and you have all the stuff you need and he’s done with his shots and then he becomes cheaper. But you still are dropping big chunks of cash on things like boarding him when you go home for christmas. It’s like $30 a day! Maybe eventually you’ll be lucky and he’ll be the kind of dog who you can just have somebody come feed twice a day while you’re gone but let me tell you this is not something you can count on for sure, that he’ll be that kind of dog.

Lifestyle. So yes, it definitely changes. I think there’s a reason there is this cliché/joke about how couples get dogs as practice for a baby. It’s obviously not the same as a baby, but a lot of it is definitely similar. You do have to think about something aside from yourself, and you have to do it every day, no matter what. You can’t just bop out the door and go do whatever for 12 hours, going wherever the wind shall take you, from party to club to waking up on the floor of somebody’s house at 4 in the morning. You can’t just hop in the car and go on a trip. You can’t go on a trip, period, without kind of a lot of wrangling and money (boarding him at the doggie daycare place). Or, you’re out with your friends and you’ve been hanging out for 7 hours and you’re having the best time but you have to suddenly be like “oh crap” and bail, and go home, because your dude needs to pee. And it’s not just that you don’t want him to pee on the rug, it’s even more about building that trust–he NEEDS TO KNOW that you will not let him pee on the rug. He doesn’t WANT to pee on the rug! He’s holding it so hard for you, trying so hard not to pee. Don’t bail on that little dude’s trust, on his effort to be a good dog for you! This responsibility feels pretty important to me, I know for other people they don’t care that much if the dog pees in the house, but I think it’s bad for the dog. He’s at home in the dark house, waiting, waiting, waiting for you. Emo! So it’s worth taking seriously, as far as I’m concerned.

You can’t take him to shows, because his ears are a million times more sensitive than yours and it’s abusive. He might be carsick, like our dog barfs on even short trips, and it’s a pain, it’s not at all what you imagined when you thought of yourself and your new buddy driving around together. He might be psychotically afraid of thunder and fireworks–this is very common, though thank God our dog is not afflicted with it–and you’ll have to rush home if there’s a thunderstorm or he will bash his head against the wall or destroy your couch. A ton of weird stuff might be not how you imagined it, and you have to be prepared to roll with those punches. You have to read books about dog training, you have to understand WHY he does all the weird obnoxious shit he does, and then experiment with ways of getting him to stop. Some stuff you will just have to accept, like your house is just going to be dirtier than you’d like, all the time, and maybe he’s just going to bark every time somebody knocks at the door, and there’s nothing you can do to get him to stop.

HOWEVER: Bonding with an animal is amazing, I think about it every day. How is it that I am actually communicating, on kind of a subtle level, with this creature I am nothing alike? It’s magical and strange. He knows when you’re singing a song about him and when you’re just singing a regular song. When you’re singing about him he gets up off the couch and comes over to say hi. He knows when you’re “being silly.” Like he can read human body language, not just dog body language, and he can tell when you’re “playing,” and he starts playing too. It’s so awesome. He nips your feet when he’s excited but it’s amazing also that you can tell he knows how fragile your foot is compared to some other dog’s face or whatever, or a sheep’s hoof, and he’s like barely biting you at all, he’s being so careful of your little human foot, even as he’s excitedly nipping at it.

And he is all splayed out on the couch, with his chin on my shoulder, sound asleep, breathing into my ear while I read a book. There is nothing more cozy and companionable than hanging out with a dog sleeping all curled up next to or on you. I am so much less scared when I’m alone at night in the house. I know he will bark if someone comes in. He is taking care of me, as I am taking care of him. You are companions! It’s fucking awesome!

He gets you out of the house when you are being lazy. You have to walk him at certain times or he will go fucking apeshit! So you have to struggle up out of whatever lazy k-hole you’re in, and put on your shoes, and get the leash and the poop bag and go outside. What a fun jog buddy! He’s so stoked to be jogging! It makes you rethink jogging. Hey maybe this IS kind of fun!

Every time you come home, you are greeted by a wriggling creature who is BEYOND EXCITED TO SEE YOU. He can’t fucking believe how awesome it is that you are home!!! He leaps and spins and does his weird dance and goes and gets all his toys and shows them to you, so you know he was working while you were gone. No matter how bad your day was, this absolutely can not fail to cheer you up. I love coming home from a long day at work and taking him immediately for a walk, even though on my work days this is more my old man’s job. I shed the stresses of the day and just enjoy being alive, toodling around with my little homie who’s excited to see a bird. You have someone to talk to when you’re alone at night. He watches movies with you and perks up his ears whenever a dog barks onscreen. You get to take him to the dog park and watch him wrassle around with other dogs, and you are filled with pride because he genuinely is the handsomest, most wonderful dog there, and you’re so lucky that he’s yours.

So those are all my thoughts on the good and the bad of dog ownership. I know that people with 9-5 jobs get dogs all the time, and it works out just fine, so I think with thoughtfulness and good planning you can totally do it. If you read all the stuff about the lifestyle and responsibility and thought “that doesn’t seem so bad,” then I say GO FORTH YOUNG PERSON, TO THE HUMANE SOCIETY. But if you read it and thought “ugh, that sounds horrible,” then maybe wait?

But, much like a baby, I think it is very rare that you do feel “ready.” We talked about getting a dog for years and then one day it felt like we were just suddenly at the pound, looking at dogs. I can’t remember what made us suddenly go, but it was very abrupt. Eventually you get the dog, and the thing is that you BECOME ready, as you’re living with him. You figure out how to fit him into your lifestyle, and after awhile it seems really fluid and easy and normal, and you can’t even remember why you thought it was so scary to get a dog, and you can’t even imagine how you went so long without one. He has made my life SO MUCH BETTER. And again I sound like a parent, right? “Yes it’s horrible and awful and you don’t sleep and you have no time to yourself and your body is ruined, ruined! But it’s amaaaaaazing, I’ve never felt a love like this, etc.” Well it’s true for parents and it’s definitely true for getting a dog! At least in my experience. When I think of my life without him it makes me feel hollow and deeply emo. It’s totally worth it. Before we got him we were like “but what if we want to go live in Paris for a month? We won’t be able to!” But now that we have him it is like “Aw who cares about Paris.” Maybe that is terrible, I don’t know.

I’m interested in other takes on this issue. Readers? Any other advice? Especially I’d love to hear from people with 9-5 jobs who made a dog work in their lives.

Also oh man, you definitely need to think about WHICH DOG. Like, an Australian shepherd is WAY too smart and WAY too full of energy to sit in an empty house for 9 hours every day. You will end up with a fucking insane nightmare problem dog. You should learn a bit about breeds and their varying exercise needs, but this is only a small task, because if you get a mutt you won’t really know which breed characteristics will be dominant. SO, you should also really closely question the people at the pound. When we went to get our dog we were like “we want your laziest dog” and they said “here you go,” and it was the snoopy, and he’s been perfect, he sleeps all day long and all night, I don’t know how a creature can sleep so much. Really talk to them about your lifestyle, and be honest about how the dog is going to be alone a lot. They’ll be able to direct you to the dogs that they think will do better in those circumstances–listen to them! Even if it’s maybe not the dog you pictured. If they are really trying to talk you out of the beautiful dog you feel a connection with, because “that guy needs a lot of attention,” LISTEN to them. They know the dogs better than you do!! Like, I wouldn’t have thought a six month old male puppy would be the laziest dog at the pound, but they knew he was. And he was! God, he’s so lazy, what a bum.

If you actually get a dog I can give you lots of quick tips that ended up working well for us. Like tricking him with peanut butter when you leave the house. Or like, he may be lactose intolerant, BEWARE. Or like if you end up with a super anxious dog, you should try a Thundershirt. they’re $30 and some people swear by them. Or like crating–what is it, and should you do it, and if so, how?? Seriously read that book I told you about–you’ll know so much more after you read it. If you get a dog, please feel free to write again for more specific advice! For months after we got our guy, I was constantly asking people for help, it’s totally normal.

Good luck!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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5 Responses to Dog Contemplation

  1. matt says:

    YT is nailing some good advice! I would like to second the $$ part- $400-$600 a year for a dog is pretty standard, and that’s assuming no serious injuries or illness.

    I’d also like to double down on the doing research on breeds. The past 600 years has been some serious mad-scientist shit in terms of ‘designing’ dog breeds, and each breed was made with a specific task in mind. Need to heard your sheep? We have a dog for that. Need to retrieve your freshly shot duck? We have a dog for that? Need to keep rats out of the barn? you get the picture, but the point is is that there is some deep stuff behind this all. And the weird catch is that almost every desirable trait that a breed has is coupled with an obnoxious one: The super smart Border Collies/German Shepherds, etc can be taught just about anything- easily, but they are neurotic maniacs. The almost wolf dogs (Husky, Malamute, etc) will bond with you hard in a wolf pack sort of way, but then constantly try to run away to go hunt the neighborhood cats and squirrels. Labs are loyal, loving, and smart, but have so much god damn energy that if you can’t run them enough they will literally eat your house. So do lots of homework before you get a dog that looks cool but you later realize just wasn’t designed to fit your lifestyle. And that includes mixes.

    and finally- insider tip. if you are really serious, but seriously on the fence, consider becoming a volunteer at the humane society or similar style shelter. go walk some dogs and clean up some poop- you will learn a lot about dogs and yourself- and you might even find the love of your life in the process!

  2. Mary R. says:

    My addition to all of this wonderful advice are these things: ROUTINE and STABILITY. It’s awesome that there are a lot of people willing to help care for your new pal, but when so many people are loving and caring and telling it what to do, it may be confused as to who to listen to, or what behaviors are acceptable. If you tell he/she to not sleep on the couch, but your roommate allows it, it might make for some problems later on. In my experience, dogs need a semi-strict kind of routine to make them happy. Once they understand what is expected of them, they will do anything for you, and once you have established that you are the pack leader, they will not dick with you, but routine is KEY. Make sure the rules are understood with all your roomies and your fellow caregivers, and don’t be afraid to put pal in his/her place if they’re being a jerk.
    Also, be prepared to move with this dog! You are bound to move (in city or out) sometime in the dogs lifespan. If you commit to a dog, then full on do it, and find a place that allows pets. Nothing is sadder than all of those ads on CL that say, “Can’t have dogs in our new apartment, HAS TO GO.” There are always places to move, sometimes they might take a little longer, but it is worth it, and it is more noble to keep your unit together instead of being one of those dicks on CL.
    Lastly, I second Matt’s advice on the Humane Society volunteering.

  3. kim says:

    The advice seeker has hit on a crucial problem that many of face; we want pets, but live in smaller spaces. This makes it necessary to consider both the breed and age of the dog that you get. It’s actually one of the reasons that smaller dogs are becoming more popular. Smaller “purse dogs” have their advantages and disadvantages. They’re good because, like I said, a smaller dog can be housed in a smaller space. They can be bad because many of the purse dogs are over-bred in puppy mills, and people often misunderstand their natures. As always, the fault of having a “bad” dog can almost always be placed at the foot of the owner.

    This is very smart advice! It gives the adopter time to consider the true pro’s and cons. Also, older dogs can be good companions as well. They may have mellowed over time and need less exercise.

    • kim says:

      Oops. the above block quote was meant to reference one of the above comments, but I misused the HTML tag.

      “and finally- insider tip. if you are really serious, but seriously on the fence, consider becoming a volunteer at the humane society or similar style shelter. go walk some dogs and clean up some poop- you will learn a lot about dogs and yourself- and you might even find the love of your life in the process!”

  4. kim says:

    This dog was sent to prison for killing the governor’s cat! Bad dog.

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