Today is the six month anniversary of having Annie as part of our family! It’s been a pretty crazy journey with a lot of extreme highs and lows. Having a dog is so much more work than I realized, but also as rewarding as I anticipated. And Annie is so perfect for us that she’s even won her way into Greg’s heart! I thought I’d celebrate today by writing about what I’ve learned since becoming a first time (as an adult) dog owner.
1. The early days, weeks, and months are so, so hard.
I grew up with dogs, always. I’ve always considered myself a dog person, despite the fact that we’ve had cats for the last 12 years. I adore dogs in any breed or size and dreamed of the day we were finally able to get one. I did not, however, truly understand how much work they are. Especially the first few months. Those first two months I constantly doubted if we made the right decision. I partially hoped her original owners would be found and we would be able to go back to the easy life of cats that practically take care of themselves. Those months were HARD. I felt like I was immediately thrown back into early toddler stages with my third child. Every waking minute was spent worrying about and doing things for Annie. It was draining and ridiculously exhausting. I was in tears every day. But I’m glad I powered through.
2. All dogs (probably) need potty training.
I assumed since Annie wasn’t a puppy she would be potty trained. But she was also a stray for however long and was thrown into a lot of new situations in a short period of time. Her potty training was nonexistent. Those first few months I was taking her outside literally every 45 minutes, and she’d still go in the house multiple times a day. We had to block off the upstairs for a long time. I threw away some rugs she used frequently. I’d say it took a good three or four months before she stopped peeing in the house. And she’d still poop in the house until four or five months. So it definitely got better, but if I’m not constantly aware of what time I’m feeding her in the evenings and what kind of food she gets, I still come downstairs to a surprise mess every once in awhile.
3. Most dogs have energy that needs to be spent!
I also assumed since Annie was supposedly three years old, she would not have the energy of a puppy. I was pretty adamant about not getting a puppy because I did not want to deal with boundless energy. When I met Annie at the humane society she was so calm and friendly. A week or two into having her at our house? Totally new dog. She has SO MUCH ENERGY. She’s wildest in the mornings and evenings. During the school year, when it’s just the two of us in the house, she’s usually pretty sleepy and laid back. But the boys (and cats) bring out her wild side. I think if there was one thing I could change about Annie, this would be it. It can be really exhausting to deal with, especially on days that I just have too much else going on and can’t properly exercise her.
4. Exercise is a must!
I guess I was spoiled growing up and having a sort of fenced in yard for our dogs. Or I just don’t remember having young dogs, because my mom’s dogs are all getting up there in age these days. But Annie desperately needs exercise every single day or she’s crazy. Her whole demeanor is changed, though, if she’s had a chance to wear off her energy. Ideally, she’d probably be happiest if we took a 3-5 mile walk every morning or spent over an hour at the dog park. During school days we usually get 1-2 miles in the morning with occasional afternoon or evening dog park visits, depending on how obnoxious she’s being. The GOOD news is that having her also gets ME exercising more often. It was harder during summer, but now that we’re back to school, I love those morning walks. It just gets frustrating, like I mentioned above, on days when I just don’t have time for it and she starts getting naughty and destructive with her excess energy.
5. Crate training is pretty normal.
I used to be pretty dang judgmental about people who put their dogs in crates. And for the record, people that put their dogs in crates all the time are still getting my judgement!! But I’ve come to see it as a very necessary tool in helping Annie adjust to a new home. The first many times we used it, she was super anxious and chewed through the wires at everything she could reach. She even managed to pull and entire 5×7 rug through a tiny section of wire and shred it while I was only gone about an hour. But over time it’s gotten a lot easier. I guess we’re lucky that she doesn’t need to sleep in there at night. Knowing we’re in the house with her keeps her anxiety at bay. But every time I need to leave, in the crate she goes. I always give her peanut butter filled kongs, longer lasting chews, and a bone and toy. It’s probably not necessary now that she’s used to it, but it makes me feel better to bribe her before locking her into such a tiny space. Fortunately, she’s usually only crated 1-2 hours a day. Maybe once or twice a week it’s 4-5 hours and almost never longer.
6. Medium sized dogs can feel like giants more often than you think.
When we were looking for dogs, I wanted a big one. The biggest. I was only looking at large breed dogs because those are my favorite and the kind I always saw myself getting. Greg was more hesitant about the size thing, especially after we visited a wild lab puppy that jumped all over Shepard and terrified him. In the end, Annie is the dog I saw and wanted immediately, and her size would have to do! She was 35 pounds when we got her, though I’m guessing she’s 40-45 pounds now because she was so thin after being a stray. Anyway, those 40 pounds? They are STRONG. Before I got the proper collar, four months in, she practically ripped my arms off every time we went on a walk. If I’m laying on the couch and she decides to run and jump on me? It hurts. I honestly don’t even know how I would have been able to handle a 70 pound or heavier dog. Annie is perfect. I’d probably have a permanently dislocated shoulder with a dog any bigger.
7. Pinch collars are magical.
After Annie’s very first walk I realized her regular collar was not going to do. I bought her a harness, so at least she wouldn’t choke or slip the collar over her head, but it definitely didn’t stop her from pulling. I was going to try a gentle leader, but saw so many reviews online about dogs that rubbed the tops of their noses raw because they stilled tried to pull so much. I bought a different kind of gentle leader that pulled tighter around her torso and attached to a double lead leash. It didn’t make much difference. Finally – at a free obedience class – I learned about pinch collars. They look horrendous. I was so scared to use one, afraid I’d hurt Annie. But honestly? It works SO WELL. When I signed up for my regular obedience class they convinced every single person to buy one. It was essential to the training process. With the exception of one smaller dog that yelped every time it was tugged (and left the class after that), it never seemed to bother any of the dogs. Annie gets excited about putting it on because she knows it means a longer walk. And she’s never made any sort of noise of pain when wearing it. She still pulls to an extent while walking, but it’s a million times better than it used to be. And it’s the only one thing that really works for behavior correction.
8. Obedience class is worth it.
I was going back and forth on whether I wanted to go to an obedience class with Annie. The vet told me that the classes they offered were really directed to completely untrained puppies and it would have been useless. She already knew a bunch of commands when we got her, but I struggled with the walking and getting her to stay or lay down or stop jumping on people. So I signed up for an eight week class over the summer. I hated going every week because it was hard work! And it was really hard getting reprimanded in front of people week after week. But the good part? Being with other people in the same boat as me. We were all having struggles and it felt good to know I wasn’t alone. And while Annie didn’t come out of that class being perfectly trained, it did help me to feel more secure as a dog owner.
9. Socialization with other dogs – and people – is key!
I’m SO glad Columbus has such an amazing dog park. We probably go 4-6 times a week. Annie LOVES it. She loves playing with other dogs so much. She loves running with other dogs! And I think it’s just important for her to get used to being around dogs so she behaves better on walks and any kind of social interaction. The downside is that you never know which dogs are going to be at the park. She generally leaves dogs alone when they show no interest in playing back with her. But on days when the park is filled with runners and wrestlers? She is totally in heaven.
10. Dogs are always up for adventures!
The boys and I had a lot of fun over the summer trying out a few new parks and trails with Annie. I think next summer when we’re even more comfortable we’ll be a bit more ambitious. But Annie adores going on any type of walk and if it involves doing something like wading through rivers? She is always game!
11. Dogs provide so much laughter and entertainment!
I love how every dog’s personality is just so distinct. I’m so glad I picked a funny one! 🙂 She does the craziest things sometimes and it’s just so funny! We’re always laughing over new antics. She lightens the mood and makes us all a lot happier!
12. Dogs really are man’s best friend.
Annie is such a loyal companion! It’s ones of the main reasons I really wanted a dog. I’m going to continue working at home for the foreseeable future. And while I love my cats, they’re also getting up there in age and I can’t exactly tote them around town with me or take them on walks. I was hoping that whatever dog we picked would end up being my best buddy. And she is! She’s not much of a cuddler, but she’s within five feet of me pretty much day and night. Occasionally she’ll tag along with one of the boys if they’re relaxing somewhere. But she knows I’m her number one human and she keeps me company all the time.
13. Dogs give introverts an excuse to get away.
This is probably something I should take advantage of more than I do! 🙂 When things get a bit insane around the house, I love that I always have a reason to go do something with Annie. Boys are being whiny and obnoxious? Oh, I think Annie needs to go on a long evening walk! Stressful day of interacting with people? I think a trip to the dog park, even in the rain, is totally on my evening agenda. It’s pretty great.
14. Dogs and cats can get along…most of the time.
Okay, so we’re still working on this one. I think it has a lot to do with Annie’s breed, that she has a hard time leaving the cats alone. She doesn’t try to hurt them, but she likes to herd them. She’s pretty good with Jack because he always sticks around, even if he’s annoyed by her. Rory spends a lot of time in the basement, so it’s always a novelty when he comes up. Annie likes to chase him back to the basement door. But if she’s not already hyped up, they’re all getting a lot better at coexisting.
15. It’s been a journey, there’s been a learning curve, but I’m glad we stuck it out.
I’d say that six months is a pretty good time frame to decide if dog owning is really for you. And for me, it is! There are still occasionally times when I wish I just had the ease of being dog free. Like when I want to leave the house for 10 hours at a time or when I have to stop what I’m doing multiple nights a week to take Annie to the dog park because she’s driving us all crazy. But overall? It’s so worth it. I love Annie so much! She’s the most perfect dog for our family and we are blessed to have her in our lives!