Now that you have determined you are truly ready for the commitment of owning a dog, it is time to consider which dog is right for your family. One of the first things you need to consider is whether you want a puppy or an adult dog. Many of the dogs we see surrendered to the local shelters are between six months and two years old. The reason for this is, so many people adopt puppies and find themselves overwhelmed when they develop adolescent behavioral issues. It is extremely important to consider whether a puppy is really the right pet for your household, or whether you would be a better match with an adult dog.
The number one thing to consider when determining whether or not you should get a puppy, is how much time you have to devote to your new dog. Puppies need housebreaking, and in order to accomplish this successfully they need to go out very frequently. If everyone is away from the home for long hours every day at work and school, you do not have the time to properly train a puppy. Adopting a puppy if you are gone long hours is setting you up to feel overwhelmed and frustrated as the dog continues to have accidents while you are gone and lacks the consistency to learn to use the bathroom outside.
In addition to housebreaking, puppies require training in order to become well-mannered members of the family. This includes leash training, basic commands, and generally following the house rules such as staying out of the garbage or off of the furniture. If you have never raised a puppy before, there is a lot to learn. If you are not committed to doing a lot of reading on raising puppies, and potentially work with a trainer or enroll your puppy in obedience classes, you may find yourself overwhelmed with the behaviors your puppy develops without proper training and structure.
Even with training, housebreaking takes time, and puppies go through destructive phases and chewing and teething – much like a child. If you are not extremely patient and committed to getting past these different phases and working on the behavior, you may find yourself seriously overwhelmed and regretting your decision to adopt a puppy.
Puppies are a blank canvas both for training and manners, and for social skills. This means as an adopter you are responsible for providing your puppy with proper socialization. Ideally, your puppy should be getting out into new environments, around new people and new dogs two to three times a week until they are around 18 months old. During these outings, you should be consistently working on good social manners. Just like raising a human child, every social interaction or public outing presents learning opportunities for your puppy on what is and is not polite social behavior. Failure to be consistent on providing adequate socialization opportunities and consistent structure during these outings can result in a dog that is poorly mannered and even potentially develops aggression issues towards new people or animals.
Common misconceptions about puppies versus adult dogs are one of the biggest reasons I hear for people who really should not be adopting a puppy justifying choosing to do so anyway. So often I hear people worry over their children or other pets, and proclaim that adopting an adult dog isn’t safe and puppies are the safer choice for their pets and children. This is an incredibly inaccurate statement! Puppies are generally MORE difficult to own with children. They jump, mouth, scratch, knock down, steal snacks, and chew toys and shoes left on the floor by small children. Puppies start out with NO manners, they grow quickly and before you know it their “cute” behaviors of grabbing your small child by the pants leg or jumping to try to take their snack are no longer cute at all and border on dangerous. It is a myth that just growing up with children will make a puppy love children, without both excellent training for the dog and education of the children on how to approach and treat the dog, even a dog raised with children can have issues with the children in your home.
While it is true that an unexperienced dog owner should not feel safe adopting a random adult dog with no background information and just letting it loose in their home with their pets and children, there are many ways to safely adopt an adult dog. Find a dog with a reputable rescue organization that has background information on the dog you are adopting; a dog that has lived in a foster home with children, other dogs, cats, etc. Arrange a meeting with your children and/or pets and the potential new family member. Take introductions slow and supervise your new dog with your children and pets. An adult dog that has already received training such as basic obedience training, housebreaking, and house manners can be a much less stressful experience for a busy or inexperienced family. If you are older or have limited physical mobility, you may even want to consider a senior dog whose energy levels and exercise needs are much lower.
. Once you have determined that you are ready to add a dog to your home, and decided whether or not you want a puppy or an adult dog; it is time to consider what breed/type of dog that you would like to add to your family. This is a very important decision, as the breed of a dog is not all about appearance; the diverse looks of specific breeds also come with diverse traits, energy levels, and specific needs. To make this decision you will need to do breed research – read articles and books on the breed(s) you are considering adding to your home, paying particular attention to the temperament and training needs. Consider the jobs these dogs were bred to do and the temperament traits these animals have.
One of the first things to consider when choosing a breed of dog to add to your family is the energy level of that breed. Getting a dog that matches your family’s energy and activity levels is one of the most important things to consider. You may have grown up thinking Siberian Husky’s are the most beautiful dogs in the world, but if you work all day and like to come home and watch TV; you will find yourself overwhelmed with the energy level of a dog bred to pull sleds for 8-12 hours a day. Likewise, if you are looking for a running partner you would not be happy with an English Bulldog that tires easily and cannot tolerate heat well. It is extremely important to be realistic and honest with yourself and choose a breed whose energy level matches yours, even if it means re-evaluating that dream breed you’ve always wanted. Dogs whose exercise needs are not being met typically develop unwanted behaviors that range from anxiety or destructive behavior to aggression issues.
Another important thing to consider when choosing a breed of dog for your family is any specific traits for the breed that might not mesh well with your home or lifestyle. If you have small children, you may want to be cautious when choosing a herding breed. If you don’t have a lot of training experience you may want to be careful before choosing to add a powerful breed like a Cane Corso or Presa Canario to your home. If it is very important to you that your dog be able to be trusted off leash a hound breed who follows their nose and wanders may not be the best choice for you either. Every breed was bred for a purpose, and many of these breeds still have specific traits and behaviors related to their intended purpose that need to be considered when deciding what breed is going to fit the best in your family.
The final thing to consider when choosing a breed of dog is the level of care some breeds require. Some breeds of dogs require significant grooming maintenance that can be costly and time consuming. If you are not committed to regular visits to the groomer, and regular brushing and trimming, you may not want to get a breed with a lot of grooming needs. Additionally, some breeds are prone to certain health issues and allergies that may require special diets, medication and additional veterinary care. If you are not prepared to make monthly vet trips and pay for expensive medications and special diets, you may want to consider a breed that is not prone to many special medical conditions. Remember that just because the dog you are adopting does not have any health issues now, does not mean that you will not see issues develop throughout the dog’s lifetime.
Mixed breed dogs are wonderful and make excellent pets and in many cases can have better health and a good balance of different breed traits. However, mixed breed dogs can still carry some of the same needs and issues as pure bred dogs. It is still important to consider the energy level of the dog you are considering, and inquire about any health, diet and grooming needs the dog may have. Choosing a dog that fits your family and their energy level, lifestyle, and expectations can go a long way in setting you up for success as new pet parents!
Once you have taken breed traits and temperament, energy level, and health and grooming needs into consideration and have decided on criteria for what age, size, and breed or mix of dog you are looking for – it is time to navigate the adoption process, and transition your new rescue dog into your home. Check out part 3 of this blog series for helpful information on navigating the adoption and transition process.