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How to Bring a Dog into Your Life
Dogs enrich our lives in innumerable ways and are amazingly adaptable to family life. They are our companions and protectors. They amuse us with their antics and touch our hearts with their joyous zest for life. They are straightforward in their needs and love us unconditionally, giving generously of their affection and teaching us how to do the same. They awaken in us the ability to see the world from another perspective and, by luring us outdoors on a daily basis, they link us more closely to the miracles and mysteries of nature. Often they even improve our health by keeping us active and giving us comfort. They also represent a huge responsibility that we must take seriously every day. Dogs are cherished members of our families, requiring our constant attention and devotion. Not a day goes by that they do not need us to take them out for walks and playtime. We must constantly reinforce the socialization and training that begins in early puppyhood. When they are sick or old, we must give them the medical care and companionship that they deserve.
The dog-human relationship is one that too many people enter into lightly. Sadly, many dogs do not grow old in their first homes, and each year millions of dogs are left to roam the streets or are relinquished to shelters (and then often euthanized) because their owners find them to be too much trouble or inappropriate to their lifestyles. Countless other dogs are ignored, poorly trained, or left untrained, and so do not learn to fit comfortably into the family hierarchy and do notget to enjoy the many benefits of a comfortable home life.
The best thing you can do for your family and your future pet is to be as informed as possible before adopting an animal. This section of the ASPCA Complete Guide to Dogs is designed to help you ascertain whether you are ready to handle the responsibility of dog ownership, for it is not a relationship to enter into lightly. You will find advice on how to choose a dog that will fit into your living situation and how to welcome that dog into your home as smoothly as possible. It is also wise to read other sections of the book, such as Taking Care of Your Dog, before making your final decision, so you are prepared for what lies ahead. The information provided is meant to help you plant the seeds necessary to ensure a happy, healthy, and long-lasting relationship between you and your companion animal.
First Things First: Are You Ready for a Dog?
Dogs are dependent creatures. They need daily walks and feeding, training, veterinary care, and all the scratches and pats you can give. They leave hair on the furniture, they drool on the floor, and they knock things over with their tails. Before deciding to adopt a dog, take the time to consider seriously how a pet will affect your life. Begin by thinking about each of the following questions, which are meant to help you determine if you are prepared to bring a dog into your home. If you are bringing a dog into a family situation, include all members of the family in the decision-making process.
Is the timing right?
Before getting a dog, think about where your life is headed. As most dogs live ten to fifteen years, dog ownership is a long-term commitment (especially if you get a puppy). You will have to be ready to take into account the needs of an animal before making any life-changing decisions. If you have a job that requires you to travel often, or if you expect to get such a job in the near future, you need to think about who will take care of your dog while you are gone. If you think you might like to change environments, perhaps by moving from a house in the country to an apartment in the city, consider that some dogs will not adapt well. Keep in mind that many landlords do not welcome pets, especially dogs, thus limiting the choices you will have if you rent rather than own your home.
How long are you away from home each day?
All dogs need to go out and eliminate several times a day. Regular physical exercise, mental stimulation, and social interaction are also essential. Puppies, of course, need almost constant supervision. Although many well-trained adult dogs can be left alone for up to twelve hours, it is not a good idea to leave a pet dog alone for such a long period of time on a regular basis. You may wish to hire a pet sitter or dog walker to care for the dog during the day (or even enroll your dog in "doggy daycare"), but you must be sure you can afford this expense on an ongoing basis. Keeping a dog outdoors, even in a fenced-in yard or run, when no one is at home is not recommended, as it can be dangerous and isolating.
Do you have children?
Most dogs love children, especially if they are introduced to them at an early age and are treated gently by them. Some dogs accept only the children in their own families, while others are uncomfortable around all children, especially those under about seven years old. Young children and dogs should never be left together without adult supervision, and any dog that will be spending time around children must have proper obedience training. For specific information about finding a dog that can fit into a household with children and teaching children how to behave with dogs, read Dogs and Kids (page 28).
Is anyone in your household allergic to dogs?
Unfortunately, some people just can't live in a home with a dog. It's not fair to the person with allergiesor to the dogto initiate a relationship that will ultimately be cut short. Before you decide to adopt a dog, you should make every effort to be sure that no one in your household is allergic. All members of your household should spend time handling the dog of your choice in the environment in which he has been living.
Are you an experienced dog owner?
If you have lived with dogs before and have gone through training with them, you'll probably be able to handle some of the more independent or stubborn breeds, such as briards, Bouviers des Flandres, rottweilers, or Akitas (or mixes descended from any of these breeds). However, you still need to ask yourself if you want to take on the full-time responsibility of caring for such a high-maintenance animal. If you are a first-time dog owner, don't overestimate your ability to establish dominance and maintain control over a canine. For most people it is a learned skill that requires work with a trainer and a lot of practice.
Do you have the time for a dog?
All dogs need training, exercise, and grooming, but the amount of time required for each of these activities varies depending on the size, coat type, and breed background. While German shepherds need vigorous daily exercise and intensive training, their grooming needs are moderate. Pomeranians have minimal exercise needs and are fairly easy dogs to train but require daily grooming. Dogs that are not trained and exercised sufficiently are likely to become destructive. They may chew the furniture or bark and whine, disturbing the neighbors. You should not get a dog if you will not be able to train and exercise him properly. (Under no circumstances should a dog be allowed to wander around outside unsupervised, nor should he be expected to exercise alone in a fenced-in yard.) Regardless of breed, most puppies are demanding day and night. You will have to be prepared to clean up accidents, take your puppy out in the middle of the night, and come home from work at midday to walk and feed him. You will also have to put in the many hours needed in order to obedience train and socialize your puppy so that he learns how to fit into your household.
Do you have other animals?
Talk to your veterinarian and/or a dog trainer about the type of dog you want to get, the kinds of animals you already have, and how all of them might adapt to life together. For example, if you have an intact (unneutered) territorial male and you plan to get another intact male, you may be witness to some serious dogfights. Observe your dog closely around other dogs to be sure she can get along with them. A terrier or terrier mix that hasn't been around cats or other small animals may chase them. For guidelines on introducing a dog and a cat, see page 79. Rabbits and guinea pigs will probably need to be exercised in a room closed off from the dog, unless the dog is socialized with them from a young age. Many dogs will not be able to resist chasing and perhaps attacking a bird flying outside of its cage. Tops of fish or reptile tanks should be closed securely when dogs are in residence.
Can you afford a dog?
No matter how much you pay to obtain a dog, owning a dog is expensive. You must be prepared to pay for food (which can cost hundreds of dollars a year), equipment (brushes, bed, crate), training, grooming, neutering, vaccinations, standard veterinary care, and perhaps boarding and a dog walker. You must also prepare for the unexpected, such as illnesses, accidents, or destructive behavior.
Do you live in a small apartment or in a city?
It is important to consider the size of your living space and the availability of outdoor space when deciding to get a dog. Many dogs live happily in cities as long as they are taken to a park or dog run for playtime each day. Toy and small dogs tend to do better than other dogs in city apartments, but some larger breeds, such as greyhounds and Great Danes, thrive in apartments because they are not particularly active between walks. High-energy dogs of all sizes need a lot of space, both indoors and outdoors. Dogs that bark a lot can be a problem if neighbors live in the same building or very close by.
Are you prepared for the mess?
All dogs shed sometimes, but if you like to keep your house meticulously clean, it probably isn't a good idea to get a dog that sheds a lot, such as a collie, a German shepherd, a keeshond, an Alaskan malamute, or a dalmatian. Poodles, bichons frises, and certain terriers (cairn, Norfolk, and Kerry blue) shed minimally. Many dogs drool, especially large, loose-lipped dogs, such as bloodhounds, Newfoundlands, and Saint Bernards. Retrievers and other dogs with long, powerful tails tend to knock objects off shelves and low tables when wagging their tails. Breakable objects should be stored out of reach of all dogs.
If you get a puppy, you can expect an initial period of havoc and upheaval. Even with the most careful training and attention, a puppy is likely to do some damage when you're not looking, such as chew on the leg of an antique chair, scratch on a door, urinate on a rug, or tear up an important letter. If you are a renter, your landlord may charge you for damage to walls, doors, floors, and other parts of the home.
Do you receive a lot of visitors?
Some dogs, especially those that were developed as guardians, are naturally wary of outsiders. This doesn't mean that they can't be trained. It just means that you will need to devote a lot of time to acclimating your dog to new people and that you will need to supervise him especially carefully when children are around.
The Wrong Reasons to Get a Dog
Because you are lonely
Dogs make wonderful companions, but if you want to be a responsible dog owner you must focus on your ability to meet a dog's long-term needs rather than a dog's ability to meet your short-term needs.
To teach a child how to be responsible
Although children can be given some responsibility for taking care of a dog, such as a morning feeding or an after-school walk, the dog's primary caretaker should be an adult. It is not fair to use a dog strictly as a teaching tool.
Because you feel sorry for a dog in a pet shop
Pity should not be the main motivating factor when you are considering getting a dog. Remember, this is a long-term commitment. In addition, pet stores usually are not reliable sources for dogs. See page 46 for more information on this subject.
Because you think your home needs protection
If the only reason you want to get a dog is to guard your home or property, you'll be better off getting an alarm system. Reliable protection dogs require extensive training and in some cases even more socialization and exercise than other dogs. They are often not appropriate family pets.
As a surprise gift
If you would like to buy someone a dog, you should involve that person in every aspect of choosing the animal. Make sure the recipient of your gift understands the responsibility of dog ownership and is prepared to take it on. Never buy a dog for someone as a surprise.
Matchmaking: Which Dog Is Right for You?
Once you have decided that you are ready for a dog, you must consider such issues as whether you want a male or a female, an adult or a puppy, a large or a small dog, a mixed breed or a purebred. Take the time to find the right canine match. It is the best insurance you have for a long and happy life with your new best friend.
Male or Female?
Whether you get a male or a female dog is largely a matter of personal preference. Although there are many exceptions, males generally wander and fight more than females; they also lift their legs and mark territory (and may kill plants in the process). Females have a tendency to develop breast tumors when middle-aged or older if they are not spayed before their first heat. In the majority of breeds, guardian breeds possibly excepted, males (particularly those that are neutered) are more sociable and affectionate and almost seem to have a sense of humor. Females tend to take themselves more seriously.
Puppy or Adult?
Many people prefer to get a puppy because they feel as though they are starting with a clean slate and can shape the puppy's personality. Although this is true to a certain extent, puppies, like people, are born with distinct temperamental tendencies, and there is a limit to how much shaping you can do. A puppy needs a tremendous amount of care, which can take more time and energy than an owner wants or is able to give. Adult dogs usually require less work, although they may have some undesirable habits or behavioral idiosyncrasies that need to be addressed. Shelters, breeders, and rescue groups are all good sources for adult dogs that need homes.
Large or Small?
In general, large dogs mean more of everything. They need more to eat. They produce more waste. They usually need more space and exercise. Boarding a large dog is more expensive than boarding a small dog. Traveling is more difficult with a large dog; many inns and hotels allow only small dogs, and many transit systems allow dogs only in carriersan impossibility with a dog too big or heavy to carry. A large dog will also take up a substantial amount of room in your car. Medical expenses are higher for large dogs; they require larger doses of medication and hospitalization is more costly. In addition, large untrained dogs are harder on your back, knees, and neck. Smaller dogs usually need less food and space, are easier to travel with, and are often less costly to own. Some small dogs need just as much exercise and attention as some larger dogs. Many of the terriers, such as Jack Russells, have extremely high energy levels. Tiny dogs, like Pomeranians and toy Manchester terriers, are not a good choice if you have toddlers around because these dogs can be nippy.
Mixed Breed or Purebred?
Getting a mixed-breed dog can be more of a gamble than getting a purebred dog, especially if you can't see the environment in which the dog spent the beginning of his life or meet one or both of his parents. ("The apple doesn't fall far from the tree"an adage that predates modern geneticsis typically true.) But there are thousands upon thousands of healthy, intelligent mixes just waiting to bestow upon their families years of love and affection. Mixed-breed dogs are generally less expensive to buy than purebreds. About 80 percent of shelter dogs are mixes, often available at a very low cost (an additional modest fee for sterilization, which is often mandatory, is sometimes charged); the shelter may also cover the cost of vaccinations.
The main advantage to getting a purebred dog is that you can see where and how the dog spent his puppyhood, what his parents were like, and what he's apt to look like when grown. The costs of food, veterinary care, boarding, grooming, equipment, and obedience classes are, of course, the same for mixes and purebreds. Before getting a purebred from a breeder, you may wish to visit a few shelters and think about saving one of the millions of unwanted dogs that are euthanized each year. Peruse the Reference Guide to Dog Breeds for information on the different breeds and on various mixed breeds.
High or Low Energy?
A highly energetic dog will require more of your energyrobust runs and workouts and plenty of playtime day in and day out. High-energy dogs usually do best in the suburbs or the country, where they have spacious yards to run in, although some can live in the city if they have access to parks and dedicated, energetic human companions. Most puppies, no matter the breed, are energetic and inquisitive and require vast amounts of attention. In the Reference Guide to Dog Breeds, highly energetic breeds are indicated with the Special Exercise Needs icon [??] or the High Energy Indoors icon [??].
All dogs need grooming, but some require far more than others. Grooming can be time-consuming and expensive. Dogs with long, silky coats must be brushed every day, and some curly-coated dogs should be brought to a groomer every six weeks or so for trimming. Breeds with above-average grooming requirements are marked with the Special Grooming Needs icon [??] in the Reference Guide to Dog Breeds. If you will be bothered by lots of dog hair on your clothing and furniture, bypass heavy or year-round shedders, but remember that almost all dogs shed. People with allergies sometimes suffer less with dogs that don't shed much, such as bichons frises, poodles, and cairn, Norfolk, and Kerry blue terriers (see Dog Allergies, page 17). If you plan to show your dog, coat color and type are important and you should research the breed standards before choosing a dog.
One Dog or More?
Experts advise against getting two dogs at the same time because the dogs may bond tightly to one another at the expense of the relationship with the humans in the family. The two dogs need their own time with humans and separate training, socialization, grooming, and playtime. Dogs that are raised together tend to become distressed if they have to be separated (for example, if one needs to be hospitalized), and may howl, try to escape, experience separation anxiety, or, in the worst cases, resort to self-mutilation. The best option is to wait until your first dog is trained and through adolescence before obtaining a second. Usually, neutered dogs of opposite sexes get along best.