Develop leadership, communication and a bond that will last a lifetime.
Getting a Dog
If you are considering adding a dog to your family please consider the following information. Your new companion will likely be with you for 14 or more years, so doing all the research you can ahead of time will help ensure those years are spent happily with just the right dog for you and your family.
One of the biggest, hardest-to-overcome problems that dog trainers see is an owner and dog that aren't properly matched. A high-energy dog with an owner that was expecting a couch potato. An assertive, challenging dog with an owner that is meek and passive. With a little research you will have a happier, more relaxed family life, a dog that is easier for you to train and a match that is likely to last forever.
What to consider before picking your dog:
"Kermit" Pit Bull mix, rescued, trained and placed by Encore Dog Rescue
American Kennel Club - Information for future dog owners, including breeder referalls, puppy buying tips and breed rescue links. AKC Parent Clubs - Find the parent club for any AKC breed. These clubs keep details on health concerns, how to pick puppies, purebred rescue and more. Purina Breed Selector - Questions that help you determine a good breed match for you. Useful, but not foolproof!
Is Now the Time? Chances are if you are giving enough thought about your new dog to read this article it is the right time to get a dog. The worst times to get a dog are the impulse purchases or adoptions - you just happen to go to the shelter and they are about to euthanize this very cute floppy eared dog. Your neighbors bred their dog and offer you a puppy. You are at the grocery store and a family is selling puppies out of the back of their pickup truck. All of these situations are representative of impulse decisions, which don't allow you to pick your next dog based on the right qualities (see below for what those qualities are). In addition, taking a puppy from your neighbor from a "pickup truck" sale only encourages those people to breed their dogs again. Additional impulse decisions come from suddenly deciding to get a dog as a gift, or get a dog because you fell in love with one you saw in a movie. When the new 101 Dalmatians came out in theaters a few years ago, the number of Dalmatian puppies purchased skyrocketed. A year later the number of Dalmatians surrendered to animal shelters also skyrocketed.
Other considerations of the proper timing to bring a dog into your family have to do with your living situation. If you are currently in a rental that doesn't allow dogs don't get one! Wait or move, but do be aware that finding rentals with dogs is more difficult than without. The housing you have, whether you own or rent can impact your decision as well - is your yard fenced? Is your house relatively puppy-proofed? Are your finances stable? Do you have children or are you planning on having children? Now, don't feel you need to have millions in the bank or a 5 acre fenced yard in order to be a good home for a dog. There truly is no perfect home for a dog. Chances are as long as you are reasonably stable in your finances, housing, family life, etc. you and your new canine will do just fine. But these are things to consider.
Children and dogs can mix just fine, but a little extra care needs to be taken in the dog you select, how your prepare your children and teach them to behave around the dog (depending on the children's age), and getting good obedience training accomplished right away - don't wait for a problem.
Holidays are another consideration. Not only to dogs make inappropriate gifts (the recipient should be the one selecting the dog and deciding what is right for them - think of giving a gift basket of supplies - a leash, collar, bowl, treats, etc. and offering to pay the adoption fee), but holidays are generally too busy and chaotic for your new pet to adjust to the household. Wait until company is gone, the tree is down and things have settled a little before bringing your new dog home. Also be aware of advertisements of "Christmas ready" puppies - these breeders are interested in making a profit, not ensuring the best home for their puppies. Some animal shelters even suspend adoptions for a few days or weeks surrounding Christmas.
What Age: Puppy, Adult or Senior? While many future owners think automatically about getting a puppy, fewer think about getting a young adult or adult dog, and even fewer think about adopting a senior dog. There are multiple things that should help you make the decision about age.
"Dogs have given us their absolute all. We are the center of ther universe. We are the focus of their love and faith and trust. They serve us in return for scraps. It is without a doubt the best deal man has ever made."
- Roger Caras
Puppies: these irresistible bundles of joy are usually tops on a family's list. And with good reason - puppies are cute, cuddly, come with no "baggage" (largely a misnomer, but we'll get there) and you can raise them the way you want. Most people believe that if they want a purebred they need to get a puppy out of a litter that has been bred. There are some truly wonderful things about puppies - you get to spend their entire life with them, raise them how you want and pick out just the right one from the litter. But think of a few other things before committing to that priceless puppy-breath you get with every kiss. Puppies do need a lot of training, time and commitment. They need to be housebroken, leash trained, taught not to chew furniture, people, plants, remotes and anything else they can get their paws on. Puppies need to go outside frequently, even if it is late at night or the middle of a blizzard.
Adult dogs can easily be taught most of the things families would want - how to behave in the house, not pull on the leash, not eat off the counters, etc. The great benefit to bringing an adult dog into your life is that they already know so much about how to live with people. The chewing phase is over, housebreaking is usually accomplished (and if it isn’t adults can actually be fairly easy to housetrain – their bladders and attention spans are larger than puppies’) and plenty of adults are already vaccinated and spayed or neutered. Sometimes determining the temperament on an older dog is easier than a puppy. People who care for the dog may know lots about energy level, favorite toys, personality traits and more.
Bringing a senior dog into your life is one of the best gifts you can find – both for you and for the dog. It seems unfair that any dog should have to be looking for a home in its golden years, but sadly there are many in need. Senior dogs are so often overlooked, but they can be a wonderful addition to your family. Older dogs are generally housebroken, not in need of lots of exercise and are not likely to be destructive. They do come with some extra responsibility: they may have more medical bills, require some supportive care and may not have as many years left to share with us. However, the moments spent with a senior dog can be priceless.
Purebred or Mixed Breed? Another decision you may want to make is if you want to bring home a purebred dog or a mixed breed. While most people make a pretty firm decision on this you may opt for remaining neutral and just picking the dog you like best at your local shelter. If you do want to make a decision however, there are some factors to consider.
With a purebred dog, some issues such as grooming requirements, size, and general personality traits can be determined. However, even dogs of the same breed, even two puppies out of the same litter, can vary in energy levels, drive (enthusiasm for working), and other aspects of temperament. A good breeder should be able to help you understand this, but be aware: some families will remember the Labrador they had growing up and think - "that's what we need for our family: a nice, friendly couch potato." While just about any lab you pick will be friendly, some are decidedly couch potatos and others are some of the most active dogs you will ever meet. Buying or rescuing a purebred dog is just fine - but don't think it is an excuse to do less research on the exact dog you'll be bringing home.
Duncan and Emma Coombe, purebred English setters from hunting lines.
Deciding on a mixed breed dog also has pros and cons. A mixed breed dog has the question of parentage, but that may or may not matter. If you want a dog to compete in American Kennel Club (AKC) events you may prefer to have a dog that is (or can be certified as) a purebred, but other than that there's not much of a reason you would need to get a purebred (mixed breed dogs can now compete in AKC Obedience, Agility and Rally, but the class is still seperate and not available at all shows). The biggest and best reason to get a mixed breed dog is the chance to save a dog out of an animal shelter. The same can go for a purebred dog though - don't think you need to go through a breeder to find the breed you want. Twenty-five percent of dogs in shelters are purebred.
Please avoid getting a mixed breed dog from any source other than a rescue. There is currently a hype of purposefully breeding two different purebred dogs to get a so-called "designer dogs." Examples of these are "Labradoodles" (Labrador retriever and poodle), "puggles" (pug and beagle), "cockapoos" (cocker spaniel and poodle), and "Cava-tzu" (Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and shi-tzu). This trend is an abuse of purebred dogs and throws breeding ethics out the window. There are over 100 purebred dogs registered with the AKC, most with histories going back hundreds of years. That means there are plenty of purebred dogs to choose from, and if you want a mix there are thousands in shelters desperately needing homes. Mixed breed dogs used to be thought of as healthier, sturdier dogs than purebreds, but with the advent of so much genetic testing and better understanding of how afflictions such as hip displasyia are passed on, a purebred from a good breeder (see How to Select a Breeder) is likely to be very sound.
What it boils down to is whether you decide to go with a purebred or a mixed breed, as long as you are responsible about where or who you get the dog from and select the right dog for you out of a litter or shelter, you're bound to have a long, happy relationship.
So where do you get that wonderful dog? This is an issue that requires so much more thought and consideration than almost anyone is willing to dedicate. It doesn't have to be hard, but it does require the commitment of some time on your part. The first step in the process is learning about what type of place you are going to get your dog from. Most people are familiar with a couple obvious options: an animal shelter or a breeder. Unfortunately there are individuals that still believe a pet store is a reasonable place to obtain a dog. On a whim some families end up getting their dog from an ad in the newspaper, a neighbor down the street whose dog just had a litter of puppies or even the back of a pickup truck in the Wal-Mart parking lot.
The ultimate best place to get a dog is through a well run animal shelter or other rescue organization (see below for more about what a rescue organization is). Not only are you saving a life and helping to reduce the pet over population problem, but you are taking business away from backyard breeders, puppy mills and the like. It's not just a good deal for the dog you are rescuing - animal shelters frequently adopt out a dog that has had a full medical exam, is vaccinated, de-wormed and spayed or neutered. The cost of the adoption fee is going to be substantially less than you would pay to have all of these services done by your veterinarian. You can find an adult dog, senior dog or puppy at an animal shelter. You can also find purebred dogs at shelters or through rescue groups. It may take a little more time to find the right dog for you, but think about how long he or she will be a part of your life. Some people have misconceptions about dogs from animal shelters, feeling that somehow there is something "wrong" with them. If you have any concerns like this, or know someone who does, please read Myths About Shelter Dogs. The only dog you may have trouble finding in an animal shelter or through a rescue group is a purebred puppy, but it doesn't hurt to try.
A "rescue organization" is a term used to describe a wide variety of groups. Some rescue organizations are breed rescue groups, often run by the AKC parent club of whichever breed. They will deal only with purebred dogs of their breed that need to find new homes. These dogs often live with foster families (homes that are willing to take the dog on temporarily until its permanent family can be found). Dogs are usually spayed or neutered, vaccinated, vet checked and have had some training. Rescue groups are a great way to find a purebred dog in need. You may have to go through a more stringent application process, sometimes that also includes a home inspection to make sure you are providing a good environment (they will be looking to make sure your fencing is secure, that you have a clean and safe home environment and that any animals you may currently have are well cared for).
Other "rescue organizations" are groups or individuals working to save individual dogs - no matter what breed or mix they are. For example, Mary Majchrowski runs Encore Dog Rescue which is operated under the premise that "We can't save every dog, but we can make a huge difference for this one." Encore Dog Rescue takes dogs that are in bad environments - in shelters where they are likely to be euthanized because of space restraints, from owners who can no longer care for their pets or other desperate situations. These dogs are taken on, one at a time, and given everything they would have in a loving family environment. The dog is fixed, vaccinated and trained to be a good pet - that may involve housebreaking, learning to walk nicely on a leash, waiting at doors, not jumping on people or counters, and how to do basic obedience skills such as sit, down, stay, come, heel, give attention, and more.
With the increase in web-based searches for available dogs (and a centralized database through Petfinder.com), there are more and more small home-grown rescue groups popping up. Some of these rescue groups do a wonderful job of selecting adoptable dogs and creating good matches with prospective adoptive families, but some do not. Use common sense and take some time to investigate any place you consider adopting your dog from.
A word of caution about rescue organizations. Although it is very unusual, not all rescue groups truly have the dog's welfare as their top priority. There is a mental illness that is just beginning to get more recognition: animal hoarding. Individuals that hoard animals (essentially collect them) are doing so out of a mental problem - trying to fill a void in their own lives with homeless dogs or cats. Many of these people operate what they consider to be "rescue organizations," however they rarely adopt out any animals - because of their illness the hoarder has trouble believing that anyone else can offer a good enough home for their animals. While it may seem like a good idea to try to adopt an animal from a hoarder to get it out of the situation (hoarders are usually so overwhelmed by the number of animals they have obtained that they can't keep up with veterinary care, cleaning, spaying and neutering - which can lead to even more animals - and sometimes even the basics of food, water and proper shelter), this probably isn't the best thing you can do. First off, because of the multitude of dogs and or cats the animals are usually poorly socialized and may not adapt easily to a home environment - they require the skills of an expert to assess their medical and behavioral needs. The best thing you can do if you believe you have discovered an animal hoarder is to contact the proper authorities. This would be either local animal control or the State Veterinarian.
If you decide to get a dog from a breeder. Selecting a dog from a
breeder is a perfectly honorable thing to do, as long as you give it
the careful consideration that it warrants. For more about how to
A word about pet stores and backyard breeders. The repetitive theme here is think ahead. While dog are living creatures, destined to become part of our families, likely to even receive gifts for Christmas, most owners put more time and research into buying a new car than into getting their next dog. Pet stores and backyard breeders feed that desire for instant gratification. Pet stores allow people to walk in, fall in love with that fuzzy little puppy and purchase him on the spot. They allow you to come out of a movie you just watched in the theater and buy your very own 101 Dalmatian, without thought to the requirements or temperament of the breed in your home (as opposed to how the dogs act on the Hollywood set).
Backyard breeders (breeders who own one or a few purebred dogs and breed them merely because they are purebred and can create puppies for a profit) do much the same - offering puppies "of all colors" or "available all the time," "ready for Christmas," "AKC papered," "Champion bloodlines," "ready for homes now," or the like. These breeders care more about making a profit on the dogs they sell, or just wanted to breed "Princess" one time (for a multitude of reasons, none of which involve experience with the breed or improving the breed's qualities). No matter what a pet store tells you, their puppies do NOT come from good situations. Nearly all puppies come from puppy mills, atrocious places that mass produce dogs while ignoring their health, wellbeing, socialization, genetic disorders and such. Even if the puppy you see appears healthy, or is even offered with a health "guarantee" (which usually is too short of a time span to cover the problems you will find, or involves not your money back, but another puppy with other problems), their parents are left behind the scenes to breed litter after litter.
Please DO NOT PURCHASE ANYTHING from a pet store that sells dogs or cats.
You think dogs will not be in heaven? I tell you, they will be there long before any of us.
~Robert Louis Stevenson
Getting Some Help. There is a lot of information outlined here, and please don't feel overwhelmed by it. These are tools to us to help make the right decision when you get a new dog, but the ultimate thing you can do is take time, research thoroughly and use some common sense. This dog will be in your life for many, many years, and hopefully an irreplaceable member of your family. So do yourselves both a favor and put in some time and energy upfront.
If you have any questions or would like some help please contact Mary. She would be happy to help in any way possible - from just answering some questions to going on a shelter tour to help evaluate dogs, helping to shop for the proper equipment, assisting in completing paperwork for adoption (some questionnaires are rather complex and lengthy) or sitting down for a full consultation and evaluation.
If you would like any of that help just ask - prices vary based on what you want help with and what you can afford - don't let money hold you back from getting the right dog. Mary is a true believer in the importance and value of good dog/owner matches and will do whatever it takes. If that means evaluating dog after dog for free she will do it.
Good things pass on in life.