Tuesday, July 7, 2015

So You Want a Dog?

It's been a month ago now (I'm behind on everything), but we took Munch to the dog beach at Bear Lake for his first time and he was in doggy heaven. I was like a proud mom watching her kid graduate from preschool, seeing my pup splash through the waves and chew on sticks. 

In March, it marked a year since we rescued our Munch. We couldn't imagine life without a dog. We sure got lucky, because Munch is perfect for us. Everyone's experience is different, but I thought I'd just give a little spill of the things we've learned since becoming dog-owners. Maybe it will help someone else who wants to add a canine friend to the family. 
Tip 1: Check your local shelters before buying a dog from a breeder!!
People might think I'm a goofball, but I'm definitely passionate about pet adoption! My very favorite dogs we had growing up were poor puppies that we found as strays. My parents live up a canyon in a secluded area and people often drop their dogs off and leave them for dead (sad face). We often found these strays and my big-hearted, sensitive mom would take them in. My parents' current dog is one we found when I was 15. He had been wandering around in a snowstorm for hours. My mom loaded him in the car and brought him home. I remember helping her feed him and warm him with towels . . . his whole body was quivering. We couldn't find his owner, so we kept him as our own and named him Ringo. He is the sweetest and most loyal dog, and I swear it's partly because we took him in and loved him when no one else would. They say an elephant never forgets . . . I like to believe dogs are the same. Because of my childhood experiences, I knew for my adult life, I wanted to adopt my first dog. Brian and I chose to adopt through Four Paws because they are a no-kill shelter. Sadly, many shelters put dogs down if they don't find forever homes. Four Paws rescues many of the dogs at our local shelter when their time runs out. Four Paws sincerely cares about the animals they provide for and they want to find homes that are a good fit. Because of this, Four Paws was super amazing to work with. They let us do a "trial run" with Munch before we officially signed all the papers. They also had a lot of information on all their dogs because they really work on getting familiar with each dog's personality. Oh, and an added bonus with Four Paws is that they fix all their dogs and have their shots up to date, so you won't have to worry about it. Since rescuing Munch, I think I'm going to go with the rescue route for life. Munch is the sweetest dog. Again, I think it's because we gave him a home when he went without for so long. I don't know where Munch came from before Four Paws, but we've found evidence that he was abused. He flinches if we make quick movements or pick objects up. It is tragic to know he probably didn't have the best life as a puppy, but I feel a little bit of fulfillment knowing I can now give him the love he so deserves. Going to a dog shelter is heart-breaking. There are way too many dogs that go their entire lives without loving homes. Many of them have terrible pasts (we refer to it as Munch's "thug life"). I wish I could adopt them all (maybe one day when we have a bigger yard . . . scooping poop should be fun). So please, please, PLEASE if you are considering getting a dog, check with shelters before going to a breeder. You might not get the exact breed you want, but get over it. The dog's personality matters much more than what breed it is. Surprisingly enough, you can often find full-bred dogs at shelters if you check frequently (they get snatched up fast though). Tragically enough, this is due to irresponsible breeders and irresponsible owners, which brings me to my next tip . . .  

Tip 2: If you do go to a breeder, make sure they are reputable 
If you really do want to pay for a full-bred dog (which will cost more money than pet adoption, mind you), make sure you do your research on breeders. There are way too many irresponsible breeders who don't care about the safety of the dogs. They have only money in mind. With that being said, there are breeders who are passionate about what they do and they act responsibly, making sure their dogs go to safe homes. Choose one of these loving breeders to go through and avoid evil puppy mills at all costs! 
Tip 3: Do your research
Different breeds are often more apt to have certain personality traits, abilities, or health problems. For example, some breeds have higher energy levels than others. If you get a higher energy dog, you'll have to plan on having space for it to run around and you'll have to walk it more frequently. Certain breeds make great running partners while others are just not natural-born athletes. Certain breeds are also more likely to have joint problems later in life, so that's something you need to be familiar with and prepared for. If you think you want a certain type of dog, do your research beforehand. You might find that in reality, it's not the best dog for your lifestyle. I once heard a story of a couple who bought a dog when they were both in school and working, only to later find out the certain breed required constant attention. They didn't keep the dog for long and then sold it to the first person who was willing to buy. Not a great situation for the humans or the dog. The problem could have been avoided if they would have learned about the dog before bringing it home. I have another example from my own life. When "101 Dalmatians" came out, I was obsessed to say the least. I was a dalmatian for Halloween two years in a row and I watched the cartoon on repeat. Then I begged my parents to get me a dalmatian. Since at the time, I was their only precious daughter, they caved and let me get my dream dog. From my childhood memories, I recall that dog being a total demon. I don't even remember his name, I only remember being terrified of him. If you didn't know, dalmatians are VERY hyper dogs. Every time I set foot outdoors, I was knocked over, held down and drooled on by that dalmatian. I have a very distinct memory of being pinned under him, screaming for help while my parents watched and laughed. So anyway, a dalmatian might not be the best choice of dog to get for your three year old . . . unless you hate your three year old.

Tip 4: Make sure you have the time 
Being a dog owner is a real commitment, especially since dogs live for over ten years on average. This is a living, breathing thing that needs your attention and love. You'll need to walk it, feed it, clean up after it, and socialize with it. If you are not home often, you might want to wait for a time in your life when you are around more to get that pup. So yes, if you're in school and working, I'd suggest waiting. If you travel a lot and don't have someone to care for your pet while you're gone, wait. Brian and I both grew up our whole lives with a dog around. Honestly, the hardest part of moving away to college was being away from my dogs. After we first got married, we were dog-hungry, but we knew getting a dog would be irresponsible of us. We were both in school and working full-time. We hardly had time to spend with one another . . . how would we have the time to pay attention to a needy dog? When we got a better handle on our lives, we brought Luna home. The nice thing about cats is that they aren't near as dependent as dogs. Luna worked with our situation at the time since we were only home a few hours a day and were also living in a small apartment. Brian and I made the decision early on that we wouldn't get a dog until 1) we were both done with school and 2) we had a yard where a dog would have room to roam around. Even though I missed owning a dog for several years, I'm grateful I waited.  
Tip 5: Puppies are cute, but they're not for everyone 
Puppies are probably one of the most adorable things on the planet. However, they are also destructive. They will chew things apart. They will have accidents. They will be annoying at times. Yes, puppies are cute . . . but they are not always the answer. If you get a puppy, you will need the time and commitment to train it. You will also need patience. I mean, a puppy is a baby after all. It doesn't know any better. It's a baby you need to teach. A baby with claws and sharp teeth. Just keep that in mind. While I love puppies, Brian and I knew a more mature dog would be better for our life situation. While we are home more, we both still have jobs. We wouldn't have the time to work with a baby dog. And while puppies are cute, so are grownup dogs. Munch is probably around four-years-old. This means he is still young and playful, but he's old enough that he is rarely naughty. He's a great age for our situation. He was already trained to some degree when we brought him home, and he still has the energy to go on runs and hikes with us.  

Tip 6: Be patient 
To be a good dog-owner, you must have patience. Your dog isn't going to act perfectly the second you bring him or her home. Your dog will make mistakes and you will make mistakes too. Don't be too hard on yourself or your loyal friend. Over time, your dog will get comfortable, feel more at home, and also behave better. With time, you will also become more familiar with your dog's strengths and weaknesses. We quickly learned that if Munch isn't on a leash, he will make a mad dash for it. There were several times last summer when we accidentally left our gate door open too long and Munch took off, painting the town red. It was embarrassing to say the least, when we had to drive around asking neighbors if they'd seen him. Luckily, we always found him or he came back home. Now we know better though. Munch knows better too. A year later and he knows he's not supposed to leave the yard. Another thing about Munch is that he was attacked by a bigger dog while at the shelter. When we first brought him home, he actually had some battle wounds from the attack. With that being said, Munch can sometimes be hesitant around other dogs. We've had to be patient working with him on this. We've learned that if we are in a controlled environment, he has no problem being around other four-legged friends. Be patient. Over time, you and your dog will find your groove. If you feel you need extra help with your dog, many places offer affordable obedience classes.    
Hopefully those tips are of assistance. I'm no professional dog expert but just wanted to share some things we learned from our own experience. We can't imagine our lives without Munch. Being a dog-owner is the absolute best. It can be a lot of work, but I know you will love it!  

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