I grew up with a lot of animals in the house. We went through several dogs, a couple cats, fish, ferrets, a guinea pig, even a turtle at one point. Our cat Ki-Pu (pronounced kee-pew) will be turning a whopping 15 this year!
Even though we grew up with a lot of animals in the house, none of them were explicitly my responsibility as a child. When I was in my late teens, I did have to take care of the turtle and Ki-Pu, but cats and turtles are easy. You feed them, you clean up after them, and that’s that. Not until I was 18 did I get my own dog and learn how much work they really are.
I researched for months before I picked out my puppy. I knew I wanted something small, and I knew I couldn’t be allergic to it. I wanted a puppy so I could raise it from the start. I read articles on anything from training to grooming to specific breed issues. I spent hours deciding on a name. I decided that I wanted a Cairn Terrier, Yorkshire Terrier, or Chinese Crested Hairless.
When I was finally ready, I began searching. The local animal shelter didn’t offer any small breeds (let alone puppies), and we didn’t have any pet stores (I think they’re unethical anyway), so I started checking the Classifieds which is where I found a litter of Yorkshire Terrier/Pomeranian mixes. They were a couple hours away, so I asked a friend to drive me.
I was disappointed when I arrived and found out that the brown female was already taken. I wanted a female and I wanted a darker colored dog. My only pickings were a white female, a white male, and a brown male. I wasn’t leaving without a puppy, so I decided on the brown male. I picked him up and rubbed him on my face to make sure I wouldn’t break out. I’m allergic to most animals, and I didn’t want to get a dog I couldn’t cuddle! He didn’t break me out so I paid the $300 (that’s right, I paid $300 for a mutt) and took him home.
He was pretty chill the whole ride home, sitting quietly on my lap and not making a peep. He did throw up once we stopped the car, but he was nice enough to wait until we were outside. I decided during the drive that I would name him “Kirby”. It’s one of my favorite video game characters and it just seemed to fit.
When I showed him to my mom, she was pretty angry. She told me to take him back. I told her no way. Admittedly, I was wrong for bringing a dog home without my mom’s permission, but who could say no to this face?!
Thankfully she quit being mad a few days later. She even gave him a nickname: Turble. Funnily enough, my grandma also started calling him Turble independently of my mom, and they still call him that to this day.
Anyway, back to the topic of the article: how having a dog is a lot like having a kid.
Many people don’t do enough research when they get a dog. They decide they want one, they go pick one out, and they take it home. Eventually it develops behavioral issues because they didn’t bother to train it at all. Some people won’t tolerate the behavioral issues and give their dogs away, usually to the pound. I think that’s extremely sad. Unless you adopted a rescue, every single behavioral problem your dog has is your fault and you shouldn’t be giving him away to a shelter because you were too stupid or too busy to deal with the problem. If you did adopt a rescue, you should have been ready to deal with any issues it might have. Dogs are products of their environment. It’s not the dog’s fault it misbehaves. It’s yours.
Dogs are like kids in many ways and should be treated as a similar responsibility. Dogs have obvious needs similar to children: food, shelter, healthcare, and attention. But dogs also have a slightly less obvious need similar to children: Education.
That’s right, your dog needs an education. As soon as you get your puppy, you should start training. The first 12 weeks of life are critical to social development and you should be doing everything in your power to socialize your dog properly. He needs to learn to socialize with other animals. He needs to learn how to socialize with other humans. He needs to learn that loud noises aren’t scary, and that your socks are not okay to chew on. He needs to learn to go potty outside and how to ask for what he wants without being obnoxious. He needs to learn how to greet strangers without knocking them on the floor (or biting their ankles), and he needs to learn how to follow commands and obey you.
Many of the things dogs need to learn are for their own safety, much like children. Many of them are for the sake of manners, just like children. And every time the dog acts up, he needs to be corrected, firmly but gently, just like a child. Most people will blame the misbehavior of small children on the parents, and the same needs to go for dogs. If your child misbehaves, it’s probably your fault. If your dog misbehaves, it is your fault. People too often go out and buy a puppy and then do nothing to make sure he doesn’t potty on the floor or chew up their socks or jump on strangers, and then get mad when he does those things. They expect the dog to just behave.
My dog is far from perfect. He greets people a little too excitedly. He barks at other dogs and pulls on the leash. He has separation anxiety. All of these things are my fault. I did a lot of research before getting him, but I did make mistakes. I didn’t teach him that it’s okay to be alone. I didn’t teach him that it’s not okay to jump on people. I did try my best to socialize him, but I didn’t do a good enough job of it. Still, he is very well behaved. He almost never has accidents in the house. He doesn’t bite people. He hardly ever barks at anything. He’s not afraid of the vacuum or the hair dryer. He tolerates small children and being groomed. He comes when called, and he even knows a few neat tricks. He’s very smart and picks up on things quickly.
Training Kirby was hard. It was also really fun. This is where I first learned about crate training. Kirby was potty trained in less than a week this way, whereas other dogs I’d had took months to potty train because we were doing it wrong. It was quick, but it wasn’t easy. He’d wake me up at 5 or 6am every day to go potty. I’m a late riser, I don’t get up until noon most days unless I have to, so this sucked. But it was neat when he first started “asking” to go outside during the day. Kirby learned tricks quickly and would always come when called. He did have a chewing problem, but what puppy doesn’t? He even chewed on my piano once. But I taught him what was and wasn’t okay to chew on and he grew out of it.
Kirby has long hair and therefore needs to be groomed regularly. This is expensive so I learned to do it myself. He doesn’t have the most even haircuts in town, but he’s still adorable. I’ve also had to spend money on vet bills. It’s much cheaper than a child’s healthcare for sure, but people still don’t take this into consideration often enough. Too often people will put down their pet because they can’t afford its medical care. Kirby is like my son, I could never imagine doing that to him. Did you know that dogs need to have their teeth cleaned? Well they do, especially smaller dogs like Kirby. They get gingivitis just like people do.
The point here is that having a dog is a big responsibility. It’s like having a child that you can leave alone for several hours a day. It needs medical care. It needs attention. It needs an education. It needs to be taught right from wrong and what words mean. Getting a dog should not be taken lightly. It’s not just a household accessory that you feed and take outside sometimes. If you are not committed to training it, grooming it, and paying its medical bills for the next 10+ years, then maybe you should get a cat. Or a goldfish.