Owning a dog of my own has been a lifetime ambition that my parents, budget, work or lifestyle never permitted – until I retired and moved to Spain. Within three months of moving I had seen some puppies advertised by a local animal rescue. They had been found in a dustbin and were some sort of retriever/unidentifiable cross breed. “Why don’t we get two rather than one?” my husband suggested, “they will be good company for each other.”
All you experienced dog owners reading this will be smiling at this point and probably thinking, “Haha, that’s a really bad idea”. But I was blissfully ignorant.
I will summarise some of my learnings over the following three years in the hope that people in a similar situation to me who are thinking of getting a puppy will understand what is actually involved and the sacrifices and traumas that are likely to be involved. If you are anything like me, however, you will disregard this and carry on anyway, but at least you have been warned.
- Puppies are the cutest little eating, biting, whining, barking, peeing, pooing, demanding little creatures. They need feeding several times a day; they need to be taken out to pee and/or poo every three hours (day or night whatever the weather) and then they will often pee indoors as soon as you bring them in; they are noisy, messy and they chew everything they can get their little teeth into. When they are not sleeping (which is not often enough in my experience) they may drive you insane. Unless they are in a crate, you can’t leave them alone for a minute because they have a low boredom threshold and will create some sort of disaster as soon as your back is turned.
- If you are at all house proud or have a lovely garden – forget it. Destruction is guaranteed. Furniture, shoes, spectacles, books, bluerays, phones, laptops, TV controls, rugs, cushions, table mats, cables, cupboard handles…these are all purpose build doggy chews as far as they are concerned.
Every single thing in the garden is to be either jumped on, chewed, dug up or barked at – or maybe all of those things. This also goes for any local wildlife they may encounter in the garden. Birds, mice, rats, squirrels, frogs, toads, snakes, grasshoppers…and of course cats…are to be barked at furiously for an extended period of time and then possibly eaten. Fortunately they haven’t actually eaten a cat yet (which is good, as I have four at the moment, but at times it seemed like a close run thing).
Various other objects and animals have, however, been eaten or licked, including assorted plastic items as well as toads and caterpillars. This has resulted in several frantic dashes to the vet and x-rays and treatment while I prayed that they didn’t die. Fortunately the only thing that has suffered any long term damage so far has been my bank balance as I pay the latest vet bill.
- The costs your puppy will incur are much broader than you might think. Adoption fee, harness, collar, lead, bed, toys, vaccination, sterilisation, food. All these are probably much as you would expect, but what about the unexpected expenses like re-fencing your garden so your little darlings can’t get out whenever they feel like having a trip without you; buying multiple dog gates so that you can stop your dog from accessing every area of your house and creating havoc; repeatedly replacing the garden irrigation system that gets chewed and dug up at regular intervals; having furniture repaired that is scratched or bitten; adding pets to your house insurance so that you are insured if they destroy anybody else’s property or belongings; adapting your car to accommodate your dog(s); replacing all the sundry items that routinely get destroyed (see above – we have gone through at least six TV remotes so far – apparently they are irresistable); the unforeseen vet bills if your dog has an accident or becomes ill; pet sitters or kennels and grooming, particularly if your dog is long-haired. And don’t forget puppy training classes. All this added up to much more money than I had ever imagined or budgeted for.
- A bigger surprise to me though, was the impact on my life generally. I have had cats all my life and confidently thought it wouldn’t be that much different having dogs (I know, I know…naive right?). Having a dog, particularly a puppy, is like having a small child. They need almost constant monitoring, nurturing and educating. Leisurely lying in bed in the morning is a distant memory for me. As are spontaneous trips out or days away. We stopped taking the dogs with us to friends’ houses after they ate all the tassels off an expensive rug within about 10 minutes and then tunnelled through a garden hedge to bark at their neighbours. Even now that they are three years old, I never leave my dogs alone for more than 4-5 hours at a time.
- Everybody told me that by the time my pups were 18 months old, their worst habits and behaviour would be behind us and they would become calm, confident young dogs. This was pretty much the one thing that kept me going in the dark moments when I found my favourite handcream or laptop cable chewed, or all the plants I had just put lovingly into my new vegetable bed were dug up and thrown around the garden. I kept thinking “Just a few more months and everything will be ok”.
Have you ever wondered why so many young dogs are abandoned? It makes much more sense to me now. I am not condoning it, but maybe some of these people were just as unprepared for the responsibility as I was.
So, three years on do I have a pair of tranquil, obedient dogs? No, of course not. They are much calmer than they were as puppies, but they still have their crazy moments. Of course part (most) of this may be due to my complete incompetence at training my dogs. My husband says they love me but they don’t respect me, and I guess I can live with that. My house is still a mess with dog fur and chewed items everywhere, they bark constantly at everyone and everything that walks past the house or dares to fly or run in the garden. They escape at the drop of a hat if they get an opportunity and go on mad adventures and come back absolutely filthy and covered in burrs. They drive me crazy sometimes but I absolutely adore them and can’t imagine what my life would be without them.
I can’t see myself adopting a puppy again….but for those who do, I salute you and hope you enjoy every minute of it.