I think a good place to start with mindful pet ownership is at the very beginning. This isn’t when you first go to visit the breeder or shelter to pick which puppy/dog will be joining the family, or when you bring them home. I am talking about when the thought of getting a canine companion first crosses your mind. When you are deciding what breed to purchase or adopt.
How many of you can honestly say you actually researched which breed of dog would best suit you and your lifestyle before you went looking for one? For those who said yes, you’re either lying to yourself or are part of the minority - and both of those realities are just sad.
So why don’t most people think to put the time in to researching the right breed of dog for their lifestyle instead of thinking about what breed of dog they like the look of? I’m sure there will be some people screaming that social media has had a part to play in this. Celebrities being photographed with certain breeds has really increased the popularity of certain breeds and blah, blah, blah… seriously, let’s not pass the buck here. No-one is forcing you to get the same dog as a celebrity so just take responsibility for your decision. No-one twisted your arm and said ‘you have to get a Springer spaniel, French bulldog or Dachshund’ etc. By basing your decision on looks alone you are simply setting yourself up to fail as a pet owner, and more importantly you are setting yourself up to fail your pet, with them having to suffer the consequences.
One of the biggest mis-matches I come across is energy level/exercise requirement. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve heard people say, ‘I can’t wait to get a dog so I can start walking’ or something along those lines. Ask yourself this – have you ever said to yourself ‘I’ll buy a new pair of running shoes then I’ll start running’, or ‘I’ll buy myself a fancy new bike then I’ll start cycling every day’. And how many of you started running or cycling but lost interest or motivation after a short period and never started up again? Those new shoes sit on the rack or the shiny bike sits in the corner gathering dust not being used, and your activity level stays exactly where it was before you spent money on this lovely new item that was meant to motivate you into changing your lifestyle. Well news flash – you can’t do this with a dog.
If you aren’t an active person already, and you don’t have the motivation and discipline to go for a walk, run or bike ride every day, what makes you think that getting a dog will change who you are? You’re setting yourself up to fail, and I’ll say it as many times as I need to, you are setting yourself up to fail your dog – and that just isn’t fair.
Obviously, every breed has different requirements for exercise and there is going to be a breed to match every owner activity level. A short 10-15 minute walk once or twice a day will be enough for some, where others need at least 2 hours of intense exercise to avoid unwanted behaviour – that’s a huge difference! If you are currently doing no physical activity on a daily basis, it would make no sense to expect yourself to suddenly become a seasoned runner and be able to keep up with the needs of a highly energetic breed.
I’m not saying people can’t change, but forming a new habit takes on average 66 days (depending on which study you read). If you have your heart set on a more active dog but you aren’t currently that active, why not take the time to create this new habit of daily physical exercise before you bring the dog home? Doesn’t that make sense? Make sure you can offer this living creature what it needs before you are responsible for it, not use it as a social experiment and hope for the best?
Each one of these breeds has different energy levels and therefore different exercise requirements. Not every breed will match your lifestyle so make sure you do your research!
I honestly don’t care whether you are an Olympic level runner or a couch potato, what I care about is drumming in to every potential dog owner’s head to think about your choice and go in to your new role as a dog owner with your eyes wide open and with realistic expectations. You are solely responsible for your choices, no-one else. But it is the dog who will suffer if you can’t meet their lifestyle requirements. It is you who will suffer under the unwanted behaviour that occurs when your dog doesn’t get the exercise it needs (destructive behaviour, inappropriate excitement, aggression). It is the already over full animal shelter that suffers when you decide to re-home your out of control dog. It is the veterinary surgeon and veterinary nurse who suffer when they have to euthanase a young healthy dog due to behaviour issues. Let’s be real, why should I have to end an innocent life because you chose the wrong breed for your lifestyle? Meanwhile the veterinary professionals have to sit back and watch you take no responsibility for the behaviour of your pet, no ownership of how your choices lead to this point and think none of this is your fault. Reality check – this is your fault. This might seem like an extreme situation and that I am being callous, but this happens every day in veterinary clinics around the world and it’s time for a change.
The internet has a wealth of information on every breed imaginable, even those ridiculously over-priced crossbreeds marketed as designer breeds (that’s a rant for another blog). Your other option is speaking with your local vet, dog behaviourist, dog trainer, animal shelter – i.e. have a chat with a trained professional about different breeds and what may suit you best. They will be elated that you are being mindful and putting in the effort! If you know someone who is talking about getting a new dog, recommend they do the same. To begin with, people might think you’re a bit weird for recommending it but choosing a breed of dog is a big deal. Why wouldn’t you want to make the right choice?
I do think it’s worth adding at this point that this isn’t just for the people who are getting their first dog. This is also for those experienced dog owners who are considering getting a different breed than what they are used to, or whose circumstances have changed since they last had a puppy e.g. they now have children, or they are getting older and have previously had really active dogs that they may no longer be able to keep up with etc. No matter how many dogs you have owned, it is always worthwhile taking the time to do some research.
If one person reads this and it changes their way of thinking, that’s potentially a dog’s life saved and that’s enough for me. But there’s potential here to make a big change to the way people think about choosing their next pet, to start a movement of mindful pet owners sharing this way of thinking. Imagine how many lives could be saved. Help me spread the message of mindful pet ownership and help save a life.
Until next time, enjoy the journey of mindful pet ownership.