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by Lexiann Grant 
Email: lexiann@frognet.net
Copyright© 2001

The following article has been provided by the above author. All copy rights are held by the author and any reproduction of this material in whole or in part must have the authors approval.




by Lexiann Grant


by Lexiann Grant

Dogs are so much trouble. Just ask someone whose dog stays tied up in their yard. They'll tell you they couldn't handle all the problems the dog caused, such as chewing, whining and needing to go out all the time. With so much work, why would anyone want a dog?
Because the rewards are worth it if we are willing to make the effort that caring responsibly for a dog requires. What does responsible dog ownership really mean? 

Owning a dog means starting on the right foot. Getting a dog on the spur of the moment, without knowing what to expect is a plan set for failure. In order for the human-dog relationship to flourish, owners need to know what to expect and be prepared to accept changes in their lifestyle.
“Whenever we've acquired a dog, we consider it to be adding another member of the family,” said Geralyn Richardson, a mother, homemaker and Norwegian Elkhound rescue fund-raiser from Waveland, Mississippi, “Just as someone plans having a child, we plan for another dog.”
If you're going to have a dog, plan on dealing with most of the issues below.

* Owning a dog means making personal sacrifices. For instance, if you only have enough money for your dog's annual vaccinations but you'd like to a purchase a new ski jacket, your wants have to take a backseat to your dog's needs. Providing for your dog comes first.

* Other budget constraints include the expense of quality food, necessary dog supplies, grooming and boarding fees, and routine or emergency medical care. Dogs seem to cost more than you think they will.

* Besides financial responsibility, there are legal obligations with which an owner must comply. Most municipalities or county governments require dogs to be licensed and kept on leash. Giving a dog his “freedom” by letting him roam loose is neither safe nor legal.

* More than anything, owning a dog takes time. You need to spend a minimum of one or two hours each day to feed, exercise, train, groom, play with and pet your dog.
Living with the schedule that is best for your dog may not always be convenient. Occasionally you loose a night of sleep. Puppies and some dogs may need to go out to relieve themselves in the middle of the night. Or you may have to sit up all night with a sick dog.
At times, your schedule may have to be juggled, appointments changed and personal plans canceled. Your dog can't be ignored because you're too busy or not in the mood. Even when you're exhausted, sick or overrun with work, your dog still requires care.

* Owning a dog means educating yourself and your family about dog behavior, breed traits and training methods. Dogs need to be taught good manners and shown in a nurturing manner what is expected of them and what is unacceptable.
Instead of blaming your dog, look to yourself for the answer when he misbehaves. Despite training, sometimes a dog acts like a dog and gets into trouble. Dogs bark and make noise. They may fight with other pets. Dogs dig, and dogs like to chew on shoes.
It's wrong to take your frustrations about bad behavior out on your dog. Hitting a dog is never an option. Making the dog live outside or locking him in the basement are not answers either.
Responsible ownership means taking the time to retrain your dog and channel their energy into an appropriate outlet, supervising your dog and being aware of where they are and what they are doing at all times, and placing out of reach any items that your dog shouldn't have.

* Life is messy when you have a dog. Your home, yard, car and personal appearance will not be as neat as you might like them to be. Dogs and dog messes require frequent clean-up.
If you have a dog, depend on handling unpleasant substances. There will be vomit on the carpet, you may have to look for worms in stool and poop has to be scooped, sometimes with nothing more than a plastic bag over your hand.
Dogs shed, shed, shed, then shed some more. While there's a dog in your home you will have fur on your clothing, in your food and woven into the fabric of your furniture.
Muddy paws track dirt, grass and leaves onto your carpet. Curious noses leave snoot prints on your windows and playful pups string toys all over your floor.

* Not everyone likes dogs or understands your relationship with your dog. Friends and relatives may stop visiting you.
And going to visit others may not always be feasible. “You can't travel or go out with friends on a whim,” said Jason LaBella, an attorney from Chicago, Illinois, “Often we are limited in what we do because we have to get home and take care of the dogs.” When you do get away, missing and worrying about your dogs is a constant preoccupation.

* Count on the work of dog ownership becoming tiresome at times. But that doesn't mean it's okay to get tired of the dog and exchange him for a different “hobby” or easier lifestyle.
Taking care of a dog causes a special bond to develop between owner and pet. Dr. Keith Gold, a veterinarian at Falls Road Animal Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, noted an example, “One client here has a Shetland Sheepdog. The woman brushes that dog 20 minutes each day. During an exam, the dog sits on her lap. The dog is well-behaved and the bond [between them] is very obvious.”
Sharing happy moments together makes the work easier, but owners should realize that caring for a sick, injured or elderly dog will be more difficult. Owners shouldn't give up a dog because the relationship gets rocky. “People need to take care of their dog when he's sick just as well as when he's healthy,” said Dr. Gold. A long-term commitment to the relationship, through good times and bad, must be honored.

*The worst time any owner faces is when they say goodbye to their dog forever. “When it is time, you are never ready. It's never easy. Even when the dog is suffering and has to be euthanized,” said Richardson, “You have to love the dog so much that you let her go.”

Pay-offs and Privilege
Why do people put up with the problems? Because it's a privilege to build a relationship with a canine companion. “Living with my dogs is one of the most rewarding aspects of my life,” said LaBella, “The more I work with my dogs, the closer we become.”
Also, working through some of the problems of dog ownership is an opportunity to become a better person. There are few greater teachers than a dog when it comes to learning the life lessons of humility, consistency, patience and forgiveness.

A dog is non-judgmental and accepts you. They read your intentions and emotions 
accurately and are understanding. “When we give dogs a little bit of attention, we get back from them 10 times what we give,” Dr. Gold said. They watch out for your well-being, offer comfort, relieve stress, lighten the darkness of depression and assist us with the tasks of living.
A dog is your partner. “Each dog brings unique gifts. Maybe one cuddles with you when you cry. Another dances with you when you're listening to music,” said Richardson, “To me, one of the rewards of having a dog is sharing.”

With a dog you are privy to frequent smiles and laughter. Your dog gives you great stories to tell others. When no one else will, your dog always listens to whatever you have to say. If you listen to him, your dog will help you balance your priorities and get more enjoyment out of life.
“Dogs have helped me slow down. I always had to be working on something, like a hamster on a wheel. I was crabby and strung out. Now when I'm working, one of the dogs may come to me wanting attention and I stop what I'm doing to pet them,” Richardson said, “The funny part is my work still gets done and I'm happier and more relaxed. I never miss a chance to love my dogs.”

For your affection, a dog bestows upon you the gift of constant companionship and is your best friend. “Coming home everyday from work to unconditional love, no matter how bad my day was or how grumpy I am, is wonderful. I'm never lonely with my dogs and I always have a fuzzy belly to pet. My dogs just want to be part of my life,” LaBella said, “To me, owning a dog means that you've accepted responsibility for the long haul. It also means that you've found what so many people look for all of their lives - love.”
It's true that dogs can be trouble and cause problems. Everything that's worthwhile does. But, said Dr. Gold, “It's a privilege to have the responsibility of caring for a being that offers unconditional love in return.”

copyright 2001 by author

Lexiann Grant is an award-winning columnist and freelance writer. She is a member of the Dog Writers Association of America and a five-time recipient of the Maxwell Medallion. She and her husband live and work with five dogs. You may visit Lexiann on her Internet website at www.lexiann.com

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