How did getting a dog change your life?
December 16, 2013 3:37 PM   Subscribe

I have no pets and will be becoming a first time dog owner shortly. I'm interested in learning everything I can to prepare. I've read and learned most of the basics, but would love to hear more. How did going from not having a dog to having a dog change your life? I want to hear it all- what inconvenient, weird, wonderful, mundane, happy, unhappy, and most of all unexpected ways did adding a dog to your family change your life?
posted by long haired child to Pets & Animals (43 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
The biggest functionally negative change is that I can no longer leave the house for more than 10-12 hours at a time without planning ahead.

There are lots of upsides, and I had my puppy since he was 7 weeks old (now 7 months), and it gradually gets even better as he learns how to behave and chill out once in a while.

I have a dog walker come every day (I live in a city), and that helps tremendously to keep his energy level low during the evenings. If that's an option for you, I highly recommend it -- it makes your time with the dog, especially when he's young and active, much more enjoyable.
posted by mcav at 3:44 PM on December 16, 2013

We got a lot neater as a family because anything we left lying around would be promptly destroyed by my dog. We quickly learned to close doors, put food away immediately, put laundry in closed bins and so on.

We also became happier because our dog is so funny and affectionate. She's awesome to be around and nobody can stay angry when she's around!
posted by cyml at 3:46 PM on December 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

I had dogs growing up as a kid, and mostly, they were just there. They always really liked me, and I didn't mind them sleeping in my bed and licking my face and all that. But since I've been an adult, I never dogs.

Then my wife brought home Finlay the High Maintenance Vizsla.

He's my best buddy. He's so affectionate, trusting and fun. All of my bad days are made better by his relentless enthusiasm. Same with my good days. My wife has her own dog, and he's a good dog and all that, but Finlay tHMV and me just clicked and he filled a hole in my life I never knew I had. He's 6 now, and graying, like me. "Dogs' lives are too short; It's their only fault, really."

It's about as much work as my son was at age 3-4. Reasonably independent, but still needs basic oversight and maintenance. Dog's don't live very long - the world is wide and you're gonna have to hustle if you want him to see much of it. That's the part I love most about my dog - he makes me be a better version of myself - and he loves me to death even on days where that doesn't go so well.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 3:49 PM on December 16, 2013 [4 favorites]

Dog has to pee when dog has to pee. That means 6am every day, not just weekdays. You can go back to bed after though, with bonus cuddly dog for company & warmth.
posted by headnsouth at 3:53 PM on December 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

My mother has never liked animals. She thinks they are dirty and smelly, and most of them shed all over. They get sick and barf on stuff and you have to take care of them. And then, once you get all attached, they die. Terrible all around! We had a dog growing up, but that was mostly to humor my sister, my dad, and me.

Then I left for college, and then my sister left for college, and then I moved back home to save money while I was going to grad school. I think my mom thought that it would be like when I was in high school - that I would have tons of time to hang out with her (nope). So maybe about a month and a half after I moved home, my mom approached me and said, "So for this Christmas, we're getting a dog." (My response was, "Who ARE you????")

That dog. Oh man. He's the baby of the family. My SO met my family, and therefore the dog, this past holiday and said to me, "Wow, that little dude is the 3rd baby in the family. He's like your baby brother that will never grow up!"

But apart from my mother opening her heart to a little puppy, I've noticed that she seems more open to kindness to animals in general. She is much less likely to pooh-pooh when people tell stories about their cats, and she finds other dogs, even large dogs (which she used to be scared of) to be cute. That's a BIG change.

Obligatory picture.
posted by chainsofreedom at 3:54 PM on December 16, 2013 [4 favorites]

The biggest functionally negative change is that I can no longer leave the house for more than 10-12 hours at a time without planning ahead.

This, absolutely. As an attendant point: dogwalking/petsitting are now items in our regular budget as well as our vacation budgets. It's totally worth it, of course, but you have to factor this in, on top of the cost of pet food, vet visits, etc.

As a more positive spin: I can't dawdle in bed in the mornings as much as I would like, as the dog needs to be walked -- which has been good about forcing me to get up earlier so that I can write in the mornings before going to work.
posted by scody at 3:54 PM on December 16, 2013

Our puppy is now 8 months old, and today he was alone for 7 hours! Yeah. The only damage he did was to eat a candle and a few plastic bags. No messing, no barking (say the neighbors). Between his first day here and this have been a lot of catastrophes, though. I was totally prepared for this, but still, it is a lot like having a baby, even if you know what is coming, the sleepless nights and endless cleaning takes a toll.

Apart from that, we are a lot happier, and we get out a lot more. We drive out to a forest where dogs can run free at least three times a week, and often more, and it is life-changing. Every morning and most nights I walk him on a leash in the park near our home, and even that is just great. Being in nature, with no phone, no noise and a lot of new challenges (and new friends) is so good.
Also, like cyml says, just spending time with an eternally happy and funny being makes you happier.
posted by mumimor at 3:59 PM on December 16, 2013

I didn't have a dog until I was in high school, and was basically scared of them (even small ones!). Once my mom brought our Jack Russell home when I was 15, I became a Crazy Dog Lady. I don't know what it was, but I seriously became enamored of all dogs large or small. Eventually that led to me feeling too comfortable with a Rottweiler I didn't know and getting my face chomped, so I have learned not ALL dogs want to love me like I love them. When I was 19 and got my own apartment, a dog was one of the first things I got even though that was a terrible idea. I still have him and I'm 31 now! Anyway, having a dog has changed me in a way people say having kids changes them--I am capable of loving something helpless SO MUCH that it seems bizarre since my dogs are in fact just dogs. But I look at them sometimes and think "I JUST LOVE YOU SO MUCH YOU ARE SO CUTE SQUEE". Also having dogs taught me I can never ever have human babies because I'm not cut out for messes, especially of the bodily fluid variety. If you are at all anti-mess or love sleeping, consider adopting an adult dog. Having a puppy, even as a teenager, is what clued me into babies not being for me.
posted by masquesoporfavor at 4:02 PM on December 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

I can never go on vacation/travel again. (Okay, not *never,* but not without COPIOUS planning, huge favors from friends/family, a ton of preparation, etc.) That part sucks big time. It's a huge hassle, and is a major, major downgrade to my quality of life.

Of course, I love my dog more than anything and wouldn't give him up for a million vacations. So.... There's that.

And of course each dog has his/her own "things" that make him/her difficult and wonderful. For me, the difficulty comes from the fact that my dog is like a cross between an MMA fighter and an ultramarathoner, so finding the right pet-sitter who can be the "pack leader" on walks is difficult. But my dog is also great with people, very docile at home, and never barks (ever). I've encountered dogs who are much easier to handle, physically, but snap and growl at people. And dogs that bark every time a leaf blows by. It's YMMV.

Good luck with the new pet! I highly recommend watching the Cesar Millan "Mastering Leadership" series, if you haven't already. Great tips for new dog owners.
posted by ariela at 4:03 PM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

My dog was funny, sweet, crazy, and was great company. She got us outdoors more. I am active -- my husband, not as much. Having a dog got him outside more.

The negative: Shedding. Dog hair everywhere (she was a golden retriever mix). Shoes and objects destroyed when she was a puppy (not blaming dog). She could be kind of crazy and skittish with strangers. She was protective. This is a positive trait, but was so protective that she was very barky and growly when someone came to the door.

Inconvenient: Who is going to watch the dog when we go on vacation? We put our dog in one of those fancy doggie daycares once. She was so traumatized she wouldn't eat. From then on we had to have family stay in our house and watch her if we went out of town.
posted by Fairchild at 4:04 PM on December 16, 2013

I come from a dog family. I think the only time someone in my family has not had a dog afaik is when we lived in dorms in college (and for me for a short time when I had a roommate who refused to let me have one even though my landlord didn't care). This goes back a couple generations at least.

There is a very big difference between a family dog when you're a kid or being around a dog bonded primarily to someone else even if you cohabitate. I have two dogs currently that are absolutely mine. They like other people and will let other people take care of them if I'm away. But my one dog, Eudora, who is a collie mix rescue will yodel if I'm not home and someone says my name. She doesn't do that for anyone else (she looks like Allie Brosh's Simple Dog with long hair). My other dog, Tallulah, is some kind of Shi Tzu mix with curly hair. She sleeps under the covers with me and spends most of her time trying to signal to me that it's time to go back to bed if I'm up and about.

You get used to the house being disturbed (Eudora can't be left alone with any paper products), and you kind of relax about it the same way you do with kids. You can't just pick up things that are head level and below, but low enough for them to lean their paws on and stand on their back feet. My dogs also work in tandem with the cats to knock junk off the counter and destroy/consume.

I would suggest that you splurge on the high protein puppy for for the first couple years (however long your vet says, this varies) because it really does seem to aid growth and health.

Eudora is still under a year old, so I couldn't have a Christmas tree on the floor out of fear of her snatching anything low hanging and dragging it off to destroy. Since that could be electrified, I just put up my grandma's old 50's aluminum tree.

Everyone's experience with their pet is different. There is no way for you to know what kind of crazy crap they might get up to since they're individuals. But you will definitely find having a dog to be an enriching experience that will probably make you a better person.

posted by syncope at 4:07 PM on December 16, 2013

Hmm, we had dogs always when I was growing up, but there was a big period of pet deprivation, interrupted by an awesome parakeet and a very beloved cat, between then and finally again living with dogs. It felt like an eternity though it was actually only about 10 years. Anyway, here's what I have noticed from my joyous rejoining of a dog-filled existence --

1. I think dog breath smells great. I also love to smell my (various) dogs' fur, particularly around the ears, and the corn nut smell of dog feet.

2. It is very, very hard to sleep without a dog on the bed. Preferably stretched out alongside, snoring and woofing gently as the dog legs strive to catch the dream creatures.

3. Dogs teach you to really, really enjoy drinking water. Then they tune you in to how great water is again!

4. Silence in the house means the dog is doing something reprehensible. Like quietly stealing the whole stick of butter from the counter and consuming every smidgen.

5. Nothing reminds you about the joyousness of being alive and the wonder of the world like being with a dog.
posted by bearwife at 4:15 PM on December 16, 2013 [11 favorites]

That was high protein puppy food, not splurge on having high protein puppies for dinner, oops.
posted by syncope at 4:16 PM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Having a dog restricts your schedule a LOT. You can't be gone for more than 8-10 hours at a time unless you're fine with abusing your dog. And if your dog reacts negatively to being in a kennel (ours refuse to eat or drink water) you can forget ever going on a vacation ever again.

I love our dogs but I wish we never got them.
posted by Jacqueline at 4:26 PM on December 16, 2013

Having to be home to feed/walk my buddy in the early evening every day no matter what has caused a lot of shuffling of my plans over the years. He is always my first thought before I can say if I can go do something with friends. So spontaneity is out.

I am much more aware of the time I spend away from home. I worry all the time that he is lonely when I'm gone. And I'm home a lot.

He's expensive! We are always at the vet for something even though he's a healthy guy. Boarding, good quality food, toys, things he destroyed as a puppy...

Dating is a little harder with a dog too. I can't just leave him home alone all night. Plus, see the feeding and time away notes above. And not everyone likes dogs, though it's a good way to weed out the losers. One guy ran to wash his hands after barely touching my clean dog. That was our last date.

Fur. Everywhere. No matter how much you clean. Floors, furniture, clothes, your mouth...

All that said, he's awesome and I wouldn't give him up for anything.
posted by cecic at 4:29 PM on December 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

The dog is now a line item in my budget. Dog food, dog toys, dog shots, and preventative flea and tick and heart medication, dog grooming. I pay $175ish a month for him.

I can't leave the dog alone overnight. Not even really for one night. And if for some reason I did, I'd have to be back first thing in the morning to let him out and feed him. It made dating rough. And vacations and business trips? Man, don't even. Dog sitting fees are brutal.

He occasionally destroys something, usually sorta on accident, if I leave him alone for too long.

Get really used to another living being's bodily fluids. All everywhere. I once dove to receive a handful of puppy diarrhea to spare a white carpet. The gross thing is that I was relieved. I can wash my hands; the carpets are tougher!

I love him to pieces and he makes every day I am with him better. And I am the person who makes everything right in his world. It's really cool to be able to do that for someone. There's a saying, "Be the person your dog thinks you are." His little face makes me want to live up to his expectations that I will make everything in his life good.
posted by chatongriffes at 4:30 PM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

1. When I go on vacation, I pay for TWO hotels: one for me, and one for my dog (doggie camp).

2. I am concerned to the point of obsessed about whether or not she is having a good life. It wows me that I am very nearly 100% responsible for her happiness in life...that's unnerving at times.

3. Friends who are not dog people have slowly disappeared or diminished from my life, or become internet friends.

4. I know all of my neighbors by their dogs: Boomer's dad, Angel's mom, Daisy's mom, etc.

5. I've got the best hiking buddy EVER. I seriously do not think that I would have the gumption to go hiking by myself as much as I do with my dog.

6. She's still got to go outside when it's -24 F outside and there's a stiff wind off the lake. She will stand around and stare instead of getting on with her business. There is nothing to do other than stand there and wait. She will pee when she wants. Or, if we go inside, she will immediately let me know "I DID NOT PEE YET MUST GO BACK OUTSIDE" and then we go back out and she will stand and stare again until she deigns to make the yellow snow.
posted by Elly Vortex at 4:35 PM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Well, if you get a normal well-adjusted dog, I bet your life does not change as much as with a genetically shy, grumbly dog who does not like touching of any kind. ;)

I do love her very much and would not change a minute of the last 10+ years with her. However, she is not a dog who can go to the dog park.

My dog takes YEARS to warm up to people, whereas most dogs take a minute or two (or no minutes) to warm up to new people. After 7 or so years with the same veterinarian, she mostly does not growl at him (I did carefully choose one who, when he is growled and snarled at, smiles with delight and says "Ah! A border collie! You just never know what you'll get, do you!").

Also, if you get a dog and you have even one other person in your family, prepare yourself for YOUR dog, who you feed, train, and play with, to give her heart completely to the other person instead of you. ;)

I have a second dog as well (and he is mine heart and soul, dear soul), and after being attacked, he is terrified of other dogs (except my grumbly dog). It is a random thing, having a dog. All can go well without a blip or you can develop a problem and need to protect your dog from the world.

All that said, there is nobody else I know who howls with delight when I put my running shoes on and drags me out the door. There is nobody else giving me all the toys to entice me to play a game. There is nobody else who sings me a song about how she would like a cookie. There is nobody else who will swat me with his paw if I forget to pet him while I read my book. There is nobody else sitting on my foot and gazing up at me adoringly and then singing me a little howly song about how he is so cute I should be using both hands, not one, to pet him.

We have to put up a fence around our Christmas tree. We have dog gates all over our house and deck. There are dog beds everywhere. Grumbly dog thinks slippery floors are hot lava so we had to buy a bunch of rugs and so on and have to move chairs so she can walk on the carpet under the table, and I have to direct people to get out of her way when she is trying to get by.

If you want to go on vacation, forget it unless your dog is completely unlike my two and can go to a kennel or a daycare or stay with a friend. Or you can take your dog with you. But this is probably the most limiting thing. Also, going out - I can't leave for more than about 3 hours because my female dog has spay incontinence and I don't want her to be uncomfortable (i.e., wet) if I am gone too long for her to wait.

The incontinence started almost instantly after she was spayed. This is not talked about at the vet or anywhere else very often because they desperately want you to spay and neuter. But I recommend a male dog to everyone because this is an issue with female dogs. I love my dog and would not trade her for the world but wow, the leaking issue is very inconvenient. I won't give her a drug that may give her a stroke (and likely death) with the first pill, so we manage in other ways.

Noise can also be an inconvenience. If you get a dog who barks nonstop, especially while you are not home or if it drives your neighbor up the wall , you can have a problem. (There is a dog like this next door and wow, I would not have moved here had I known - but they were careful to arrange to have the dogs inside whenever we were here before we owned the house).

If you can't crate train the dog, it may destroy your house. My dogs are crate trained and do fine but I don't like to leave them in there more than 3 or so hours.
posted by AllieTessKipp at 4:36 PM on December 16, 2013 [4 favorites]

It would be a terrible omission if no one shared this with you. It is SO true.

My Dog: The Paradox
posted by chatongriffes at 4:36 PM on December 16, 2013 [4 favorites]

Other posters have touched on this, but yeah the "I have to go take the dogs out" gets old. When I lived in a small city that was easy to get around in (New Orleans) this wasn't a huge deal because I was never far from home. If my friends wanted to go to happy hour it would take me 10 mins to drive home, no biggie. Now I live in a big city (San Francisco) where it takes forever to get anywhere so I have to plan a lot more.

Also I have two wardrobes: nice clothes and doggy clothes. My Corgi sheds a lot so I have certain sweatshirts and such that I only wear at home or to the dog park.

I also definitely know my neighbors by their dogs, to the point that I specifically started asking people their names and trying really hard to remember because I felt like an idiot.

To be fair, a lot of this depends on the dog. My Corgi has always been super laid-back and chill and low-energy. She sheds like crazy but she doesn't need a ton of exercise and she doesn't like to play with toys and she doesn't destroy stuff. My little crazy Terrier mix was really difficult when we first got him and we had to change our routines to include a lot more walking and training, as well as keeping our stuff out of his reach.

I think a lot of the life changes a dog brings depends on your perspective. Yes, at least one weekend morning is taken up by going to the dog park. But we make a morning of it, stopping to get coffee, maybe stopping at the hardware store on the way back. I enjoy seeing my little guy play with his little friends, and it's nice to get fresh air, and I like the other dog owners and their dogs. And yes I have to get up every morning to walk them, but man are they so cheerful in the morning I can't help but smile.
posted by radioamy at 4:40 PM on December 16, 2013

I don't mean to be a major downer but since you asked, there is one major negative that my little rescue brought - we basically got evicted. Our one year lease has rolled over to month-to-month, and we were on the second floor of an old building with hardwood floors. The guy below us complained about the noise, but directly to the landlord instead of to us. Without much warning they "terminated our lease" (so technically not an eviction but we had 30 days to find a new place). I am now super careful to only pick apartments where I am on the first floor (then again now I live in SF where there are more renters' rights).
posted by radioamy at 4:45 PM on December 16, 2013

Comedian Bill Burr has a couple of anecdotes in his act about owning a dog and how it changed his lifestyle.
(NSFW language; the dog sentiments are accurate but the comedy is not to everyone's taste)
posted by ceribus peribus at 4:59 PM on December 16, 2013

One other thing to echo AllieTessKipp, dogs have seriously varied personalities.

I've had two golden retrievers. One thought I was queen of the universe, the best person ever, and her whole body would wag with joy and squeal when she saw me. She needed constant petting, could care less about toys, food or playing with other dogs, and was very mellow.

My other (current) golden is suspicious of my motives (show me what's in your hand, Lady. You aren't cleaning my ears again!). He really only tolerates me because I facilitate tennis balls flying through the air, control his access to the sidewalks and parks of the neighborhood, and make food appear twice a day. He sometimes gets happy to see me when I come home, but sometimes can't be bothered to come downstairs. If I was expecting the fawning love of dog #1 and got dog #2, I might have been disappointed. But I have learned they are are varied as humans in terms of personality and that's pretty cool.
posted by cecic at 5:02 PM on December 16, 2013

Okay I really don't mean to be complainy about my dogs, they just are becoming a bigger and bigger limitation in my life! I really really love my dogs and at this moment I am looking forward to going home for some cuddles.

Depending on where you live, having a dog can be a major hindrance on housing options. In New Orleans it wasn't hard to find dog-friendly places. In San Francisco, it's like 5-10% of apartments (at least in our price range). And most places charge both pet rent and pet deposit. Somehow on our new place we lucked out with just a refundable pet deposit, but we also moved in December into a neighborhood that is less convenient to much of the city. We have smallish dogs, but a lot of places have weight/breed restrictions.
posted by radioamy at 5:04 PM on December 16, 2013

Don't let the people saying dogs severely limit your life influence you. My Boston Terrier is almost 12 years old, I've had him since he was 6 weeks. I moved from Oklahoma City to Houston with him, met and moved in with my now-husband with him (husband had never owned a dog before) and then moved to Korea for three years with him (and moved back with him to Houston). This dog has been to more countries than half the humans I know.

We also rarely, rarely kennel him when we go on vacations. We actually have a rotation of friends who sort of jokingly fight over who gets to dog-sit for us (he stays at their houses). I'll add that he is super well-mannered, not by any of my doing, and those friends are also all dog people with dogs of their own.

We live in a loft and do not have a yard so he gets walks 2x a day, morning and night. The worst part of having him is knowing that some day he won't be here. I can't imagine a life without this dude.
posted by Brittanie at 5:14 PM on December 16, 2013 [4 favorites]

Reading other posts here, I think you should think from early on about "relief-families". Our dog has a couple of fans who have promised to take him on when we are traveling (or partying), and they have already proved they really mean it. I think it's easier to get such friends aboard when you have an adorable puppy than later, when your dog is singularly attached to you.
posted by mumimor at 5:14 PM on December 16, 2013

Why wouldn't you take a dog on vacation ?
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 5:16 PM on December 16, 2013 [8 favorites]

Here's a little story about how a dog changes things...

Remember 9/11.. of course you do. I remember how upset, and sad, and angry I was. The world had changed. Then I walked in the door. The dog was dancing, because hey, dad's home, I get to eat now!

Maybe a lot about the world had just changed, but it was that moment I discovered that my world didn't and would be just fine.

Since then pups have owned us. We don't give up vacations; we plan trips around them. They come with us. We find out what places are dog-friendly and where we can go that they can enjoy and local day-cares so we can go see the places they can't go.

Wouldn't give 'em up for anything.
posted by azpenguin at 5:42 PM on December 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

To add to both my previous comment and Pogo_Fuzzybutt's, we have taken our BT on many, many vacations. Finding dog-friendly hotels is not as hard as you think, especially if you have a middle-sized dog who is well-mannered.
posted by Brittanie at 5:44 PM on December 16, 2013

I have to tell you, I'm so overwhelmed by thinking about my answer to this question that I can't even really begin to formulate it. Getting a dog absolutely revolutionized my life, every single aspect of it, large and small, and in every way for the better. I remember in an AskMe of years past saying that when I got a dog, it's like the world went from black and white to color, and I've never stopped feeling that way.

I will just address the vacation thing--I travel all over Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Utah with my dog, we're gone on average every other weekend from February through October. I have a little pop-up camper that we take all over, or if we're going to the big city we just get a dog-friendly hotel. In August we rent a dog-friendly beach house for two weeks and they're the best vacations I've ever had in my life. I do miss international travel but the fact is that I simply wouldn't enjoy it without him, and I certainly don't miss not having and loving a dog, and I don't miss the person I was before him, so I'm not even really sure what I mean when I say I miss it. I guess I just mean that I wish I could take him more places with me.
posted by HotToddy at 5:47 PM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Re: Vacations: Oh yeah, I travel with Thunderdog from time to time. However, when me and the fella want to get a hot tub room and don't feel like having a German Shepherd looking over the edge of the tub ("whatcha doing? Why are you in there? Can I come in? Guuuyyyyyys pay attention to me!") we'll leave her at doggie camp. She loves it there, too.
posted by Elly Vortex at 5:53 PM on December 16, 2013

The downside is the lack of freedom. I went through a stage where I was really interested in the Peace Corps or teaching overseas, but that's not feasible with a pet. Also, my relationship with my SO has just turned into a LDR so travel, boarding, etc is more costly. They've gone on many vacations and stayed in many hotels, no problem but if I fly, they have to be boarded or a pet sitter has to come in. It adds to the cost of the trip for sure.

BUT the good is just soooo good. I can't explain the bond that has developed with my pups. My older dog has been the one constant in my life the last eight years and my younger one seems so tuned into my emotions, it's almost scary. They are the coolest little friends and by far the best thing in my life and they are worth every walk in the freezing cold and rain, every trip to the dog park, and every penny spent at the vet.
posted by allnamesaretaken at 6:19 PM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

There are a lot of very positive responses to this post from dog lovers. I love my dog, yes I do. But, there are some things that are a drag about having one, and I'll come clean about them. I am committed to taking as good of care of him as I can for the duration of his life, but when he passes, I am going to stick to cats. I have a high energy breed who deserves a walk every day, no matter what my poor health or mood or the weather is doing. When I'm trying to relax at home, he follows me around from room to room hoping we're going to do something exciting. I am pretty sedentary and often feel a disappointment to him. After being attacked, he has had several aggressive incidents which have left me nervous of having him around other dogs, so the whole dog park/socialize, hike off the leash thing? Yeah, not for us, despite expensive retraining attempts. He has a lot of health problems which have resulted in expensive food and medical care. Sleepovers at a boyfriend's house are cut short because I have to get home to feed him and feel guilty about leaving him alone for so long. I admire the hell out of those who have embraced their dogs and have the energy and time to give them a good life. I have concluded that I have too many health issues, not enough money, and am too solitary to really be a good "dog person". I would strongly suggest being honest about who you are, how much time and energy you have to devote to a dog, and researching a compatible breed before taking the plunge. You'll probably do very well, as having the foresight to ask this question suggests.
posted by Jandoe at 6:49 PM on December 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

Ha, Jamaro is so right. When I am at a place where there is no pet, it takes me a sec to realize that I have to actually pick up dropped food.

Earlier I was in a crappy mood (and at work) so I was probably overly negative. I really fucking love my dogs. I talk about them all the time (maybe too much?). I think that pretty much everything they do is cute (like right now, my little guy is sitting in front of the heating vent like it's a fire or something, and I think it's freakin adroable). I show people pictures of them all the time.

I never tire of people on the street going "oh look a CORGI!" and I'm actually secretly more thrilled when they notice how cute and quirky my other dog is. I pretty much melt when little kids go "PUPPY!" and want to pet them.
posted by radioamy at 6:55 PM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Although all of my dogs have been companions, some of them have had actual jobs. They were comfortable around horses and mules, and seemed to know how to work reaction bubbles for me. Aside from any practical talents my dogs had, their companionship was what I valued most. They weren't like kids, they were like dogs, and the lives of my several dogs over the years are treasured memories to me now. Their intelligence is controversial, but I believe them to be sentient--that is, self aware--and they are ambushers, so they must be able to scheme.

An old joke has it that you don't know what freedom is until the kids move out and the dog dies. This has more than a grain of truth. You will spent time and money on your dog, and not always when it's convenient. Dogs have certain requirements: food, medical care, schooling. Yeah, all dogs need to be schooled, but also the dog's owner needs to know some fundamental ways to communicate with his doggie. Schooling is a little more than teaching Rover to sit. It means creating an agreement with your critter, in which you define yourself and what you expect from your critter.

You will perhaps spend as much time with your dog as you would with a child. He's not always underfoot, but he needs your interaction. You must spend quite a bit of time learning to understand his efforts to communicate with you. One lousy fallacy about dogs is that their love is unconditional. The truth is that their love is a bit humbling, because you can still be an asshole and earn their affection, but your little poochie is quit willing to give you a cold shoulder if you are an indifferent or abusive master. Dogs can be resilient, but you can break their hearts.

Learning about how your dog sees things is one of the perks of having a dog. A perfect world would have you taking your pup to training sessions, so the two of you can learn to talk with each other. Dogs don't really speak English (or any other human language), but they do speak voice tone and postures. They can learn a few words--nouns and verbs, and some qualitative markers...good, bad, stuff like that. And some of them can learn surprisingly intricate tricks. Some dogs live to perform for you, while others are a bit more reserved.

Look forward to getting familiar with a critter that will create a space in your life, and then fill it with joy. Some say dogs can't love. I say poppycock to that. Dogs are intensely gregarious, and exchanges of doggie love are central to their world. You will earn the joy your dog will bring. Or you will end up with a miserable burden, not a loving companion.
posted by mule98J at 7:09 PM on December 16, 2013

My dogs have helped me think about what and how I ask others to do things. Dogs need structure, and if the humans don't provide it, they'll make up their own rules. Their rules generally are messy and wasteful.

Dogs are not born knowing how to fit in to your life, where to poop, or how to behave around young children. Their behavior is shaped by genetics and by your teaching. I learned a lot from the NILF training philosophy: Nothing In Life is Free. Also check out Karen Pryor's clicker training.

If you get a puppy, set aside at least five hours a week for teaching it how to be a member of your family. If you get an older dog, set aside even more time (since you may have to undo bad instruction before you teach them the basics).
posted by Jesse the K at 7:14 PM on December 16, 2013

I grew up with dogs. They watched out for me (my mom has stories of a dog that would walk along the sidewalk walls of the neighborhood, so she always knew where I was), and we watched out for them.

I resonate with so many of the wonderful (and sometimes frustrating) things people have written above, so I won't repeat them, but I'll share a few thoughts.

Invest in your dog - take him or her to positive-reinforcement obedience classes. It's really more about teaching you how to interact with the dog, but it will get you started on the road towards communicating with your dog in a way to enrich both your lives (commands, tricks, keeping them safe). They push you outside yourself - like kids, they require care and guidance, and need what they need. You have to make the time to not just take care of them, but nurture them, and that time will form so many goofy stories and lovely memories of getting outside even when it's not perfect weather outside.

My last dog helped me get through grad school. Sometimes I just needed to lie on the floor and pet him. Even if he did like my wife better. ;) We adopted ours from a rescue group, and we all dog-sit each other's dogs, so in that sense, it's been a god-send.

Being the dogfather can be a heavy burden. You become The Decider. All those medical decisions are yours, including the hardest one. Making the decision to put our last dog to sleep, even when there was really no other good option, was agonizing. We stayed with him when the vet came in to deliver the injection, and my wife stepped away, unable to bear it. But then our dog raised his head, and she came back to stand beside me, next to him on the table, and we watched him go. My eyes are full of tears just writing this, and it's been over a year.

Now we have another dog, and I could write all day about how great she is (even if we literally have to pour her out of bed to get her to go out in the morning when it's snowy and cold).

In the end, I think it must be a bit like having kids (says the fellow without any) - they're wonderful and enrich your lives, but also constrain and shape it.
posted by canine epigram at 6:59 AM on December 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

Getting my dog changed how I relate to people. A guy once came up to admire her, and I guess I acted a little standoffish because he said, "You can't have a dog like that and be introverted." I had to deal with her fans, and I couldn't be mean to people who just wanted to pet my dog.

Recently a writer who was memorializing her dog on her website said that getting the dog made her and her boyfriend suddenly feel like a family, and they got married shortly after. My dog definitely strengthened bonds among my family and between me and my partner.
posted by BibiRose at 7:59 AM on December 17, 2013

I got my first dog, a German Shepherd as I was dealing with residual PTSD symptoms. His fearless and vigilant need to protect me and my house is the first time I have ever felt safe alone at home. I am eternally grateful to him for that. I rescued my second dog from a genetics laboratory. He is eternally grateful to me for that, and shows me every day in his little doggie ways. We are a family.

Ways your life will change:

-dogs leave a doggie residue on things they come into contact with. Thus I have my couch covered in sheets (you can see in the photo) at all times unless visitors are over. I also have to wash my walls from knee height down a lot more often.

-likewise, just accept that your car is never going to be the same

-my friends that have allergies suffer when they come to my house. i try hard to clean everything before they come over, but it's sort of inevitable.

-when I am sad or feeling sick and just want to lie alone in bed, my dogs lie with me. when i feel like exploring the world, my dogs go with me. when a stranger comes to my door and I am hesitant, my dogs hesitate with me. I know what unconditional love and affection mean now.

-someone famous once said that a dog is the only creature that has already seen his god. I think this is so true. A dog, treated kindly, is SO EXCITED about being alive. What? you want to go walk down the street? HOW EXCITING!!!! you bought me a plastic squeaky toy? OMG EXCITING!!!! A CAR RIDE? HOLY SHIT THAT IS SO EXCITING. It's hard not to feel happier with them around.

-As people said, your travel plans will change. I can't just fly to my parents (from NC to NJ) for Christmas for example, I have to drive with the two dogs in tow (or pay a lot for boarding). They're worth it.

-Dogs will teach you to clean up after yourself.

-You will notice yourself getting in better shape due to all the walking.

-You will find yourself interacting with more strangers, because people will ask you about your dog. Also, you will spend a lot more time at dog parks or hiking in the woods.

-They're more expensive than you think. Not just food, but toys, vet bills, heart worm and flea medicine, etc.

I guess it's kind of like having a large, rambunctious and possibly mentally disabled child. And it is so so worth it. Also, if you can maintain that mindset it's good. Training dogs works best using positive reinforcement, not discipline. Youtube "positive reinforcement dog" and there is a wealth of information on how to train a dog to do pretty much anything. You are the dog's leader and they will look to you as such. Treat them well, set boundaries, and don't use pain and fear to govern their behavior.
posted by sickinthehead at 8:17 AM on December 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

So many good responses already. I would add that we never would have met so many of our wonderful neighbors if we hadn't been out and about walking our dog(s).
posted by freezer cake at 10:50 AM on December 17, 2013

The first thing you will learn is that, much like having a human child, no matter how much you prepare, you are NOT prepared. The second thing you will learn is that it's OK, because you'll both make mistakes and figure it out along the way.

We expected that having a dog would mean walks in the rain/snow/summer heat. We expected messes and stains on the carpet and vet vists and petsitters/kennels for time away from home. We expected struggles with training and joy at our success. We expected dog hair and the stereotypical ebullient dog greeting when we return home every day.

We didn't expect a dog who doesn't play with toys. She just never learned and so she doesn't really get it now.

We didn't expect a dog with eating issues that require expensive prescription dog food, careful timing of feeding, all sorts of bribery, a daily pill, and lots of ridiculous instructions for the petsitter.

We didn't expect a dog with separation anxiety.

We didn't expect a dog with storm / firework / gun phobia. We didn't expect a dog who would be afraid of the "ding!" from the toaster oven. (Seriously.)

I didn't expect that owning a dog would enable an introvert like me to get to know my neighbors so well. Having a dog and talking about their dogs is the easiest small talk ever.

I didn't expect to get yelled at by several different neighbors to keep my dog off their "lawn", even when we pick up after our dog.

We didn't expect to have a dog that was so high energy that walks of 4+ miles a day was not enough to wear her out, even when getting up an hour earlier and walking her in the dark.

We didn't expect a dog who would be happy sleeping 20+ hours a day.

We didn't expect a dog who can make us laugh with just a look.

I didn't expect to worry so much about our dog when we are away, to the point where I want to call the petsitter and check on her every few hours.

We didn't expect a dog who could open his own wrapped Christmas gifts, but what fun :)

I wasn't expecting a companion to sit by my feet after my daily shower while I dry my hair, but I got one anyway!

We were NOT expecting a dog (a hound, no less) who never barks. Still baffles us.

We had no idea how hilarious it would be to dress our dog up in a Halloween costume.

We did not expect to adopt a dog who took over 2 years to learn to trust us enough to roll over and show her belly, or how great it would feel when she finally did.

We did not expect a dog who would jump off the 2 steps of the back porch one too many times, severing his spinal cord and paralyzing himself, ultimately ending his life after 6 short years.

These were obviously not all the same dog, but a collection of observations from the dogs I grew up with and the dogs I've cared for as an adult. My point, I suppose, is to expect the unexpected and just be open to the joy and chaos a dog will bring into your life :)
posted by geeky at 12:38 PM on December 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm learning to not leave food unattended on the coffee table - even for just a minute, even when the dog appears to be asleep.
posted by illenion at 1:58 PM on December 17, 2013

Loving this thread. I shared my story about how my dog made my life better just this weekend (complete with cute pics!). The short version is that he has made me happier and more fun-embracing than I was before. I've also made new friends because of him.

FWIW, I was kinda hoping he would force me to be a morning person like others mentioned, but I got the dog who wants to sleep till 10 every morning. Go figure.

Two negative things:

1. He's more expensive than I expected and that's been a bit rough. Puppies are especially expensive, though. Now that he's almost a year, it's gotten much more manageable.

2. Dogs can be logistically challenging. I bring him to the dog park almost every night after work, because he needs the exercise. This makes socializing on weeknights harder, or really doing anything productive on weeknights harder. And right now, I'm getting ready to move across the country, which is WAYYYYY more complicated with a dog. For travel, I've been lucky to have friends willing to watch him, but it's another thing to think about and plan for.
posted by lunasol at 9:16 PM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

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