Are you an unlikely dog owner? (UDO) Someone who never pictured themselves scooping poop on a regular basis, but who somehow fell into the trap of getting a family dog?
Five years in and I still struggle to identify myself as a dog owner per se. I wasn't brought up with dogs, which appears to be the natural path to Dog Ownership and my husband is certainly not what you'd call a Dog Man (his idea of walking gear constitutes a pair of Converse).
If questioned if he is, in fact, a "Dog Owner", he has been known to forget, quickly adding "Oh hang, on, yes, a small one", referring of course to the size of the hound, rather than his stake in her ownership.
It's cool. I joke about us being a one parent dog family, but he was never going to be a hands on Doggy Daddy and I am at peace with that fact now.
It came from nowhere this sudden urge for a four legged addition to the family. I think secretly I was harbouring desires for another child and this felt like the next best thing. So it was me who nagged, me who fell in love with a ball of fluff on one of those casual "just going to see a friend's puppies" kind of days. It was me that returned to see the litter with the kids, knowing that they would multiply my puppy pestering by a million. And it was me that stood in the garden in my nightie and wellies at 5am every freezing January morning begging her to wee. I wasn't cool with being a one parent dog family on those mornings, believe me.
So bringing Betsy into our lives was all my doing, and - unlikely as it may once have seemed - now, me and the hound, have an unbreakable bond that I have discovered has made me a better person. Even the Unlikely Doggy Daddy (UDD) is grateful to her for that.
If you're thinking of getting a dog you may well (as I did) have thought of the dog bed in the Cath Kidston catalogue that will add some country kitsch to the kitchen. You may have thought of the attention that will be gained from having the cutest of all accessories walking adoringly to heel. You may have considered the extra weight loss you are bound to enjoy from clocking up all those extra steps on your FItbit. All the these points I have found to be bonuses of dog owning, but it's not until this week, when my mum took Betsy and the boys off camping for a week, that I realised quite how much I missed the yappy, needy little mite and appreciated exactly how much she brings to the party.
These are the things my fellow potential UDO's and all their reluctant UDD's need to know:
1) Dogs only want your time.
OK, they want your food too, but they like your time the most. And no matter what you're doing, how busy your day is panning out, or how little you feel like trudging out in the rain, you have to give it to them otherwise they have the right to shit in your house.
My Betsy is the considerate kind and after pawing on my leg for half an hour whilst I finished off a copywriting job the other morning, her natural needs got the better of her. Once back from the walk and perplexed at why she hadn't toileted, I discovered her memo in the downstairs loo. The downstairs loo, I ask you! Was she wondering around, her bowels bulging, thinking.... "Maybe if I go in here like they do, it will all be okay?"
And I swear if she were bigger she'd have tried to get it in the pan. Bless her, she looked bereft at my discovery and so, of course, I was all cuddles. She only asked for my time and I let her down. So I'm really trying not to say "In a minute" quite as much to the dog AND the kids. Sometimes I do it 'cos I'm too busy to even listen and that should never be an excuse, right?
2) Dogs LOVE routine
Now if you were one of those parents who mastered the clockwork baby books, you'll be totally cool with owning a dog. No surprise that I wasn't. I remember there being a sort-of-plan at the beginning of each day with my newborn babies, but as the starts got earlier and earlier, things went to pot. By lunchtime, we were tired and dirty. By tea time we were both weeping, sleep starved wrecks. This won't happen with dogs. They can work around your schedule really quite well - they are the kings of the power nap. But all I'm saying is, they like to operate to a basic plan. And the better the plan, the better behaved they are.
They expect dinner on the table/floor at the usual time and can get quite irritated if it doesn't happen, regardless of whether you threw them a chunk of KitKat half an hour ago. This is when chewing of shoes etc might happen so if you love your Louboutins as much as your Labrador, keep up to mealtimes. K?
My dog has forced me to organise my day so that I can feed and walk her at roughly the same time, making her the only one who has managed to bring structure to my chaos.
3) No one is ever more pleased to see you than your dog.
The thing I am hating most about this week without the pooch is opening the door to.... nothing. I'm even missing the whiff that sometimes accompanies her (though I'd like you to know, she is very well groomed).
If you think about that feeling you get when you do the school pick up and your child runs at you like a wildcat and jumps into your arms. Then imagine this every single time you walk through the door, no matter if you just left 10 minutes earlier and came back because you forgot your purse. Dogs are literally THIS pleased to see you ALL the time. Coming home this week sucks, so next week I'm going to try being really, REALLY pleased to see people I love and see what difference it makes to their wellbeing.
4) Dogs don't sweat the small stuff.
Five minutes before school run is the worst time of day for Betsy. It's all that screeching about teeth and shoes and lost tuck shop money that does her nut in. But it's not the boys' lack of organisation that upsets her, she couldn't care less whether they go to school in flip flops (another great thing about dogs see point 5 below). No, Betsy is distraught at the high pitch tones and the flapping of arms and the general stomping around that accompanies all the uncomplimentary words that are being exchanged. She just wants peace, man and so she slopes off into another room or, if possible, under the gates and round the corner to Grandma's house where she can find some zen.
In short, dogs give less fucks and I'm trying really hard to do the same.
5) Dogs do not care what you look like
If Betsy looks me up and down disapprovingly, it's because I'm wearing signs that I may be going out. High heels are an instant giveaway. She's not a huge fan of short skirts either. But otherwise, she loves me just as much whether I've just come back from the hairdressers looking perfectly coiffeured or when I've got 3-inch roots and a severe attack of acne. A dog's love is unconditional or else, if she minds the spots and the bad hair, then she's way too polite to tell me. Either lesson is one I could learn from.
6) Dogs do not underestimate their worth.
Betsy likes to let it be known that I am her property. She may look like something you made at Build A Bear, but she has the heart of a lion. 'Aint nobody messing with this pint sized Princess.
The other stuff that I, the Unlikely Dog Owner, didn't bank on is less endearing, but equally important to bear in mind if you are considering a family dog. It's this shizz that you just have to learn to deal with:
1) Dogs puke. And if you don't like human sick, you will HATE dog sick.
2) You will scrape a lot more poo off your shoe and ten times more poo off your kid's shoes than you ever thought possible.
3) Dogs ladder your tights (though I toyed with the idea of putting this in the good points section since tights should really be banned anyway)
4) Dogs bark and it can be quite loud and annoying, especially when you're on the phone. Some dogs bark more than others mind, so do your homework first if you don't like a howler.
5) Dogs make you late for the party and also make you leave it. Dogs and social lives don't mix too well.
6) Dogs give you guilt trips. Puppy dog eyes is an inaccurate term because big, sad, tear filled eyes are not just for puppies, they NEVER grow out of them. And those eyes will haunt you... when you just ordered one last drink for the road... when you're lying on your sunbed and they are 15,000 miles away in kennels... when you're stuck in a 5-mile tailback and you thought things were stressful enough. See, you can't text them or send them a kissy face emoji to apologise for being late. On the plus side, however, the dumb hound can't tell the time and (see Point 3, Section 1) they are more likely to lick you to death than scream at you when you get home, so the stress is unnecessary.
I hope this post has helped one or two of you who may be wondering if you've really thought this whole dog thing through. Of course, all dogs are different with different personalities, just like humans (who knew?) Choose your breed carefully and rest assured, just like you weirdly end up finding a dog that looks like you, you'll find that they seamlessly blend into your surroundings too...
Apologies if you were hoping for cutting edge interior news this week, I know this one is a bit off piste, but I thought I'd try it all the same.
Come back soon Betsy, mummy misses you. Oh, wait - we didn't cover off the UDD's nemesis... Excruciating Doggy-Voices? No matter what you tell yourself, you will get one. Own it.
Has this helped? Drop me a line in the comments section, I'd love to hear from you. Doggy owners or not.