What if We Practiced Dog Ownership First?


We’ve all heard the familiar pleas: “Can we get a dog?” “I want a dog, look how cute he is!” Dogs are tons of fun and having a canine companion is great, but what’s involved with owning a dog can catch a person off guard.

So how about this rogue idea for first timers or parents teaching their children – set up practice sessions (think training trials for humans) and actually do several of the things involved with being a dog guardian BEFORE actually getting a real live dog? Test the waters so to speak. A stuffed animal dog would be a light and funny surrogate, a form of “successive approximation” for dog owners! After all, people have carried around a sack of flour to simulate what it might be like to have a baby…

A sample routine to try with the kids or yourself might involve waking up an hour earlier, going for a 30-minute walk before school or work and being outside in all kinds of weather at different times of day to simulate potty breaks. Heck, even have the kids practice picking up poo with shiny new poo tools and live to tell about it!  Is there a family member who might be able to pop home midday and see how our surrogate dog (let’s call him “Rex”) is doing? After all, dogs love their people, so time apart is hard on them, but it can be made better with food puzzles, toys or chews and creating positive associations to alone time.

This could get even more authentic if we assume it’s an 8-week-old puppy! Adding nighttime potty runs to the practice schedule would be awesome! According to the guidelines, generally speaking an 8-week-old puppy can hold its potty for about 3 hours during the day, (possibly longer at night) but let’s assume it’s 3 hours for the practice runs if Rex is “empty” when put to bed. That would look like this: Go to bed at 10:00 p.m., set alarm for 1:00 a.m., get up at 1:00, go outside to the future potty spot, stand there for 10 minutes freezing to death trying not to step in “anything,” come back inside (don’t play with Rex now) then try to get back to sleep. Repeat at 4:00 a.m. Yikes! That right there might make the case for some people to consider adopting an adult dog – mission accomplished!

How far might a person go into exploring modern dog culture with these practice set ups? I say, “Knock yourself out!” You might turn some heads at the dog park with Rex so be sure to tell those “real dog” snobs not to judge! Be sure to get him out of there quickly if he seems too “popular” with the crowd being stuffed and all...

Living together with people or pets always involves a certain degree of compromise. It’s either worth it to you or it’s not. Spending a little time getting out of your current routine and practicing “what if” scenarios before bringing a sentient being into your home certainly couldn’t hurt. The more prepared you feel, the more confidence you’ll have.  (Although Rex’s perfect behavior, quiet demeanor and zero potty accidents might lull you into a false sense of security about how easy it might be.)  

Here’s what it boils down to: If you and/or your kids survive the “practice dog ownership” trials with Rex, who doesn’t give you any love in return, and you are still looking forward to bringing a new dog into your life, then you are one awesome candidate for “Pet Parent of the Year!” They say, “Practice makes perfect” but perfection is not a requirement here, just a willingness to work together and figure things out if you choose to embark on the journey. After all, your new dog will do most of the heavy lifting. 

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