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The Time of Your Life: Do You Have Enough for a Dog?

By: Alex Lieber

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It isn't hard to see why people compare owning a dog to having children. Once you've met the health and wellness needs of both, the most precious commodity you can give them is time. Unfortunately, time is a commodity that people often overlook when they decide to bring a dog into their lives.

There are many questions to ask before getting a dog, but the following should be the first: Do you have the time to devote to a dog? If you have just enough spare minutes in a day to fill a bowl with food, splash some water in a dish and rush your dog outside to do his business once or twice, then the answer is probably no.

How much time do you need? The best answer is, as much time as your pet needs. Here are just a few of the things you should think about when answering that difficult question.

The Basics

Owning a dog is a major commitment that will last, on average, 10 to 15 years (or more, hopefully). At the bare minimum, you should plan on at least three walks a day, each lasting about 15 to 20 minutes.

Every 6 months, you should take your dog to the veterinarian for a routine checkup. Then there are the emergency runs that sometimes occur if your dog gets into something he shouldn't. If your dog is prone to certain medical problems, such as hip dysplasia or skin allergies, he will need extra care.

You should have the time to groom your dog regularly. Grooming is important for more than just appearance: your dog's coat is his first line of defense against disease and injury. Loose, protective layers keep a dog cooler in summer. Matted hair traps heat and prevents air from circulating freely. Dogs with short, smooth hair (such as pugs, beagles, and Labrador retrievers) require less grooming than dogs with long, luxurious coats (setters, sheepdogs and many terriers).

Shorthaired dogs need weekly grooming while longhaired dogs need more attention – up to once a day. Grooming can be done professionally, but many dogs enjoy the attention of being brushed at home – especially if grooming is started during puppyhood.

Time for School

Obedience is important for a dog, for you and for society in general. The American Kennel Club identified 10 points that determine whether a dog is a good Canine Citizen:

  • Accepting friendly strangers
  • Sitting politely for petting
  • Behaving while walking on a loose leash
  • Behaving while walking through a crowd
  • Obeying sit/stay/down commands
  • Coming when called
  • Reacting peaceably to another dog
  • Reacting calmly to distractions
  • Behaving when the owner is out of sight

    Not every dog will master all 10 points, but they should obey certain commands, such as sit, stay and down for their own safety. Training takes time – a lot of it, though individual sessions should be kept short, about 15 minutes per session.

    Housebreaking also takes time. Dogs need to learn, through patience and inevitable trial and error, where and when to relieve themselves. Each dog, like each person, learns at his or her own pace. (This is true for other behaviors you feel are appropriate for the household. If your dog is not allowed on the couch or bed, or you don't want him to run and bark at the door at the sound of a knock, you have to take the time to teach him.)

    Play time

    All work and no play makes for a restless, bored dog. Dogs love to play, some more than others. A border collie or Parson Russell terrier needs more play and exercise than an English bulldog or pug.

    You should have the time to play any number of fun games with your dog to give him some exercise and stimulation. Daily play is best, but you should play with him several times a week. If left without some physical outlet, your dog could become destructive or show other behavior problems.

    Time for You to Learn

    Finally, you should educate yourself about general dog care and the particulars of your dog's breed. It is also important to research veterinarians, nutritional requirements for life stages, kennels, pet-sitting services (if necessary), and any other factors that affect your pet's life.

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