If you are thinking about welcoming a new puppy to your family, consider that this is a commitment for fifteen or more years and therefore deserves careful consideration. Start the process with the ABC’s in mind:
Ask for Assistance: Enlist the support of a professional dog trainer, veterinarian, or shelter staff to help choose the companion dog that is best suited to your family and vice versa. With hundreds of dogs to choose from, a dog expert can help you narrow down your choice. When it comes to choosing a puppy, a pet expert will advise you to focus on the dog’s temperament (personality), activity level, cost of care (which can vary greatly depending on size, breed/mix, etc.), and to avoid making a decision based solely on looks (such as coat or eye color). While we all want a dog we find aesthetically pleasing, the dog’s temperament, activity level, and health are of far greater importance than what the dog looks like.
Be Realistic: Just as there are no perfect people or families, consider that there are no breeds or mixes that are perfect. The goal is not to find the ‘perfect’ dog, but rather to narrow your search to a type of dog that has the general attributes that are most likely to fit with your lifestyle and from there to find the individual puppy or dog that has a temperament (personality) best suited to your lifestyle. Breed or type generalizations most certainly ring true in many cases (for example, Beagles tend to be vocal and love to catch and follow a scent, Belgian Malinois tend to be super high energy, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels tend to be a bit more low-key). But within every breed and even every litter there are a range of personalities (just like in human families). The goal is to find a breed or type of dog that meets some general criteria (size, energy level, grooming requirements, possible health issues) and then to do an assessment of pups as the unique individuals they are to find one that is most compatible with your family. A general assessment of a pup’s potential future activity level, behavioral tendencies, and the like can be made when they are quite young, and this will help inform you as you develop a plan for raising a mannerly, well-socialized adult dog.
Create a wish List: Start with a detailed list outlining your weekly schedule, the general time and monetary commitment you can make, and the activities you enjoy (and hope for your dog to be a part of). This will give you a good starting point in regards to what sort of dog may be most suitable for your family.
Welcoming a puppy into your family is a lifetime commitment that comes with many responsibilities and expenses to consider:
- Medical Costs: In an ideal world, a puppy would require veterinary visits for only the most routine vaccinations and checkups. Unfortunately, some dogs tend to be more prone to health issues. If you are considering a purebred dog, be sure to carefully research breed specific health concerns such as joint, heart, eye, skin, and breathing issues. If you are purchasing from a breeder, be sure to confirm they do extensive testing for known health issues that the breed is prone to. A student of ours in NYC welcomed a beautiful, wrinkly English Bulldog pup into her family with all of the high hopes one would expect from a new puppy parent. Unfortunately, within the first six months she had to make upwards of twenty visits to their primary care veterinarian and to veterinary specialists as the pup developed severe skin and breathing issues. While she adores her dog and is committed to providing all the care he needs, she says that she might have chosen differently had she known that the breed tends to suffer from these issues more so than many others. While a dog of any breed or mix may someday require extensive and costly veterinary treatment (which you should be prepared to provide), some types of dogs have the odds against them in regards to long-term health issues.
- Food Costs: Providing a dog with a high quality diet is one of the fundamental responsibilities in regards to their overall well being. The difference in cost for a medium versus large sized dog is probably not vast. But, the cost of feeding a 5-pound dog versus a 120-pound dog surely is. Head to your local pet store and make a calculation of what a monthly supply of food will be for the size of dog you are considering and be sure you can comfortably budget for this for the next 15 years.
- Grooming Costs : For years I shared my life with Gordon Setters. I really enjoyed the time spent grooming them and was proud when people would comment on their beautiful, flowing black and tan coats. But, not everyone is prepared to commit the time for at-home grooming or the expense of hiring a professional groomer to maintain a coat like this. Grooming is an essential part of helping to maintain any dog’s overall health and well-being (matted coats can be quite painful for a dog and may restrict their movement and cause hot spots), but some require a much more diligent and potentially costly commitment. So, be sure you choose a dog whose grooming requirements you can meet.
- Training Costs: Early intervention to help your puppy learn good manners before behavior issues develop and focusing on a well-planned socialization protocol are imperative to set a young pup up for success throughout adulthood. Many people choose puppy training group classes and play groups, others choose a combination of private training lessons and play groups. Consider which option suits you best and research costs in your area so you can budget for about 6-12 months of training support for your puppy through adolescence.
Mixed Breed or Purebred?: Our training team in New York City adore dogs of all shapes, sizes, and ages, and all of the dog trainers have a particular passion for understanding the history of breeds. But, we are also thrilled when people choose the adoption option. If you’re considering a purebred dog be sure to diligently research the general temperament, activity level, health, and grooming requirements of each breed of dog:
- While some breed generalizations ring true, purebred does not mean well bred.
- Read the breed standard carefully and with a grain of salt. The standard refers to the ideal specimen for the breed. For example, it may suggest that the breed should be good with children. In reality, all dogs need socialization, training, and guidance and all children should learn how to behave around dogs and be supervised while doing so. There is no such thing as a push button or ready-made family dog. So, be prepared to put the effort into your pup’s education and training to bring out their best, regardless of the breed.
- There is certainly a predictability factor to choosing a purebred, but within a breed, and even a litter, there will be a wide range of personalities. Much like how two children from the same family will have unique personalities. So, if you choose a particular breed, be sure to spend plenty of time getting to know the adult dogs in the breeder’s line and the pups in the litter you are choosing from.
- If you have become enamored with a breed of dog based on a character in a movie or commercial you may be disappointed if the dog doesn’t live up to the idealized image presented in the media or in the breed standard. After all, few Collies are as apt to consistently save a little boy’s life as Lassie and few German Shepherd Dogs are as heroic as Rin Tin Tin. Far too many dogs and families suffer because of what trainers refer to as the ‘Lassie Syndrome” (people choosing dogs solely based on a dog they have seen in a movie or TV show). All dogs require our guidance in order to learn how to behave appropriately, and dogs like Lassie (who was actually many dogs performing different behaviors on screen) have hundreds and hundreds of hours of training.
Once you have chosen a dog that has the general characteristics you believe are best suited to your family, it is your responsibility to help guide the pup towards its full potential. That means providing them with the education they need to become a great canine companion and of course…providing them with a lifetime of love!