What I Learned from Dog-Sitting for a Week

This past week, a kind neighbor asked if my children would like to dog-sit for a week while their family was on vacation.  We have talked about getting a dog sometime in the future and thought this would be a great test-run for us to see what caring for a dog is like.

The dog we had the privilege of watching is a complete sweetheart and probably close to the ideal dog for my children.   It was small and easily manageable, extremely gentle and not aggressive, and just generally very sweet.

Here are a few things we learned from taking care of a dog for a week:

1)      Organization Helps.  Since I have never owned a dog before, my poor neighbor had to answer a ton of questions for me about dog care.  Our dog-owning neighbors warned us that taking care of a dog is much like having another child.  I wasn’t quite anticipating how many things we would need to monitor for the dog, like when it ate and how often if went to the bathroom.  It would have helped to have a checklist on our fridge to make sure we had taken care of all the basics.  Sometimes it was hard to remember things like when the last time the dog was out for a walk.

Based on my experience, I created the dog-sitting worksheet below.  Feel free to use or share it for your own dog-sitting efforts.  It would be great if the owner filled this out and gave it to the dog-sitter.

Also, thinking about space planning in your home helps too.  For the first few days, confining the dog to a smaller area of your home helps since the dog is adjusting to you and might have accidents.  When you take the dog outside, it helps to have two sets of doors between you and the outside to prevent escapes.  For example, we always made sure the back gate was closed before we opened the back door.

2)      Dogs Eat Almost Nothing.   When you are used to feeding people, feeding a dog seems almost too simple.  The dog we were watching ate only about 2/3 cup of food daily!  It seems astounding that an energetic creature can sustain itself on so little food. We had to remind our children that the dog only ate twice a day and that we didn’t need to fill the bowl every time it was empty.

3)      Dogs Get Lonely.  Dogs love to interact with people and when they are left alone they miss you and give you sad looks.  I found so many parallels between the dog and my 8-month old son in this regard.

4)      Dogs are Great Motivators for Exercise.  As we contemplate the obesity problem in this country, we might look to our canine friends for help.  As far as I know, you can’t really exercise a dog too much.  They LOVE to go for walks and they are so EXCITED about going–jumping up and down, grabbing the leash, etc.  It is easy to motivate yourself to walk when you have such an excited friend who appreciates the favor.  Dr. Andrew Weil wrote a touching article about how dogs have changed his life and how they alleviate depression and promote exercise in many people.  If you don’t want the responsibility of owning your own dog, you could always ask a neighbor if you could walk their dog for exercise.

5)      It’s easy to get attached to a dog.  The dog has been gone for about 24 hours now and I am having to retrain my brain not to worry about feeding and walking it or waking up early to let it out.  In such a short period of time, the dog became a part of our family.  We looked forward to seeing how excited it would be when we got home and it was a great companion on walks.

So, while we aren’t yet ready to take on dog ownership just yet (we definitely need a fenced yard first), it was a fun experiment and we are grateful for the opportunity.

Are you a pet owner?  What would you add to my dog-sitting checklist?  How do pets enrich your life?  Please share in the comments.