Guest writer Lucy Parks always wanted to own a four-legged friend, but it was only in 2018 that Cypriot rescue dog Yella flew into the country and changed her life forever. With pet ownership still on the rise, she offers some timely advice for those yearning to own a dog of their own
THE UK’s dog and cat population has risen by around 50% since the end of 2019 and the number of lockdown puppies continues to grow as more and more people seek a flexible working arrangement and have more time to be at home with their pets.
For those still considering getting their first puppies, I offer a few words of wisdom based both on my own experience as a first-time dog-owner and the insight I have gained from working as a veterinary receptionist…
RESEARCH YOUR BREED
It’s easy to be swayed by cute puppies but it’s really important to know what you’re letting yourself in for. It’s not possible to do too much research: do think carefully about how the chosen breed will fit into your lifestyle and home environment.
How much time do you have to devote to training and walking your new pet? Yes, working cocker spaniels are adorable and, yes, they’re a fairly small dog, but they need A LOT of mental and physical stimulation. A husky or akita may appeal to your machismo, but do you have the firm hand and the time needed to train him? And are you ready for the hair shedding?
Poodle mixes are popular because they’re low-shedding but a) be sure you know what mix you’re getting or you could end up with a 30kg dog when you’re expecting a 10kg one and b) poodles are a high-energy, intelligent breed so whatever the mix, they’re going to need a lot of work… Oh, and low-shedding means an extra cost in regular visits to the groomer: that fur’s got to come off somehow.
If you’re going the rescue route, keep an open mind and listen to the advice given by the rescue centre. When a kokoni was suggested to me as a good first dog, I did my research. They’re loyal, low maintenance, stubborn and playful. Yella has totally lived up to this and she proved to be a perfect choice.
WHAT’S YOUR BACK-UP?
No dog-owner is an island and there will be times when you need support to just live your life, whether that’s someone taking your dog for an hour’s walk or having them overnight. I have both supportive friends and a paid dog sitter that I turn to; other friends have had great success through Borrow My Doggy.
Dog walkers and dog boarders are massively over-subscribed at the moment with the sheer volume of new pets and they can afford to be picky about who they take: a well-trained, well-socialised pooch will always win over the high-maintenance chewer!
GET A VET
With the surge in pet owners, and the double whammy of Covid and the impact of Brexit meaning fewer EU vets available in the UK, many vets are no longer taking new clients. We’ve had people register with us from 30 miles away, just because they couldn’t find a vet closer to get their puppy’s vital first vaccinations.
There’s some advice to get a vet before you even get a pet, but this may not always be possible. Either way, don’t forget to find your local vet for vaccinations, socialisation and, of course, should anything go drastically wrong…
LEAVE IT ALONE
Lockdown puppies have rarely been left on their own, which has led to a rise in separation anxiety. This can result in destructive behaviour, howling and a generally miserable dog. Get your pup used to being on its own by leaving it alone, gradually building up the amount of time each day. It may seem cruel, but it gets them used to their own company. It may be your rose-tinted dream to have a dog you can take with you everywhere, but it’s simply not feasible and, if you can’t even step into another room without your dog missing you, you’re both going to be miserable.
LET YOUR DOG BE A DOG
Many people opt for a small breed dog, simply because they’re more manageable, but there’s a danger in not allowing your dog to be a dog. Don’t carry him everywhere: he needs to walk, and sniff, and experience life from the ground.
Dogs need to socialise with other dogs. Yes, not all dogs get on – as with humans – but they need to find their own way. They’ll tell each other off if they’re not happy and, while this can be scary for owners, it’s part of their development.
As your dog gets older, you’ll get to understand them. Yella doesn’t like bouncy puppies and flat-faced dogs (and I steer her clear when possible) but she absolutely loves whippets, greyhounds and collies… it’s just her preference, which I’ve learned over time.
Lucy Parks lives in Amersham, in the glorious Chiltern Hills. A journalist by trade, Lucy left corporate life in 2018 and set up her business, Parkslife, as a freelance journalist and artist. She’s also a veterinary receptionist, allowing her to indulge in her love of animals. Click on these links to see her earlier posts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part and Part 7.