How to get your dog fix without owning a dog

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18 February 2019
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You can still enjoy contact with dogs, even when you haven’t got a long-term canine companion. Julie Hill explains...

Most dog lovers have periods in their lives when they are dogless. It may be because a much-loved pet has died recently, and you’re just not ready for another dog yet, or it may be because your circumstances have changed and having a dog is not practical right now.

Whatever the reason, it’s painful. You want a dog, but you can’t currently commit to one full-time, yet that yearning for a dog won’t go away — you need a doggy ‘fix’. There are a variety of ways to satisfy your need for canine company, and many of them require no commitment.

Days out

“In terms of doggy ‘fixes’, we have summer fun days that people can go along to,” says Charlotte Longster, senior public affairs officer at canine welfare charity Dogs Trust.

“We also have Christmas fairs where some of the dogs from the centres will be out and about, getting to meet members of the public.”

Dogs Trust cares for dogs of all shapes, sizes, and ages so you’re highly likely to find your ideal dog to interact with. The days not only provide effective enrichment for the dogs, and allow people to spend time with them, they fulfil a very important purpose.

Charlotte says: “It’s about opening people’s eyes to the fact that rehoming, and giving one of these dogs a second chance, is a wonderful thing.”

Dog sledding

For those who crave speed alongside their doggy ‘fix’, a sled dog experience might be the answer. The good news is that you don’t have to travel to Alaska to enjoy the thrills of dog sledding — you only have to go as far as Tewkesbury, in Gloucestershire, where Vickie Pullin, a former member of the British snowboard cross team, offers sled dog adventures at the Arctic Quest Centre. “My main package is a two-hour experience,” explains Husky expert Vickie.

“People learn how to run the dogs, but it is also very hands-on, so the whole two hours is with the dogs; they get to meet them, fuss them, interact with them.”

Join a dog walking group

So far so good, but what if you want more regular contact with a dog, and the chance to build up a relationship? For that, you might want to consider joining a dog walking group — and, yes, some of them welcome dogless members.

Mark Rooker runs the Yorkshire Husky Meets group (YHM). “Although the group was initially set up to allow pack working dogs, predominantly Huskies, to socialise with each other, any breed of dog is allowed to attend,” explains Mark. “We have a collie and Jack Russells, to name a few, who come weekly.”

Everyone is welcome at YHM, and it offers a number of benefits. Mark says: “We have had non dog owners attend many of our walks, as well as people who are wanting to own dogs, and come along to socialise with a certain breed to get a better understanding of its temperament first rather than jumping in with both feet!

“Non dog owners can benefit from the walks in many ways, be it building self-confidence around dogs or getting a better understanding of different breeds.”

If you’d like to join a walking group, investigate online to locate one local to you.

The Sheepdog Experience

Border Collies inspire admiration and command respect for the amazing work they do — who hasn’t suffered a pang of envy at the close personal and professional bond between a shepherd and their dog? At the Mainline Border Collie Centre, in Yorkshire, you can experience the joy of becoming a team with a highly skilled sheepdog.

“The Sheepdog Experience enables people to work with a fully trained sheepdog to learn the basics of how to work a dog around sheep,” explains experienced shepherd Barbara Sykes, who has gained international honours in sheepdog trials.

“It’s an activity day, a nice, relaxing experience where everybody is an equal, because no matter how much they know about dogs, they don’t know about working Border Collies around sheep. It’s a learning curve; it’s all to do with body language and understanding the different characters of each dog and working with those characters.”

During 2019, the centre will be launching the Countryside Experience, catering for families and schools, which Barbara describes as an educational petting farm — but still with the chance to work sheepdogs.

Volunteer roles

Hearing Dogs for Deaf People is a charity that trains dogs to change the lives of deaf people. Its spokesman, David Robson, says: “Not only do we have a variety of volunteer roles, where people can spend time with our dogs, we also hold tours every Thursday of our training centres in Buckinghamshire and Yorkshire, where people can meet some of our amazing pups.

“We organise 20 Great British Dog Walks throughout the spring and early summer, where people can interact with hundreds of dogs. We welcome people without dogs to come along and take part in the walks, which can be a great way to spend some time with man’s best friend while supporting the charity and helping to change a deaf person’s life.”

Closer to home

One of the most emotionally challenging times to be without a dog is when mourning a beloved canine companion. The decision of when — or if — to get another dog is a deeply personal matter, but some people, although they have rarely been more in need of comfort, feel unable to move on with a new dog of their own. Lisa Kent, from Ely, Cambridgeshire, found herself in this position when she lost her cherished Labrador, Stella.

Having been a long-term dog owner, Lisa missed having a four-legged friend deeply, despite asking to fuss every dog she met on the street. Strangely enough though, the seeds of the relationship she needed were sown while Stella was still alive.

“When Stella’s health began to decline and we weren’t getting out much, I looked for ways to meet people to walk with; some had dogs, some didn’t,” Lisa recalls. “In a twist of fate, there was a dinner for one of these friendship groups and I ended up sitting opposite the man who was to become the love of my life, and next to an American girl who was also in a dog walking group.

“We all live quite close to each other, in the same village, so she asked if Stella and I would like to join her and her dog, Kaijah, for a walk locally. Poor Stella couldn’t keep up with the younger, healthier Weimaraner very often, but I’m pleased that she met, and was happy with, the dog I spend the most time with now. The three of us walk every week, and, if Kaijah’s mum is held up at work, I have a key and take her out or bring her back to mine for company.

“It’s not the same as having your own dog, but, for now, having Kaijah around brings fun and exercise into my life.”

Foster a dog

For those wanting slightly more time with a dog, it’s back to the charities. Dogs Trust offers fostering options. Charlotte Longster says: “People may be able to foster those dogs who find it quite difficult to be in a kennel environment.” Under the charity’s shared adoption scheme, even dogs with chronic medical problems or in extreme old age can know the comfort of living in a home environment again.

Perhaps the best-known volunteer role for a dog charity is that of puppy walker for Guide Dogs for the Blind. Rachael MacLoughlin, volunteering partner for the charity, explains: “Puppy walkers look after a puppy before they get matched with a service user, at the very early stages, from when the dog is six to eight weeks to around a year old. The puppy walker will have the puppy 24/7 and they can’t be left for more than three hours at a time, so it’s quite a time-consuming role for that one year.”

However, those who work full-time could become a boarder, a commitment of between three and six months, when the dog is one-year-old. Rachael says:

“We aim to recruit boarder volunteers within a certain distance of our offices around the UK, and they will bring the dog in Monday to Friday, at around 8am – 9am, until around 4pm – 5pm in the afternoon, to allow them to be trained with us in the day.

“You have a dog for a short amount of time, which works for a lot of dog lovers, but it’s also such a rewarding role, because you’re helping to prepare a dog for his or her working life.”

Being involuntarily dogless is not a happy state, but taking on a dog before you’re ready can lead to equal unhappiness. Luckily, lots of alternatives exist, so get creative and claim the canine companionship you crave!

Useful contacts

To find out more get in touch with…

- Dogs Trust; www.dogstrust.org.uk

- Guide Dogs; www.guidedogs.org.uk

- Hearing Dogs for Deaf People; www.hearingdogs.org.uk

- Mainline Border Collie Centre; www.bordercollies.co.uk

- Arctic Quest; www.arcticquest.co.uk

- Yorkshire Husky Meets; www.facebook.com/groups/YorkshireHuskyMeets