The internet is full of posts and videos of how having a dog is an amazing experience that will change your life. But before you give in to all the romanticising online, there are some things you must know.
To put it simply, having a dog at home is full-time commitment. You have to feed him, and on time, exercise him every day, potty train him, teach him to communicate with you, get him adjusted to your home and your people, and ensure he is not a nuisance to anyone in your society. You also have to take care of his hygiene and health and be there for him like his pack. It’s a lot of work and a great responsibility. After all, a dog is not a toy. He is a breathing, feeling being, and his well-being and, when you get one, his happiness is totally dependent on you.
Drawing from my experience of raising our dog Khal Dogo, I often find myself telling people to not get a dog. While my husband and I love our dog, we also acknowledge that raising a dog has innumerable challenges. From the time you wake up, to how frequently you travel, and whether you hang out with friends or not will all be governed by your dog.
If you are not ready for that kind of drastic change in your life, a dog is not for you, just like marriage or raising human kids is not for everyone. Let me break it down. If you fit into any of the categories, you and the dog are perhaps better off without one another.
You live alone and travel often
Dogs are pack animals. They have always lived in groups and like it that way. They are easily stressed and depressed when left alone at home or away from their favourite humans for a long period of time. So, if you travel a lot and will have to leave the dog in a kennel or in the care of a dog walker, please don’t get a dog. He will be miserable and so will you.
You have a 9 to 5 office job
I know of many couples who have adjusted their work-life for their dog. Either one of the partners has either opted for work from home or settled for a part-time job.
Dogs are highly sentimental beings who crave love, pets, belly rubs and your company the most. They hate it when you leave the house without them. Many don’t eat or even drink water unless their humans are back from work. You will see that even when you are home, they will always sleep in the same room you are in. There are also those who become listless and depressed because of staying home alone for hours, day after day.
If you have a 9 to 5 job and are going to spend just a few minutes or a couple of hours with your dog every day, you might as well volunteer at a rescue centre or a kennel.
If you think your phone is more important than your dog
It’s not enough to be physically present with a dog. You have to be emotionally available as well. Khal’s trainer has forbidden us from being on the phone while we take him for his walks because that’s the best time for us to bond with him. And a strong bond between dogs and their parents can go a long way in making a healthy, confident and calm dog.
Even at home, if you'd rather binge-watch a series than take him for an extra walk when he is getting restless or spend time bathing him or playing tug with him, please don’t get a dog.
If you are not a disciplined person
Dogs are creatures of habit and need to follow a schedule. Only a well-defined structure will let them know that they will get their food at 8 am and 8 pm every day come what may, or that they will be taken for a walk at 6 am and 5.30 pm, which is when they will also get to relieve themselves. This predictability avoids rogue behaviour and makes for confident, disciplined dogs.
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There are no exceptions to their routine. No weekends, no public holidays nor sick leaves. Even if you have come back home at 3 am, you must wake up at 6 to take your dog for a walk. If that kind of discipline is not for you,then a dog is not for you either.
If you think that your dog-hating spouse or family member will have a change of heart
Dislike or hatred for dogs often comes from a place of fear. Both of these are powerful enough emotions that they often overpower all others. I have seen so many families abandon their dogs after a few months because it became a bone of contention among family members.
Sometimes, this comes to a point when the in-law or a grandparent or a spouse thinks that a dog is given preference in the house over them. And the poor dog, who keeps trying to get affection even from the person who hates them, is kicked out of the house. Abandonment can seriously threaten a dog’s well-being and the mental health of other family members who have gotten attached to the dog. So, it’s best to avoid the situation and not assume that a pet hater will turn into a pet lover. Life is not a Bollywood movie.
If you are not a morning person
Every dog, whether large, big or small, must be taken on walks at least twice a day. Given the hot weather in most parts of India, especially during autumn and summer, early mornings and evenings are the best time for the walk as the weather is pleasant then.
Dogs don’t deal with heat well. Heat stroke is one of the most common causes of death among canines. If you are not a morning person, if you wake up only at 8 am or 9 am and will take your dog for a walk in the scorching heat of late morning, a dog is not for you.
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If you don’t have the budget to raise a dog
Food, medicines, treats, leash, training, insurance, vaccines, regular blood tests, registration, grooming, bedding and the list goes on. They all come at a cost. Raising a pup is expensive. Please make an estimated monthly budget that you will have to keep aside for your dog and only if you can afford that for the next ten to fifteen years or more think of getting a dog.
If you think dogs don’t fall ill and can eat anything
Most veterinarians will tell you that they often get clients who think that a dog can eat dal-chawal and chicken tikka or just vegetarian food, and not fall ill. Well, some dogs are more resilient than others, like our Indian pariahs, but all dogs fall ill. And they do not eat what humans do, either. In fact an unsuitable diet can help prevent many diseases.
If they fall sick, with tick fever, hip dysplasia, kennel cough, food poisoning, or even cancer, you will have to take extra care of them. Be prepared to clean their vomit, potty and urine, and spend the money on the treatment.
Riddhi Doshi is a Mumbai-based independent journalist, Kathak student, and first-time pet parent