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

By Kathy Edstrom and Linda Arndt, DVM

Getting a dog is a big decision and is one that should not be taken lightly. In part one we discussed the responsibilities of bringing a dog into your household. We would like to continue discussing this very important subject by reviewing the pros and cons of getting an older dog versus getting a puppy and where and how to obtain a puppy or dog of your choice.

Adult Dog versus Puppy

An older dog versus a puppy - both of these choices have pros and cons attached to them. Since each family is different, you can create a chart with notes pertaining to each option as you think about them in terms of your family. We’ve started the list for you as an example of this thought process. During your research you can add to this list as pros and cons come to mind.

Pros of getting an older dog:

* May be housebroken
* May be well trained
* May be calmer due to maturity or age

Cons of getting an older dog:

* May have a pre-existing health issues
* May have some undesirable behaviors/habits. It takes A LOT of time and effort to modify old behaviors/habits and sometimes those behaviors/habits can not be completely turned around.
* May not be as active as you'd like your dog to be

Pros of getting a puppy:

* Ability to bond with your pup at an early age
* Can train early and avoid the formation of undesirable behaviors/habits
* Opportunity to watch pup mature

Cons of getting a puppy:

* Not housebroken
* Training takes A LOT of time and effort
* Pups require constant supervision because this is the time in their life when they have a tremendous amount of energy to expend and the need to investigate every nook and corner of the environment around them.
* They are considered pups or adolescent dogs til approximately two and a half years of age

Where to Get Your Puppy/Dog

It is important to research breeders when looking to adopt a pure bred dog. Below is a list of sources to investigate when looking for reputable breeders.

* Breeders Directory
* Internet
* National Breed Clubs
* Dog-Related
* Magazines
* Veterinarians
* Dog Shows
* Dog Trainers

These sources do not guarantee that a breeder is reputable, but you can find breeders in your area with which to start your search. Reputable breeders make sure that their breeding stock is as healthy as possible and will be unlikely to pass on to its puppies genetic disorders or poor temperaments.

Animal Shelters and Rescue Groups

Careful selection of a puppy/dog will be necessary if purchasing a puppy/dog from an animal shelter or rescue group. Locate and read information about the selection of shelter dogs written by Sue Sternberg, or subscribe to The Whole Dog Journal and read, in the July 2001 issue, “How to Pick a Winner” written by Pat Miller. These sources will educate you as to the things to look for when interacting with a dog/puppy that you are considering for adoption from either type of organization.

In many cases the family tree and the initial care and handling of a puppy/dog turned over to the animal shelter or rescue group will be unknown. There are financial and emotional risks associated with these unknowns. You may not know what the puppy/dog will really be like until you have had it in your home for a period of time. However, in some cases, a great deal of information is known about a puppy/dog, which can be helpful. Conscientious staff should make you aware of whatever they know about a puppy/dog that is up for adoption.

Newspaper Ads

Both reputable and not so reputable breeders will use newspaper ads to sell their puppies and dogs. It will be your job to decide who is who. More information pertaining to this subject will be covered under “How to Pick Out Your Puppy”, which will be discussed later in the article.

Where Not to Get Your Puppy

Puppy Mill Breeders

These breeders advertise on the Internet and in newspapers/magazines. They typically have large numbers of litters each year and often times own more than one or two breeds of dogs. Remember to ask how many litters a breeder has in a year. Numerous litters within a year’s time may indicate a quantity versus quality attitude by the breeder.

Breeding dogs to minimize genetic disease, health problems, and poor temperament in the resulting puppies requires a great deal of knowledge, financial investment, and effort. Puppy mill breeders are more interested in the number of puppies they can produce and sell. They spend little money in terms of the studying and testing of their own breeding stock for problems or even on the housing and caring of their breeding stock.

The goal of a puppy mill breeder is to wean and sell the puppies as fast as they can produce them, often turning the pups over to buyers at a very young age. Obtaining a puppy from a breeder before the eighth or tenth week of age denies that puppy the time to experience and learn from living with its siblings and older adult male and female dogs. Puppies can learn appropriate behaviors and body language associated with dog-to-dog interactions as well as bite inhibition by spending time with and playing with their littermates and other adult dogs at an early age.

Pet Stores

Most pet store puppies are obtained from breeders who need to move what they consider less than acceptable puppies for their own goals or who are more interested in quantity than quality. Puppy mills are frequently the source of pet store puppies. Even though these puppies are guaranteed and come with health statements, you are taking a great risk with your pocketbook and your family’s emotional attachment to a puppy is at stake. Often times your money will not be refunded if a puppy has to be returned to a pet store for health or temperament issues. If a store manager allows a puppy to be returned, usually you are asked to pick out another puppy from their selection of available puppies.

Sometimes pet store puppies are difficult to housetrain. Usually these puppies are urinating and having bowel movements in the cages they are confined in. Because they have not been taught otherwise or allowed to experience anything else, they believe that it is OK to go to the bathroom wherever they find themselves, even where they sleep. They have not developed the desirable habit of going to the bathroom outside.

Backyard Breeders

These breeders have one or an occasional litter of puppies. Often times they neglect to make themselves knowledgeable of the diseases and health problems that plague dogs today. You need to make sure that this type of breeder is truly conscientious and did not breed their dog just so they could keep a puppy or because they thought it would be good for the female dog to have a litter of pups before they had her spayed. These breeders often times have the good intentions of bringing two nice family dogs together to produce nice puppies that will grow up to be wonderful pets. However, they may have no idea of the money that needs to be spent or the tests done to insure healthy breeding stock.

How to Pick Out Your Puppy

Find the names of several breeders.
Visit their homes or breeding facilities announced and unannounced at least once.

Here is a checklist of things to consider before picking out your puppy/dog.

  1. Does this breeder breed dogs for conformation shows, as pets or for other activities such as field trials or other dog sports? These goals will have a direct relationship to energy levels and temperaments of the puppies these breeders produce. If you are looking for a pet you may not want a dog with a conformation show temperament that requires a bold “look at me” attitude, or a puppy with a field trial or dog sports energy level.
  2. Ask to see current litters of puppies if possible. What condition do they appear to be in? (Are the puppies clean, active and healthy looking? If visible, do the puppies’ feces look normal or do the puppies have diarrhea? Is there an explanation for the diarrhea? Have the puppies recently been given medication for parasites common to puppies? Have the puppies recently experienced a change in diet?)
  3. Ask to see the female and male dogs that they use for the breeding stock, especially the parents and grandparents of a litter you are interested in. Often times the male dog, father of the litter, may not be on the premises. However, if the breeder is reluctant or does not have a good reason not to have you see the female dog, mother of the litter, find another breeder to work with.
  4. Take note of the cleanliness of the area the puppies are kept in the home or the facility.
  5. Ask where litters of puppies are housed for the first 8 weeks of their life. (Example, in the kitchen or in the basement.) Puppies that are isolated have not been exposed to beneficial stimuli including sights, sounds, smells and touch.
  6. Has the litter been allowed to urinate and defecate outside on a regular basis each day in an effort to teach the habit of relieving themselves outside rather than inside the house/facility?
  7. Have the puppies been separated and housed in their own crates so that they have become accustomed to spending time alone, as well as sleeping alone at night? This behavior will make your pup’s transition to sleeping in your home, without its warm littermates next to him/her, much easier. Puppies that have learned to enjoy several periods of time each day in their crates, by themselves, adjust readily to crate usage in their new homes.
  8. Note if there are toys available for the puppies to play with.
  9. Ask if the puppies have been exposed to more of the world than their pen or enclosure area. This is important for pups older than 6 weeks of age so they can practice essential investigative behavior. (Example: outside, another room of the house, a neighbor's house, a field) Appropriate, safe investigative behavior builds confidence in young puppies.
  10. Does the breeder expose the puppies to well behaved children during the first 8 weeks? Does the breeder instruct your children in terms of how to appropriately introduce themselves to the puppies and handle the puppies? Puppies should be given the freedom to approach children or adults. Children and adults should not approach or chase a puppy in order to grab it and interact with it.
  11. Ask about diseases and temperament problems that you know are specific to that breed of dog. (What has the breeder done in terms of preventing these problems?)
  12. Ask about vaccinations, fecal checks and worming procedures. (Have these been done and by whom?)
  13. Ask about the breeder’s contract of sale and the return policy. (Do they guarantee their pups? For what? Until what age?)
  14. Ask about AKC registration papers and the breeder’s policy about turning those papers over to you after you purchase the puppy. It is not uncommon for a pet owner to receive the registration papers for the puppy after it has been neutered or spayed.
  15. Ask for the names of five families that already own this breeder’s puppies. Call these people up and ask them about their satisfaction with the dog they purchased from the breeder. (How did the dog act as a puppy? Ask to see the dog if possible.)
  16. Ask for the name of the veterinarian that they use the most often. Veterinary records are confidential, but at least you will know that the breeder does have a relationship with and access to a veterinarian.

It is important that the breeder get to know you also. They should be asking you numerous questions about your family, your home and your expectations for your new puppy or dog. If you have developed a good relationship with the breeder, it will be easier for them to match you with the appropriate puppy out of a litter. If you do not have that kind of relationship with a breeder, move on to another breeder. Somewhere during this process you will become more comfortable with one of these breeders over the others. Be patient when looking for a puppy because this puppy will be with you for many years.

Looking at a Litter of Pups or a Single Pup

When looking at a litter of puppies you will be able to pick out extremes in terms of their personalities. You will only be able to do this if you visit the litter numerous times. The sleepy puppy on the first visit may be the wide-awake puppy on the next visit. The breeder will be most familiar with the puppies’ personalities. The same is true of a single puppy/dog at the animal shelter or with a rescue group. The staff will know the puppy/dog the best. Remember, animal shelter puppies/dogs are confined a great deal of time and their energy level or lack of can mean different things. Observe any litter/puppy/dog carefully realizing that how they are acting may be no more than a reflection of its current confinement/home situation.

Looking at a litter of puppies you should avoid the shy puppy as well as the assertive puppy unless you have specific knowledge about handling such puppies. It will be important to match the puppy’s personality to the makeup of your family. A family with children may want a mellow puppy versus the most active puppy in the litter. Give great consideration to how well your children will listen to you and understand that they will not be able to wrestle and grab the puppy or play chase games with the puppy. Puppies will see children as littermates and will treat them so, biting and nipping in an innocent effort to play. Pay careful attention to how the puppies play with their littermates and you will have great insight into how the pup will attempt to play with your children.

If you have specific activities in mind for your puppy, one personality may be better suited to that activity than another. Therefore, it is important to know the activities you intend to pursue before you purchase a puppy. It will be disappointing to you if you later decide to participate in a dog sport activity and your puppy does not have the temperament to help you be successful. Learn about different dog sports and mention the ones you find interesting to the breeder or animal shelter or rescue group staff.

Ask to view the litter and then the single pup that interests you in a room or other environment that is new to the puppies and pup. Look for the puppy that will move off and freely investigate a strange environment while making sure it always knows where you are. A puppy that is unafraid to investigate new objects and yet is the first one back to you when you call “puppy, puppy” or a puppy that frequently returns to you and wants to be touched is a puppy you should give great consideration to. Puppies that won’t leave your side in this situation have not “picked” you, they are afraid. Those puppies, puppies that dodge your hand and do not want to be petted after they come up to you and puppies that stay as far from humans as they can get should be avoided.

If you do not find the puppy you are looking for in a particular litter, walk away. Unless you have researched a breeder and the puppies they produce thoroughly, it is not recommended that you get on a waiting list and accept any puppy the breeder wants to sell to you, especially sight unseen. Do not buy a puppy just because you have waited so long or the children are demanding their puppy today. In reality, it will be your puppy, not your children’s. This puppy must be compatible with you and your family because 12 to 15 years, maybe longer, is a long time to live with a dog you do not like living with.

The first two years will hold the most challenges for you as the puppy grows, develops and matures. You will be in charge of its training. The pet this puppy grows up to be will be a direct result of its genetic background, the way it was raised from birth to the date you take the puppy home and the effort you put into teaching the puppy what is expected of him/her.

What if you pick the wrong puppy/dog for your family?

A puppy/dog needs to be placed in a home that is appropriate for it. It is the responsibility of all breeders and shelter staff to find that place for their puppies/dogs. They should be happy and willing to take a puppy/dog back, if matching you and your family with a particular puppy did not work out as planned.

There are many unknowns involved when choosing a puppy or dog. You can only do your best in picking a puppy/dog suitable to join your family. Conscientious breeders and shelter staff, your research and your litter/pup/dog observations can help a great deal in this effort. However, if you find yourself in the unenviable position of having brought a puppy/dog into your home that does not work out for your family, then you should return the puppy/dog as soon as possible.

Well worth the wait!!!

It is your responsibility to not take lightly the act of bringing a puppy/dog into your home. Do your homework in an attempt to find the right dog for you and your family. Understand what bringing a puppy/dog into your home truly entails. Educate yourself and your family about what it means to live with a puppy or a dog. Commit to training classes that teach the puppy/dog, in a positive way, the habits you want your puppy/dog to exhibit. Enjoy the journey to many happy and endearing years with your canine companion.


Published November 2003