Monday, July 29, 2013

Responsible Love, Charlie Style

Responsibility.  It's the number one word that comes up in discussions about getting a dog.  When children beg their parents to buy them a puppy - or, in my family, when my sister begs my parents to get another dog - the conversation always begins and ends with the question of responsibility.

After all, having a dog is a lot of work.  Everyone knows that, right?

Well, you'd think.  But, honestly, I see a lot of people defining the responsibility required for dog ownership in a way that works for them rather than for the dog.  I know I throw up a lot of Charlie love on social media (see the "doggie" label on this blog and my whole Instagram account for proof) and it looks like our relationship is all cuddles and kisses, but I want to tell you a little bit about how I understand my responsibility towards him.  To make sure that you don't run away in fear of a boring lecture - which this isn't anyway, I promise! - let's take a break to look at some adorable never-before-seen photos of Charlie, shall we?




To me, the first rule of doggie ownership is to make sure that your dog knows, without a shadow of a doubt, that s/he is the most loved dog in the entire world.  If we meet a dog who seems happier than Charlie, I feel like I've failed.  That works out really well for Charlie, because it means he gets tons of love afterwards!  Of course this does include kisses and cuddles and belly rubs and play time, but it also includes lots of walks and games and attention.  Which brings us to my second rule of dog ownership...

Did you see my Day in the Life post a few months ago?  If you did, you'll know that having a dog is a lot of work even when you just want it to be fun and relaxed.  My intention here is not to dissuade anyone from considering getting a dog; I believe that no matter how much work it is, it's always outweighed by how much joy s/he will bring into your life.  However, I definitely see one of my responsibilities as a dog owner as educating people about how labor-, time-, and energy-intensive it is to have a dog.

I read a few posts about nine months ago by a big blogger who had recently brought home a brand new puppy.  She was frustrated because, in her daydreams about having this sweet companion, she'd work from home with a furry pile by her feet under her desk who would contentedly gnaw on a bone for hours.  Shockingly enough, this is not how the first few months went.  She said she'd read Puppies for Dummies, but she was clearly completely unprepared for how much work it would be to bring an 8 week old fuzzball into her house.  (Or maybe she did realize what would be involved but let her fantasies take over.  I don't know.)  I felt bad for the blogger, obviously, because she sounded like she was a bit overwhelmed, but I mostly felt bad for the dog because it didn't sound like it was getting the stimulation and training it needed.

I used to read another blog by a dog owner who once, in a post bemoaning how stressed she was about work, said something like, "I know [my pet] would love a 30 minute walk in the morning, but I just don't have the energy."  I'm sorry, but in my book that's inexcusable no matter the size of your dog unless s/he is physically unwell or very old.  As this article from Mercola points out, "Most dog breeds were developed with a specific purpose in mind, for example, sporting, working, herding and so forth. Consequently, whether your pet is a purebred or mixed breed, chances are he carries genetic traits that drive him to pursue an activity."  Making sure your dog gets enough exercise can be fun and beneficial for both of you - do read that link if you want creative ideas! - because it can be a disaster both emotionally and physically for everyone concerned if s/he doesn't.

Speaking of the emotional side of things, my third and final personal rule for dog ownership is this: teach children how to interact with dogs.  Now, this sounds like a chore, but it's actually totally selfish in our case because Charlie loves kids.  I'm probably sometimes really annoying about it because I think it's so important for children to learn how to love dogs safely, but every time we're out and about and a child (especially a young one, like under the age of 10) gets excited about seeing Charlie, I stop and ask the parent if the child wants to say hello to Charlie.  If the parent says yes, I tell Charlie to sit and then explain to the child that s/he should always walk up to a dog slowly and calmly with a hand stretched out in front so the dog can smell it.  We talk about how dogs learn a lot by smelling, and when Charlie's sniffs turn into kisses, the child is delighted.  One of the saddest things to me is a child who is afraid of dogs, but it's our responsibility to make sure that children don't get themselves into situations - even ones that seem cute - where a dog is afraid or uncomfortable because the the dog will act out against the child, causing lasting repercussions.

It goes without saying that I'm not a perfect dog owner.  As a matter of fact, it took me over an hour to write the first half of this post because our walk this morning wasn't long enough and Charlie still had energy when we got back home so he was a total pain in the you-know-what while I tried to blog.  (If you want a soundtrack for this post, just click here and keep the video on repeat.)  In the end, I gave up and we went out for another walk and finally managed to tire him out!  But I find that if I keep these three rules in mind, both Charlie and I stay happy, healthy, and mostly sane - and that's really all you can ask for, right?  Well, that and sloppy kisses!


21 comments:

  1. I love this post so much! I feel much the same, only I'd add that having a dog proves to be consistent work. IE: If I stop practicing "stay" or "come" in hectic situations with my dog, he will stop knowing it. All in all - training never stops. But gosh, I cannot handle how much I love my dog. It is so, totally worth it. Especially when you turn a dog-fearing child into one who loves to show YOU the "new" tricks she taught your dog. :)

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  2. I would love love love to have a dog, but (rightly so) Sam doesn't want us to get one in London until we have a home/flat with a garden. xx

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  3. This is why we can't have a dog,even though my kids would love one. It is so much work, and I just can't give one the attention they would deserve. We also have taught them they never approach a dog without first asking the owner if it is okay to say hi, and then wait to see what the owner says. You are an awesome dog mom (and will be an awesome human mommy as well!)

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  4. Loved this post! We got a dog in the winter and it has been SUCH an adjustment process! Our lives are completely different (for the better!) and a few of your points are well taken :)
    Just found your blog and I'm loving it!

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  5. oh man, I hear you! you probably can never be totally prepared - and even when you are as much as you can be, every dog is different and changes as it grows up! sometimes, when Charlie wakes me up at 6:30 on a Saturday morning, I think OH MY GOD WHY AM I DOING THIS? and then we snuggle and it's okay :)


    welcome!

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  6. you are an awesome MOM mom! we once said hello to a toddler who had been eating a bagel - I don't know who was happier, the little girl getting her hands washed or Charlie eating all the cream cheese off her fingers! haha

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  7. oh I know - that's one of my biggest fears for when we move back! it's just not fair :(

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  8. oh yeah, no question. the training NEVER stops! I am hoping that it eases up a leeeeeeetle bit once puppyhood ends though :P

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  9. Yep, all of your points are the main reason that I can't have a dog right now. I too have a fantasy of a perfectly behaved, roly-poly little pup, but then I think back to my family's first dog at age 6 and remember that she ate everything (she really liked library books), peed everywhere, needed constant stimulation, and took many years to reach a mellow "adulthood". As a kid, I thought she was totally delightful, but I also didn't have to deal with any of the responsibility of caring for her. I cannot wait until my life and routines are settled enough to have a dog...probably not for a long time, but in the meantime, there's PAWS and the Humane Society for volunteering!

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  10. It's funny because growing up I had 2 cats and never realized how much responsibility it takes. Now with Tyler (who is a complete 180 from my previous 2 cats), I'm learning just how much attention he really needs. In fact, I went to Petco today to buy him more toys because he's been acting out lately, which I assume is because of boredom. He's the Energizer bunny. It's crazy, but totally worth it!

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  11. This is such a great post. A and I are in this sort of nebulous phase of thinking about pet ownership but not really ready to take the plunge. I'm going to start reading up and doing my research now so that when we are ready, I'm prepared!

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  12. honestly, you probably are never totally prepared. I wasn't! but recognizing that having a puppy means that your life will only look like a Pinterest dream for 15 minutes every day is a big step :)

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  13. it's funny, some people on the Lab Rescue forum were talking today about how misbehavior is often caused by boredom! maybe we should train our pets to do Soduko or something...

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  14. I remember reading that Day in the Life post and thinking to myself, "THIS is why Beau and I will never have a dog." Also, I'm allergic, but for awhile he was trying to talk me into a labradoodle. He travels a lot for work, which will probably still be true in the future when we're married, and I do not want to take care of a dog. At all.


    Your advice on the kiddie stuff was spot-on. My parents taught my brothers and me that from a young age, the whole holding the hand out and letting the dog sniff you, AFTER the dog owner gave the okay. Parents who don't teach their children how to interact safely with animals drive me CRAZY. And then if something happens, it's the pet's fault?! No!

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  15. when we were talking about what we wanted before we chose Charlie - there are so many dogs out there to be rescued that you have to set parameters or you'll got overwhelmed - my dad said he wanted a "high-energy" lab. His memory of Labradors was from the last few years of my childhood Lab's life, when he was old and sick, so high energy sounded like a good counterpoint to that! Mom and I reminded him that energy is all relative and even a dog with moderate energy would seem like s/he was bouncing off the walls compared to Snickers.


    YAY FOR YOU for volunteering!

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  16. Proof that you are going to be an excellent mother one day!
    (Not that I'm comparing dogs to babies or anything).
    Raising Fifty from a pup into a grown dog has been one of the most challenging, exhausting, but rewarding accomplishments of my life. He has feelings and emotions just like we do, and it's mine and Gregory's responsibility to ensure his well being is looked after.

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  17. The responsibility is why I don't have a dog. I don't have time for a dog. And I don't mean that in the "Ain't nobody got time for that," way, I mean it in the "It would be unfair to bring a dog into this house" way. I have cats. They get petted and played with and 90% of the time, they ignore me. It's a good relationship.

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  18. haha I'm sorry! I just wanted to be realistic :/ but who knows how life will shake out? maybe a dog will fit in someday!

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  19. yeah, but the other 10% of the time they're dogs, so that's good :)

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  20. Sarah | For the Love of ChowJuly 31, 2013 at 11:57 PM

    Just hopped over to your blog from Leaner by the Lake. How have I not found this space before?! Love this post about responsible dog ownership. Thank you for adopting your dog and sharing so many of your experiences on your blog. My two rescued dogs are a huge part of my life, and yes they are so much work, but so totally worth it! Added you to my Bloglovin so I can continue to follow along!

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