How to Choose a Puppy

If you are thinking about welcoming a new puppy to your family, consider that this is a fifteen or more year long commitment and therefore deserves careful consideration. Start the process with the ABC’s in mind:

Ask for Assistance: Enlist the support of a 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, an expert can help you narrow down your choice.

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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. Also, remember that each pup is an individual and while a general assessment of a pup’s potential future activity level, behavioral tendencies, and the like can be made, it is ultimately your responsibility to guide your pup towards becoming the mannerly, well-socialized adult dog you hope for. That will require early and ongoing management, supervision and training, and a whole lot of love.

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.

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Bringing home a puppy is a lifetime commitment that comes with many responsibilities and expenses to consider:

  1. 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 client of mine 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 the 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 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 well-being, but some require a much more diligent commitment. So, be sure you choose a dog whose grooming requirements you can meet.
  4. Training Costs: Early intervention to help your pup 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 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.
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Mixed Breed or Purebred?: I adore dogs of all shapes and sizes, have a particular passion for understanding the history of breeds, and I’m thrilled when people choose the adoption option. If you’re considering a purebred dog consider:

  1. While some breed generalizations ring true, purebred does not mean well bred.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 two 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.
  4. 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.

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…a whole lifetime of love!