There is a weekly television show, Puppy Days, on Nat Geo WILD that I happened to catch while flipping channels one evening. The show follows six families from across the US who have adopted puppies, either purebred or rescue, and follows them through a “Diarycam” feature documenting their reasoning for adopting and experiences with raising, their individual puppies.
Watching that show over a period of weeks is what’s prompting this post. It is not a critique of the puppy owners, but meant for people who are considering getting one.
As a little background, I own four dogs presently, all raised from puppy-hood. I’ve also had four previous pups who are now departed, also raised from puppy-hood for a total of eight dogs in 16 years. The pups are/were comprised of Doberman Pinschers, Boston Terriers, German Shepherds and a mix, whom at the time I adopted him, was told by the rescue group, he was Lab/Retriever mix. Couldn’t be farther from the truth. After a DNA test, he’s a mix of American Bulldog, English Bulldog, Saluki, and Husky. And trust me, when I tell you, he looks like, and follows those traits.
In my years of owning my pups, I have been through almost every ailment, behavior challenge, and joy you can experience when owning a dog. Nothing phases me. I am not a breeder, but I’ve shown one of my Shepherds, who had a debut and swan song all on the same day. I am a dog owner whose pups are my family.
But I digress. If you think you’re ready for a puppy, thinking about a puppy, then continue reading before you make the final decision. Read the following eight questions, and if you answer yes to most of them, you’re ready for a puppy, who before you know it, will grow into adulthood
- Are you ready for a baby? I am not kidding. A puppy is a four-legged baby, who will keep you up at night, at least in the beginning, need almost constant attention, and require special surroundings, as in crate/kennel to keep them safe at night along with daily time-outs. They’ll need a special puppy-food diet, toys for their size and teeth, and trips to the vet for their initial shots.
Puppies also need special handling because of their size, be they Yorkies or Great Danes. The same care that you would take with a baby you have to take with a puppy because they too, are small, their bones are developing, as are their sight, smell, and memories. They should not be given the run of the house, because that’s what usually causes most of the problems. Puppies should be in a limited enclosure when you can’t be with them 24/7, so they’re not overwhelmed, and there’s easy clean-up when they make a mess.
- Does everyone want a puppy? Unless you’re single and/or live alone, everyone, and I mean everyone, has to be on board. No reservations. If there are some, talk them out thoroughly. The puppy is going going to be interacting not only with YOU, but with other family members, pets, neighbors, friends, etc. All it takes is one person, be it family member, boyfriend/girlfriend to start complaining, become frustrated, cry, etc. and then it goes downhill from there. And the once happy family becomes torn and unhappy. And the puppy will pay the price.
- Have you done your homework as to what breed of dog is right for you (and your family?) Even if you decide not to go purebred, but rather adopt from either a shelter or rescue, the people who run the the latter can usually tell you what they think is the dog’s mix. But beware here, because what the dog looks like as a puppy, can be entirely different as they grow older. My Noel, the “lab/mix” mentioned above, is a bonafide example.
I can’t stress enough the amount of time that you should put into researching the kind of dog that would be a good fit for you, in terms of size, temperament, and health. It’s the difference between a lifetime of love and happiness or putting up with the dog, until it dies or is surrendered to a shelter.
From AKC.org to Dogster, et al., there are a number of sites that can help you determine what’s the right pup for you. Visit these sites, because they’re pretty spot-on with what to expect from each of the breeds. Don’t be overwhelmed by cuteness, or the kinds of pups your neighbors have, or what other friends and family recommend. They’re not going to be living with the pup, you are. You know your lifestyle and habits. Get a dog that will fit with them. If you’re a couch potato, or by the computer all day, then an Irish Setter or Border Collie is not for you.
Also, consider the size. So many times people forget about this when taking home a puppy. Whether you live in 900 sq. ft. or 4000 sq. ft., think of the future puppy as volume. Three of my pups are in the 80-100 lb. range, and that little Shepherd pictured above is a thigh-high road block when trying to get out the door or come home, or at times move anywhere in the house.
- Have you done your homework as to how to train your puppy and who will train it? If this is your first puppy, or even your second, do “not try this at home,” to use a phrase. Spend the money and find a trainer and/or training class. You send a child to school; you need to send a puppy to training class and PRACTICE what you learn in training class at home. It will make your puppy days and later dog years much happier. The first few months, about three, are your pup’s most formative. And what the pup learns and how it is treated, will be carried with it throughout its life. Dogs have memories just as people do.
A major point with training, if the trainer doesn’t seem to know what he/she is doing (like general pet store trainers, sorry), or something just feels “off” to you, find another trainer. Trust me when I tell you, your instincts will know. And then watch your dog; they’ll signal you as well with their eyes, ears, tail and behavior. The right trainer and training is an investment that will pay you dividends throughout your life and the dog’s.
- Is your home puppy-proof? Just as with babies and small children, wires, plugs and cords, must be hidden or secured. Items such as Legos, stockings, anything small that can be put in a child’s mouth, will also go into a puppy’s. Doors and drawers can be nudged open with a nose, so if anything is contained within them that the puppy reach, move them to a safer place, OR, be ready for a vet visit. As the puppy grows, so will his/her ability to chew, therefore, if you don’t want shoes or anything else eaten, either gate off the room enclosure, or put away the item behind closed doors or atop a shelf, or keep it off the floor.
- Are you ready for the time and emotional commitment? Puppies/dogs are not like the TV, but rather like a teen and mobile phone, as in always on it. Puppies, when they’re not sleeping or being cute, can drive you crazy. In fact, most dogs can when they’re bonded to you, like mine are. They’ll nudge you when you’re on the computer, they’re with you in the bathroom, they’re underfoot (unless trained) when you’re making dinner, they’re into things across the room when you’re not paying attention, they’ll want to go for walks and play at the oddest hours, you get the picture.
One of the main reasons pups end up at the shelter is that people do not realize the time commitment that a pup takes. Hence, I refer you back to pt. 1, are you ready for a baby, and as it grows, a child.
I’ve always viewed my dogs as family members. When they hurt, I hurt. And when the time came for euthanasia, to put them out of pain, they died in my arms. Are you ready for the emotional commitment a pup takes.
- Are you ready for the clean-up and maintenance? Puppies have accidents. Hopefully, that’s obvious to everyone. But ask yourself, are you really ready for the clean-up, and the different kinds, not only in the house (including furniture), but the yard, sidewalk, and everywhere else. Are you ready not only for the usual waste materials, but also for the diarrhea and the vomit. Are you ready for the mud tracks in the spring and fall, the shedding, and for those in the suburbs and rural, the skunking. Beside bathing the pup, you’ll also need to wash the dog bedding, the leashes, the winter coats and sweaters.
- And the best for last — are you ready for the expense? It always amazes me when I read the estimates of what it will cost annually to own a specific dog breed, when I visit these dogster-type websites. I look at the estimated cost and then say, “triple it.” At least.Food costs are subjective, but puppy food has to be done right, because you’re building the dog’s health and physical foundation. If you have to skimp somewhere, skimp on the bedding or toys, but not food or training. Invest in a good quality food puppy food because pups need the extra nutrition, and it will pay dividends in a pup’s health and its adult health. I don’t necessarily mean the $80/bag dog food, either.
Puppy ailments? Olympia, shown above, met a bee the first day she was home in the backyard. Face puffed up like a balloon and into the vet we went. Chipper, my Boston, found a knee-high stocking on the floor, and needed surgery. (see Pt. #5 before it happens to you.) Otherwise, it can be anything from gastro upsets, torn nails, to something more serious, like panosteitis, with large breed dogs, (also been there.)
Vet costs can be the equivalent of an annual car payment if you run into surgeries or a major ailment. Consider investing in pet insurance. I did, and when it came to surgeries and testing procedures for multiple ailments, I was more than reimbursed for the insurance premiums I paid and then some. Not all pet insurance is created equally, so do your homework.
Toys, bedding, leashes, harnesses, bathing/grooming products (if D-I-Y), over-the-counter meds like Benadryl or hydrogen peroxide, coats/sweaters for short-hair pups, although in freezing cold, my Shepherds have coats as well, dog-walkers, kennel costs, extra hotel costs if you travel with your pup, and all the aforementioned food and training costs.
So that’s about it. Remember what begins as a puppy by the end of year one, depending upon breed, is pretty close to adult size. That puppy crate long ago outlived its usefulness and the 1/2 cup of food has now become three cups or more.
If you decide a puppy is right for you (and your family), then congratulations. You won’t regret it. There will be mistakes along the way, but don’t beat yourself up.
Hopefully, I’ve helped some in your decision process with the questions above. If you have any questions for me that I haven’t covered, feel free to drop me a line and I’ll answer best I can.