“I got a dog in lockdown, less judgement please”

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  • Lockdown saw a huge spike in the number of dogs being bought, but not all of us are bad owners, says writer Sophie Goddard 

    We’ve all seen the headlines – soaring numbers of dogs and puppies have been bought or rescued over lockdown, with unscrupulous breeders and puppy farms cruelly exploiting the sudden surge in demand for furry companions. With breeds like dachshunds, French bulldogs, pugs and chow chows among the most desirable breeds (according to Dog’s Trust research, they’re now the breeds most smuggled into the country) it’s easy to dismiss another cute lockdown dog as ‘irresponsible’, ‘impulsive’ or ‘selfish’ – all comments I’ve heard flippantly made about people buying puppies in recent months, with the inevitable follow-up of: “But what will happen once lockdown ends?”

    A puppy plea

    As a new dog owner, please don’t tar us all with that brush and assume we haven’t thought about life post-Covid. We can’t – and shouldn’t – assume every lockdown puppy or dog was an ill-thought out, impulse decision made without considering the animal’s long-term needs. Many of us were in contact with breeders or rehoming shelters months – and in some cases, even years – before the pandemic struck, spending a serious amount of time finding the right pet to be matched with. Others were waiting for a suitable time to become a pet owner – when work/life/other commitments means we could dedicate enough hours to actually raising one through the tricky puppy stage (ie. a pandemic when the Prime Minister has literally ordered us all to stay home). As anyone who’s owned a puppy will know, the first six months can be majorly taxing and require serious dedication/basically no social life.

    Canines + Covid

    Of course, you can’t deny a global pandemic makes some aspects of dog ownership – particularly where puppies are concerned – challenging. I relied on photographs and video interactions in place of meeting my miniature dachshund’s parents, for example. Puppy training over Zoom (while majorly cute and hilarious) isn’t necessarily as effective or easy to grasp as an IRL park session, either. And since experts say the all-important socialisation period in dogs occurs between three and 14 weeks old (tricky during a lockdown when getting close to other humans/dogs is strictly off-limits) there have been moments of sheer this-is-a-nightmare-what-have-I-done panic. But having spoken to other dog owners since, it seems that’s a rite of passage, pandemic or otherwise…

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    Paws for thought?

    Of course, there will always be people who haven’t weighed up the options or considered the magnitude of their decision – and clearly, that could have devastating implications further down the line for the animals involved when many owners return to the office. But sadly, that’s nothing new – there were bad dog owners pre-Covid, too. And many of us absolutely have considered the ramifications, taking steps to ensure our new pals will be happy, settled and comfortable if/when the 9-5 becomes a reality again. So perhaps instead of berating or eye-rolling the next person who excitedly shares a picture of /Max/Lola/Buddy’s arrival, it might be kinder to reserve judgement and simply wish them the very best. If their puppy’s toilet training struggles are anything like my dog’s, they’re going to need it (!) but it should turn out to be the best decision they’ve ever made.

    Thinking of getting a dog? Three questions you need to ask yourself…

    Can you afford it? Dogs cost money – you’ll need to think about the obvious things like food, vet bills and pet insurance as well as accessories like leads, car seats (yes, these exist), doggy jackets and dog toys. ALL the dog toys. And you might need to consider paying a dog-walker or for doggy daycare if you’re not home during the day, as well as dog-proofing your house (dachshunds for example, should avoid stairs and use ramps). Having a dog isn’t cheap, sorry.

    Will it be compatible with my lifestyle? Dogs – especially when young – can be seriously time-consuming and require plenty of attention, company and training. If you’re somebody who plans on holidaying often or works away a lot, a dog might not be the best choice for you right now. Check whether your home is compatible – a small flat with no garden or a houseshare for example, might not be appropriate for certain breeds. Ask yourself whether you’re prepared for the less glamorous bits of dog ownership, too. Like a female dog coming into season on your new sofa or a difficult toilet training experience (think unexpected ‘gifts’ on your living room floor).

    Am I prepared to wait? If you’re sure a puppy is for you and that fostering or adopting a dog isn’t the right choice, you’ll need to spend time speaking to potential breeders and visiting them before you hand over any money or start getting too excited. This could take some time – don’t bargain on buying the first puppy you come across. You should be able to meet the puppy, along with its mum and siblings in the home they were born and raised in, and handle the puppies. A good breeder will answer any questions you might have, as well as asking you some, too. They’ll be upfront about providing paperwork and certificates for vaccinations, microchipping, worming and any other health tests and won’t ever sell you a puppy under eight weeks of age.

    For more help and information on buying a puppy, check out the RSPCA’s advice here.

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