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This article is intended to provide anyone contemplating a new dog, whether a puppy or an adult, with useful information.
There is an enormous variety of dogs in shape, size, personality, and abilities. Different breeds will have certain characteristics for which they were bred. Ask breeders at dog shows, and look the dogs up in breed books for further information.
Things to consider before deciding on a dog
How much time can you spend with them?
Dogs are social creatures. They will not be happy left out in the backyard alone. You must be committed to spending several hours a day with them.
What space can you provide?
If you live in a small apartment, you must take this into consideration: Many dogs will not do well unless you expend a good deal of effort in meeting their needs.
Dogs can be pretty adaptable so long as you help them out. Don’t be fooled by size into thinking a dog will be OK in a small apartment — Jack Russell terriers require a lot of exercise. Conversely, many mastiffs are content to flop on the floor and do nothing while you are gone.
How much money can you set aside?
Even if you get a dog from the shelter or otherwise inexpensively, you will have to buy food, pay for veterinary checkups, vaccinations and routine medical care, and purchase other equipment over the lifetime of the dog. Not to mention replacing anything the dog may damage or destroy, or putting money out for medical emergencies.
Do you have the financial resources for this?
How much exercise can you give?
If your time is limited, you should look for smaller or less active dogs who can get enough exercise in your home or from short walks. Not all small dogs are less active, or larger dogs more active — research your breeds.
How much training can you do?
Regardless of the dog you get, training will make your dog much more compatible with you and what you want to do. A trained dog can go to more places with you without disruption, and can be more easily a part of your life.
How much grooming can you do?
How much hair are you prepared to have in your home? You should give serious consideration to these factors: Some dogs shed little and require no grooming (clipping, stripping, etc.); others shed little but require more grooming; others shed but do not require grooming; and still others both shed and require grooming.
Just about all dogs will require some nail clipping regardless of conditions.
If you get a dog who requires regular grooming, are you prepared to pay for the grooming or learn to do it yourself and to do either regularly?
Which sex do you want — male or female?
There are pros and cons to either sex, all of which are generalities and may or may not apply to a specific dog. By all means, if you have a preference, get the sex you want. If you are not sure, it really doesn’t matter — look for the dog you hit it off with.
What characteristics do you want in a dog?
Different breeds have been bred with specific purposes in mind. Dogs bred for scent, for racing, for retrieving, etc. will exhibit these traits. Consider which characteristics you would like and which will annoy you.
Reading up on dogs in breed books and talking with breeders will give you some idea of these kinds of characteristics. This also may be a reason to choose a purebred: Characteristics in purebreds appear more reliably because of their consistent breeding.
Do recognize, however, that dogs show individual personalities, and variety exists within each breed. Breeds are only a general indicator of what to expect.
Some additional questions to ask yourself:
- What sort of exercise do I want to do with the dog? Walking? Jogging? Hiking?
- Do I want a dog who is bouncy and ready to go, or more relaxed?
- Am I prepared for a dog with some protective tendencies? How about a dog with possible aggression (because of their background or breed)?
- Do I want an indiscriminately friendly dog or one who is more reserved?
- Do I want a dog who must be near me whenever possible, or do I prefer a more independent nature?
- Will I want a dog who readily accepts other animals (e.g., cats and rabbits)?
Purebred VS Crossbreed
Research dog breeds, and remember that they won’t stay puppies for very long. (By: jasontucker)If you are interested in a purebred dog, pick up a book on dog breeds and do some research with the above questions in mind. Seriously consider attending a dog show, where you can not only potentially contact breeders, but also see adult specimens of the breed you are considering.
It’s important to remember that cute puppies remain cute little puppies only for a matter of weeks. There is a long period of ungainly and rebellious adolescence, finally followed by mellow adulthood.
If the dog’s breed is not important to you, still consider the above list when choosing the dog. You do face a few more unknowns because a mixed-breed puppy may or may not clearly exhibit what the adult characteristics will be.
Many people have strong feelings about purebred dogs, especially the characteristics of the breed. Other people feel that the “stereotypes” are overrated.
The bottom line: If you get a Newfoundland, it is highly likely that that dog will be a good lifesaving dog. It is also possible, although less likely, that this will be a great lifesaving dog. And it is also possible, although also less likely, that this dog will show no aptitude for lifesaving.
Similar statements hold for “typical” traits of sight hounds, rottweilers, poodles, GSDs, goldens, Irish setters, and pretty much any other breed you can think of.
If you use this “stereotype” information to inform your choice of a dog, and make some effort to determine how “typical” a given dog is likely to be of its breed (by looking at parents and siblings, by observing the dog, by asking the caregiver, etc.), it’s innocuous and can be quite useful. If you use it blindly to make blanket judgements of breeds, use of stereotypes can be foolish.
In the extreme, if you don’t understand the meaning of the characteristics, or have misidentified or mis-measured them, use of stereotypes can be positively evil, such as when “all pitbulls” are identified as dangerous and banned.
What Are My Responsibilities?
There are responsibilities that go along with being a good dog caregiver.
A dog will live from 10 to 20 years, depending on breed, size, and general health. This is a long-term commitment, and you must be ready to provide the dog with a home for that duration. You must make provisions for it when you go on vacation. Your pet needs attention, love, and respect from you: Merely providing food and water isn’t enough.
Consider the dog part of your family. This is no joke as that is exactly what the dog thinks you are.
You are responsible for their health.
An essential part of caring for a dog is making sure that they get good medical care. Check the veterinarians in your area and pick out one before you even get your dog.
Take your dog to the vet immediately after acquiring your dog and take them in regularly thereafter. You will have expenses for yearly shots and, in many areas, heartworm preventive. Puppies and dogs routinely die without adequate veterinary care.
If you get your dog for protection, you are obligated to make sure that your pet is safe, reliable, and trustworthy around people.
Never chain your dog up in the backyard, or encourage your pet to snarl and bite other people. Never try to make a dog “vicious.” Such irresponsible treatment results in tragic stories of children and adults being mauled or even killed, the dog being put down, and various dog bans being enacted.
A dog can protect you just fine by barking at suspicious noises and allowing you to investigate. They do not have to be vicious. A good protection dog is always well trained, properly socialized, and has a relationship with its human that encourages them to be protective.
Higher levels of protection (such as attack dogs) require considerable training and experienced handling, and they are most definitely not for everyone.
You are responsible for your dog’s reproduction.
You must either get your dog neutered, or make provisions for keeping your female away from dogs when in heat. If your male is intact, you need to keep him under control when he smells a dog in heat.
If you breed, you are responsible for making sure that your dog is suitable for breeding (i.e., good health, good temperament, good specimen of the breed, and free of genetic defects), and making sure that all resulting puppies are placed in good homes. The millions of dogs that must be put down annually in the United States are the result of human irresponsibility about their pet’s reproduction.
You are responsible for your pet’s behavior.
This means keeping your dog under control. Do not let them roam; do not let them become a nuisance to others in your neighborhood. Keep them on a leash when walking so that they don’t run up to other people or dogs and bother them.
Clean up after them or curb them (meaning, make them go in the gutter) when they eliminate, especially in public areas. Many parks, beaches, and lakes are closed to dogs because of irresponsible humans in this regard.
You are still responsible for the dog when you “get one for your kid.”
Unless your child is old enough, at least 13 (and highly variable at that), she or he will not have the sufficient maturity to take responsibility for the dog. A dog can be a good way to teach children about responsibility, but the dog is still your main responsibility.
Dogs acquired for this reason often wind up in the shelters when the parents find out that they are the dog’s primary caretaker.
You are responsible for becoming more knowledgeable about dogs.
Find some good books and read up. Enroll in puppy and dog classes where you can learn much from the instructor; attend them even before you get a dog or puppy for firsthand knowledge of what you can expect.
Many dogs are in animal shelters with a note that says “Couldn’t be housebroken” or “Couldn’t be trained.”
You are responsible for being prepared for the new dog.
Never get one as a “surprise gift.” All members of your family must agree on having a dog.
Have food, water and food dishes, bedding, collars, and leashes, chew toys, and a veterinarian lined up before you pick up your dog. Many “Christmas puppies” are found in the shelters by New Year’s Day.
Next, in Part 3 of this article, we move on to where to get your next dog.
Where to get a Dog
Many wonderful pets await death in animal shelters across the country. (By: ginnerobot)There are really only three places you should get a dog from: an animal shelter, a responsible breeder, or a rescue organization. Typically, dogs from shelters or rescue organizations are neutered, or you will be required to neuter them as condition of purchase.
1. Animal Shelters
The animal shelter is a good place to pick up a dog and save them from death in the bargain.
- Look for a clean, healthy dog, keeping in mind any constraints you may have. Look for signs of friendliness and liveliness. Does the dog approach you in a friendly manner? Talk with the people caring for the animals for any information on a particular animal they can give you.
- The best thing to do is to go the animal shelter every weekend and spend time with the dogs. Try to put their plight out of your mind for the moment — it would be nice to save them all, but you can’t. Instead, you should get to know the dogs on an individual basis.
- Read the tags on each cage and see whether the dog was a stray, or whether their human turned them in for some reason. There are some beautiful adult dogs in the shelter who have been given up reluctantly by ill or elderly, or even deceased, folks. Don’t overlook them.
- Ask to see the dog in the holding area most shelters have. You’ll be able to check for signs of hostility, see if the dog knows anything, and in general how the animal reacts to you. Expect some fear and nervousness. A few dog treats may help calm them. If things seem to be going well, ask if you can take them on a walk, even just around the compound. If you are curious to know the dog’s reaction to cats, take them by the cat compound.
- Finally, don’t be afraid to say “not this dog,” and walk away. It is hard to walk away from a sweet dog, but you are looking for a companion for life, so you will have to be honest with yourself about what you want. There are heartbreaking stories from people who made an impulsive decision and lived to regret it. Bring along a friend who can help you look at the dog more objectively.
If you plan to show your dog, or desire a healthy purebred, find a responsible breeder.
Don’t use newspaper advertisements. Attend dog shows or performance events instead and talk with the owners and breeders there. Try contacting the local breed club for the breed you are interested in. It’s best to get to know several breeders before they actually have litters you would like to get puppies from. This gives you a chance to learn more about the breed, learn more about the philosophies and intents of the breeders you know, and learn more about the prospective parents of your pup.
The more information you have, the better off you will be.
Remember, though, that no breeder is automatically responsible or ethical just from the source you were referred from. You must determine whether a particular breeder is suitable for your needs. The more time and research you put into this, the better your results will be.
Selecting the Breeder
After you compile a list of potential breeders to contact, screen them through the phone first. Here’s a list of questions to ask:
- Can you see the dam and, if possible, the sire?
- Where are the pups being raised — in a family setting or in a kennel?
- What health problems occur in the breed?
- Have these problems been checked in the parents? As appropriate: OFA certification, CERF certification, blood tests, etc.
- Request a copy of the sire and dam’s lineage/pedigree.
- Titles on sire and dam.
- Info on puppies the sire and dam (together or with other mates) have previously produced? (That is, are either of the parents “proven”?)
- Has the puppy been crate trained, paper trained, etc.
- What breed clubs do you belong to? Do you have references?
- How many puppies were in the litter?
- Any difficulties during delivery?
- How often is the dam bred?
- What guarantees do you offer on your animals?
- What is in your sales contract?
- Do you offer a spay/neuter contract for puppies?
- Have they been to the vet yet? Wormed? Shots? Are the dogs bred for the ring, field, or for general pet purposes?
- How many breedings have you done to date? How long have you been breeding? Names and phone numbers of several customers, and the vet you use.
- How many different breeds have you bred? How many breeds are you breeding now?
- If for some reason I cannot keep the dog, will you take them back, no matter how old they are?
- Do you have a litter available? If not, when are you planning one? (If a litter isn’t presently available, ask if/when they are next planning to show their dogs in your area. If you can go, this is a golden opportunity to observe the structure and temperament of the dogs they breed.)
Meeting the Breeders
When you meet with breeders, look for people who seem more concerned with the welfare of their dogs than the amount of money they’re making. Look for ones raising the puppies “underfoot” and around people. If the breeder is using kennels, check for cleanliness, happy dogs, no overcrowding, shelter from the elements, plenty of fresh water.
Check how many different breeds the breeder is breeding — good breeders limit themselves to one or two (usually related) breeds because of the time, expense, and energy involved in producing excellent specimens of a particular breed. Otherwise, the breeder may be operating what is essentially a puppy mill.
A responsible breeder should have some history of breeding animals. They may be breeding for show or field work or just plain good pets. They should be able to tell you about some of their previous puppies. They should be able and willing to discuss the health and wellbeing of the parents of your puppy, including eye conditions, hip dysplasia, etc.
In general, be suspicious of puppies from anyone who has not had the parents at minimum X-rayed for hip dysplasia and had the eyes checked by a veterinarian, or for other problems associated with the breed.
Not all breeds have the same problems, but breeders should know what they are and be able to tell you which ones they’ve tested for. And if you’ve done your homework beforehand, you’ll know if they’re checking the right things.
Breeder Red Flags
Here are some red flags that should make you wary. The presence of any one of them is not necessarily an indication that something IS wrong, but you should definitely check further if you see any of these:
- Breeding more than one breed: A few breeders branch out into a second breed, but the truth is there is so much work involved in breeding right that one breed is more than enough for most people. If they are breeding more than two breeds, something may be very wrong.
- The sire and dam are both on the same premises: Now, sometimes the breeder owns the dog they decided would be best for their female; it does happen. If you see this, ask who else the female has been bred to and generally try to find out if the breeder always uses their own stud dogs (a BIG red flag), or uses a variety of dogs depending on the female.
- The dam was bred her previous season as well as this one: This is called back-to-back breeding and is extremely rare among responsible breeders and all too common among unethical breeders. Unless the previous litter resulted in no live puppies (or perhaps only one or two pups) or there was a compelling reason to do this this time (the sire is on his last legs, etc), this should be reason enough to leave.
Other Things to Check
- Ask to see paperwork on the parents: OFA hip certificates, elbow certificates, ACVO (eye examination), CERF paperwork. Yes, it’s possible to fake all of these, but generally folks who are lying will trip up somewhere when you double-check on the numbers and such. This is where checking references comes in… You want to be satisfied of the breeder’s overall integrity, etc.
- Get references of previous clients and call them up and ask how they liked their dog. Don’t overlook this step — you can learn a lot about what the puppies are like and how well they did this way. A responsible breeder should have no problem supplying you with such references.
- You should be able to see the mother of your puppy. Her temperament will give you a good idea of your puppy’s adult temperament. Obedience and temperament titles can indicate good temperament. Being unable to see the sire is not uncommon; picky breeders will often ship their girl cross-country to a good prospect. If you’ve done your homework, though, chances are you are already familiar with the sire and know that he has the qualities you want.
- Check for basic health problems: A litter that was larger than the breed average may mean that the puppies are smaller and not as healthy, a small litter might indicate trouble during pregnancy. A litter of size one or two means that the puppies are getting little or no socialization with littermates, regardless of health. The puppies should look vigorous and be strongly sucking, beware of listless (though sleeping is OK) puppies and indifferent suckling. Try to see the puppies when they’re likely to be active.
“Runts” are puppies who are significantly smaller than their litter mates. If they are otherwise healthy (actively rooting and sucking, playing with litter mates, etc.), then they are probably simply younger than their siblings. When dogs are bred, they mate over a period of several days, and it’s possible for some of the puppies to be conceived on the first mating and others on subsequent matings. Over a period of four days, this can make the youngest puppy significantly smaller. These puppies frequently catch up several months later, and it’s not uncommon for such a pup to turn out to be the largest one in the litter! Puppies who are runts because of health problems should be avoided. A responsible breeder will let you know which kind of runt the pup is.
Puppies should be at minimum dewormed by eight weeks of age. The first set of puppy shots is desirable as well. Beware of breeders who have not had a vet see the puppies (or mother).
Many responsible breeders guarantee the general health of a pup only for a limited time (e.g., 48 hours). This is not a ripoff. The breeder has no control over the puppy once the new person takes them.
Guaranteeing against genetic defects is common: such a guarantee generally means a refund or replacement in the case of a defect occurring; it does not mean that the puppy will “never” develop a genetic defect. Be wary of breeders who claim their puppies can never develop some defect that does occur in the breed.
If guarantees or other contracts (such as spay/neuter) are involved, get it all down in writing. A responsible breeder will not be offended by such a step. If something goes wrong, you have no legal recourse if there is nothing in writing, verbal contract laws in some states to the contrary.
Approach getting a puppy as if you were adopting a child. Expect a lot of questions and ask a lot of questions! A responsible breeder is also looking for a responsible caregiver.
3. Rescue Organizations
Another excellent source for a purebred dog is from rescue organizations run by various clubs across the country. If it is a breed rescue, dogs of that breed are rescued from shelters or private homes as needed, fostered while a placement is found, and then placed. The adoption fee usually is less than the cost of a purebred from other sources.
There are all-breed and mixed-breed rescue groups — this is another source besides the shelter to obtain a dog.
You should try to spend some time with each dog you consider adopting, as recommended and described for shelter dogs. Talk with the people who are fostering the prospective dog for a better idea of the particular dog’s temperament. Ask questions as you would with a breeder; expect a good outfit to screen you as well.
Expect them to ask for a donation and require that the animal is neutered, if not done already.
Where to NOT Get a Dog
Breeders who breed only for the perfect show dog are irresponsible. (By: vironevaeh)The way we see it, there are three places you should never get a dog: backyard breeders, irresponsible breeders, and pet stores.
1. Backyard Breeders
“Backyard breeder” is a nebulous, ill-defined term often applied to people who have unplanned litters or who breed for profit as sort of a cottage industry. A better term is probably “Ignorant” or “Careless” breeders. By whatever name, they are not a good source.
If you must try them, check the health of the puppies carefully. As with breeders, look for people more concerned with the welfare of the puppies — people out for a fast buck will not likely have seen to the health of the puppies. If you are looking for a purebred, forget these breeders and find a responsible breeder instead. It will save you time and money and heartache. If you don’t care about having a purebred, you will do better at the animal shelter.
It is not impossible that you will find a conscientious breeder through the newspaper. Just check them carefully when you go and visit them, as you would any other breeder.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that because you “only” want a nice pet, there is no reason for you to look for a high-quality breeder. On the contrary, no litter is 100 percent up to the criteria the breeder is looking for…and the pup who doesn’t quite meet the expectations of the breeder in ability or looks will make an excellent pet because he will otherwise be healthy and good tempered — which is just what you want in your new companion.
2. Irresponsible Breeders
Any breeder who has in mind one single goal and breeds only for that must be considered irresponsible. Many “backyard” breeders (goal = money) fall into this category, but so do “professional” breeders such as:
- Those who breed only for the perfect show dog
- Those who breed only for top performance
The key word is only. Responsible breeders seek a balanced dog. They will breed for:
- Proper conformation (good structure is key for comfortable and free movement)
- Good level of appropriate ability (if a hunting breed, dogs in the pedigree have hunting titles or have been used for hunting; same for herding, coursing, etc.)
- Good overall temperament
- Good health
Irresponsible breeders with a single goal in their view will frequently sacrifice many of these points. A breeder seeking top performance often lets temperament or health slide, just so long as the dog can perform; a breeder seeking top show dogs may let the dog’s abilities and health slide. Someone out to make a fast buck may not have checked any of these criteria in their dogs!
Examine your breeders carefully and go with the ones that match your overall philosophy and goals.
3. Pet Stores
Please don’t buy pet store animals. These are often obtained from irresponsible sources such as puppy mills, where animals are bred (and bred and bred) only for profit. By buying from the store, you are supporting these mills and adding to the pet population problem. In addition, you are obtaining an animal of dubious health, and any money you might save will likely go directly into vet costs as its health deteriorates and you may even have to put it down.
If the puppy is purebred and has papers, chances are good that the papers have been forged in some way and even that the puppy is not really purebred. Even if the papers are legitimate, the pedigrees are often extremely poor. Many behavioral problems appear in these puppies because they were carelessly bred, separated too early from their mother and litter mates, improperly handled, unsocialized with either humans or dogs, and forced to live in their own feces.
Many pet stores have been instructing their employees to tell prospective clients that all the animals in the store are from local breeders. In many cases, this is simply not true. Other stores will have pictures and commentaries on their walls to inform you how clean and sanitary their puppy mills are — but “clean and sanitary” still does not obviate the problems with socialization and bloodlines.