In an effort to put off the inevitability of getting a dog, my husband and I have become occasional dog sitters for our friends when they go on vacation, inviting the dogs (and their crates, toys, and assorted paraphernalia) into our apartment for anywhere from one night to 10.
It's a win-win, really: We get to enjoy the perks of having a dog without a long-term commitment, our kids stop their daily begging for a dog, and our pet-owning friends save a small fortune on doggie daycare.
Here are five big lessons I learned from my life as an occasional dog-sitter.
Wanna meet your neighbors? Get a dog
I've lived in my building for nearly four years and have two kids here. There are a ton of families in the building, and while we often smile at each other, I don't know most of these people's names. But as soon as I started walking around with a dog on a leash, the neighbor conversation just flowed. My dog-owning neighbors seemed to remember the dog's name better than my kids' names. There's a community in our building that revolves around dogs, and you're not getting in until you have one.
Neighbors and barking dogs don't go together
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This last time around, the dog we watched, a Maltese, was a little yappy, but surprisingly our neighbors didn't complain about the barking. But when we dog-sat for my sister's more clingy dog, the doorman got complaints from our neighbors that the dog was crying and barking while we were out.
Were they overreacting? I really don't know, but I suspect this would be an issue if we became full-time dog owners, and something we'd have to be proactive about to avoid complaints to building management. Friends of ours have put cameras near their dogs' crates to confirm their neighbors' complaints, and then either paid for dog trainers to cut back on the barking or put them in doggie day care. Both are expensive options.
Doormen and dogs may go together
Before we offered to dog-sit for some friends, they'd planned to leave their dog in the care of one of their doormen. New York City doormen are often asked to feed dogs or walk dogs, and can be a potential substitute for a walker, so if you have a doorman, it might be worth talking to him before you buy or adopt a dog to see if this is a possibility (for a fee, of course). That could save you a serious headache.
The size of the dog doesn't matter much when it comes to space
We've watched nearly every kind of dog, from a five-pound Maltese to a 40-pound Labrador, and while conventional wisdom suggests that a larger dog takes up more room in a small New York apartment, it actually doesn't quite feel that way. Sure, the crates are smaller with the smaller dogs, but the pens, toys, balls, food, and water bowls are basically the same.
I remember someone once telling me that larger dogs actually tend to seem like they hog less space in an apartment because they spend more time sleeping at the foot of the couch and less time running around. In my experience, that's proven true.
You're not going to get away dog-walker-free
Even though I work from home most days, I still found myself away from the dog for more than five hours—the interval that Miller the Maltese could go without a trip outside—a couple of times a week.
Luckily, there's a woman in my building who walks dogs for $15, a bargain compared to the more common $20 fee. I find it hard to imagine that anyone without a backyard could survive entirely without a dog walker or doggie daycare. So remember to plan for those expenses before you visit a shelter or breeder.
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