Dogs and a Busy Lifestyle
In an ideal world, our dogs would travel everywhere with us. They would be welcome in restaurants, supermarkets, and they would never have to leave our sides. However, in reality there are always going to be lengths of time for which you will have to be separated from your dogs.
For some, this can be limited to just an hour or two when you have an errand to run or 'non-doggy' friends to visit. For others, mostly those dog owners who have full-time jobs, our best friends may have to be left for a few hours at a time and so for their own mental well-being it is only fair to raise them in such a way that they are used to being left for short periods of time without it causing them too much distress and with them safe in the knowledge that you will return shortly.
Of course, even for the lucky dog owners that can dedicate all of their time to their dogs, there may still be unexpected events which mean they have to be separated for longer than expected, for example stays in hospital, family crises or illness.
For some, having a dog can not seem possible alongside their full-time work commitments, however I have found that with very careful planning you can successfully raise a puppy whilst still chasing your career.
Taking on a Puppy
For the past three years I have been a full-time student, and after travelling during my first year summer break I decided it was the perfect time to take on a young puppy. After months of research into a good breeder, and checking pedigrees and health tests, I purchased a nine-week old German Shepherd puppy. As I was away when he was born, my parents and sister went to visit the litter and picked my puppy from the litter.
Taking on a puppy during my studies wasn't a decision taken lightly, and my situation was unlike most students'. I lived at home with my parents, and as I was only a bus journey away from the university, I was able to come home between lectures to let the puppy out for toilet breaks and for his short walks.
However, it still required careful planning in order to make the socialisation and raising of my puppy run smoothly alongside my studies.
Thankfully, as my academic year did not begin until October, I was able to get toilet training out of the way to the point the pup could be left for an hour or two with a frozen Kong without needing to go to the toilet and if I timed his training and exercise correctly, he would be sleeping for this period of time anyway.
Because my schedule meant I generally spent half a day at home, my puppy's training would consist of short-bursts of clicker training in the garden and then short walks where we could continue the training in more distracting environments.
As my parent's schedule matched-up with mine, it meant that the puppy was never at home alone (where he would be asleep in his crate anyway) for more than two hours, however it didn't take long for me to realise that, even with an extremely well-timed schedule, there were eventualities such as exams or essay hand-ins where my routine fell short. It was immediately obvious in my puppy's behaviour when he had been left alone for too long a period of time. Upon my return, he would be extra-playful and training that he'd usually do with ease would take longer to sink in and he'd grow frustrated during training sessions.
After a month or so of continuing with the routine (Training, walking and then leaving my puppy to sleep until my parents came home two hours later) I decided it was time for a change.
At first, I asked another family member if they could come and entertain the puppy for a while between myself leaving and my parents leaving the house; however playing with a puppy soon gets boring for people who are not as emotionally attached to your dog as you are, and as such a promise of popping in to play with a pup can often be delayed, which may not seem a lot to the person who is doing you a favour, but can make all the difference between your puppy becoming frustrated or ruining their crate training by not being able to hold it any longer and soiling their crate.
Hiring a Dog Walker
In the end, the only solution for me was to hire a dog walker, but which one? My puppy was the absolute centre of my world and it seemed so alien to hire a stranger to come into my house and take him out without my supervision. After much research, I decided I would have an initial meeting and dog-walk with a dog walker who was actually recommended to me by a few friends who had young, large dogs.
The initial meeting was important for me as I wanted to make sure anyone walking my dog would have similar dog-training ideals and would use similar methods or be happy to continue the methods I had been using with my dog. It was also important for me that this person was aware of how I wanted my dog to be exercised.
As a large breed, it is not wise to over exercise in the earlier years and agreeing with my dog walker to split one big walk into smaller portions throughout the day meant he could be exercised enough to feel tired but still kept within the restraints of what was healthy for his hips and joints.
It is also worth remembering, that if you hire a dog walker, they will have keys to your house and as such as a bare minimum they should be insured and CRB checked. Their insurance would ideally cover 3rd party damage, veterinary cover for any accidents that may happen during the walk and accidental damage to your property.
Having a dog walker enabled me to relax when out of the house knowing that my dog would be well looked after, and it also helped socialising him with a range of dogs of different sizes and personalities.
Is buying a puppy the right decision for you?
It goes without saying that I do not condone someone who works 8-6 to buy a puppy and then hire a dog walker and expect all to be A-OK. Your puppy needs time to bond with you in order for you to be an effective trainer, and frankly in order for you to get the most enjoyment out of a puppy as possible! However, with careful planning and admitting that you need help before a problem arises, it is more possible than you may think to raise a puppy around your other commitments.