We’re excited about Jan Dunlap contributing to our favorite topic of responsible dog ownership today! Please stay tuned for more guest posts from Jan in the future!
Jan & Her Pup Gracie
When people express surprise that I’ve walked our black lab mix Gracie for half an hour on a frigid morning, I’m surprised that THEY are surprised. When we adopted our dog, I just assumed everyone walked their big dogs at least three times a day. Why would you have a big dog, unless you wanted to be outside a lot, getting fresh air and exercise with it?
Gracie has been with us for four years now, and I understand a lot more about dog-owners now than I knew as a newbie back in 2011: many first-time dog-owners really don’t know what they’re getting into when they bring a dog into their home in terms of dog breed, life-style and the commitment it takes to living happily ever after with another species – especially when that species doesn’t speak in human language! As a result of my own experience, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are three keys to adopting a dog.
1. Dog Breed
Learn everything you can about the breed and do what the breed needs. If the dog is a mixed breed, then learn about the dominant breeds in the dog’s heritage.
Our Gracie is clearly part Labrador Retriever, so that’s where I started on my educational path: I read books about Labs and researched the breed online. We knew before we adopted her that exercise was a key to keeping her happy and manageable, which meant we would be happy.
As a work-at-home mom, I knew that meant that I was going to be the primary exerciser, even though my daughter was the reason we got a dog. Yes, there are days (like the subzero ones in the winter) when I’d really rather stay inside the house, but Gracie has to go out not only to potty, but to burn off some of that big dog energy.
I’ve finally found the best way for me to accept that regular demand on my time and effort is when I think of Gracie as my personal trainer: my health is tied directly to hers, which means I get my exercise without having to schedule it in separately, simply because that three-times-a-day brisk walk/snow trek/jog is our daily routine.
And guess what? I’ve never been fitter, healthier, and happier in my life since we adopted Gracie. Gee, maybe I’ve got some Labrador Retriever in me, too….
Make sure your lifestyle will accommodate a dog. If you don’t want (or can’t) give the dog what it needs to be breed-happy, consider finding a different pet that you can manage.
Don’t think that the dog will be able to change its own breed-specific traits for you: if the dog is a barker, and you require quiet, neither of you will be happy.
I know that training can go a long way to correct misbehavior, but from what I’ve seen since becoming a dog-owner, trying to change a dog’s instinctual behavior is a difficult, if not impossible, task.
Likewise, if you do a lot of traveling, be prepared to spend money on boarding your dog while you’re away, and be mindful of how that responsibility and expense can wear on both you and your dog.
Remember that once you’ve added a dog to your household, all your decisions and activities will impact the dog as well. Which brings me to #3 on my list.
Realize that bringing a dog into your life is as much a commitment as having a child. When you take on responsibility for caring for an animal in your home, that’s a sacred trust: that creature’s survival is dependent on you.
Unlike a child, though, a pet won’t leave for college, or get married, or move out on its own at some point. Nor will your dog tell you what it needs in your native tongue – for both your sake and the dog’s, read about dog psychology and how dogs communicate.
My favorite books for this are Inside of a Dog by Alexandra Horowitz and Made for Each Other: The Biology of the Human-Animal Bond by Meg Daley Olmert. There are many other fine books about the dog-human relationship, as well – I think I’ve got three more right now on my to-read stack, myself.
You and your dog are companions forever, so invest in that relationship with ongoing education and enrichment for both you and the dog.
Most importantly, remember that your dog is your companion for as long as it lives, and that’s why you want to invest everything you can in building a happy relationship with it.
Sharing your life with a dog is an unforgettable adventure, and when it’s the right dog for you, it’s an adventure of unconditional love and joy. And who doesn’t long for that?
Jan & Gracie Enjoying The Outdoors
Jan Dunlap is a dog person, writer, keynote speaker, birdwatcher, and mother of five children. She holds a BA in English from Regis University in Denver, an MA in Theology from St. Catherine University in St. Paul, and an MA in English Studies from Minnesota State University-Mankato.
Her best-selling humorous spiritual memoir titled “Saved by Gracie: How a rough-and-tumble rescue dog dragged me back to health, happiness, and God” recounts how her dog helped her overcome a growing anxiety disorder and explores current research into pet and nature therapy.
I read Jan’s book Saved By Gracie and loved every minute of it! You can currently get your paws on the e-book version of Saved By Gracie for $0.99!