I have been thinking a lot lately about dog ownership. Specifically, how much more organised and regimented it is now, compared to when I was younger, in the 1990s. Lord knows how different it was before then.
I’ve been thinking about this because, as you might have figured, I own a dog now. Since April, I’ve shared my house with Forest, the beagle (6 months old in this photo).
Forest isn’t my first dog. Although he is my first Beagle. There’s a particular reaction people usually have upon discovering that we’ve got a Beagle. It’s like I’ve just told them I wanted to take up running so have signed up for an Iron Man Challenge this coming weekend; they nod and smile, while their eyes give away the fact that they’re trying to figure out how to diplomatically tell me I’ve no idea what I’ve let myself in for.
Nonetheless, Forest has been fine for the most part. He’s often a chaotic force of wanton destruction, but then he is a puppy, so we were expecting that.
One thing I hadn’t quite realised, though, is just how complex it is to own a dog these days, compared to how I remember it being.
When we got our dog when I was 12/13, it seemed to be a simple matter of going to the kennels, picking one we liked, giving them about £30, and taking it home. Job done.
Obviously my mother was probably doing a load of stuff I was blissfully unaware of, but even so. We just knew we had to walk him, feed him, interact with him, pick up his ‘offerings’, but I don’t recall any specific instructions beyond that, or regarding how to do these things.
We used to walk my old dog Mickey (an Alsatian/Labrador cross) without a lead all the time. Granted, we lived in a remote rural area, where traffic wasn’t a concern. But he did get into fights with other dogs, quite often. Because that’s what dogs do, isn’t it?
I used to walk him for hours (little else to do at the time). Because dogs need loads of walking. Except, do they? Aren’t there limits?
He used to ride in the car with us all the time, free and easy in the boot (estate car). That was fine, wasn’t it.
Mickey was a fussy eater at first, but once he matured he’d just eat tins of pedigree chum and snaffle various leftovers from the kitchen bin of the pub we lived in.
It was all fine at the time, it seemed. But if it emerged you were doing all this with your dog now, it would likely lead to a lot of negative outcomes for you. And probably the dog.
For instance, we had to be approved before we could by Forest. They had to make sure we were a good fit and suitable dog owners. I totally approve of this, but imagine that in any other context. Having to justify that you’re capable of assembling and caring for cupboards at the checkouts in Ikea. Although maybe they do do that? Would explain why the lines are so long.
We had a whole pack of info for Forest. What to feed him, and in what quantities, at what ages. When he’s allowed out according to his vaccination schedule. How to train him to obey certain commands and adopt certain behaviours. The appropriate lead and harness combo we should get. How he should sleep. And so on, and so on.
For the record, I think this is good. Despite my earlier naff joke about Ikea, it’s great that we recognise that dogs are living creatures with their own inner lives, and are part of our family, not some ornament that sheds hair, and should be treated and cared for as such.
It’s just, rather different to my baseline assumptions, forged during my youth. I’d always seen dogs as these scrappy, scruffy, dirty but loveable creatures who would bounce back from anything. But no, they need a lot of care and maintenance.
Like, the diet thing. I knew that chocolate was bad for them, but… grapes? Apparently these are very toxic for dogs. It’s GRAPES! How can fruit be bad for you?? How long have dogs been so vulnerable to them? That answer, presumably, must be ‘forever’. Am just glad we didn’t get through much fruit while I was growing up.
And I always thought of dogs as strict carnivores. But no, Forest has actual vegetables in his dish. And fruits! Along with this dry food that claims to be suitable for wolves but which I think is overdoing it somewhat.
Ultimately, it’s over remarked that the modern world is more complex than ever. But most people saying this are referring to technology, like phones and computers and the internet, or the media/political/economic landscape.
But it seemingly applies to pets, too. However, for once I’d say this complexity is good. Incorporating a smart living creature into your family and assuming responsibility for it shouldn’t ever be something you do casually. It seems baffling now that it so often was.