Woof! The idiot’s guide to owning a dog
I’ve been flirting with the idea of getting a family dog for a while but am absolutely clueless when it comes to pets – up until now I’ve only just about managed to look after my three rabid children, let alone any extra household creatures. But April is National Pet Month so it seems a timely moment to investigate the realities of acquiring a four-legged friend. (I’ve heard rumours that they don’t answer back and you don’t have to take them to swimming lessons – where do I sign up?) I spoke to The Doggy Hotel & Bakery‘s Emily Cooper, a Stokenchurch-based ‘doggy au pair’ (that’s how she describes her job title) to get the low-down on all things canine. And, voila, here’s Emily’s foolproof guide for novice dog owners. Woof!
Finding The One
If you’ve got your heart set on a certain breed, you must do your research to find out whether it’ll fit into your lifestyle – The Kennel Club website has a comprehensive run-down of different dogs, their temperaments, potential health issues (some breeds are healthier than others) and their needs. Alternatively, think hard about what your lifestyle is like and then find a breed that’ll work for you. Things to consider include: how much space you have in your house and garden, how much free time you have (some breeds are needier than others), whether you prefer a brief stroll or an epic walk (different dogs have different energy levels but all dogs will need walking at least once a day). If you’re very active and like long country walks, maybe a Hungarian Vizsla would be good. If you have a family, a Cavalier King Charles can make a good first time dog – they’re laid-back and love people. Another one that’s good for busy families is the Greyhound. People tend to overlook this breed and assume they need walking loads (so you find lots of them in rescue centres), but actually they’re happy to curl up on the sofa. They’re docile, low maintenance and very loving. Ditto a Labrador Retriever – they’re fantastic with children and naturally obedient.
Where do you even get a dog from? (And where to avoid)
Kennel Club-registered breeders are expensive – you’ll pay roughly £450 up to £2500 for a pedigree dog – but you get peace of mind. You’ll get proof of bloodline, so you’ll know if there are any possibly genetic health issues (warning: might mean lots of vet visits) or behaviour issues. Plus the vaccinations, micro-chipping in case they get lost and worming will be done for you. Then there are dog rescue centres – try local ones at Stokenchurch, Binfield or Old Windsor. If you get a one from here, they’ll help you find a lovely dog that suits you, you’re giving a dog a second chance and you’re freeing up a space for another dog that needs help. Rescues tend to ask for a donation of around £100 to £250. The downside is you won’t know the dog’s history. Please please please don’t go to a puppy farm or pet shop. The dogs are often kept in poor conditions and can be unwell. Steer clear.
How much is that doggy in the window? Probably more than you think…
You need to be clear about how much it’s going to cost before you commit – it’s not just a matter of buying the dog and then a few tins of food. Can you afford to keep a dog in the long term? It’s worth bearing in mind that a small dog costs less than a bigger 0ne – vets often charge according to weight and of course smaller ones eat less. A good breeder will do a puppy’s first vaccine, but a few weeks later they’ll need another – these cost around £40. Then there’s regular worming and flea treatments. Insurance is a really good idea but, as always with insurance, make sure you read the small print and understand exactly what level of vet’s fees the policy covers. And if you work a lot or go away a lot, you’ll need to factor in the cost of doggy daycare and/or walkers.
Education is important
You really need to do puppy training – not doing so is like not bothering to send your children to school. Dogs need boundaries and to learn basic commands. And it’s important that all your family attends, including the kids – it’ll mean you’ll all be on the same wavelengths regarding discipline so the dog won’t get confused. Most puppy training courses last 4-6 weeks and you start after their first vaccination at around 9-12 weeks of age. You can ask your vet for advice on good local puppy training.
All the gear and no idea? The doggy accessories lowdown
Bedding is key – make sure you buy something that isn’t easily destroyed by a teething puppy. Obviously you need food and water bowls and a lead but something that people can overlook is buying something to transport them in the car – you can get a dog guard or a harness that attaches to a seatbelt. Make sure you have something for when you first pick up your dog to bring them home. Have a look at Fetch – it’s an online pet store that’s part of Ocado, so they do home delivery. I also like Viovet for dog food, bedding and other accessories.
The key question
Before you commit, ask yourself: am I ready to have a dog now? It’s a massive commitment and a tie. They live for around 16 years – think about the future and whether you are willing to look after it for that long. When you first get it, it’s a good idea to have some time at home – so that could mean a week or two off work – to bond with it and get it used to your home and routine. Otherwise you could end up with an anxious dog on our hands. You need to be willing to potentially put up with sleepless nights when it’s a puppy and clearing up mess when it’s learning to go to the toilet outside. It’s not a decision to be taken lightly And if you want some further reading while you ponder, I’d recommend The Perfect Puppy by Gwen Bailey. Good luck!
The Doggy Hotel & Bakery, Stokenchurch, Bucks. Tel: 07883 042511/ 01494 266880.