Leaving home to go off to college? Starting your first big career opportunity? Getting married? Buying a house? Having your first child? Getting divorced? A family member gets ill, disabled or passes away?
There are many big life-changing events that occur that would benefit from research and expert guidance. Same goes to when you finally make the big decision to add a puppy or dog to your life for the first time. You are entering an unknown reality. You see your friends with dogs and it looks all really great or it could be a nightmare situation.
Throw your expectations out the window. It never turns out like you think it will. So how can you best prepare for this new venture with the best foot forward? I offer a service called Pre-Ownership Counseling that helps anyone thinking about adding a puppy/dog to their life.
It all starts with an initial appointment to discuss your lifestyle and needs. Instead of leading your decision impulsively and all with your heart, I will be able to help you make rational decisions that would help find you the more appropriate dog to fit your lifestyle. The greater the disparity, the more unpleasant the situation will be for all involved.
We will discuss all things about dogs and your lifestyle, including but not limited to: if you like to travel, if you like to be spontaneous with your entertainment and spend nights out, do you prefer being home and you are not extremely social or do you have family and friends over frequently, mixed vs pure, how to screen shelters/rescues, how to screen breeders, where NOT to get a dog/puppy, inherent ‘normal’ dog behavior, a dog’s physical and mental needs, financial considerations for good dog food and treats, financial considerations for:
- regular veterinary wellness appointments,
- surgeries, emergencies,
- training for you and the dog,
- boarding and/or doggy daycare,
- a dog walker,
- grooming/nail trimming,
- a poop pick up service,
- replacing furniture, carpets,
- getting a fence installed… etc.
Did I mention owning a dog will take up a lot of finances?
Americans spend billions on pets. In 2017 it’s estimated that Americans have spent close to $70 billion alone.
Besides understanding what your life is currently like and what you are willing to adjust is also important. Adding a sentient being into your care is no small matter. Dogs require social time and training. So whatever ‘free’ time you currently have, that will now go to the dog. Depending on your where you live, country, suburbs, city, will kind of dictate what sorts of engagement you will need with your dog. Daily walks, swimming, hikes, running and playing with other dogs and more importantly, training. Training should be about YOU learning how to best live with your dog in harmony. You should be educated on what normal dog behavior is, how to get desired behaviors, how to add cues to behaviors, how to get a confident, joyous and dog.
Look for a trainer that doesn’t use force, coercion, pain, threats, or fear, either group or private, and you will learn about forming a relationship built on trust. You will also learn how to build fluency, reliability and to get brilliant behaviors. You have to realize that training happens every day. Anytime the dog is awake, it’s learning. Dogs can be very good at training humans if you are not aware of the behavior contingencies. Adding a dog is similar to adding a child to your life. It will require a long-term commitment.
Dogs are dogs: they bark, dig, run, chase, sometimes kill critters, destroy things, poo, pee, vomit, drool, shed fur, growl and to top that off they can have behavior sensitivities like: separation distress, separation anxiety, leash reactivity, no-social skills with other dogs, aggression towards strangers and resource guarding. There are also some medical issues you need to know about like worms, fungus issues, and zoonotic diseases. You will also need to learn some basic husbandry skills or at least be aware of them.
If you are a family, then be mentally prepared for one person to take full reins of the dog even though you might get sincere words or promises from family members. You may require family meetings and/or family therapy. Just realize from the beginning, that other family members will not be on the same plane as the main caretaker, and that’s ok. It’s unrealistic to have everyone in the family partake in the same level of care and attention as that one main person. So don’t set your family up for failure. Family members do however have to understand the basics of care and not to sabotage routines or training. You can assign each member with one or two behaviors (tricks) to be responsible for.
As a dog trainer, one has to be educated in adult learning as well as family dynamics. If you have young ones, it’s also very important to know how to separate dog and kids. You will need to give the dog a safe zone and model appropriate behaviors that the kids can do with the dog. There are appropriate and inappropriate human behaviors that we would discuss prior to bringing in a dog into the family. A good source for families with children are: Family Paws Parent Education, Dog Gone Safe and a book called Happy Kids, Happy Dogs
Once we narrow down your lifestyle then I may narrow down your search to ‘easier’ first-time sorts of dogs. Too often I get clients that are miss-matched with their dog. The pairing is challenging and not easy. It’s similar to being a novice in something yet getting a highly powerful & sophisticated piece of equipment that you may not have the skills to operate. Disaster waiting to happen. Based on a survey, with information gathered from the American Kennel Club and Vetstreet, 218 veterinarians gave their opinion on which breeds and mixes would make for a good ‘first-time’ dog for new owners. Some of the dogs that made the list are: Pomeranian, Yorkshire Terrier, Boston Terrier, Labradoodle, Goldendoodle.
Then my service extends to going to the shelters and breeders with my clients so that I can best guide them in their decision and selection. So by looking at your current situation, an expert can best give you advice on what sort of dog would best fit your energy/personality and whether a puppy, adult or senior dog would be best for you and/or your family making a better match from the start.
Daphne Robert-Hamilton, CPDT-KA
Daphne Robert-Hamilton is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer- Knowledge Assessed by the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. She was a Certified Equestrian Coach by the Canadian Equestrian Federation before moving into the dog training world. She competed extensively with her two Doberman Pinschers from 1997-2002 and achieved being a finalist in the Top 20 Obedience in 2000 and 2002 with the Doberman Pinscher Club of America. In 2002 Daphne graduated from the SFSPCA Academy for Dog Trainers, which is now defunked. She went on to intern at the SFSPCA Academy and graduated with honors in dog aggression. Daphne became the go-to trainer in the SF Bay Area for aggression cases. Daphne has done webinars, been interviewed in several dog magazines and has written a two part article on “sibling rivalry” for The Chronicle of The Dog. Daphne was the Head Trainer for Washington state for Pets for Vets for about two years. She has fostered many dogs helping them find loving forever homes. Daphne is a member of The Pet Professional Guild.
Daphne has been married for 24yrs and currently lives with her two Rhodesian Ridgebacks in Washington State.
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