Dogs are better than a personal trainer!

Dogs Trust

So you want to get active but you just don’t have the motivation, then a dog could be just the answer.  Having a dog is like having your own personal trainer, they are also a lot more rewarding!  Walking an hour with your dog can burn off approximately 205 calories.  If your dog is more bouncy and pulls you, you could burn more!

What’s more, a dog encourages you to be out regularly, come rain or shine.  You also get to see and experience new things. They encourage you out into the countryside, trying out new walks and new locations.

I have always had dogs around me.   My memories from my childhood are going for regular walks with my parents and the family dog.  When I left home in 1988, I decided to have 2 kittens instead.  Whilst I really loved them and they were a delight to come home to, they do not compare to a dog.

I used to go for long walks on my own.  One day I was walking in the Malvern Hills and it struck me.  I love being out in the countryside and the reason I don’t do it as much as I like is because I don’t have the full motivation.  It was there and then I decided to look for a dog.

Choosing a dog

When you decide to buy a dog you have to take many things into consideration.  Dogs are for life, they are not a play thing you can put away when you are bored with it.  They can also be expensive.

Things to consider are:-

  • What type of home you have?
  • Are you allowed pets where you live?
  • Do you have a garden?
  • How long will you be out of the house each day?
  • How much time you can dedicate to the dog?
  • Do you have children?
  • What would you do with a dog when you go away?
  • Do you want a puppy or an adult dog?
  • Does everyone in your household agree with having a dog?
  • Who will walk it and take care of it?
  • Can you afford a dog? Vets bills, pet insurance, food, toys, bedding etc cost money!

Reality of having a dog

When thinking about a dog I can’t reinforce how important the above points are.    Dogs need a lot of time, not only to walk them but to train them.

Puppies look cute, but they grow up.  Make sure you know how much they will grow!  Some dogs can put on 1kg’s a week as puppies!   Also remember a puppy needs training on basic things such as going to the toilet, sit, walk etc.  These take a lot of time and patience.  You will have lots of accidents while you are toilet training them which you need to be prepared for.  Its not the puppies fault it has had an accident, as its still learning so don’t shout at it.  You can impact on its development by doing so.  And lets not forget chewing!  You can buy as many toys as you like but a puppy will still try and chew your chair legs, tables etc.  If you have children or adults come to think of it, they have to make sure nothing is left in a puppies reach!  They are like babies started to crawl, into everything and pushing all the boundaries.

Think about your day and be honest. Can you walk them twice a day.  If you are a single parent for example with pre-school children, working full time, are you really going to be able to get up and walk the dog as well as get the children up before going to work?  When its freezing cold and pouring with rain do you really want to be outside walking them?

Why do you want a dog?  Is it for company or to get you out and about?  If it’s purely for company, consider a small dog.  If you have visions of playing ball in the park, then maybe a medium sized dog.  Remember the larger the dog the more dog food space you need!

Research the breed to find out how much exercise they need.  Border Collies for example are intelligent working dogs that need a lot of exercise and stimulation.

Dogs are a tie!  They are not like cats where you can have a cat flap or litter tray and leave food out for them over night!  Dogs need to be looked after.  You can’t just decide to go out for the day or stop overnight at friends.  You need to make sure you don’t leave them too long and without the opportunity to go to the toilet outside.  They also need company.  Depending on the age of the dog will depend on how long you can leave them.  A puppy shouldn’t be left for more than a couple of hours for example.

Cost is another major factor.  You have the initial cost of the dog, food, collar, leads, bedding and toys.   This when you first get your dog can add up.  Then ongoing you need to factor in pet insurance (around £40 per month), annual injections, having dog spade (£100 – £250 depending on sex), kennel fees when you go on holiday (approx. £30 a night) etc.  They are not cheap!

If after all this, you still want a dog then great!  They are so rewarding.  Here are my experiences of dogs.

My First Dog

At that time, I was working full time and living on my own.  I decided that a puppy would be out of the question.   Puppies need constant attention, they can’t be left too long and you need to be able to spend the time training them.  I just couldn’t commit to that and so it would be unfair on the dog.

I contacted my local Dogs Trust.  They will assess your circumstances and advise you on the best type of dog for you.  We decided that an older dog would be more suitable for me.

The Dogs Trust as with other dogs homes don’t just take in strays.  There are also dogs in there where the owner could no longer keep them for various reasons such as a new baby, moving house or even that the owner has passed away!

I don’t know if you have ever been to a dogs home before.  If you haven’t you may think that as soon as you go and see the dogs you will want them all!  That wasn’t the case for me.  Whilst I thought a lot of the dogs were cute and I felt sad for them, on my first visit nothing said ‘take me home’.  Bizarrely, my mum was disappointed that I didn’t ask her to go with me on my first visit, so we both went back the same day to look again. On this trip I saw her.  She must have been out when I visited in the morning.  She was 8 years old, a cross between a greyhound and German shepherd.  She was absolutely beautiful.

The dogs home didn’t have a lot of detail about her only that she was a quiet timid dog, who just wanted company but also liked to be left alone.  Perfect for what I was looking for.  The minute I saw her I knew she was the one!

When you see a dog you like, the Dogs Trust check your suitability then introduce you to them.  The dog was called Tilly at the time.  She hadn’t been in the home for long so didn’t really know the name, so I changed it to Sophie.

The dogs home do a check of your home before they will let you have a dog.   They particularly want to make sure that your home is suitable for the dog you have chosen and the garden is secure, so the dog can’t get out.  A 6 foot fence or wall is perfect.  Also, how long will it be left and who lives in the house etc.   I had my 2 cats, so they also had to check that she would be ok with them.  Thankfully I was approved, and Sophie came home with me a few days later.  The Dogs Trust don’t sell you the dogs, but they do ask for a donation which covers the cost of vet bills, vaccinations etc.  At that time it was £50.

As Sophie was an old dog, I couldn’t get pet insurance for her, so any vets bills were covered by me.  Although I didn’t have any history on her.  I did know that she was once shot by a pellet gun and one was still lodged in her.  As it was only a few millimetres from her heart they couldn’t remove it.  You can imagine that she didn’t like bangs after that!  She also used to run away if a newspaper came through the front door!

Every morning I would walk her, my mum would call in every lunch time and then I would walk her again at night.  At weekends we would go for long walks together.  It was due to walking her that I met a man who was to become by husband!  Our early dates were walking her across the Saxon Mill and fields in Warwick, in the summer months.

One of the strange things about Sophie though was that when I was out she didn’t like being in the house.  In fact, she ate my kitchen carpet once as she got stressed.  The vet suggested that as she was a stray, I should try buying her a kennel and seeing how she was in the garden.  She absolutely loved it!  So, from then on if I went out she would go to her kennel, but as soon as I came home she was in again.

At home Sophie was the most perfect dog.  In the 4 years I had her I never heard her bark!  Unfortunately, the 2 cats bullied her in the first few weeks which ended with a Tom and Jerry like fight!  After separating them and having a good talk to them all, they came to a strange understanding.  Sophie wouldn’t go into their space if they didn’t go into hers.  It stayed like that until the day I lost her.

That was an awful day.  I knew it was coming but I didn’t want to face it.  This is one of the down sides of having a dog.  You love them so much that when you have to make that decision, it is so hard.  My vets knew how I worshiped her so when I took her to be put to sleep, the vet offered for it to be done under a tree in the sunshine.  It was beautiful, I brought her home and she was buried in my garden.

I said I would never have another dog!

My Best Friend

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A year later, I had a huge hole in my life.  I couldn’t have children but still had a lot of love to give.  My husband suggested I bought another dog.  I wasn’t sure but decided that maybe a trip to the Dogs Home would help me make my decision.

Again, on our first visit I saw nothing that I wanted to bring home.  The second visit there was a dog, but it had tree issues!

On our next visit I saw him.  He was a 2-year-old border collie/golden retriever cross!  He was the most beautiful dog I had ever seen.  The problem was he had major issues!  They had taken him in at 6 months old and he had been in the kennels for 18 months.  They had been unable to rehome him as he didn’t take well to humans.  Other dogs he was great with, in fact they used him to settle in new dogs into the home.

I knew he had problems, but I was determined to have him.   The staff warned my husband and I that it may not work, and if it did, it would be a slow process.  I didn’t care how long it took Ember was coming home with me.    A strange name I know but he was found in November.  The dogs names the animals based on when they are found or where etc.  As he had known it most of his life I decided to not change it.

Initially, they suggested a slow introduction.   They would walk him, and my husband and I would slowly walk along catching up with her, but ignore the dog!  I did this, but my husband couldn’t resist going to stroke him, which caused Ember to snap at him.  The dog handler was very cross with my husband as was I,  but thankfully she allowed us to continue.

It took many weeks of slowly building up our contact with him to build up trust.   We went from just walking with him to walking him ourselves.  Then to playing ball and finally sitting down and him coming to us for fuss.   Gradually, after seeing him every day for a few hours over many weeks, we could bring him home.  I was so excited.  We did have to sign a consent form though to say he would always be on a lead, muzzled and kept away from children.

When we got him home had to do work with him on what a door bell and letter box were, as he had never been exposed to these.  He also hated feet and boxes.  My view was that he was put into a box and stood on, but I will never know!

Sadly, a year later my husband and I separated, so Ember and I moved into a new home together.  He became my best friend.  Someone to come home to every night.  It didn’t matter how I was feeling, he was always happy to see me.  He also needed his 2 walks a day so it meant I couldn’t sit at home feeling sorry for myself.

As time went by Ember relaxed around me and other humans.  By the time I met my new husband he was more secure.  My hubby loved him straight away.  He no longer needed his muzzle or lead when we went out.  He was also great with my nieces.  He was the most perfect dog you could ever meet.

I was so proud to have him.  I was never short of people to look after him if I went on holiday.  When I had my breast cancer he kept me motivated to do my physio and build my strength back up.  Because he didn’t need a lead, I could walk him every day on my own.  It meant I could also get out of the house.  He would never cross a road without being told to, and if we went to the shops he would sit patiently outside waiting for me.

As he was getting to nearly 12, he had started to slow down.  The vet and my husband suggested another dog to keep him active.  My husband wanted a border collie puppy!  The vet thought this might be a good idea as Ember could help train it and in return the puppy would keep him going longer.

The search for another dog!

I still wasn’t sure I wanted a puppy as they are such hard work.  We both work full time and I didn’t think we would have the time to train it.  As a compromise, I decided that maybe we should look at the Dogs Trust first.

We saw 2 dogs that we both liked.  We spent time with both.  One was a ‘snoopy’ type dog, but it was too timid and didn’t even want to walk.  The other was a 2-year collie cross.  She was beautiful, very loving and playful.  We thought she would be perfect with Ember.

We arranged a meeting for the 2 dogs to meet.  It was fully supervised.  I had Ember on a lead and a member of the Dogs Trust had the other dog.  Immediately the other dog saw Ember it attacked him.  She had to be pulled of him.   It was heart breaking firstly as the dog had hurt Ember and scared him, but secondly the match wasn’t going to happen.

We left the Dogs Trust and decided to leave it a while!

When home I was looking at the internet at dogs for sale – as you do!  I saw an advert of a 16-week-old border collie puppy for sale.  The owner was selling it as she said she couldn’t keep it!  He looked so cute.  Maybe a puppy might be better for Ember as it wouldn’t attack him!  I showed him my husband and he agreed so I made the call.  We arranged to go that evening to see him.

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When we arrived, I was surprised to see it was a block of flats.  The flat was on the first floor.  When we went in, the flat was quite small.  The owner had 2 children under 5 with the puppy and no garden just a small balcony.  I could see this was not the right environment for this type of dog so immediately said we would take him there and then!   We paid her £200 and took this little bundle home!

As we were not expecting to have a puppy or a dog that day, we were not prepared so I had to do a quick shop the next morning!

The puppy was initially called Ben but my hubby always wanted a dog called Fido, so we changed his name!

From day 1 it was evident that Fido was an alpha male.  He tried to dominate Ember and us!  Ember was so good and patient with him.  Because he had spent 8 weeks in the flat, without a garden his toilet training was awful.  You have to remember that puppies can’t go out until they have had all their injections, so you have to ensure you have somewhere for them to go in the meantime to train them.  This can be for a good 4-5 weeks if you have them at 8 weeks old.

I would put him out almost every hour during the night to try and train him.  As it was January, I can tell you now, it was not fun sitting outside in the freezing cold trying to get a puppy to go to the toilet.  It took about 6 months and many accidents to fully get him trained.

He did help Ember get more active, but sadly he died from a seizure 6 months later!

Ember was my world.  I couldn’t imagine my life without him.  He had been such a massive part of it for 10 years.  We had been through so much together.  I can’t even tell you how devastated I was.  Fido would never replace him but coming home to him helped take away some of the pain.

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As time went on Fido started to show some behavioural issues.  He chased cars, bikes, lorries, joggers etc when out walking, barked at the slightest noise, wouldn’t let my hubby or I leave the house without him to mention a few!   It was a complete nightmare.  When he was calm he was lovely, but I was struggling with him.  We took him to puppy training but he kicked off around the other dogs, so we spent the 8 week course either in the carpark or in a separate area.  I really didn’t know what to do with him.

I spoke to the vets who recommended getting a dog behaviourist in.  We did this and the second she walked through the door she identified the issue.   She said he was constantly in ‘fight mode’.  She said that the first few weeks of bringing a puppy home are crucial.  If you get that wrong and you don’t socialise them properly they will have issues.  She said a key sign is his face.  He looks like he has had a face lift his face is so tight.  It was going to take a lot of work and patience, but we could help him relax.

First thing we had to do was to walk him and our recent addition separately!  I used to take both our dogs out in the morning on my home.  My hubby now had to come with me.  He isn’t a morning person so the 5 am starts didn’t please him but he knew it was important.  We also had to walk him in a quiet area away from traffic, so this meant driving him for his walk.  A lot of distraction techniques were needed for noises or leaving the house.  That was 16 months ago, and we are still work in progress!

Fido has really tested me especially in light of how well Ember turned out.  There are times even up to a few weeks ago when I have thought of giving him up!  I don’t think I ever would, as I do love him dearly.  Its not his fault, its how he has been treated in his early days, but I want people to realise that dogs are not just cute, they are really hard work.

The new addition

After losing Ember, Fido was on his own.  My hubby and I thought he might welcome having another dog as company.  We knew he had dominance issues so felt that a female dog would be more suitable.   I wanted another rescue dog as the thought of a puppy filled me with dread.  I wasn’t sure I could cope with another 6 months of toilet training!

We did some research and found a border collie rescue centre.  There were a few dogs we liked the look of so arranged to go and visit it.

We had a look around and again there was one in particular I fell love with.  She was 2 years old and so cute.  She was a smaller collie and very loving.  We introduced Fido to her.  Initially it went well, but then his dominance thing kicked in!  We abandoned that thought although part of me for a while wished we tried harder with the union.  Thankfully someone took her a few days later so I was pleased.

After this experience we decided that an older dog which already had issues wouldn’t be suitable.  A puppy would however be able to develop around him.

To make sure any puppy we got was given the best attention possible, we decided to get one just before Christmas when we would be home for 2 weeks, then at work a couple of days before I was due to have an operation, which would mean another 3 weeks at home.

I researched breeders and found one which had border collie puppies ready around that time.  We drove up to Derbyshire to see them.  There in the corner of the pen was the cutest ball of fur.  She looked just like a teddy bear.  All the other puppies were running around but she was just curled up in the corner.  That was it, I was sold!  As she was ready we could take her home there and then!  We had taken a blanket with us just in case, which we asked the breeder to rub on the mother.   This way, she would still be able to smell her mum. On the drive home, I wrapped her in the blanket and cuddled her.  At home I had already bought a play pen for her so put her into it, so she could be introduced to Fido slowly.

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The first night she slept like a baby in her playpen next to me.  Not a single cry!  I got her up a couple of times during the night to go out to the toilet but that was it.

Fido tried to show his dominance and did attack her a couple of times.  As with most puppies they can annoy older dogs.   I was advised to leave them to it if they fought so Lola would learn her boundaries, but I just couldn’t see her get hurt or upset.    I put her in kennels with him a few months later and the kennels said the same to me.  They had a fight while they were in there and Lola has the scar to prove it, but everyone is right, she did learn very quickly.  Lola used to come to me for comfort, which I happily gave!  I wasn’t doing her any favours.  She was a delight.  Sometimes tough love is needed!

She was so different to Fido.  Her toilet training only took a couple of weeks.  In 2 years we have had less than a dozen accidents!  She is super intelligent.  Too intelligent!  Within 24 hours she worked out how to open the zip on her play pen.  We fenced off the garden as the two dogs were ruining our lawn, and she learnt how to open the gate!

Lola is a chewer too!   She has eaten jeans, t-shirts (both left on floor by hubby), my friend left a pair of leather shoes out (he was told not to) and she ate them!  She has chewed the kitchen table, chairs, sideboard, garden plants etc.  We have bought her dozens of toys, but they don’t last very long!

She is quite an independent lady!  Whilst Fido is very insecure and always wants cuddles, she is happy to be on her own.  She is very loving and loyal though.

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Both of my dogs have very different characters.  They can be hard work but the joy they give us makes up for this.  Being the breed they are, they need a lot of exercise.  This suits us as it means we get a lot of exercise too.   We also have someone who helps us out during the day.  We couldn’t have them without her.

Don’t get me wrong, there are days when I’m exhausted on the way home from work.  I really want to just go home, put my pj’s on, and sit on the sofa!   You can’t do that with my 2.  The second you walk in the door they know you need to go upstairs, get changed and take them out.   They won’t settle until you do!  I have to say though, once we are out, we are so grateful to them.

I really enjoy the early morning walks too.  You get to see foxes, deer etc.  It’s a time to think about the day ahead.  Frosty clear mornings are my favourite!

Because my dogs are very intelligent and need stimulation, we have 6 activity toys which we give them every day full of treats to keep them occupied.  Dogs who are bored will become destructive, so you need to know your dog well, and ensure you make sure they are comfortable and happy.  I also have CCTV at home, so I can keep an eye on them.  It has been very entertaining watching Lola, especially as she reorganises the furniture in the kitchen to make sure her bed is getting maximum sun during the day!

Weekends are a pleasure, as we have a great excuse to get out into the countryside for long walks.  Both dogs leap into the car with excitement.

I certainly would recommend a dog, but only after you have carefully thought about it.  Dogs are for life not just for Christmas!

 

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