Don’t look into a puppy’s eyes too long; if you do, you’ll be hooked for life.
—Steven B Reider
Dog ownership is one of the greatest joys of life, but with it comes a price which I have coined “the big three” of dog ownership. They are a lifetime of commitment to the dog, the time that will be given up for your dog, and the cost associated with owning a dog. In return, our furry friends will provide us with unconditional love, companionship, and more smiles than can possibly be counted. So let’s talk about what those smiles are going to cost you in commitment, time, and cost.
Commitment—what is it and what does it mean? Commitment is “the state or quality of being dedicated to a cause or activity, a pledge or undertaking, an engagement or obligation that restricts freedom of action.” The dedication of cause, of course, is your dog. It is a commitment/obligation that will, at most times, restrict your freedom to do what you used to be able to do. It will most definitely be an undertaking—a very big undertaking. What would commitment look like to a dog? Well, if a dog could talk, it would say something like this: “I know you love me, and I love you, but with it you better be committed to me. That means that I need to be walked, played with, let out to eliminate or, at least, break down, and buy a doggie door so I can go out myself. I need a high-quality dog food to eat, preferably grain-free. I have to have health care coverage and a maid to clean my house (actually it was your house until you got him; now it is his house). I need to know in advance who is coming over and whether or not they are just company or overnight guests. If you go on vacations, I want to go with you, but if you insist, I’ll stay in a doggie hotel as long as it has TV, air conditioning, and a grooming parlor so when you do decide to come back home, I look good for you. Since we are talking about grooming, I need to be groomed on a regular basis so I always look good for your company and overnight guests. And oh yeah, by the way, you will be picking up my poop, unless, of course, you want to hire a professional pooper picker-upper on your tab. That’s all I can think of right now, but I’ll get back to you when more comes up.” I think by now you as a prospective dog owner are getting the picture. If not, let me know where you live and I’ll be more than happy to send one of my dogs over to fill you in. Really, no problem!
Commitment is a 24-7, 365-days-a-year obligation, which will be at least twelve years or more if your dog stays healthy. I once saw an article from DogTime.com on the internet that talked about two dogs; both were farm dogs from Australia. Maggie, an Australian Kelpie, lived her days on a dairy farm, and for most of her thirty years of life, she stayed in good health (that’s right, I did say thirty years). However, she suddenly deteriorated over a two-day period and peacefully passed away in her sleep. That is not a recognized record for a dog’s life because Maggie’s owner did not have a verification of birth. The oldest verifiable dog to live was a twenty-nine-year-old. His name was Bluey, an Australian Cattle Dog, who lived in Victoria. Bluey lived from 1910 to 1939 and died at the age of twenty-nine years and five months. Wow, talk about commitment…there you go!
Time is another big thing you have to consider when getting a dog. Depending on the breed of the dog and what category they fall into, dogs vary in how much time they need with their owners on a daily basis for exercising not only their bodies but also their minds. For example, hunting dogs (also known as the sporting and herding breeds) usually require more time. A dog’s size generally doesn’t determine the amount of time you need to exercise your dog. Some dogs can get by with brief walks (Bulldogs, Chow Chows), some dogs need to be exercised heavily such as the sporting breeds (Labrador Retrievers, German Shorthair Pointers, and Vizsla, just to name a few) and the herding breeds (German Shepherds, Border Collies, and Australian Shepherds). I have always said that “a tired dog is a good dog.” If you regularly exercise both mind and body, your dog will appreciate it, and you will too. A tired dog can’t get into too much trouble.
Time is also consumed with taking your dog to a veterinary clinic, a groomer, or bird hunting, (if you happen to have hunting dogs). Time is consumed when you take him with you when you go on vacation or care for him when he is sick. Training, whether you do it yourself or have someone else do it, takes time—more so if it’s a puppy or an older dog that has not had any formal training, whether it is basic obedience or hunt training. If you decide to train him yourself, you’ll be looking at between thirty to forty-five minutes each and every day for the next three to four months. And the thirty to forty-five minutes is not all at once. Oh no, it is broken into three sessions per day at ten to fifteen minutes per session. The bottom line is that even more time may be necessary. If you are planning on getting a bird dog, the training can go upward from eight months to a year or more and a lifetime of time if you are going to keep him mentally and physically in hunting shape.
Training doesn’t end with basic obedience or hunt training. Dogs continue to learn throughout their entire lives just as we do. The amount of time we spend training will lessen naturally as the dog gets older, but the amount of time exercising your dog both mentally and physically will continue. Again if it is a hunting dog, you’ll let him hunt during the hunting season, which is generally from September 1 through March or April, and train him on drills during the rest of the year, which you must do to keep him in shape mentally and physically. So remember, training your dog on a regular basis not only exercises his body, but it also exercises his mind. A sound body and a sound mind make for a great dog. It will also help keep your dog sharp and healthy, and that is a big benefit to you both.
Cost is a big responsibility when it comes to dog ownership. There are many costs associated with dog ownership. We will address several of them here, but not in any particular order of importance, with the exception of one.
There is nothing, and I mean nothing, more important than your dog’s life. By that, I mean the cost of your dog’s life if he isn’t vaccinated against a virus known as Parvo. I felt during the writing of this book that I needed to talk a little bit about Parvo. It seems that a bunch of people have no idea what it is, what it does, or what you have to do to help keep your puppy, young dog, or even an older dog from getting it. It seems that all veterinarians vaccinate dogs for it, but they don’t always discuss what the disease is and how devastating it can be. My questions to you are: have you heard of the Parvo virus? Do you know what it is? As the name implies, the Parvo virus is a viral illness. It is a very contagious disease.
According to VetInfo, “Parvo virus is predominantly a disease of young puppies between the ages of six weeks and six months of age. Without treatment, approximately eighty percent of affected puppies will die. With proper treatment, approximately eighty-five percent of puppies will live. This virus may persist in the environment up to five months.”
Since about 1978, the Parvo virus had been a killer of a very large number of puppies of all breeds. However, it can affect a dog at any age. The virus is dispersed through stools of dogs into and onto anything—kennels, pens, parks, grooming salons, dog shows, and even veterinarian clinics. It can be on leashes, collars, and even people’s hands. Anywhere a dog is put on the ground could potentially harbor the infectious disease. A bird could transmit it by stepping in infectious stool with their feet and then flying somewhere else and transferring the virus onto the ground where they land. Watch out for cats also. A cat can step in feces and carry it back on their paws or fur and infect dogs by being the transmitting agent, just like the bird.
As such, Parvo can be transferred from one dog to another very easily. When a dog licks, sniffs, or even gets in contact with the waste of another dog suffering from the disease, that dog can become infected as well. Please keep your puppy away from other dogs, cats, and all other animals who could have been exposed to the virus. Don’t put the puppy down on the ground unless you know for sure that he is in a safe place. The virus has been known to remain in its infectious state for several years. Don’t let your puppy be the next victim of this contagious disease. Make sure he has all of his vaccinations and that you wait until your puppy is old enough to start working outside of your home or backyard. Your veterinarian will clear your puppy to leave the home or backyard. That usually occurs between sixteen and eighteen weeks, but again it is you and your veterinarian’s decision. If you don’t have a veterinarian, I recommend you find one. Again listen to him or her, and they will tell you when it is safe for your dog to venture outside of your home.
Although you have a little wait before your dog can discover the world outside of your home, you can still start working him on his basic obedience training and you can start socializing him as long as he doesn’t touch the ground outside of your home. The basic obedience, of course, can be started in your home and backyard, while the socialization can be started outside of the home as long as your dog doesn’t touch the ground. Keep him in your lap and carry him to and from your vehicle. It’s pretty simple, really.
One last thing—if you knew nothing about this dreaded virus before you read this and you want to learn more, go online; you will find a wealth of information about the virus if you simply enter the word “Parvo virus” on any search engine. You are just a mouse click away from some very valuable information. Also, talk to your veterinarian about the disease. I am sure he or she would be more than happy to share valuable information about the disease and how bad it is in the area in which your reside. Please take the time to educate yourself. It might just save your dog’s life or someone else’s dog. Many puppies and dogs have died from this dreaded disease; please don’t let yours be the next.
Just remember when it comes to cost, everything is important. Another cost is the cost of food. Your dog’s size and breed may determine how much you spend on dog food. The type of food you buy for your dog will also determine cost. I use a grain-free dog food. There are several different brands and blends. I run four hunting dogs, so do the math. It can get expensive if you are planning on having multiple dogs. So to recap, the cost will depend on the dog’s age, breed, and size, and of course, what brand of dog food you buy. There is a great deal of information out there when it comes to dog food. A good resource, which I have always used, is DogFoodAdvisor, which can be found on the internet at www.dogfoodadvisor.com.
Health care is another important cost to consider. Owning a dog can at times be very expensive. The first year alone can cost you upward of $1,200 or more, not counting the initial cost of your dog. If you bought your dog from a breeder, be it a backyard breeder or a professional breeder, it could go from $500 to $2,000 or more, depending on the breed and the region you bought him from. Even some rescue groups nowadays are charging from $50 to $500 for their dogs. And don’t forget this, you will have an annual cost every year of your dog’s life. Health care will include, but not be limited to, veterinarian services such as spaying, neutering, vaccinations, medications, surgeries, emergency care, preventive medicine, special treatments, dental work, teeth cleaning, etc. Health insurance, if you consider it, can offset some of your future medical costs. And believe me, if you are planning to get a bird dog or already have one, you will probably see some medical costs. That is a fact and you can take it to the bank! It is bound to happen—just ask any one of my four bird dogs. With that said, you should consider putting money into a special savings account (not for your new shotgun) to offset future emergency medical costs, even though you are considering getting dog health insurance. Just one emergency visit in a dog’s lifetime could run upward from $500 to $4,000 or more.
Other costs include dog accessories (e.g., toys, crates, beds, leashes, collars, bumpers, foam birds, check cords, training tools, and it can go on and on). Dog license, grooming, day care, or extended stay if you are traveling and your dog can’t go with you, dog walkers (if you don’t have time to walk or exercise your dog), and the list can go on and on. I have provided you with a worksheet on page 38, which will help give you a clearer picture as to some of the costs associated with dog ownership. The worksheet will provide you with a one-page summary of some of the costs you should be looking at, and if you take the time to fill in the blanks, it will be a great resource for you—a quick-and-easy-to-fill-out one-page reference sheet just for you. No need to thank me now; you can thank me later.
Is having a dog worth it? That is the question you need to answer. Before you answer, remember this—our furry friends can pick us up when we are down and make a dark day seem so very bright. There will also be pitfalls associated with dog ownership. We can deal with the messes and the passing aggravations, but it is an undeniable fact that people live longer than dogs, and that will someday bring tears to most dog owners’ eyes. It did to Pat and Steve (See Tribute to Mia on page 247), and it has to me and millions of others. Rudyard Kipling summed it up the best in his quote, “The price of a good dog is a broken heart at the end.”
Most new owners never think of what the end will bring, but people who have owned dogs throughout their lives know exactly what that means. Many studies conducted on dogs and humans have shown that owning a dog can add years to your life. I, for one, sometimes wonder if that is really true, especially when my nine-year-old chocolate Labrador Retriever, Katie, breathes in my face every single day while we are driving to work. I sometimes think her funky breath is taking years away from me, but again that hasn’t been scientifically proven…yet! Lord, how I love that dog.