Are You Ready for a Puppy or Dog?

By Karen Peak

Everyone thinks their breed or cross is the greatest. However, what is right for your family or lifestyle may not be right for someone else. Before you run out and get a dog you must stop and look at your lifestyle. Take a moment and read the following to help you decide if a dog will fit into your life. Are you prepared for a puppy or dog?
  1. Time Commitment: How much time each day do you have to devote to the animal? Are you willing to commit to the dog for the dog's life? What if you have to move? Puppies require far more work than adults. You must make time for classes, training, socializing, and activities. To get a puppy or dog and then leave him in a backyard with no socialization or effort on your part is cruel. Dogs are social animals and do best when part of the family. If you cannot devote time to raising baby, ensuring your dog is well trained and socialized for the next ten to fifteen years or more, do not get one. Remember that one series of obedience classes does not a trained dog make. Training and learning lasts the life of the dog.
  2. Human Medical Issues: Are there any allergies or medical conditions in your family that could cause issues resulting in having to get rid of the dog? No breed is truly hypoallergenic. People with serious problems may not be able to tolerate ANY breed - regardless of what someone's ad would lead you to believe. If there are suspected health concerns, consult a doctor before considering a pet.
  3. Cost: Can you afford a dog? Getting the puppy or dog is not the big expense. It is what follows that can drain your wallet: buying the crate and other necessary supplies; puppy inoculations every few weeks while the puppy is young; training classes (any where from $30 to over $100 depending on where you go); annual wellness checks and inoculations; feeding (the bigger the dog the bigger the food bill); medical emergencies (can easily run hundreds of dollars if not more). I spent $100 to adopt a dog and closer to $300 getting a big enough crate, enrolling in classes (yes, even instructors take their dogs to classes), vet checks, leash, collar, and extra toys. The dog was the cheap part!
  4. Housing: Can you properly house the dog? Being chained in the back yard with a hut and water is not proper housing. Dogs are social animals and pets really should be part of the family pack. If you cannot make a dog a family member, keep him safely inside when you are not home and let him have plenty of exercise in a safely fenced area, reconsider. It is cruel to a dog to leave him outside all the time. Also, these dogs are more prone to become nuisance barkers and victims of "pranks" or theft.
  5. Lifestyle: What is your lifestyle like? Are you an active family that spends time hiking and camping or going for long walks? Are you more sedentary? Some breeds require a lot of exercise daily — both physical and mental. The half hour walk given to a Bulldog is far from adequate for a Border Collie. A Bulldog will not be able to handle the strenuous hours of daily workouts a Border Collie requires. Research any breed thoroughly before getting — use several different sources as well. What one person or even a vet says about a breed may be totally erroneous. Look at books devoted to the breed; many breed-specific dog clubs have websites with plenty of information, etc. If you are looking at a cross, research the breeds you know are in the cross to give you an idea of what you are getting. And bear in mind that small does not equal less energy. Some giant breeds have lower activity level than many smaller breeds. Size is not always relevant when it comes to how much energy and exercise a dog requires.
  6. Grooming: What about grooming? All dogs need grooming — even hairless breeds! Some breeds are quite a bit for the average person to handle and may require professional work (Poodles and Bichon Frisés for example). Others require only a few minutes of going over with a brush once a week as well as regular attention to teeth, ears and nails. All dogs shed to some extent. Even supposed "no shed" breeds will lose hair. Hair falls out of follicles — take a look at your own brush or how often do you pluck a strand off your jacket. Some breeds shed less than others. If you are a neat freak and cannot stand dust bunnies, consider a lower shedding breed. Also, coat length does not mean a breed will shed more or less. A short-coated breed can shed just as much as a medium to long coated one.
  7. Need: Why do you want a dog? Companionship, participating in sports, protection? Again, you must research the breed or cross in regards to what you want. If you want a dog that can be trained for duck hunting a Collie may not be the right breed.
  8. Experience: Are you an experienced dog owner or is this your first one? There are many breeds that are not appropriate for a novice for one reason or another. Many people see Border Collies (Babe) and Jack Russell Terriers (Frasier, Wishbone) and must have one. What about those 101 Dalmatians? Obviously these dogs must be great if they are in Hollywood! WRONG! What makes dogs excel in acting, Agility and other things often makes them more (sometimes FAR more) than the novice dog owner is prepared to handle. Thousands of Dalmatians, Border Collies and Jack Russells found themselves given up by owners who HAD to get on because of the image Hollywood gave them. Some breeds are self-willed and can be a challenge to work with. Not that they are bad but the owner needs to understand the breed. No breed is untrainable — regardless of what some surveys would have you think. Knowing the breed (or breeds that went into a cross) is a big step to understanding the dog and working with it.
  9. Long Term: What will happen to the dog if you start a family? Are you just going to dump the dog or do what it takes to ensure he is ready for the new arrival? What if you have to move? Thousands of pets are given up because of a new child or move. Have you thought about the long-term needs of the dog?
  10. Golden Years: What when the dog ages? Are you prepared to cope with the onset of old age or when the dog is no longer "useful" will you get rid of it. Can you handle the increased health issues that can go along with a senior dog? A dog will spend his life trying to please an owner. The least we can do is make their Golden years truly golden.
Now that you have thought all this through and have decided to get a dog, what should you look for? I always urge people to seek out a rescue group or reputable breeder when choosing a dog. Here are a few things to look for when choosing a dog or puppy.
  1. Age: Puppies should be no younger than eight weeks. A good breeder will not place puppies younger than that. Old school used to be six weeks was fine. But so much growth and development happens between six and eight weeks. Also think, puppies' eyes and ears open at about three weeks and they begin to test solids foods after that. A five or six week old puppy is barely weaned. The extra couple weeks with the dam and littermates can make a big difference overall. Also, puppies should have at least one set of shots before going to homes. The vaccine schedule for puppies is usually 6, 9 and 12 weeks with the first rabies booster being at 16 weeks. As for the other end of the age spectrum, older animals. I am a firm believer that any dog at any age — even a senior — will have something to offer. If you go to a rescue, look at an adult dog. Just because a dog is fully-grown does not mean they are past training. Adult dogs have better bladder control and more attention span than a young puppy. And puppies are only little for a short time! Sometimes puppies in rescue may have to be placed younger than eight weeks. This is an exception to the rule and many shelters will try to find foster care for young puppies if possible. The younger you get a puppy, the more work it will be and the more patience you must have with it. Ideally, no pup should be placed before eight weeks. If a "breeder" tried to insist otherwise, get out. It is amazing how many people have litters and try to place them young because of the work and expense involved. And keep in mind; in some places it is illegal to sell animals less than eight weeks.
  2. Condition: The puppies or dogs should show NO signs of lameness, discharge from eyes, ears, nose, etc. They should have clean, shiny coats and be alert. Their stool should be firm. A good breeder or rescue group will have no issue if you wish to have your vet examine the animal before bringing it home. Many will insist you do. If you are going to a breeder, ask what tests were run on the parents to help ensure the healthiest dogs were bred. If there were no tests done at all, leave immediately. If there were no shots given to puppies, leave immediately. Also a good breeder will give you some form of health guarantee. Many will even have a lifetime guarantee as long as you are taking proper care of the animal. Are the dogs from lines that fit the breed standard correctly — ideally they dogs should have proven themselves in both the show ring as well as in some form of performance sport like Obedience or Agility. Now, look at the condition of the facility. Is it full of feces and looks unclean? Does it have a really offensive odor or smell too heavily of cleaners as if something was being hidden? Is there sign of pest infestation? What is the attitude of the people to the animals? What is the attitude of the animals?
  3. Attitude: Is the person trying to place the pup or dog trying to push the animal on you? Is the person telling you both the pros and cons of the breed - or cross? I cringe when I hear statements like "This is the BEST dog for anyone." This is far from true. What I would like in a dog is probably different from what you want. I like active dogs with a strong work drive and moderate to high energy levels. I prefer longer coats and dogs that can handle various climates. I want something that will think nothing of hauling a pack or cart or working all day if asked to. This can be quite a handful for many people. No matter how I feel about the breeds I like and have, I would never insist it is the best breed for everyone. Anyone who tells you this should be selling used cars on the corner. I look for someone who will tell me both the good points and bad points of a dog. Having gotten animals from reputable and responsible breeders as well as rescues, I feel that people in both areas should be more than honest when trying to match a dog to you. If they seem too anxious to make that sale or adoption, I would consider strongly going elsewhere.
  4. Temperaments: Has there been any temperament testing to the puppies or dogs? If you are a quite, laid back person, it could be tough to be matched with an outgoing, dominant puppy. If you are looking for a dog to compete with in sports, that quiet, shy dog would probably not work out well. A good breeder or rescue will screen the puppies or dogs to make the best match possible.
  5. Your gut: What feeling do you get about where you are looking to get your pet — be it a reputable and responsible breeder or a rescue? And when considering a rescue, many are tempted to rescue that hardship case. Use your brain. Having rescued hardship cases I can personally say it is a HUGE amount of dedication, work and money. Multiple trips to vets, medications, worries about potential behavior issues and how to deal with them, time, effort and money can easily run into the thousands before you realize it. It is noble to wish to help all the hardship cases out there. But in reality, can you devote the time and effort? Many hardship cases end right back in rescue. Use your brain as well as your heart.
I hope I have outlined, adding a dog to your life is no small thing. It is time, commitment, money and even heartache. Impulse buying a pup from a pet store (the worst place to look for a pet) or grabbing the local paper and reading the plethora of ads from people breeding for the same of it often lead to bad placings and even trouble. It is your responsibility as a future dog owner to research your life as well as various breeds or types of dogs to help make the best match for you. It is your responsibility to find well-educated and committed people to help match you with the best canine companion. It is your responsibility to ensure the dog is well trained, socialized and the safest he can be. Before you buy, stop and think and think again. Is this the right thing for you?
Reprinted with permission from Karen Peak of West Wind Dog Training, www.westwinddogtraining.com

Note: Italicized text was added to include Canadian information.