I’m always asked questions like these: “I’m just like any other human who must earn his bred: I get out in the morning, I come back briefly for lunch (sometimes), I come home in the evening. I’d love to have a dog, but I’m afraid I can’t give him enough. I don’t know if he would be contented with me giving him all my attention when I’m at home (mornings, evenings, week-ends). There is any breed out there who would fit into my routine?”
Or: “Even if I can understand this isn’t so much of a life, would it be regarded as improvement by a dog from the shelter?”
I think we could start from this: I’d love to live in a large house with my own swimming pool, a dozen servants, perhaps a tennis court in the backyard, a playground for my children (with a nanny, of course, provided that she’s not Nanny Lucia, because I’m terrified of her) and our own chef to cook tasty meals for us.
But me, for example, I’m living in a flat; when I want to swim I go to the sea because the public swimming pool is too expansive; I go playing tennis when I’ve saved money enough for renting the court (quite rarely); my son had the public park to play in and I can have my personal chef just when I succeed in moving my husband to pity – or in blackmailing him – because of horrible pains or articles I need to finish before two o’clock. The rest of the time, I’m our own chef, and my tasty meals are labeled Findus and Bo Frost.
But I don’t feel the need to kill myself.
On the contrary, I dare say I’m a serene and sometimes happy person.
Question: if humans are able to adapt, with our expectations far greater than dogs’, because we have a mind capable of abstraction (and, consequently, of forbidden dreams, that lead to some emotions such as envy, unknown to dogs), why shouldn’t a dog be capable of adaptation as well?
Life is NOT having everything you want – neither for humans nor dogs. On the contrary, often it’s adapting and be contented with what you have.
Of course, there are some limitations: a working man at the assembly line would probably hang himself when forced to stay there ALL his waking life.
Those people achieve serenity of heart because they learned to gain the most from their free time. May be, when it comes to it, it’s a very small time: but when lived fully and intensely it’s enough to fulfill their lives.
Why shouldn’t it be the same for dogs?
So: we love dogs, we respect them, we give them all our heart… but we can’t offer them what we ourselves cannot always achieve: the best.
So we start from this point: dogs, living in our same society (for their choice as well as ours) must learn to adapt to those limitations we live within: because I would be happy to spend the day playing with my dog. The same as him! But we must cope as well as we can.
Asking your dog to be adaptable is not abusing him (unless we feel abused when we’re forced to wake up in the morning to go to work): it’s life’s demand.
But life – for the both of us – can be organized in a way so that, apart its limitations, it’s nice and fair, and even happy.
Besides, if you think that you can have a dog just when you can give him the best life it is, keeping him company 24/7, letting him play and run in the fields all of his life, and so on, a person out of a thousand only would have a dog of his own.
This said, dogs can’t decide for themselves, but we can, so let’s try more interesting questions about “which dog in which home”: because dogs are not all alike.
Some dogs need to “do something” all around the clock, they can be forced into inactivity for 3-4 hours a day, but then they absolutely need to release their enormous amount of energy, unless you want them to “swell” like a pressure cooker and blast; but some of them are happy sleeping for most of the day and then 3-4 hours of activity (and even less). For some dogs “activity” means “a thousand miles at full speed”, others are more like “a little walk on the leash, not too far away, please, I don’t want to get tired”.
The point is, if we are sensible humans and really love dogs, than it’ all about choosing the right dog. And then doing the right things together with him.
Examples? There you are.
For people working eight hours a day, who coming home in the evening like to lay on the couch watching TV, a relatively sedentary dog is the best choice.
You have plenty to choose: most molossus (large and small), Great Danes, mountain dogs and so on.
Neapolitan mastiffs and English bulldogs, even when free to do what they want, will sleep eight hours a day, then they take a little run, then they lie down because they have no more energy to spare. May be they’re awake, look around, enjoy they view or keep guard: but always on the floor.
In this range of dogs, you have a few things to keep in mind: in a 60 square yards one room apartment, a Saint Bernard could be a bit uneasy. A nice little old lady proud of her shining floors shouldn’t choose the Neapolitan Mastiff of above, the dog who can live happily in 2,5 square yards, but drooling all over the place. On the other hand, a nice fellow who feels disgraceful to be obliged to bow petting his dog, can’t be happy with a Pug.
But you have a wide range to roam about and choice is easy with a little common sense (and a little bit of information).
Dogs ABSOLUTELY unfit for those people are those who are small, but restless: always popular Jack Russells, for example, and almost all terriers (except the bull-kind, more quiet because of their molossus blood); pastoral dogs; gun-dogs, Labradors and Golden Retrivers included. Taking one of this dog into your house and then compelling him to sleep for 8 hours, walking for half an hour, then seven hours and a half of boredom and another eight hours sleeping, this is real abuse.
If what we want is a small dog, there are a lot of breeds made to live happily in small flats, even with pretty sedentary people: they’re called “lap dogs” for a reason. You have plenty to choose.
For people who stay away from home eight hours a day, but when they come back they’re ready to leave for a Great Adventure (and they actually love it), any dog will do, provided that your Great Adventure includes running, playing, doing some kind of sports etc. (if it’s cinema or disco that you have in mind, no place for you here).
Again, you should keep away from very hyperactive dogs, pastoral dogs and gun-dogs for the most part (Border Collies, Kelpies, Setters, Pointers…). Well, they can accept the routine of eight hours of boredom-eight hours sleeping-eight hours having fun and doing things together: but the last part should be made up of eight whole hours, not just something like an hour at the park on in the field… and then staying yawning yourself to death while humans have their business.
And when you think carefully about it, even when we say we have eight hours a day just for our dog, it’s never true: because we need to eat, cook our lunch and dinner, start the washing machine and/or the dishwasher, sweep the floor, finally, we need to care for the house and children and, why not, sometimes for husband/wife too. The less time left for the dog.
But, apart for “super dogs”, breeded to be always on the move at full speed, any other dog in the world would adapt to this kind of life easily. Remember that dogs sleep for an average of 12 hours a day: so his night sleep can coincide with ours’, but during the day he has four more sleeping hours to spare.
So, if we are at work for eight hours, he will miss us just for four, and sleep the rest of the time – and he would sleep even if he was free in his natural habitat.
Of course, four hours it’s not small time: but we can leave him some pastimes (a kong to get food from, a fake bone to chew, something like that) and he will cope.
And when we’re finally back… let’s play, let’s run, let’s do things together, let’s go visit our dog friends. Life can be full and satisfactory, really.
Remember also that an adult human sleeps for something like eight hours a night, but a teenager needs more and an old man needs less (5,5 more or less): so a dynamic dog would settle better with an old man than with someone around his thirties. We don’t want our grandpa to start agility, of course: but if he can bring his dog to the park to play with other dogs, even if he himself spends that time on a bench, his dog will be a lot happier than one who practices agility (or UD, Obedience, or any other sport) for an hour and then, back into his kennel.
For flexitime people, able to arrange their life at their choice, there are virtually no limitations in choosing a dog: but if you have plenty of free time and you like to spend it in front of you TV, you’ll settle better with sedentary and quiet companions.
To make a long story short, just keep this in mind: seen our way of life and seen that we are hardly likely to turn it upside down for a dog (we have just a few Paul on Damascus road among dog lovers), let’s try to choose a fitting dog, instead of be influenced by aesthetic reasons only (and, unfortunately, this happens quite often) and by the size.
A small dog doesn’t mean a “lap dog”: terriers are usually small fellows, but they are among the most active breeds (together with some pastoral and gun dogs) so they are in desperate need of movement.
If we can’t afford it, we must look elsewhere for our companion.
On the other hand, a big dog doesn’t always mean a dog who needs lots of movement (if he isn’t an Irish Wolfhound, the tallest breed in the world, but a greyhound too! And while we’re at it, no one ever thinks about greyhounds, deemed to need hours of running at 300 mi/sec., really they need a good run a day, but then they are perfect coach potatoes), or a dog who absolutely needs a garden.
Speaking of gardens, here comes the false myth: we’ve discussed that before (see this article, for example) and I’m not going to repeat the same things, but, I stress the point again: a garden is something very useful and comfortable for humans, but it’s NEVER mandatory in a dog life.
If it isn’t Buckingham Palace park, in fact, it could never provide the whole amount of bodily exercise a dog needs, and, most of all, it can’t provide him anything about social life and affection. I’ll say it again, a dog is a social animal, his first need is to live in his social group, in his family.
But, “in” means “truly in”, not “somewhere nearby”!
Last but not least: what to do with mixt dogs, whose psychological and physical qualities are unknown?
As for adults, it’s quite easy to determine his temperament, actually, studying hid morphology and thanks to volunteers who care for him and know him the best.
When you’re adopting a pup, on the contrary, and you don’t know anything about his parents, if you incline on the lazy/stay-at-home side, better change your mind, because you risk to end up with a dog unfit for your way of life.
If you’re able (and ready) to reserve 4-5 hours a day for you dog, then go on by no means, there shouldn’t be a problem on that side, because mixt dogs rarely are so “extreme” as some super-selected pure breeds.
All of the above, always following RESPECT for the dog, be he pure breed or mixt, tall or small, toy-like or large.
Before any other consideration on lives and houses, keep in mind that a dog: a) MUST stay with his pack (i.e. with us) as long as possible, and b) MUST enjoy a decent life, even if it’s not “perfect”.
If the life you have in mind is the life of a “garden gnome” with little or none relationship whatsoever, forget about it.
If you are offering him a life as “useful servant” chained in a corner (or locked up in a kennel till he can explode on a field showing off his athletic abilities for some kind of sport), then double forget about it.
No medical prescription compels us to have a dog: we can ask him to be adaptable, it’s ok, but to treat him like a object, it’s not ok, at all. Don’t even try to pretend to be a hero because you “saved a life”: I’m so unlucky to know several shelter dogs who ended up to be more miserable than before (as the “garden gnomes” of above, for example”). Forgive me, but heroes are something else.
And dog lovers too.