Are You Ready for that Puppy?

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 and be sure to 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

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

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 the 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? Is 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?

From Karen Peak of West Wind Dog Training,

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