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   What do I need to know about getting a puppy?

That is truly an excellent start. Boy I wish everyone would ask first! There are enough things to know that they fill entire books. Some books are small and easy to read, others are pretty long. The long ones might be good to get anyway since they have more to tell you. Start with this one: BEFORE You Get Your Puppy by Ian Dun bar

A major reason for dogs winding up in shelters is owner/dog mismatch. Nothing wrong with the dog, but it needed more training, or it needed more exercise, or it . . . . you've heard it all before. Before you wonder what kind of puppy, the question you need to answer is whether you can honestly provide what the puppy needs. Then you need to carefully select the puppy so that it makes a good match for you and your family.

Time:

You need to have plenty of time to spend with a puppy. A puppy takes more time than a dog. It is a lot of work to teach a puppy all the things it needs to know to be a fun, healthy happy dog. How much time? Let's start with what an adult dog needs: The average adult dog needs you to play with it, exercise it, teach it good manners, groom it, feed and water it, and let it relieve itself. Count on at least half an hour every morning, and an hour every evening. Some dogs will take more time than that.

The younger the dog the more time you have to add. For very young puppies you will want to take them out to relieve themselves about every two hours. That is one reason why busy people often start with an adult dog instead of a puppy.

Responsibility:

You can't forget, and you can't leave it until later. Playing, exercising, teaching, grooming, feeding and watering, and letting it relieve itself is an everyday thing. Some dogs need more of one thing, and less of another, but they all need you every single day. Your dog counts on you. Taking care of all the needs of a puppy is not all fun. Sometimes its boring. It can get old. Do you have trouble getting all your chores done without being reminded? If so, it might not yet be time for you to get a dog. Having a dog is a responsibility.

Patience:

Puppies are babies. They will do things that make you mad, just because they are learning. And as they grow up they act just like teenagers. They try to get away with doing what they want, instead of what you want. And adult dogs often were not properly taught, they need help learning. Being firm is OK getting angry is useless, and can make things worse. Teaching them in a way that makes them healthy and happy, instead of afraid or angry, takes patience and understanding.

Consistency:

Dogs don't speak human. They learn by what we do, not by what we say. So if you sometimes mean "sit" when you say "sit", and other times mean "go away" when you say "sit" don't be surprised if the dog never learns what "sit" means to you! Dogs love routine. They love getting up at the same time every day, and you coming home at the same time, and having same word mean the same thing every time they hear it. They like knowing whether when you use a word whether you mean "you must" or whether you are saying "you may". Does the word "sit" mean "You must sit" or does it mean "sit if you want to, otherwise don't bother"? The dog wants you to mean it the same way every time.

How to Ask for Help:

Since you had the good sense to ask the question, obviously you know something about this already. But there are times when you need to ask even though you might be shy, or feel silly or stupid. Don't worry. The stupid questions are the ones that you never ask. If you ask, and if you listen, that is the right thing to do.

Cooperation:

You need help. Everyone who shares the house must feel OK about having a dog in the house. Dogs naturally live their lives in groups and most are very unhappy if they are left alone in a yard. They don't want a big yard to run in half as much as they want the warm smell of you when you are away, and your face to kiss when you are home. If you can't keep the dog in the house it is a bad idea to get the dog. Keeping a dog outdoors most of the time fails more often than it succeeds.

Everyone who shares the house must be willing to learn how to help teach the dog good manners, and not confuse the dog by using the same words to mean different things. And you will need help if you are sick, or if you need to be away for a short time.

Planning:

You always need to be one step ahead. What will change for you and the dog in the future, will you be going away to school? going to work? and if you go away can you take the dog? if the dog can't go with you what will happen to it?

Always think about what comes next. Find out about puppy kindergarten before you get the puppy, find out about dog training classes before your puppy gets out of kindergarten, think about fun things to do with your dog to keep both of you busy and active.

Choosing:

All dogs are not alike. The dog that is right for me might not be a good dog for you. I believe that dogs that are taught good manners have more freedom and are happier than dogs that are not taught good manners. If you have never taught a dog before you will be happier if you get one that is easier to teach. Some dogs have short hair that needs just a little brushing, some people enjoy dogs with long hair that needs careful care every day. A short hair dog might shed a lot or hardly at all. The same with a long haired dog.

There are lots of things to think about when choosing a dog. So be very careful and choose the right one for you.

Here are some books to look at:

These books are about RAISING AND TRAINING dogs:
"What All Good Dogs Should Know" by Volhard
"How to Raise a Puppy You Can Live With" by Rutherford and Neil
"Dr. Dun bar's Good Little Dog Book" by Dunbar
Before & After Getting Your Puppy by Ian Dunbar
Beginning Family Dog Training by P. McConnell

A shelter or rescue dog might be just the perfect answer. Many of these are fine dogs that got to the shelter or rescue because their previous owner did not do their homework.

Adult dogs are often a good choice because they don't need as much of your time as a puppy would. It is also easy to tell what the dog will be like if it is already an adult. There are fewer surprises with an adult dog.

A GOOD shelter or rescue evaluation can really do a good job of matching dog to owner. You figure out what you need, and what you can provide. The people at the shelter or rescue should know something about the dog, and can introduce you and help you decide what is likely to work for you.

Here are some books to read to learn more about shelter and rescue dogs:
Do Over Dogs - Give Your Dog A Second Chance For A First Class Life by Pat Miller
Love Has No Age Limit - Welcoming An Adopted Dog Into Your Home by Pat McConnell and Karen London
Second Hand Dog by Carol Lea Benjamin

When you decide to get your dog don't just take the first cute furry face that comes along. It may be hard but it is well worth it to apply temperament tests, carefully evaluate the dog, and wait for the one that is truly right for your family. You CAN'T save them all, but you CAN save the one that has the best chance of having a happy life with you, and that is the one that matches your family.
And if you do decide to go for a purebred, don't waste your money on a pet store dog, or one from a casual breeder (one who may love their dog, but doesn't know, for example, what genetic health checks to do before deciding to breed). Most dogs have potential for genetic disease, often not showing up until you have become completely attached to the dog - older than two, sometimes much older. If you are paying big money for a dog (over $100) then part of what you should be paying for is a reduced risk of genetic disease and attention to sound physical and mental health. That doesn't happen with the casual breeder and especially not with the pet-store dog.

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Copyright © 1997-2003, Diane Blackman    Created: January 17, 1997     Updated August 13, 2011

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