When I started writing on Jenna & Snickers (.com), I defined my own personal idea of responsible dog ownership. I listed ten basic requirements that I feel our dogs deserve from us. I expanded on one of those in the post about Making the Most of Companion Identification Methods. Today, I want to expand on four more:
- to not live an isolated life
- proper socialization with people and other dogs
- appropriate levels of exercise and mental stimulation
- basic companion training (at least sit, stay and come)
These four things have a common theme… you can’t accomplish any of these without spending time with your dog.
A lot has been written about bonding with your new dog or puppy. As a result, I think we tend to think of bonding as a one time process – something to accomplish and then check off the list. It doesn’t work that way though. If you really think about it, it’s illogical to think that it would!
Bonding with your dog is like maintaining any other friendship or family connection… you won’t really have a relationship unless you put time and effort into it. Your bond with your dog needs to be nurtured over his or her entire lifetime. I don’t mean just hanging out on the couch together either! If all the time you spent with your spouse or kids was spent watching television – never talking, doing chores, enjoying hobbies or vacations together – what kind of relationship would you have? Our dogs are part of the family too and they deserve more than cursory pee walks and a pat on the head at meal time. Interact with your dog on a daily basis.
to not live an isolated life
Dogs are pack animals. (Just because every "expert" out there is spouting it, that doesn’t make it any less true.) They are extremely social beings. This doesn’t necessarily mean that every dog has to have another dog around 24/7 (although, personally, I know Snickers is much happier if he has another dog to keep him company when I am not home). It does mean, though, that dogs need relationships and social interactions. Dogs have evolved to see us as pack members (just as many of us think of them as family members) and they need us.
I strongly believe that most dogs should live indoors with their families, unless they are working dogs and live with other dogs in an outdoor kennel. Either way, they need to LIVE with their social group, not just come in for a few hours of interaction after dinner and then be sent outside to be all alone again. I also feel that leaving a dog alone for 10+ hours a day, five days a week isn’t acceptable. Have I done it? Yes, when Snick and I were living alone and I was working long hours, he often spent 10 hours alone in the apartment waiting for me. Did I like it? Not one bit. I started fostering for NYCSR shortly after T and Secret moved to Florida, so he had a foster dog with him. When we didn’t have a foster at home, I took him to doggie daycare a couple days a week (since that was all I could afford). I did my best to give him opportunities for mental exercise and social interaction.
proper socialization with people and other dogs
Puppies need to be socialized with all sorts of people and in all kinds of situations. They need lots of interaction, exercise and attention. Most of us make exceptions to our daily routines when we have a puppy. We run home at lunch time to give the puppy an extra walk. We make time for a long morning walk so the puppy doesn’t eat the house while we’re out. We spend time playing tug of war before bed. As the puppy grows, many of us go to puppy kindergarten socialization classes, basic obedience class, etc.
When the puppy reaches about two years old, he/she finally starts to calm down. The lunch time walks are a thing of the distant past. We can get away with shorter morning walks (and therefore get more sleep) and we don’t necessarily have to play tug of war every night. This is the point, I think, where the human/dog relationship can easily stagnate… because the dog doesn’t need as much attention and exercise to stay out of trouble, it isn’t foremost in our mind and may become less of a priority than it should be.
appropriate levels of exercise and mental stimulation
I am repeatedly amazed by how many dogs are bored and overweight. The percentage of obese dogs in this country is probably as high as the percentage of obese humans! Dogs need to get out and move around to stay healthy, just like people do. Don’t just let your dog out in the yard. Snap on the leash and go exploring together. Go in the yard and throw a frisbee. Jump in the car and drive to a park for a walk in new territory. Going to new places not only exercises the body, but when your dog uses his senses to explore, he is exercising his mind also! Mental and physical exercise doesn’t have to all be outdoors either. You can play fetch, tug-of-war, chase and all sorts of games at home with your dog.
basic companion training (at least sit, stay and come)
Speaking of indoor games… 🙂 Obedience training is a great way to bond with your dog and keep him mentally stimulated. Every puppy should be taught the basics, for the sake of safety and good citizenship, but the basics are only the beginning. If obedience training seems boring, try a tricks class or an agility class. Snickers and I have fun learning new tricks. The joyful look on his face when he "gets it" is just so cute!
More to come on basic companion training later 🙂