Puppies are cute. Even people who aren’t crazy about dogs will often oooh and aaaahhh over a little puppy.
It is easy to make an impulse decision to bring a cute puppy home. But what will you be getting yourself into?
It is so much better to plan a puppy and think – realistically and honestly – about the amount of time and inclination you have to train, groom, and exercise a puppy and pick your pet accordingly.
Let’s talk about what to consider when considering adding a puppy – or adult dog – to your family.
What are your expectations for the role your new dog will fit in your family? Companion; watch dog; lap dog; jogging companion; playmate for the children; hunting partner; good friend?
Some dogs can fit most of these roles; others not so much. For example, some dogs are a little large for a lap:
Other dogs, while loyal, don’t make the best long distance running partners, particularly in heat.
If you want a running partner for example, consider a dog breed that was developed to run like the Dalmatian, or a breed that is athletic, like a Weimaraner.
Want a dog that does double duty, for example jogging partner and lap dog, perhaps something like an Italian Greyhound or small Beagle would fit the bill.
Purpose should perhaps be the first consideration when considering a dog. But it is just one of handful of things you should consider.
Whatever purpose you have in mind for your new family member, including couch potato, he or she will still require some exercise and will need to relieve themself. If you don’t considering jogging, or even long walks enjoyable, then do yourself and your future pet a favor – get a lower energy dog, or a dog that can be tired out easily. Some smaller dogs for example, can be tired out by having their person throw a ball for them for half an hour. Which means you would have to be willing to throw a ball for half an hour several times a day to wear your pup out.
Consider purpose and the amount of room you have; there are a range of lower energy dogs which can be found at both ends of the size spectrum.
For some people this overlaps with purpose and exercise, for others size is important all by itself. My little sister for example, loves a big dog and adjusts her life to fit whichever breed of big she currently has. Other people want a pocket book dog that they can carry with them. Again, size should never be the lone deciding factor. How much exercise? Is the breed prone to any health problems? Grooming requirements? Activity level? Remember, there are dogs at every size level with different needs and you should be matching the breed with what you can reasonably and honestly expect yourself – not another family member – to give.
The Japanese Chin and Bull Mastiff are both lower maintenance dogs that require modest exercise.
When thinking about grooming consider two not necessarily related concerns: washing/brushing and shedding. I for example grew up with two of the most shedding dog breeds – Labs and German Shepherds. My Collie does not shed more than either of these breeds. She does need a good brush out more often than a Lab but a longer haired shepherd would require just as much grooming.
My Shar Pei on the other hand, while not requiring much brushing, did require regular baths. Shar Pei are one of a handful of breeds that have a unique smell that becomes objectionable to many people if they aren’t bathed every four to six weeks. I don’t have to bathe my Collie that often. And then there’s the English Bull Terrier, you can practically run a hand over them to meet their brushing needs and they quickly bathe and dry.
I would suggest that this is perhaps the most important consideration – which is why I left it for last. This should be a take away final idea.
No matter how much grooming you are willing to do, how much you can afford to vet and feed your pet, how much exercise you will give — the thing you need to be most honest with yourself about is what level of training you will provide for your pet. If you aren’t much of a trainer, and you don’t plan to hire and work with a trainer or take classes — you either need to reconsider having a dog, or adopt a dog that is trained and then at least maintain the level of training the dog arrives with.
Puppies are not born with the behavior that people want. Puppies will nip, chew things, eliminate in the house, and some will push behavior boundaries as they discover what is and is not acceptable behavior. Realizing this, sometimes the best decision you can make is to adopt an adult, dog that has basic training; adopt from a reputable organization that can point you towards an easy going dog that will not challenge you in ways that you are not able to deal with.
There are a growing number of pure bred dogs ending up in shelters and all breed rescues. Some are there due to the economy, health problems their former owners are suffering from, or divorces. Many more are there because their former owners did not realize what they were getting into when they bought that particular kind of “cute puppy” when it was young. Again, this is where a reputable pet adoption agency can be helpful; not only can they tell you about a dog’s behavior but many have given the dog additional training in foster homes before adopting it out. Breed specific rescues often excel at this kind of adoption since they know the particular ins and outs of their breed and what areas are most important to consider when training.
For example, labs as a breed can be very orally fixated, so teaching the dog the difference between “toys” and “not toys” is important. Also, as a strong, thick necked breed labs can pull and drag a person when being walked. Proper leash etiquette is another important thing for a lab to learn.
Dogs can best friends, companions, early warning systems, and working partners. The best dog though is the dog that suits you and your lifestyle. Be honest with yourself when assessing what you want and what you have to give and carefully select your family member. Remember, with a little luck the new dog will be part of your life for years.