How many newly-married, or “newly-committed,” couples do you know who get a dog to add to their just-created family? In my experience, a lot. In fact, it’s one of the most common times to embark on the journey of new dog ownership, and often it is the first time.
But what begins with best intentions often ends with the dog in a shelter -- within three years.
In a year-long study done in 12 shelters across the United States, the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy (NCPPSP) found that 47 percent of surrendered dogs were between 5 months and three years old. And, 57 percent of the people surrendering their dogs (who told their ages), were between the ages of 21 and 40.
It begins with a clash: Dream vs. Reality. The dream is a perfect family – to go along with that perfect wedding they’ve been sold for over the last year or so.
Now the wedding is over. The newly married couple isn’t ready for a human baby. So they get a canine one.
The reality of a canine baby, like any baby, is that it’s a lot of work. Puppies need to be obedience trained, they often stay “puppies” (read: high-energy chewers) for longer than a year, and they need to be exercised regularly.
If all goes well -- the puppy gets some training, attention, and exercise and the two new “parents” are actually ahead of the game.
But then there’s the other side. In the above-mentioned study, 96 percent of the dogs surrendered had never received any obedience training! Many puppies, likely revered for their mere adorableness, don’t get trained at all. An therein lies a cautionary tale: non-trained puppy = future shelter dog.
Why? Because that non-trained puppy is fast on his way to being an untrained “teenager,” which hits, depending on its breed, between 2 and 4 years old.
And what do you expect from an untrained teenager, human or animal? Trouble. And you’re right.
After “baby” number one, a human baby often follows. Again, if all goes well, the dog still remains an important member of the family. It gets attention, exercise, good diet, but whether the dog-loving parents expect or not, it gets demoted to a place in the family below the human baby.
Excuses are everywhere. The new kid on the block takes up more time. Work’s been really busy. Somehow the dog doesn’t get as much exercise since time is scarce.
It was at this stage that all did not go well in my own family. Our dog ended up biting our child, and more than just once.
Although we thought long and hard about giving him up, I couldn’t do it. We called in a trainer to retrain our dog—and more importantly, ourselves. (He is still in our family and is now fifteen years old.)
When baby number two arrives, owners become even less aware of the pet. Those early years of child rearing are brutal. At this point, many couples find themselves saying, “Oh, the dog! That’s right. We have one of those.” There are soccer games, nap schedules, dinner, and much more that gets in the way of doing anything beyond throwing a bowl of kibble on the ground.
So the dog’s status plummet, again, and when (not if) he misbehaves -- remember that lack of training at the start? -- mom and dad’s tolerance is gone. Something has to give. Something has to go. All too often, it’s the dog.
Look, getting a dog after you are in a committed relationship can work out wonderfully.
But it’s not going to be smooth sailing the whole way.
Ask yourself, where am I going to be in 1, 5, 10, and even 15 years? If you can’t imagine your puppy as a teenager, an adult, and senior with you in all those family photos, think twice.
Dreams are wonderful, but unfortunately, in dog ownership Reality is against you.
Jennifer Quasha is a writer and most recently the co-author of "Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Dog's Life: 101 Stories about the Ages and Stages of our Canine Companions" and "Chicken Soup of the Soul: My Cat's Life: 101 Stories about the Ages and Stages of our Feline Family Members." Check out her website at www.jenniferquasha.com.