I love my dogs. They’re always happy to see me and are never grumpy. We have a special daily ritual, seemingly insignificant to many people I’m sure, but it’s the highlight of my day.
4pm, the kettle is switched on for tea time (put it down to my English heritage) and that’s the cue for their supper time. Heaven forbid you feel like tea at 3pm and don’t feed them. By the time they’ve finished eating, my cuppa is ready and we take a little walk around the garden.
Tatcha, my 15 year old, little terrier mutt, trots past me as we walk over the cobbles along the herb garden while Chloe, my gentle, doting labby, sticks to my side carrying her favourite rope toy. As Tatcha disappears off into the shrubbery on his daily scout patrol, Chloe and I play a, very short, game of fetch. She’ll only fetch the rope about 4 times before she tires. She’s the most laid back, lazy labby I’ve ever met. Tatcha then reappears and comes thundering past us, super big smile on his face (he really does smile), up the driveway back to the house. Rolo, our cat, sometimes graces us with his presence, making it an extra special walkabout.
This ritual takes all of 10 minutes but is my unwind time. I can’t think of any other activity that would have the same effect on me. It’s having some alone, quiet time without the loneliness.
So, you’re thinking about getting a dog and wondering if you’re ready and what you really need to know before you take the leap. As rewarding and enriching as owning a dog is, here are 6 things that I believe to be the most important to consider before rushing out to choose your new family member.
- Are you able to care and provide for a dog for its entire lifespan?
- What kind of dog would be the best fit? They’re all so different.
- Would owning a dog suit your lifestyle?
- Who will care for your dog when you go away?
- Is your home and garden area suitable?
- Can you afford it?
Are you able to care and provide for a dog for its entire lifespan?
Are you able & willing to commit to giving the love, attention and care every dog deserves for its entire lifespan, 10 to 15 years? Many people don’t realise it but smaller dogs can live up to 17 years old. Larger dogs tend to have shorter life spans.
Puppies are oh so cute but are also extremely busy, get into everything, can be destructive and need a lot of attention & training. They do also grow up, so what is a really cute little bundle of fluff could end up being a 40kg hulking, brute of a dog taking up your entire couch.
Yes, the kids have been begging incessantly for a playmate and they promise they’ll feed, care and exercise it. There’s a very good chance the novelty will wear off and it will end up being your ‘job’. Are you prepared to do that?
If you aren’t up for puppyhood, consider adopting an adult dog from a rescue or welfare organisation. Always ask for the history of the dog to make sure it fits with your lifestyle and will get on with everyone in your home, including other pets & children if there are any.
Good welfares won’t allow adoptions to just anyone, be prepared for home inspections and lots of questions. It’s purely to ensure the adoption is a suitable match and everyone will be happy together.
The downside to getting an adult is that it may have developed some bad habits over the years which could be difficult to overcome, but not usually impossible with the right training and determination. Upside is they’re usually a little calmer, housetrained and have (hopefully) outgrown their chewing & digging stage.
As dogs enter their more senior years they tend to need a little more love and attention. Look out for age related ailments like joint pain (signs could be difficulty getting up or sleeping more than normal), deafness or losing their eyesight.
You may need to make some adjustments at home to keep your older dog safe and healthy:
- Don’t allow access to your swimming pool, especially in cases of sight-impaired and elderly dogs
- Place a ramp in your pool for water lovers so they can get out easily. Teach your dog how to use it. If they struggle to get out then you’ll need to fence off or cover the pool
- Place ramps on steps for arthritic dogs
- Place rugs or carpets on hard floors to stop arthritic dogs slipping
- Ensure your dog has a warm and comfortable place to sleep
My dogs always slept outside in a heated kennel in winter but now that Tatcha has become quite creaky, deaf and slightly senile, he and his Labrador sister have adapted (very happily indeed) to sleeping indoors.
Never Buy a Dog as a Gift for Someone
Never give a dog as a gift without the prospective owner fully agreeing and committing to caring for it, as you’re inadvertently giving the gift of responsibility and cost too. Also best that they are involved in choosing what’s to be a new, long-term addition to their family. Consider that a child of 10 getting a Yorkie puppy will probably be at varsity somewhere when the Yorkie is only half way through it’s’ lifetime.
What kind of Dog would be the Best Fit? They’re all so Different.
We know from welfare organisations that a major reason for dog owners taking dogs in for rehoming is because they didn’t know their dog “would turn out like this”.
Here’s one example:
One can’t help but fall in love with the incredibly cute Beagle puppy and want to take it home. Even as adults, they’re so sweat natured and fun. One would think it’s small enough to keep in your little townhouse garden but what you may not know is, boy, can they howl, driving you and your neighbours round the bend. Oh and yes, they are small, but they need to run. At the slightest whiff of a squirrel, or anything at all, they’ll take the gap in the open gate and there’s no stopping them. Many Beagles will go to all ends to get that block of butter off the counter, or steal your kid’s birthday cake off the table right in front of you. This doesn’t mean that Beagles aren’t great dogs, many Beagle lovers will tell you they are just the best dogs around.
The reality is all dogs are different. You need to establish what kind of dog you’d like before you settle on a specific breed.
Things to consider are:
- Personality – friendly to everyone, shy or guard dog
- Activity level – are you wanting jogging buddy or simply take a daily walk around the block?
- What are they like with kids?
- Will they eat the cat?
- Do they like other dogs?
- Coat type – would dog hair on your couch be a problem? Grooming bill may be higher than you anticipate or a lot more work for you at home
- Health concerns – some breeds are more susceptible to certain diseases than others meaning higher vet bills
- Will they suit your home – do they need a large garden and you live in a complex?
- What are they like as puppies?
- Are they easy to train?
There are fantastic websites with detailed information on the different breeds and their personalities, health issues etc.
Always buy from a reputable, registered breeder, stay away from dubious pet shops and puppy mills.
Will Owning a Dog Suit your Lifestyle?
Dogs are a sociable species, needing love & companionship.
If you live alone and work long hours, have a busy social life or travel a lot then a dog probably isn’t for you. How about a gold fish or maybe a robot dog? Jokes aside. If you really, really want a dog, and can spend great, quality time with him on weekends, then you could consider getting a dog walker for during the week or even drop him off at doggy day care for the day, if there are any in your neighbourhood. Although a relatively new concept in South Africa, more and more people are offering their services.
There’s a great app called DOGGODO you can download onto your phone that lists all sorts of services, including day care, dog walkers, pet sitters, boarding kennels, offered to pet owners.
Who will Care for your Dog when you go away?
I personally think the best option is to hire a reliable pet sitter. This way your dog can stay in his own environment, making your absence less stressful for him. You can either arrange to have someone pop in to feed your dog a couple of times a day or have them sleepover so he isn’t left alone for long periods.
Or you could go the kennel route. This is stressful for some more than others. There are good kennel facilities in most major centres in South Africa. While maybe not the perfect option for your dog you know he’s being looked after by trained staff and will be well cared for and safe.
Ask your vet or friends for their recommendation and then pop round to have a look around and meet their team.
If you have a live in, reliable domestic worker that gets on with your dog and would recognise when your dog needs a vet and be able to get your dog to the vet, then he or she could look after him while you’re away.
Is your Home Suitable for a Dog?
If you live in a free standing home with a large garden that is securely fenced then most breeds of dogs would be very happy in those surroundings.
If, on the other hand, you live in an apartment or townhouse that doesn’t have a garden, or possibly a tiny one, you’re very limited in the choice of breeds you could get. It certainly doesn’t rule it out though. If you’re prepared to walk your dog a couple of times a day, then there are breeds out there that would be content with that.
Always check with the body corporate that they allow pets first.
Be prepared for an imperfect home. There will be more cleaning up than you’re used to. Say bye, bye to your pristine white couches.
You may be thinking that your dog will be an outside dog, but don’t be misled. Dogs are sociable animals and crave our companionship. Dogs that live outdoors only, separated from their human pack are more difficult to train and often develop serious behavioural problems. They see being kept apart from you as punishment and as a result the bond you share suffers. They also don’t recognise the house as being their turf, so may not defend it against intruders.
I would ask what the point of having a dog is if he isn’t going to be with you? You don’t need to allow access to the entire house. Show them the boundaries and most will respect it.
Allowing your dog to spend time with the family watching TV in the evenings is a must.
Can you Afford to Own a Dog?
It’s more than just the initial purchase price of the dog. Food, bed, toys, vaccinations, sterilisation, health checks, medical care you hadn’t planned for, kennels or pet sitters when on holiday, socialisation & training classes are all basic requirements for owning a dog.
Health check – A vet check-up when you first get your dog is a good idea, even if you’ve been told all vaccinations are up to date and that pup is healthy. Something may have been overlooked.
It’s also a good idea to do an annual health check. Your vet will be able to pick up if your dog needs any dental procedures or if there are any other possible problems brewing that can be nipped in the bud before they get too costly.
Vaccinations – The minimum necessary vaccinations for dogs in South Africa
(source SAVA website)
- 5-in-1 vaccination which protects against Canine distemper, Canine parvovirus, Canine adenovirus type 1 & 2, Canine parainfluenza
Basic vaccination programme for dogs:
- First vaccination at 8 – 9 weeks (1 injection)
- Second vaccination at 11 – 12 weeks; includes the first RABIES vaccination (2 injections)
- Re-vaccinate at 14 – 16 weeks; includes the second RABIES vaccination (2 injections)
- Re-vaccinate at one year of age (1 injection)
- Re-vaccinate every 3 years, including RABIES (2 injections)
Even if your dog never goes out it’s a legal requirement to be vaccinated against rabies.
Tick & Flea Control – Use all year round. There’s a vast array of products available. You can get monthly, 12 weekly and 32 weekly vet recommended treatments and all are effective.
Have a look at our BUG BUSTER CHART to help you choose the treatment option that suits you or speak to your vet.
Feeding – Feed the best food you can afford. Premium Dog Food from Vets may seem expensive but they are made with very high quality ingredients (some brands even use human grade ingredients), and use highly sophisticated manufacturing processes, with years of research behind each diet. The combination of a highly digestible diet with added healthcare benefits such as dental care and joint support all included, can actually add up to money saved. Good quality nutrition is all about maximising canine quality and length of life.
Speak to your vet about the best option to suit your budget. Ask them to run through how much it would cost to feed your dog a specific diet per day. You may be surprised.
Unexpected Bills – Accidents happen or your dog could get sick. The most common, unexpected vet bills can be as a result of getting hit by a car, fighting with other dogs, eating something they shouldn’t or cancer. Consider a Pet Insurance Policy to help cover these unexpected, potentially hefty bills.
Consider Pet insurance – They generally don’t cover sterilisation, hereditary or congenital issues but can be a financial life saver in case of accidental injury, illness like cancer & skin issues or cruciate ligament repairs as a few examples. Some companies offer plans that will cover a portion of ‘routine care’ like tick & flea and deworming treatments.
The well-known companies offering Pet Insurance in South Africa are:
Microchip – This is a far safer option than a collar and ID tag as it won’t fall off. The tiny chip, the size of a rice grain, is injected into your dog by your vet under the skin, to ensure no discomfort, and details are uploaded on to a national database. If your dog gets lost anywhere in South Africa they can be taken to a vet who will scan the chip to get your details.
Spaying or Neutering – There are pros & cons to sterilising or not sterilising your dog. It’s a complex, and often, controversial issue and I strongly recommend you discuss your individual situation with your vet for the best recommendation for your family and your dog. Unsterilised dogs are at risk of unplanned pregnancies (we have enough dogs needing homes) and behavioural issues.
Training & Socialisation – Socialisation and basic training classes really are a necessity, even for small dogs. To have a responsive dog that knows their boundaries and gets on with other people and animals makes for a happier environment for all than one who pays no heed to your commands or yaps at anyone who comes near you.
Dental care – Brushing teeth daily with a dog toothpaste is by far the most effective way to keep your dog’s teeth clean. Neglecting oral hygiene can lead to infections that may damage the kidneys, liver & heart.
If you aren’t going to manage a daily brush, or will only get to it once a week, buy an ORAL RINSE and squirt a little along the gums each day. There are also some great DENTAL TREATS on the market that will help. Doing something is better than nothing.
Grooming – This cost can vary greatly depending on the kind of coat your dog has. Yorkies with a long coat will need at least a weekly bath, whereas a Labrador usually does fine with a monthly bath and weekly brush at home. There are excellent professional grooming parlours to take care of this for you.
You can trim your dog’s nails yourself if you’re up to it. Some owners would rather have the vet or grooming parlour do it as it can be difficult to see the quick and they’re afraid to cut it by mistake.
Bed, toys, bowls – These basics don’t have to be the most expensive available or latest gimmick, just good quality, durable, size appropriate TOYS, BOWLS and BEDS. They last longer and cost you less in the long run.
Pet sitting, kennels – This can add a significant cost to your holiday plans. Perhaps you have a reliable family member that will do it for free.
None of the above are meant to scare off would be dog-owners, it really is a privilege to be loved so unconditionally by your dog, and something everyone should experience. It’s important to remember that it’s our responsibility to give every dog the care it needs and deserves.
If now is the time and you’ve decided to go out and extend your family, let us know. We’d love to hear how you chose your perfect match and all that went with it.
Useful sites and apps
DOGGYDO APP – lists services like vets, parks, groomers, day care etc. Switch your location on and it shows the closest to you
PETS SA WEBSITE – Online directory of breeders, pet products and pet services for Animal lovers
PET FOOD INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION SA – Information on registered pet food and responsible pet ownership
DOGTIME – Specifically the section on breeds to help you choose the right breed
ANIMAL PLANET – Breed selector gives a great overview of the characteristics of different dog breeds
Dog Breeder Registries
KUSA – Kennel Union of South Africa for registered breeders
GERMAN SHEPHERD FEDERATION OF SOUTH AFRICA – Registered German Shepherd breeders
CANINE REGISTRY – Jack Russell & other dog breeds registry
SA BOERBOEL BREEDER’S ASSOCIATION – Registered Boerboel breeders