3 Mistakes I Made As A First-time Dog Owner

If you’re planning to get a dog, please avoid doing these things so you won’t regret later.

  1. Getting a dog just to keep you company without ever thinking of the responsibilities that come with it.

    I grew up thinking that some dogs are wild and that placing them outside the house to guard against intruders is fitting. You can’t blame me for it because that’s what I perceived growing up in my neighborhood back home. I also had this thinking that cute hairy dogs are usually fallen into the possession of rich people. Dogs are either properties or signs of social class. These misconceptions had caused me to be indifferent and ignorant towards dogs for a long time. Never in my life did I think that I would be owning one.

    I ended up having one when my husband initiated it. He was worried that I’d be lonely every time he walks out the door to work and I’m left all alone. He also dreamed of owning one. I didn’t agree when he first brought it up because I was scared that the dog might suddenly bite me or something. I witnessed someone got bitten by a dog that was owned by a family member. It was a traumatic sight that is difficult to forget. He carried on convincing me that dogs are wonderful creatures and I will change my perception once we have one. So 2 years after living here in Japan, I said yes without thinking how big of a responsibility it would be. This is definitely the very first mistake I made.

    Taking care of a dog isn’t as easy as I thought it would be. It’s also a bit pricey. We have to spend money on regular vet visits, dog food and stuff, and many other things. Then there’s this emotional aspect. Your dog won’t trust you immediately. In order to earn my dog’s trust, we have to show her kindness, feed her, play with her, walk with her, and all other things I never thought I needed to do. To be honest, I was having a hard time coping with this whole situation. I mean I wasn’t even that lonely in the first place. I think I only agreed to make my husband’s dream come true. After some time and pondering on things, I’ve learned to appreciate having our dog.

    A word of advice: don’t get a dog if you can’t keep up with its needs. It’s true that they’re amazing buddies but you have to remember that they have needs just like humans. The most important thing they need is proper training. I’m telling you that’s where I was having difficulties the most. If you can’t be totally committed to giving everything they need including positive training, you might end up giving them up which is a devastating thing to do to your own dog.
  2. No knowledge about the characteristics of the dog you’re getting.

    My husband picked a female Jack Russell Terrier because he saw her eyes looking gloomy. I saw the same thing as well so I went along with it. Unbeknown to me, my ignorance would put me to a stormy chapter of my life.

    The first night she arrived at home, she was very timid. I held her seemingly fragile body and cuddled her feeling nervous. She was 3 months old and never barked the whole night even when she was sleeping all alone in her crate downstairs. I thought it wasn’t bad at all. This dog was right for us until 3 days later. The timid dog we got was gone and turned into a tireless ball of energy. Turns out that her breed belongs to the high energy type of dogs. They’re known to be intelligent and independent. Sometimes, they can outsmart their humans. They’re small but they think they’re big. They’re feisty and love to be the center of attention. My mistake I only found out about all these things maybe a week after we got her. I couldn’t keep up with her energy, gave me headaches. What made me more disappointed about being ignorant is learning that they have the tendency to be unfriendly with other dogs if not properly socialized which we didn’t do well. We had no idea how proper socialization works among puppies. When she was less than a year old, we took her to dog parks thinking it would be fun for her but there were times that what we thought were okay for her to experience didn’t define proper socialization at all. My heart breaks whenever I remember all those episodes. Now she’s 2 years old and is having problems being near other dogs except for those she already knows. This one particular fact gives me hope that one day, she’ll be fine meeting all other dogs. I shed tears due to frustration a few times thinking that I might not be able to help her with her anxiety when seeing strange dogs. But after educating myself with her breed qualities, common behavior problems, and solutions to curb the unwanted behavior, the stormy chapter of my life is now becoming sunny. My advice is that if you can’t be 100% patient, pick a low energy and easy to train dog.
  3. Using aversive tools/methods as solutions to curb unwanted behavior.

    The worst mistake you could ever make is thinking that it’s okay only because it is quick. You think they’re quick solutions but they’re not serving your pet well, emotionally speaking. Again, our ignorance led us to using one of those tools. We used an anti-bark device when Sushi started to discover her voice. Jack Russell Terriers are also loud dogs. When not properly trained, they bark at things that upset, scare, or even excite them. During our first night camping with her, she barked for hours and hours. We were clueless that time so my husband consulted the internet and these “quick solutions” came up. That was the beginning of a terrible mistake. These anti-bark devices or ultrasonic dog bark device control work by discharging a high-pitched sound when activated. They come in different types. Like collars or hanging figures. They detect barking and emit a high-pitched sound in response that only your dog can hear. I noticed that Sushi would flinch at it. She would stop barking only for a few minutes and would appear terrified with her brows furrowed. It didn’t help her after using for over 2 months. I felt something was wrong.

    So I started doing some readings and I discovered a compassionate way to teach her not to bark at things. It’s called positive reinforcement training. Things have changed since then. Sushi is now showing us her trust and recognizing us as her humans. I’m still working on her anxiety towards strange dogs. I know it will take time but I won’t give up. After realizing how wrong we were, I promised myself to make up for the fear or psychological pain we caused her.

    If you’re having trouble getting your new dog to listen to you, I beg you to read about positive reinforcement method or see a dog trainer or visit a training center that advocates that kind of method. Using “quick fix tools” may seem to work for a short period of time but not in the most benevolent way and they can certainly hurt the bond between you and your dog. Take it from me, it’s really a sad path to go down to.

    I wish I could turn back time. Had I educated myself first before deciding on something that made a big impact on my life, things would have been totally different. I don’t regret having a dog. I regret that my ignorance contributed to my dog’s anxiety. We could have had a beautiful beginning. On the bright side, I’m thankful for stumbling on videos of dog trainers who believe that training your dog has to be in a humane way. They have saved our relationship with our dog.

    This is our Sushi posing after running and walking around the baseball field.

Author: Sheryl Gim

1990 | Filipino living in Japan | Believer in love | Bitten by the travel bug | Caffeine intolerant

37 thoughts

  1. Hi, I too am a first time dog owner – a rescue dog from Nose in Japan (context: Im an expat from Britain living in Japan for about four years now).
    He is Hokkaido mix, 6 years old, never lived indoors before and a joyous handful! Your information is excellent and I too have encountered some of these points. Although my biggest issue was chewing in the form of separation anxiety and sheer fear of living in a city.
    While we still have a long way to go when we are walking outside – the level of chewing destruction has, fingers crossed, become a thing of the past (all expensive clothing is on high alert).

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    1. Thank you for saving him. I’m glad he’s in safe hands now. Congratulations on doing a good job with his chewing issues. I think with constant positive reinforcement, an issue will certainly be resolved. My dog fortunately overcame her separation anxiety after a short period (but every single day for about 6-7 months) of training. She’s fine now if left alone for hours given she has had at least 2 hours of physical exercise. Separation anxiety can be a very difficult thing to tackle for other dogs. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I hope to hear from you more often. Good luck to us. If you don’t mind my asking, where are you in Japan? We’re in Saitama.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi! We are based in Kyoto, pretty much in the center. My cousin, who has never been without at least five dogs at any one time in his entire adult life, told me that your first dog is whom you learn the most from. They give you the most love and support and teach you everything there is to know about looking after a dog.. the rest is adapting to different personalities.
        Im so glad to hear your dogs getting better – honestly it never goes away, we just manage it better for them, even now Sas follows me around the apartment and I’m never out of his sight. Just the way he likes it!

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        1. Good point. I sometimes think that some things are just their personality. Like my dog, Sushi, I’ve found out that she’s selective when it comes to meeting dogs. At first I thought she never liked to be around all dogs. But when she met our neighbor’s dog for the first time, I was totally surprised that she didn’t bark at all. They played together like they knew each other already. That reassured me that Sushi wasn’t a very problematic dog. Now I’m just learning how to manage her barking outbursts when meeting dogs that she isn’t comfortable with. My only challenge with this inevitable situation is when the owners are not so understanding. I’ve been yelled at a few times. Quite embarrassing but I’m learning to grow a thicker skin. lol

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          1. Sas is exactly the same, however he is a little more indifferent to dogs who approach him, rather than bark he walks away or hides behind me. To pre empt the barking which he does like to do on occasion, I distract him.
            I get right in front of him with a high value treat, get him to watch me, give him a kiss on the head then give him the treat – by that time the other dog owner has passed by and Sas has thoroughly ignored the other dog.
            I dont know if this would help at your end – you have to have high situational awareness of whats around you while simultaneously not freak out as dogs can feel it down the leash.

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          2. To be fair you would think that Sas is highly trained. He is not. Much to my continually amused despair. His breed is very independent and definitely has a mind of his own. It’s more a negotiation with Sasuke than a traditional dog and owner relationship ad there has been more than one occasion where I have just stood in the middle of Kyoto laughing at my dog for being stubborn and silly (he didn’t want to go home so petulantly sat on the reeds on the bank of the river – went to roll over and fell into the river having completely misjudged the amount of embankment there was left. I was in hysterics!)
            As for other dog owners, the best thing to do is ignore them – no one is perfect and so long as you are working with Sushi to reduce her stress levels and barking at other dogs the other owners should mind their own business and be grateful you are being a responsible owner.

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          3. Sas seems to be very much like Sushi. I sometimes feel like I’m a slave. lol
            Right, I should also learn not to be too emotional when meeting angry dog owners. I’m working on it.
            I appreciate you taking the time to have this valuable conversation with me here.

            Liked by 1 person

          4. Yes, I do something like that. I’ve learned it from a dog trainer on YouTube. For now, it only works when the other dog is at a distance. I’ve been working on being calm when that happens. The only thing that makes me nervous is when the owner gets angry at me especially if they’re ojisan. It’s a bit disappointing when you’ve heard things like “Japanese people are really kind.” The interesting part is that they don’t yell at me when my husband is with us.

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          5. If it helps, I have been in your shoes and the angry dog owner and Im more than happy to help! Anytime! (sorry this is a long post – Ive been working the past three days & haven’t had chance to check!)

            When I was the angry dog owner, it was because Sas and I were walking along the river and from around a corner, this tiny Black and Tan chihuahua comes barking and snapping at Sas and goes straight for his hind legs (the chihuahua wasn’t on a lead and didn’t have a harness on either).
            Sas doesn’t like other dogs and in the moment he was really shaken. I pulled him around me and got in front got the chihuahua and was about to kick it ( I dont advocate violence of any sort however if its between the injury of my dog vs theirs – its going to be their dog).
            Thats when I heard ‘Sumimasen’, so I yelled back ‘wheres its goddamn lead??!!’ and all I got back was ‘Sumimasen’. I told the owners in no uncertain terms that Sumimasen doesn’t cut it.
            They picked the chihuahua up, still barking and being aggressive in their arms, and I marched off with Sas to check for injuries. Mercifully he was ok. Just shaken.
            Other times I just walk on by and praise Sas as he ignores the other dogs. He is my focus, not the other owners.

            Being Ojisan doesn’t automatically give them the right to be rude or nasty. One Ojisan went to hit Sas, as he was walking calmly next to me, with his walking stick. So I made to throw Sas’s full poop bag at him. He got the hint and stormed off. No-one has the right to be mean to you or little Sushi. Ever.
            I am Sasuke’s pack and he is mine. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for him-even if it gets me into trouble 🙂

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          6. I’d be angry in that situation, too. The owners were being irresponsible. I’d never let my dog wander off leash if I knew she had the tendency to attack other dogs. My Sushi isn’t the aggressive type. She just barks. I’ve met kind dog owners that let their dogs come near us while Sushi was barking and telling her “daijoubudayo”. Like they were trying to help her calm down. Sushi didn’t try to nip their dogs. Some of them would just laugh. And these owners are usually Obasan. 😀

            I truly admire how much you love Sasuke. The world needs more people like you.

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  2. Thank you so much for sharing this. I started a DOG blog too. I believe that we can take many important lessons from dogs, such as unconditional love and loyalty. I am looking forward to meeting more dog/animal lovers. 🙂

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  3. We always had dogs in my family when I was a kid in the US. One of only two times I ever saw my dad shed a tear was when one of our dogs died. So it’s absolutely true that they can become “family”. But it’s also true that they’re not humans, so understanding how they see the world isn’t easy.

    That said, I’d love to have a dog. But like your last commenter, I’ve never kept one as an adult since I know it’s more of a personal commitment than I could make. So kudos to you for hanging in there. Sushi is a lucky dog.

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    1. It’s definitely a lifelong personal commitment. I can’t imagine how your dad felt. All I can do is to prepare myself for that moment (if Sushi won’t outlive me). Thanks for your kind words. Very encouraging!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I agree that dogs or any animals shouldn’t be replacement for somebody. But, at other side, I don’t see any wrong to love and treat pet as babies or part of family member. Perhaps I have such emotional attachment toward my fur babies.
    Beside responsible, one also needs commitment to take care the dog until the dog passed away because it is a living creature. These commitments are including the amount of money that you willing to spend for it, for example: feeding it with ‘proper’ good food. Health care such as regular vet visit, emotional health such as spending time to play, caring about its psychological need and etc.
    I might sound harsh, but I really look down those people who give up their pet easily over the trivial matter. For example: I don’t want to pet my dog anymore because she isn’t cute anymore or she is so naughty, biting the furniture, shoes, and bla bla….
    Well, just my two cents.

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    1. You have every right to be upset at those kind of people.
      You’re right that dogs should be treated as family but not to the extent that you treat them as humans. I don’t really appreciate those dog owners who dress up their dogs. They think it’s cute but it’s not really comfortable for the dogs.
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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    2. Oh, my cat is a member of my family. What I want to say, it is not useful to use a cat or dog as a replacement for somebody, this does not work.
      For old people a dog is a reason to go outside, move, walk and still be active. This will increase the health and they have somebody they can care about.

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      1. I get your point and I totally agree with you. My dog is my best friend and she causes me to be more physically active. But I don’t treat her like a human being, like dressing her up just to appear cute. Thanks for sharing your wonderful thoughts!

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  5. Good on you for sticking it out and adapting. There are so many dog owners out there who don’t, and it’s always the dog that pays for it. I’ve had many dogs in my life, some of whom have had some bad habits they needed to be trained out of. It’s hard work, but worth it in the end. Unfortunately, much as I’d love to have a dog now, I’ve chosen not to, as I travel a lot, and don’t feel it’s fair to kennel them for a month or more at a time. But I look forward to the day I adopt another fur kid.

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