9 Things I’ve Learned About Owning A Dog

Everybody, meet River*!


I have never owned a dog before.  River is a rescue who came into our lives almost two months ago, and it’s been two months of bafflement, anxiety, frustration, and joy.  Small things, like her pooping while going on a walk, were cause for celebration for several weeks.  (She didn’t want to poop when people were around.) It’s taken her some time to get used to our work schedule, but now we have fun playtime romps when Kevin and I get home from work.  Toys are an ongoing source of confusion for her – since she didn’t grow up with them, she doesn’t really know what they’re for.

It’s sad, but that’s where she is in her life, and now it’s our responsibility to re-dog-ify her as well as possible.

And, given the stories we’ve heard of other rescue dogs, River is doing amazing.  We know people whose dogs:

  • didn’t eat for the first four days
  • have chewed holes in furniture
  • howl and panic when the owners leave
  • have terrible resource guarding issues

Judging by the fact that our room is still intact when I get home, we think River does okay with being left alone.  Her worst crimes are trying to eat the cat food and (we suspect) sleeping on the bed during the day (bad dog!).  Overall, she’s incredibly sweet, very smart, and all-around great.

Just…slightly troublesome.

Since other first-time dog owners may also be interested in adopting a rescue, I thought I should share some of my newly-gained (and still-being-accrued) wisdom.

1) Never, ever leave them unattended with a rawhide bone, or they will eat the entire thing while you’re at work, despite showing minimal interest in it earlier.  The Internet will tell you this could result in perforated intestines from shards of bone, but luckily, in our case it was just a case of $4 being ingested in a matter of hours rather than days.

2) Everything is scary.  Chihuahuas.  Blinds opening and closing.  Rustling food bags.  Having to go down stairs.  Flags blowing gently in the breeze. Things being plugged in.  Me flailing as I wriggle out of a pullover jacket.

Move slowly and quietly and reassure the dog frequently that the door closing somewhere else in the house is not going to hurt them.


But seriously, she was shy and terrified when she first came to us. This is from her first weekend with us and it reminds me how much progress we’ve made, even if we still have a long ways to go.

3) They have no idea how big they are.  They will step on you, head-butt you, and occasionally run over the cat simply because they don’t have a clear concept of their size.  They will also run up the stairs directly behind you, plowing into your legs and threatening to knock you over, because the idea that there might be room for both of you, side by side, on the same step, is something they can’t quite grasp.

4) Still enjoy sleep? Don’t get a rescue dog.  River sleeps in her kennel at the foot of our bed.  She likes her kennel, but something about us being in bed and her not being able to see us makes her anxious, which results in a lot of scratching and grooming.  Very noisy grooming.  We got a white-noise app, which has helped a lot, but she’s still scratching a lot (advice, anyone?).  At least she’s over her habit of sticking her nose in my ear at 3 in the morning.

Dogs are creatures of habit – much like cats, only larger and harder to ignore when they want your attention at 6am on a weekend.  They like routine.  Establish your routine accordingly.

5) Prepare for your life to smell like dog.  I seriously don’t know what to do when fall/winter returns and we can’t keep the windows open.  We’ll get into Scentsy, I guess.

6) Get ready to spoil them.  River doesn’t understand toys yet, so we’re treating that particular malady by buying her tons of toys in hopes of finding one she figures out.  Kongs, balls you can fill with kibble, rope toys, and squeaky stuffed animals have all been purchased and demonstrated.  She’s not interested in the rope or tug-0′-war, but man, fill that Kong with peanut butter and you can keep her distracted for ages.  The ball-o’-kibble is great for while we’re at work, too.

As for the squeaky toys…well, she’s more interested in dismembering them, so until we’re certain she won’t eat any pieces of them, she doesn’t get any more stuffed animals.  I’d be more than happy to lavish hundreds of dollars of indestructible Kong products on her, so long as it got her to be happy and carefree and dog-like.

7) Do your research when it comes to food.  Her foster parents brought us a bag of food and a small bag of treats.  She’s on a grain-free diet in hopes of making her less itchy, but grain-free narrows the field a bit.  We were happy to have a couple of brands to choose from – until the time came to buy her new treats, at which point I discovered that particular brand of treat has a nasty reputation, and almost every dog food brand has been recalled at one point or another.

You may choose to make your dog’s food, or go with a raw diet, or say “screw it” and buy whatever’s on sale that week because trying to figure out who’s been recalled, for what, and when, and how much other brands are, and which brands your dog actually likes, is insanely complicated.  We’re just going to try to be more vigilant about what brand we’re going with.

8) Don’t get discouraged when social interactions or outings don’t go the way you’d hoped.  There’s a method for introducing your shy dog to new people, and some meetings may be more successful than others.  River has hung out in big groups before and done just fine, but she was shy and anxious when she met my sister one-on-one.  Reward the good days!

9) When going on walks, always bring all the poop bags.

*(If your question is Tam or Song, the answer is: both!)

6 thoughts on “9 Things I’ve Learned About Owning A Dog

  1. Ha! I had experiences like this with Flat Tire because she’s the first cat I’ve ever had and she’s a wee little monster, yes she is. I STILL don’t understand why she seems to enjoy getting kicked or stepped on when she darts between my legs in an effort to get to the next room before I do. I walk very carefully these days.

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  3. Awww, I still can’t wait to meet her. A couple of suggestions for the itching – both vitamin E and fish oil are great for skin health (plus the fish oil will help prevent sore joints as she gets older); benadryl and some allergy pills are okay for dogs too, though checking with a vet first is always a good idea; and when I was a kid we used coal tar shampoo (T-Gel and such) on our dog who had serious skin issues, that seemed to help a lot. Good luck!

    • We have been giving her fish oil pills, but we won’t see the results on that for another couple weeks. Good to know they’ll help her joints later! And we have to give her baths every other week because she’s got enough lab in her to make her greeeeeasy. 😉

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