GRAHAM THOMPSON, Technical Editor of Trail Magazine is also a fully qualified pet behaviour counsellor. This month: A dog is for life, not just for Christmas
Whether it’s a car sticker, leaflet or TV advertising, the words “A dog is for life, not just for Christmas” are hard to miss during the winter months. The slogan was coined back in 1978 by Clarissa Baldwin, then Chief Executive of The National Canine Defence League, the former name of the Dog’s Trust. It was needed to highlight the plight of dogs and puppies that are adopted each Christmas into new homes and then abandoned or handed over to rescue centers over the months of January to March.
Dogs or puppies are often acquired on a whim. In part this is due to the breeding process of domestication that has resulted in dogs that are exceptionally cute and difficult to resist, as their eyes stare longingly back at you from the pages of an advert, the bars of a kennel or the images on a breeder’s website. Also, anything new and novel is fun and interesting to humans, it’s how we are. So, like the latest iPhone, the promise that your new dog or puppy is a must-have that you will never part with is hard to resist.
Causes do vary, but could be summarised as owners not knowing enough about what’s needed to ensure their pet’s health and welfare. One common misconception is the amount of time and effort that goes into keeping a pet. The PDSA PAW Report reveals that 4.8 million owners found their pets harder work than expected. This can result in animals being rehomed or abandoned when owners find themselves unable to cope. Many also underestimate the cost of ownership, with many people believing their pet would only cost up to £500 over their entire lifetime. In fact, a dog typically costs between £21,000 and £33,000 over their lifetime, so that is around £2,000 to £3,000 a year for dogs that live for 10 years.
Another major cause for abandoning dogs is behaviour problems, and these problems are often associated with buying pets from unsuitable sources such as puppy farms or breeders that don't provide appropriate socialisation and habituation to novelty. When these dogs go to their new homes and explore the world around them with their owners, these dogs find it very frightening which often leads to barking, lead-pulling or aggression as the animal attempts to stay safe.
The lives of dogs that develop behaviour problems are often made worse by owners receiving inappropriate training guidance. These problems then become too challenging to live with for many owners, and the result is the dog is abandoned, rehomed or even euthanized. To safeguard the welfare of your pet and to be confident that your own concerns are treated respectfully, DEFRA and the Government refer to the Animal Behaviour and Training Council (ABTC) with respect to trainers and behaviourists and you can find them at abtcouncil.org.uk
For hillwalkers, a dog needs to be happy to meet lots of dogs and people and to travel to different places, so only a well socialised and well habituated dog is going to be able to cope with this level of variety.
Hillwalkers won’t always be able to take their dogs with them, as they may want to go trekking abroad, climb a route that is too difficult, or walk in areas where dogs are not allowed. So this means that all dogs need to learn to be happy when left on their own for a few hours each day. This training needs to begin during puppy hood so they don't bark, chew the furniture or try to escape when left in a different room or when their owners leave the home for a few hours.
It’s also important to consider where you will leave the dog when you go away, and who will care for the dog. Are there family members who can help, or will you have to book the dog into kennels regularly? This may be stressful for the dog if it does not learn from a young age to enjoy being left in these locations, or with these people. But there are also finances to consider as kenneling dogs regularly can become costly.
Finally, all dogs need plenty of training. This is required daily from the day you obtain the dog or puppy, not just for a few months, and it needs to be consistent for years. This is because, like their owners, dogs are learning all the time which means they will soon learn to ignore their owners if you give them reason to do so, maybe by being inconsistent or using poor training methods.
Dogs are without doubt the absolute best hill walking companions I know of, but they take commitment that may extend from 10 to 15 or more years, so they are not something to take on board casually during a whim; truly a dog is for life, not just for Christmas.
If you want to help make a difference to the lives of Dogs that have, through no fault of their own, ended up needing to be rehomed OR if you need help and advice with your own 4-legged companion CLICK here: Dog's Trust