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There are a number of factors to consider when getting a dog:
Before you even begin to seek answers to these questions, it is important that you reflect if now is indeed the right time to even get a dog.
Welcoming a new furry family member into your life brings with it both a sense of excitement and reward. There is nothing quite like building a bond with a dog, whose devotion, love, and loyalty has aptly bestowed upon it the title of man’s best friend.
But is now the best time for both you and that prospective pet? What aspects of your home environment and your lifestyle should you reflect upon before taking this life-changing step?
Keep in mind that many breeds of dogs can live up to 16 years of age, so in as much as it is possible you need to take into consideration your long-term plans and prospects as they pertain to these important points!
There is an old adage that says: One’s home is one’s castle. But what type of sanctuary will you offer to your pet?
Do you own the property or is it rented accommodation? If the latter, do you have permission from the property owner? And should you move on, what prospect is there that you will easily find another suitable accommodation that will allow for your animal?
Does the property have a garden? Many people now live in flats or only have access to communal gardens, and while it is still possible in such circumstances to enjoy the company of a canine, it is far from ideal. This shouldn’t rule out getting a dog, but it might mean reconsidering the type of dog you get. Smaller breeds and older dogs would be better suited to such environments, though with the latter please remember that with age can come arthritis and other mobility issues, which can result in difficulty climbing stairs.
A secure boundary is also vital, especially if you live near a busy street or where there are other pets in the neighborhood. Remember: A principle part of pet ownership is keeping your pet safe.
Most dogs shed their fur, and even with constant grooming it will be difficult to maintain a fur-free environment. Over time their claws can cause scratch marks on wooden floors. And as for that immaculate lawn, well, even if you train your pooch to prevent it from digging, its toileting will very soon result in dead patches on the grass. Is this wear-and-tear something that you’re willing to accommodate or maintain?
Who will your dog be sharing its environment with? Do you have children or other pets? Your desire for a dog will need to be balanced with their needs and requirements, especially if you live with someone that suffers from allergies.
A dog’s devotion works both ways – you need to be as devoted to it as it is to you. And that means taking time out to interact with your dog. Dog walks are essential, along with time for play and for training.
Certain breeds demand greater mental stimulation, while others expend their energy through agility and exercise. But most of all, dogs crave attention. Being left home alone for hours on end is conducive to neither the dog nor the property that it is left behind in.
As with any good parent, it will become your responsibility to socialise your dog. Socialisation doesn’t only mean attending a few puppy classes. In order to truly fit into human society, the dog will need positive interactions with men, women, and especially children. Even if you have no children at home, invariably your dog will meet a number of them during walks in the park, and it is up to you to ensure that it is prepared for such encounters.
You will need to take the time to read up about the breed (or the combined traits that it will have inherited were it a mixed breed). Providing a safe and stable home, giving it ample opportunity to explore its world – meeting both people and other dogs in a positive and enriching environment – and to maximise its potential, is the obligation of each and every dog owner.
Few dogs, if any, come for free. But whatever the initial outlay, it will be nothing compared to the ongoing costs of maintaining that dog over the course of its life.
Even before your furry family member arrives at your front door, you will have needed to acquire a number of pet-friendly items: At least one dog bed, a collar and harness, leads, bowls for food and water.
Those are potentially one-off costs, but then there’s the ongoing expenditure – for food, toys, training classes, pet insurance, grooming, and veterinary care. With the latter there are also one-off costs, such as neutering your dog, but there are also ongoing costs, such as annual boosters, veterinary check-ups, and other medical bills as your dog grows with age.
Invariably you will need someone to take care of your dog, even if only when you are away on holiday. Work commitments could make this more of a regular necessity. The cost of having your dog cared for while you are away for extended periods, or even paying for daily walks while you are at work, can quickly mount up.
As stated at the outset, you should not be thinking only immediate term but also forecasting into the future. Your dog will be a member of your family, not one to be cast aside when your circumstances change. Consider the implications of your decision and what sacrifices you’d be willing to make to accommodate this animal in your life. Dogs aren’t simply for Christmas, and they should last well beyond Easter, too!
Remember: Dogs are for life.
And with that in mind, pay some small thought to whom might look after your pet should they happen to outlive you!
Having given it due consideration and balanced your heart with your head, you’ve now decided to move forward to getting a dog.
By having gone through that process, you’ve already shown yourself to be ready to be a caring and responsibly owner.
But now the question remains: What type of dog would best suit you?
There is no right or wrong answer to this question, only the amount of time you are prepared to put into the upbringing of your new furry friend.
Puppies can be enormous fun, but they also require constant attention. You will need to raise it, train it, and socialise it. And with regard to the latter, think not only social but also environmental! Be it getting used to a car, travelling on a train, navigating busy streets on a lead, or getting used to being approached and petted by strangers – all these things will be outside the norm for any young dog. They will all require careful tutelage, patience, and understanding.
House-training will also be a necessity. Dogs are generally clean animals, but understanding the distinction between what is considered ‘inside’ as opposed to ‘outside’ is not something that occurs naturally to them. This especially will require a soft touch and consistency. The question you will need to ask yourself is whether you have both the time and temperament to navigate this necessary step in your dog’s development.
Finally, it is important to note that all puppies grow into adult dogs. They all begin small, but very soon they will grow into adulthood. Please factor in the ultimate size and nature of the adult dog when acquiring a puppy.
© Grigorita Ko / courtesy of Shutterstock.com
Depending on where you acquire an adult dog, it may or may not need similar training as a puppy. Find out as much as you can about that dog’s upbringing, its home environment, and socialisation. A dog that has been living on the streets will have had a different life experience and level of human interaction than a dog that has been rescued from a home environment. All dogs deserve second chances, but each will require a different level of understanding. Like people, dogs are individuals, too!
Most pet websites that you visit will pose you with a set of fixed questions that will ultimately derive an answer as to what breed of dog would best suit your circumstances. Not here.
We strongly recommend you acquire a mixed breed, based on the traits of those that the individual dog would have inherited from its parents’ independent lineages, and the reason is very clear: Pure-bred dogs have become more and more inbred to establish a preferred ‘look’, and with this inbreeding has come a greater propensity for hereditary issues and deformities. While this is not universal, should you wish to invest in a pure breed, we would strongly urge that you quiz the breeder as to the parents’ medical history and investigate the genetic predisposition toward particular ailments within that particular breed that you are interested in.
The best outcome is if you select a dog not based on looks, but on the purpose that the breed was designed for, and preferably one that includes a bit of an amalgamation from different breed lines to mitigate chances of hereditary issues. Choosing a dog purely for its looks would be akin to choosing your life partner for the same reason, which may account for why certain marriages are doomed to fail!
Dog breeds vary not only in looks but also in temperament. After all, they were designed for a purpose – be it guarding, herding or hunting. More recently they have been bred solely for their looks, as opposed to their fitness or function in society. Nonetheless, their underlying purpose remains, and it is that which will ultimately dictate their temperament.
Now that you have considered the temperament and behaviour of the dog, other factors that will come in to play – borne out of the purpose for which they were bred – will be considerations as to the amount of exercise they will require, as well as their training and play requirements. A dog with a working lineage would no doubt require more exercise than a companion dog, for instance. A sight hound would respond better to training that incorporated visual cues, whereas a scent hound would be better placed with a smell-based signal training. And a retriever would be more likely to return a tennis ball to you than a hunting dog that was bred to seize and hold onto its prey.
Finally, consider the matter of shedding. All dogs shed their fur, but some do it consistently throughout the year, whereas others shed only in the spring and summer months. It tends to be the case that the short-hair dogs shed throughout the year while those with thicker, heavier coats tend to shed bi-annually. There are even some recent mixed breeds that have been bred for non-shedding coats. However, selecting such a breed does not necessarily provide a foolproof solution, as it is impossible to predict which of the genetic lines will have been favoured in the individual dog.
At the end of the day, all dogs will require some form of grooming. Short-haired dogs are generally easier to self-maintain, whereas certain long-haired breeds will most likely require some form of regular parlour treatment to keep them clean and well-kept. Grooming is an important component of keeping your dog healthy and disease-free, and should not be taken lightly.
This is one area that will certainly come down to personal preference. When it comes to responsible pet ownership, bitches will need to be spayed and males castrated. The latter tends to be more straightforward and slightly less costly.
Having said that, males do tend to be more territorial, marking their territory and potentially showing slightly more aggression. Neutering your dog should significantly reduce both these tendencies, but may not do away with them altogether.
It has been suggested that female dogs tend to be calmer with children, but more often than not this is down to our own gender biases and stereotypical beliefs regarding the nurturing role of women in human society. With proper socialisation and accounting for a dog’s personal history, the notion that a female dog is more predisposed to being better with children can easily be discounted. The crucial point is that every dog needs to be provided with as broad an understanding of what a ‘human’ is early in its life. For more information on socialising your dog with children (and just as crucially socialising children to your dog!), please refer to that section on our ‘Dog Friendly Advice’ page. And feel free to read further on the importance of the socialisation period for your dog by visiting our page on ‘Dog Behaviour’.
What is true, however, is that male dogs tend to show more signs of wanderlust and be less quick on the recall than bitches, but again this can easily be overcome by training and equally be dependent on the rapport the individual dog has with its owner.
Our advice is to always rehome a dog from a shelter. There are so many dogs in need, what the world doesn’t require are more dogs bred for profit or due to irresponsible pet ownership. Dog shelters contain both mixed breeds and pure breeds. You will find puppies in shelters, too. There are even breed-specific rescue groups should you have your heart set on a type of dog, even knowing the potential hereditary risks that entails.
So consider local shelters and rescue groups, as well as overseas shelters, before expanding your search to include professional or amateur breeders.
© Busy Animal / courtesy of BusyAnimal.com
There are, however, a few caveats.
Dogs that have arrived at a shelter often come with very little history, but try to find out as much as you can. Enquire as to its physical condition as well as its behaviour. Just remember: Those who work in shelters are not professional animal behaviourists and they may not have a full-time veterinarian with all the necessary tools on-site to provide a proper clinical assessment. Underlying issues may remain hidden, as they may require expensive equipment, such as X-Ray machines and ultrasound, to be properly diagnosed.
Follow the steps outlined below as if you were meeting with a breeder. If you are rehoming a dog from abroad and cannot see the dog in person, then utilise any photos or videos of the dog that the shelter can provide. These days, with smart phone technology, it should not be too difficult for a shelter to send video footage upon request.
But try to be realistic: You cannot expect a dog that may have been abandoned or come from the streets not to have a few scars – be they mental or physical. It is only so that you know what to expect, to understand what tools might be required to help that dog become a fully integrated member of your family, and to judge what your limits might be in terms of what you would be able to provide for that dog.
Whatever route you take, under no circumstances acquire a dog from a pet store or a puppy farm. Most likely these animals will have been kept in crates or kennels for an extended period, with little chance for human or canine socialisation. Dogs that have been confined for extended periods can develop behavioural problems linked to a condition known as kennelosis, or crate state, which can lead to fear and aggression. Equally, puppies will have probably been separated from their mother and littermates too young, which can also lead to behavioural and socialisation issues.
It is now illegal in many countries for puppies to be bred intensively in so-called puppy farms or sold under such conditions. If you do come across such practice in your search, review the local laws and report it to the authorities. You will be doing the dogs that are suffering there a massive favour.
© Okssi / courtesy of Shuuterstock.com
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You’ve looked in your local shelter or rescue group, visited a registered and reputable breeder, and there’s one dog that has captured your eye, your heart, and your attention. You’ve asked the necessary questions as to its history, physical condition and behaviour. But what further steps can you take to better gauge whether this animal will be the right fit for you and your home environment?
Request to spend some time with the dog in neutral territory. That means somewhere without other dogs and being removed from any pen that it would normally be kept in. If it’s a puppy, then that means a short time away from its littermates. Gauge its readiness to approach you, as well as its posture. Is it hesitant, shy, or submissive? Or does it ignore you and simply explore the new area? Are there any signs of fear-aggression, such as flattened ears with hackles raised or, for a puppy, a weariness to approach you?
Gauge its energy levels at the same time. Does it simply settle down or is it a bundle of uncontrolled energy? Balance this against earlier viewings (it’s best practice not to select a dog after just one visit). Dogs can become more cautious or display utter exuberance when introduced to a new environment or human attention. Remember: These are things that can be managed overtime with training.
Pay it a couple of minutes of attention, and then ignore the dog. Don’t respond to any further prompts from it for interaction. See how long it takes to ignore you or to settle down.
Get the shelter or breeder’s permission to offer it some of the food it usually receives to see how it eats. And then, when it’s nearly done, make a tentative move to remove the food. Not only is this a good opportunity to see how it responds to positive interaction, but it also gives you the ability to look for signs of resource guarding. While it is eating the food, observe how it chews to see any signs of dental or gum issues.
If it is an adult or adolescent dog, ask to take it out on a lead walk. Do this once when it is just you and the dog, and then again with the help of a worker or the breeder and another dog that they consider to be friendly. Pay less attention to the other dog but more as to how the dog you are interested in is interacting with it. Initially this should not be a chance for them to play or interact directly, but rather to be lead walked together. If on that walk there should be an opportunity for positive interaction between them, that is fine, but the initial intent should be that they are simply lead walked together.
Notice how much attention the dog pays you. Consider its energy levels and pulling-power on the lead, both while walking it on your own and then with the other dog. Know that with training any minor pulling or lack of attention can be ironed out, but if you find the dog difficult to control you might want to rethink your options.
If you are considering a puppy, clearly you won’t be taking it for a lead walk, so factor in the pulling power of an adult dog of that breed. If you are with a breeder, ask if you could undertake the same exercise but with the puppy’s parents.
While lead walking the dog, consider its gait and posture. Does the dog have an even, balanced stride, and how flexible are its hip movements? Does it slightly drop either shoulder as it walks, or does it favour one leg? You can make the same observations of a puppy’s parents, if you are lead walking them, because remember a lot of hip and joint problems tend to be hereditary.
Toward the end of the walk, when the dog has expended some of its energy and is more relaxed with you, consider how well it takes to being handled. Initially begin by stroking the dog, and gauge its reaction to your touch. Stroke it gently from the shoulders across to its flanks. If the dog responds positively to your touch, then stroke down the front leg to one of its paws. See if it is okay with you touching its paw, and if so then gently raise the paw up off the ground. Once you have done this with both front paws successfully, you should move on to the back legs, supporting the dog against you as you do so.
© Manushot / courtesy of Shutterstock.com
As you are still a relative newcomer in the dog’s life, when it comes to examining the eyes, ears, and mouth, it is best to request a member of the shelter team or the breeder to do so on your behalf. Ask them to gently touch each of the ears, beginning by stroking the forehead and working across to each ear in turn. Once this is done, have them raise the top lip to expose the teeth. Examine the eyes for any opaqueness or visible discharge.
Handling a dog in this manner is not only so that you can examine it for issues; rather it is to see how it reacts to being handled. When you eventually take it to a vet, this form of handling is essential, and now is as good a time as any to gauge how the animal responds to this form of touch.
It is important to remember that even were you to discover something that suggests an underlying issue, a lot of the causes for these can be treated or at the very least managed, and should not be the sole criteria upon which you base whether to accept the dog into your life. If your heart truly found this animal, then perhaps this is something you would consider managing together. It is simply so you can better plan for the journey you are about to embark on, to ensure there are no hidden surprises further down the road.
Getting a dog from a shelter or rescue organisation would most likely preclude the possibility of ever getting to meet the dog’s parents, but were you to explore the option of getting a dog from a breeder, then this should be seen as a necessity.
Consider both the father and the mother, noting all the points that have been covered above regarding behaviour, sociability, physical condition and handling. A dog learns most from its mother and littermates, so consider the environment in which the puppies were housed, the degree of interaction and bond it has had with its mother.
Don’t be afraid to ask after the parents’ medical histories, and ensure that they were both properly vet-checked by a reputable veterinary surgeon. Every dog deserves a good home, but paying a breeder or irresponsible owner to perpetuate a hereditary problem is not doing dogs any favours.
You’ve carefully considered getting a dog, you’ve selected the one that has captured your heart and done the necessary checks. Now the furry one is either on its way to you, or may be even travelling back home with you now! But what preparations should be in place for its arrival at your home?
Well, first of all there are all those little one-offs that you would need to have bought in preparation for its arrival, namely:
And then there are the consumables:
This last item will remain as close to you as your furry companion will be for the rest of your days together. You will pull them out of your trouser pockets when reaching for your wallet, and find them mixed amongst the loose change in your car. When you take on a dog, you take on poo bags for life. Or at least you should, as a responsible owner.
Other things to arrange upon your dog’s arrival:
Plan your dog’s arrival to coincide with a time when at least one family member – ideally the one that will spend most time with the pet – will be at home and can help it through the adjustment phase. Utilise all the information you gathered about it – its history, behaviour and habits – to accommodate it, adapting its routine over time to better integrate to its new home.
Providing a secure home environment for your dog should always be your top priority, and no more so than now, when everything will be still quite new to it. Be sure that everyone in the house is keenly aware of the new arrival, that extra care be given when they enter and leave the property, so that there is no opportunity for your new family member to bolt out of an open doorway. This is especially true if you have rehomed a dog from a shelter and if you have children at home.