We all know that welcoming a pet into our home is a big commitment. The decision impacts on every area of our lives from our finances to our ability to travel. Yet it’s easy to gloss over the reality when faced with pleas from small children desperate for a dog or the sight of an adorable puppy bounding around the park.
Animal charities have long cautioned against buying a pet as a Christmas gift since so many end up being abandoned when the reality of pet ownership sets in. But the issue isn’t limited to the festive season. Research shows that one in five UK households find new pet care more challenging than expected. One in ten of those surveyed found the demands of pet ownership so difficult that they had to give up their new companion.
And while it’s undoubtedly distressing to return a new pet, it’s far worse for the animal. Dogs quickly form bonds with humans and the breakdown of that relationship can lead to lasting stress and anxiety. What’s more, shelters can only accommodate so many animals before they run out of room. In 2020, the Dogs Trust reported that 3,463 dogs had to be euthanised to alleviate pressure on kennels and prevent overcrowding.
So what should you do if you’re considering bringing a new pup into your life?
Do Your Research
The most important first step is research, advises the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW): “Make sure the species and the breed match your lifestyle, or that you are willing to adapt your lifestyle accordingly. Animals rarely just fit in and they shouldn’t be discarded when they don’t.”
Different species have different care requirements, as well as characteristics that make them more or less suitable for people. Cockapoos can suffer from separation anxiety so may not be a good match for an owner that is out at work for the majority of the week. Friendly, outgoing labradors often make wonderful family pets, while chihuahuas tend to be loyal but temperamental and are often wary of strangers.
Consider the costs involved; aside from the usual spend on food and kit, breeds such as poodles and Yorkshire terriers require a lot of additional maintenance, from grooming to obedience training. At a time when a fifth of pet owners are worried about feeding their animals due to rising living costs, ask yourself if your budget can accommodate everything a pet might need.
Shop Or Adopt?
Think too about where you plan to get your new pet. While buying from a breeder is usually necessary if you want a specific breed, it’s important to be sure they are reputable and responsible. The Dogs Trust advises using the Kennel Club Assured Breeder Scheme. A good breeder should be happy for you to visit the mum in their home to get an idea of what her pups will be like. They won’t sell puppies before they are eight weeks old and should have kept them up to date with vaccinations, vet visits and microchipping.
Adopting an animal from a shelter is cheaper and offers the feel-good factor of giving an unwanted pet a loving home. Nearly 23,000 pets were abandoned between January and July this year, according to the RSPCA. It can be harder to find puppies at shelters and some dogs will have behavioural and emotional issues due to their pasts. But successfully overcoming past issues and watching an animal blossom can make rescue pets the most rewarding.
Some people choose to buy their pet online or via local ads but this can be risky. It carries the danger of being scammed and losing money. Or you may inadvertently buy a farmed puppy, contributing to the rise in unscrupulous breeders that prioritise profit over animal welfare. The police advise doing as much research as possible into the seller and requesting to view the animal in person before handing over any money. You should make payment via credit card or payment services such as Paypal, which offer buyers protection if things go wrong.
Set Realistic Expectations
Puppies are undoubtedly cute but like newborn babies they can be extremely demanding. While you may be looking forward to snuggles and long walks, you should also prepare for sleepless nights with a puppy that needs comforting and a lot of toilet accidents around your house. Finding a new dog difficult is so common it’s been dubbed the ‘puppy blues’: “It’s a term used to describe the uncertain and sometimes uncomfortable emotions that new dog owners feel when they are settling into life with their furry arrival,” explains one expert.
Things tend to improve as everyone gets used to each other but you’ll need to be prepared to put in some work too. It can help to keep your dog in designated areas that have been puppy-proofed to remove temptations such as cables, plants and rugs. Teach your pet ‘house rules’ regarding jumping on furniture or eating scraps early on. And try to stick to a schedule with designated slots for naps, meals and play.
Get The Right Kit
Life will get busier when you introduce a pet to the family so it pays to be organised. Before you bring your new companion home, ensure you have everything he or she will need. As well as water and food bowls, a bed and a harness or lead, remember to choose some dog toys and puzzles for them to play with. Stock up on poo bags and puppy pads for accidents. And it can be helpful to consider aids such as pheromones – which can help calm nervous dogs – and a dog crate, which can assist in making a dog feel secure in a new environment.
Prepare The Whole Family
To make the new arrival’s transition period as stress-free as possible, factor in some time for them to get to know everyone. Introduce different family members to your puppy one by one as dogs can feel intimidated by a group. Let your dog come to you rather than approaching him or her, or worse, passing them around from one person to the next.
Encourage children to speak calmly and quietly around their pup and show them the correct way to show affection – dogs don’t necessarily enjoy hugs. Young children should be taught to give puppies space to relax and sleep undisturbed. It’s also important to supervise them when they play with their new pet to ensure they are gentle and your dog is not distressed.
While it can be tempting to rush into buying a new pet, taking a slower, more considered approach is more likely to result in a loving, lasting relationship that brings a lifetime of reward for both pet and owner.