We all love puppies, because what’s not to love? They’re adorable, cute and playful. In fact, nature makes sure we fall in love with them — with their big eyes and head adorably too big for their bodies! Scientists say these traits activate an instinctual attention from humans, in other words, we’re defenseless against their charms! That being said, is a puppy right for you?
If your family has decided to get a dog, it’s important to decide what age and type of dog to choose. Getting a dog is a commitment that one should not enter into lightly. Shelters are overrun with stray and owner-surrendered animals. With some thoughtful planning, you can make a good decision for your family’s lifestyle and home environment, while giving a wonderful animal its forever home.
Developmentally speaking, dogs reach adult classification at the age of 2. But if you’ve ever owned a Labrador Retriever (or one of many other active breeds), you know there’s still quite a bit of puppy left at that age! Every dog is different. Some are sweet old souls from the start, while others retain their playful qualities throughout their lives. When considering whether you should get a puppy or an adult dog, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that an adult dog “is too old”. Even larger breed dogs can live to the age of 12-13 years. That’s a lot of dog years!
Beware: puppies are not for the faint of heart! They might look innocent, but they require a lot of work, time, attention and training. We’ve literally had families come to us in tears saying they’re at their wits end and don’t know what to do. Everyone in the house has scratches from the nipping and the children are all terrified – of the golden retriever puppy! It also bears saying, if you’re a first-time dog owner, then we’d strongly recommend an adult dog as you dip your toes into these waters. In a funny way, getting an adult dog is kind of like having doggy training wheels to prepare you for life with a puppy. If everything goes well a year or so down the road, you can always add a puppy to your family then – because after all, the more, the merrier!
It’s important to consider your lifestyle before getting a puppy to make sure it will always be a priority. Is someone home during the day that can attend to the puppy’s needs? Or can someone, such as a neighbor, friend, family member or pet sitter provide mid-day relief and interaction? If you have to hire that out, have you examined the budget to acquire those services? Can you afford it for 2 years?
That’s right. A puppy shouldn’t be left running around a house or apartment alone until around the age of 2. Until then, you’ll rely on crate training to tie the hours together while you’re away or at work. But this doesn’t account for all the caretaking a puppy requires in between — and you definitely don’t want to leave your puppy alone, even in a crate, for the entire day!
If you’re already questioning whether or not a puppy is right for you, then perhaps you should consider an adult dog. One who is happy to spend their day sleeping on their fluffy dog bed and can hold it in until you come home. It’s a lot more likely that an adult dog won’t chew up your home and, in most cases, will have less exercise needs than a puppy. In some cases, they may even come trained — with a few nice behaviors like sit or shake paws!
Still stuck on the idea of a puppy?
Ok, so a puppy it is!
Let’s get you prepared.
Find a breed or rescue that will fit both your current and future lifestyle. Ask yourself, what is the most you can get from a dog? If you love to stay at home or typically don’t lead the most active lifestyle, then perhaps two of the most popular breeds of dogs in the United States, the Golden Retriever and Labrador Retriever, aren’t for you. The key word here is “retriever”; these dogs are in the sporting breed category and were bred to be active. To a large extent, being busy is in their DNA! If you’re more the type of person that likes to cozy up on the couch and binge watch Netflix more than you like going for a 5-mile hike on the trails, then maybe a companion breed like a Shih Tzu or Lhasa Apso might be a better fit for at-home cuddle time.
Is your living arrangement stable? Moving can be hard on a dog, just like it is on a person. We’ve been consulted on behavioral problems that can arise after a move, and obviously, “talking” to your dog doesn’t exactly smooth it out. If you’re renting, does your apartment allow dogs? If so, are there any breed or size restrictions? Is a pet deposit required, and if so, can you afford it?
Are you ready for your life to change? A dog is a 10-15 year commitment of time, training and money. You may no longer be able to spontaneously go out after work with colleagues if your pup is waiting for you to come home so they can eat and go potty. Your weekend plans will now need to include your dog, or dog-sitting plans if your dog can’t join.
Puppies aren’t born trained, and because we are removing them from their natural upbringing environment (mom and other puppies), there is a lot they’ll have to learn from you. Not only will you be with them as they learn the basics of life, but they’ll need special training to become the dog you want them to be. This can mean learning how to become a legitimate puppy trainer yourself (it’s not as bad as it sounds!) or getting help from a qualified training professional. A good place to find a certified training professional committed to scientifically-proven positive reinforcement techniques is through the Certified Dog Trainer and Consultant Directory (https://www.ccpdt.org/dog-owners/certified-dog-trainer-directory/). Make sure you have budgeted both time and finances to complete your dog’s training. Once your dog is fully trained, you’ll both be happier and have more moments to share that don’t revolve around bad behavior or discipline.
If you do your homework, you have an equal chance of finding the right fit for your home, family and lifestyle with either choice. If you’d like to rescue a pup, look into reputable rescue organizations in your area. Most will not have a physical facility, but rather a network of private foster homes, and that’s okay. They should be a non-profit organization registered as a 501(c)(3), and have a website and some social media presence.
When a pregnant dog mom comes into the shelter, they typically try to place her with a rescue group before she gives birth. That’s because a shelter is no place for young puppies. Everyone wants the pups to get the best start out in life, and being born in a home and exposure to family members is the start of that journey. Rescue groups can deliver a number of litters throughout the year and therefore have experience with puppy birth and the important first weeks of life, including initial vet visits for vaccinations.
Knowing the true heritage of a rescue dog will always be a mystery, but typically a lot can be gleaned from the size and temperament of the mother.
If you have your heart set on a purebred dog, that’s okay too. Just be sure to do your homework here as well. Like everything else in life, there are “responsible”, and shall we call them, “less-than-responsible” breeders. A good breeder will interview YOU just as much as you interview them. They should want their puppies to be loved and cared for in their new home. A good breeder will help steer you toward the right puppy in the litter that will be the best fit for your family, and that may not be the one, or color, that you had your heart set on.
Responsible breeders will allow you to view their operation with nothing to hide. They will let you meet, at the very least, the mother of the puppies, and if on site, the father as well. Much of dog behavior is hereditary, so seeing the temperament of the breeding pair can be a terrific window into the future of your puppy.
Responsible breeders will have completed full health checks on breeding pairs and will have administered the first vaccination round of the puppies at the age of +/- 5 weeks.
If early on you thought that purchasing the puppy or paying the rescue fee was the cheap part — you’d be right! Puppies require multiple rounds of vaccinations in the first few months, as well as heartworm, tick and flea preventatives, and vitamins. Then there are leashes, harnesses, collars and toys…oh, the toys. Don’t forget damage replacement — anything on the floor is low hanging fruit for a puppy, so watch the shoes, socks, electrical cords, area rugs, and generally anything you don’t want your puppy to chew, break, hide or eat.
Then there’s the spaying and neutering surgical fees. Planning on going out of town? There will be boarding fees. Will your work schedule mean that you need help from a dog walker, or with doggie daycare? More costs. Oh yeah, and then there’s the crate. While not expensive, it’s another cost among costs, and if you live in a two-story home, we typically recommend having at least two crates — one for the upstairs bedroom and one for the downstairs living area. Which brings us to crate training…
As with anything, there are two schools of thought with regard to crate training. We’re firmly in the camp that crate training is a valuable tool to help potty train your puppy, to survive the destructive chewing phase, and to help manage the environment for the puppy’s success. When introduced and used properly, your puppy will develop a good relationship with the crate. But the crate doesn’t train your puppy — you do!
Now you’ve got your puppy and everyone is in love… until you put it in the crate for the first time and the crying begins. Some breeders crate train their puppies before they leave their mom and siblings, slowly getting them used to the space and confinement in small increments. They often begin in twosomes with a litter buddy before they fly solo for an hour or two and then eventually overnight.
For those that have not had that benefit, just think about the transition from a warm puppy pile of fluffy littermates to being alone in the crate. With a brand new puppy, sometimes “moving day” really tires the puppy out, and they fall right asleep in the crate on the first night, which can give you a false sense of security. But by the second night, reality sets in, and you realize it won’t be so easy!
Your puppy will always benefit from a purposeful and positive introduction to the crate. If you’re not sure what proper puppy crate training involves, you can check out our puppy crate training guides, do your own research, or get in touch with a qualified training professional to get started off on the right foot. A trainer can show you games to play that involve the crate, which makes it a fun place to be that’s full of snacks and lots of pets. At a minimum, you can feed your puppy their meals in the crate (with the door open) and give them awesome, yummy things like peanut butter stuffed Kongs. The crate should never, ever be used as punishment. It should always be a safe space where a puppy can go to relax and feel secure.
We’ve covered a lot of ground, but it’s worth ending on the topic of time — because your time is something a dog can’t get enough of! Before getting a dog, you have to honestly ask yourself if you have the time to properly care for a new family member. Dogs are very active and involved companions. Now, we love cats, and we’d never knock on them, but dogs are not cats! The time it takes to get dogs to the veterinarian for appointments, to training classes, for morning, midday and evening walks, every day, will make dog ownership a big part of your life. You’ll find out soon enough that your dog’s stomach can tell time, what your dog loves doing for fun (which typically involves you), and make plenty of memories on walks, adventures, and especially at home, together.
Do you want some time to get to know your new dog to find out if you’re compatible? One of the most important things about getting a new dog is doing your best to match the dog breed and personality to the environment, family and lifestyle you can offer. This ensures that your dog will lead the best life and you will get the absolute most out of dog ownership. As such, many rescue groups will allow a trial period of a couple of days up to 2 weeks to ensure that the pup is the right fit for your family and lifestyle. Take that time!
Reputable breeders will allow you to meet and get to know your new puppy before taking them home. Take advantage of every opportunity they offer to spend time with your new family member.
Finally, your new puppy will need time to adjust to their new world, so don’t overwhelm those little tails with big expectations! It’s your responsibility to show them how to be successful in your home and help them be the dog you want them to be.