They are cute. They are fluffy (mostly). They are great fun and make perfect family pets. Right? Well, not entirely. With Christmas fast approaching, and despite campaigns urging people to be more cautious, many are still buying puppies as presents. Last year, it was reported that the Dogs Trust saw a 54% increase (on 2016) in the number of dogs abandoned at their shelters around Christmas.
Presents don’t get any better than a puppy if you’re purely wanting the “ahhh” factor. But let’s just take a minute to look at the realities of getting a dog – after all, the “ahhh” moment only lasts until they have a wee on your new woollen rug. At that point, the reality may start sinking in. Dogs are amazing, but they require time, patience and dedication – not to mention a lifestyle change.
They are also expensive – not just a little, but a lot. While puppies are, admittedly cheaper than children, the average owner still spends between £21,000 and £33,000 on their dog during its lifetime and an enormous 98% of people underestimate this cost.
First, you have food bills – and you owe it to your dog to feed them a decent diet. In fact, if you need convincing, the better the food, the less poop they produce. Then there are veterinary bills and insurance costs. Even if you don’t get them insured for veterinary fees, you probably want to look at third-party liability – in the eyes of the law you are totally liable for your dog’s actions. And then there’s the costs of care when you go away on holiday.
You also need to consider training costs. I urge every owner to attend puppy classes that teach “life skills” and where the trainer also has the credentials needed – the scientific knowledge and the experience to ensure that you and your dog gets the very best training.
One of the biggest changes, however, is going to be to your daily routine. Dogs need walking – not when the weather is nice, not when you can be bothered, but every day. Ideally, twice a day.
If you work full-time, you’re going to need to get out of bed around an hour earlier to walk your dog – in winter, this almost certainly means in the dark, cold and rain. You are then going to have to pay for a dog walker to come and take them on a walk while you’re out – don’t expect to be able to leave a dog for eight to ten hours a day, five days a week, without some kind of break.
Alternatively, you could always broach the subject of allowing dogs in the workplace – the benefits of doing so are well documented. But even then, just when you get home from a long hard day at work, you’ve got to accept that your pooch has had an equally long day of resting and sleeping and quite frankly will be well up for some fun.
Dogs are also messy. They shed hair, they get muddy and – sometimes – they even like to roll in poop. All of this adds to the time it takes to look after a dog.
Not all doom and gloom
However, if all this sounds like doom and gloom, it isn’t. You just have to ensure you understand the challenges and responsibilities.
One of the most common reasons dogs are relinquished to rescue centres is behaviour problems. These potentially are caused by a lack of exercise, training or understanding. Dogs are sentient beings, with amazing personalities who deserve company, compassion and love. This doesn’t mean we have to totally change our lives to accommodate them, but having a dog really does take time. Those families you see having a wonderful cold, crisp and sunny walk with their loyal dog joining in the fun, they are the ones who put the work in, who take the time and who value their pet as a member of the family.
But then there’s the very worst part of dog owning … the fact that no matter how much we love them, their time with us is far too short. You can wonder whether it was all worth it, because the heartache is immense and unwavering. But that’s the deal – they make your heart and then they break it. But crikey, it’s worth every moment.
So, if you really want a dog and you’re ready for the commitment then sure, get a dog at Christmas time. Just be sure you’ve thoroughly planned it and are ready for the massive lifestyle change and, yes, cost. Having a dog takes time and money, but, the rewards on offer far outweigh the price you pay.
Emily Birch receives funding from The Kennel Club.