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What Everyone Needs to Know BEFORE Getting a Dog (Part One)

By Kathy Edstrom and Linda Arndt, DVM

There are many factors to consider when making the decision to bring a puppy or a dog into your home. It is necessary to consider the number of adults and children in the household, along with other pets. Questions must be asked and answers discussed. Is anyone in the family allergic to dogs? What are your goals for the dog and what types of activities might you participate in with the dog? Most importantly, who in the family is most interested in having a dog and is there a family member who really doesn’t want a dog?

Then you have the care of the dog to consider. Who will groom, feed and water the dog? Whose responsibility will it be to take a puppy outside to go to the bathroom numerous times and exercise a puppy so it can expend the abundant energy it possesses? Exercising a young dog does not mean taking it for a walk on a leash. It means playing fetch or allowing the dog to run and investigate your yard or another safe area off leash. Who in the family wants to supervise those activities?

Other factors to consider are where in your home or on your property will your dog eat, sleep, go to the bathroom and run for daily exercise? What rooms of the home will a puppy be allowed in and what barriers will you put up to restrict the puppy’s movements throughout your home until it gets older and more mature?

Dogs that are eight weeks to approximately two and a half years old need opportunities to expend the great amounts of energy that they all have. In some communities, rules do not permit fenced yards. If you live in a community with such rules, or you simply don’t have a fenced yard, how do you intend to monitor and restrict the dog’s movements to prevent the dog from going into the road, the woods or your neighbor’s yard?

Do you have room in your home for a dog crate or two? Crate training is a wonderful management tool when taught properly to a young puppy. (See Training Tips, April 2002 – “Positive Techniques for Crate Training Your Dog “.) The crate can be a safe haven for your puppy when you are not home, at night when the puppy needs a “time out”, and when you are not able to give 100% of your attention to the puppy. If you choose not to crate train your puppy, how do you intend to prevent “puppy damage” when you are not observing the puppy or confine the puppy when it needs a “time out”?

You may not have to make many changes to your home, but you will have to rearrange your schedule to include time for a dog. Daily training is an essential part of having a dog. People often don’t realize this and end up having problems because they do not practice training exercises with the dog. Repetition of desirable behaviors is necessary for a dog to get in the habit of acting in a desirable way.

You can count on spending two hours (minimum) or more teaching your puppy each day. Puppies do well with frequent training sessions. These sessions are short and take place anywhere in or outside of the home where distractions are minimal. These sessions may last a minute or two in the early weeks and longer as the puppy’s training advances and the puppy’s attention span increases.

Here’s an exercise for you to try. Make a chart that divides two hours into five-minute intervals. Starting in the morning, plan out how you or other family members would spend a total of at least two hours in direct interaction (exercising, grooming, playing and training occasions) with your puppy. During the remaining twenty-two hours of a twenty- four-hour day the puppy will sleep, go outside to eliminate, eat, be crated, or independently play under someone’s watchful eye.

Example:

Time:  Who will interact with the pup?

* First Five Minutes: 12-Year Old Child with Dad

Doing what with the puppy? Taking the pup outside to play ball

* Second ... Mom with the dog 

Doing what with the puppy? Teaching the pup to relax

* Third ... Dad with the dog

Doing what with the puppy? Assignment from Puppy Class

* Fourth ... Mom with the dog

Doing what with the puppy? Encouraging pup to play with toys

As your puppy gets older, five to eight months of age, the puppy can enjoy extended training sessions. The puppy’s ability to concentrate is naturally longer and by now you have taught and practiced calm behavior, which allows you to work with your puppy for extended periods of time. This is the age when a puppy becomes more interested in what the environment has to offer than in what you have to offer. Therefore, training sessions and time spent with your puppy in constructive activities become vitally important.

Exercise Number Two: Break down a two-hour time period into fifteen-minute intervals. Fill in what direct interaction will take place between family members and your dog.

Example:
Time:
Who will interact with the dog?

* First Fifteen Minutes - Mom with dog

Doing what with the dog? Assignment from Advanced Class

* Second ... Dad with dog

Doing what with the dog? Grooming the dog

* Third ... 12-Year Old Child with Mom

Doing what with the dog? Taking the dog outside to play ball

There is no way around it. When you bring a puppy or dog into your family, you and your family owe it your time and your attention if you want the dog to exhibit appropriate behaviors.

What Breed Best Suits Your Family

It is unlikely that you will be interested in a breed that is not attractive to you in terms of how it looks. American Kennel Club (AKC) dog shows will have dogs of every breed available for you to look at. However, there is much more to a dog than just its looks.

Dogs were developed over time to perform specific duties and types of work. The physical and mental characteristics needed to do their “work” are part of a breed’s genetic makeup. You should be familiar with a breed’s history because this research will lead you to information about possible characteristics (energy level, need for exercise, social versus independent attitude, trainability, etc) that you will have to live with when you bring your puppy home.

Dog breeds, over time, have also developed a genetic predisposition to certain diseases. It is necessary for you to be familiar with these diseases so you can ask the proper questions of veterinarians and breeders. Health problems can cost you a great deal of money and emotional turmoil if a loved family pet has to be put to sleep at a young age.

We will pose twelve questions that you should take the time to answer. The answers to these questions will help you determine the breeds of dogs that you feel will be compatible with your family. The answers can be found in books, on the Internet, from breeders, dog clubs and veterinarians. It is better to spend time now, doing the necessary research, rather than regretting the decision to bring a certain breed of dog into your home.

Before starting your research, have a family discussion concerning the expectations you have for a puppy, the dog as an adult, and each family member as a possible caretaker for the dog. One thing a dog needs from its caretakers is consistency and reasonable, realistic expectations. Remember, a puppy is always perfect at being a dog. We are ones that often ask our perfect puppies and dogs to act like furry little human beings in order to fit them into our world, our schedules, and fulfill our needs. Dogs cannot and never will act like furry little human beings. Dogs only know how to act like dogs.

Exercise Number Three: Choose three breeds you are interested in and then answer each question for each breed that you have selected.

1) Was this breed of dog originally bred as a companion animal or to perform a type of work?

2) How does this history affect this breed of dog’s behavior when interacting with humans?

3) How big will this dog get once he/she is an adult?

4) How might strangers or unfamiliar situations affect this breed of dog?

5) How might the activity level of our children affect this breed of dog?

6) How might this breed of dog interact with other animals?

7) What health problems are common to this breed of dog?

8) What energy level is typical of this breed of dog?

9) How large of a yard or exercise area do we need for this breed of dog?

10) What kind of shedding and grooming needs should we expect with this breed of dog?

11) What kind of activities would this breed of dog be interested in or naturally talented at?

12) Do my family members have personalities and characteristics that would make living with this type of dog easy or difficult?

If you need information on a specific breed of dog, the Internet has a wealth of information at your fingertips. You can also visit an area dog club, or your nearest veterinarian’s office. These people can share experiences with you first hand.

As you can see, having a dog is not as cut and dry as some folks might think. Dr. Arndt and I invite you to come back and read Part Two of this very important topic, “What Everyone Needs to Know before Getting a Dog”. The discussion will include the pros and cons of getting an older dog versus getting a puppy. We will also discuss where to get your puppy and where NOT to get your puppy. You won’t want to miss Part Two!

Published October 2003