Puppies and Where to Get One
A puppy is a baby dog. Like many other species of babies, baby dogs are built to appeal deeply to the emotions of adults. The normal human response to a baby is a deep desire to nurture the young one. This is good for the survival of babies. However, it’s not good for you in making the best decisions about adopting a new dog. This creature in a baby suit is a real live dog concealing 10 to 15 years of serious responsibility, including emotional highs and lows, more expense than most people would believe, changing your life, and hard work that tends to come without the opportunity to plan. Thus the first thing to know about selecting a puppy is to stay away from puppies while you research! Don’t lay eyeballs on a puppy until all the questions have been answered and you are as sure as you can possibly be that you are ready to take on this responsibility. Puppy adoptions are usually made without proper preparation. The type of research for the right refrigerator doesn’t work with puppies. And let’s remember, we are talking about DOGS, because there is a dog inside that puppy who will take over the body in just months! Then will your housetraining and puppy-biting of humans be solved? Maybe some puppy problems will be solved, if you’ve done your homework, though it’s definitely no sure thing. But adolescence makes it obvious that puppyhood was, well, child’s play. Many dogs lose their homes in this phase when the body is nearly full-sized and the brain requires a knowledgeable human’s management and training. After adolescence, the dog matures, and if there’s any aggression lurking in there, you may have a dog you absolutely cannot control. Female dogs are often fairly mature by age two years, males by age three. Small dogs may mature younger. Aggression is a problem with any size dog, but the large dogs are the ones who seriously hurt people, and on rare occasions kill. Small dogs more frequently lose their homes over housetraining, which takes longer and may never reach the reliability it can in large dogs. Larger dogs lose homes over destructively chewing human possessions, knocking people down, and biting humans. Adopting a puppy you are not equipped to raise, train, and manage for the dog’s entire lifespan is not fair to the puppy. Doing that keeps the dog from having a chance to be adopted by someone who would provide lifelong care. Every aspect of responsible dog ownership turns on the adoption of the dog in the first place. So when you consider any particular puppy for yourself, ask “Am I the right person to take care of this dog for the next 10 to 15 years? Do I know the strengths, weaknesses, habits and needs of this kind of dog? Do I want a puppy for now, or do I want to become a person with a dog family member I will care for until death?” You can see that questions like these are impossible to answer objectively when cuddling and cooing over a cute puppy. So stay away from puppies while you carefully consider getting one.
One way to get the baby stars out of your eyes is to skip past puppyhood to the adult dog. You could go to the adolescent dog, if you’re a glutton for punishment. You need to be a pretty good trainer to happily handle an adolescent dog, or have good training help available quickly. It’s best to have both. Adolescence involves jumping up on people, dragging you on the leash, the major destructive chewing stage, sexual maturity, and a temperament that may change when the dog finishes maturing and from day to day in the meantime. Proper training of a puppy is complicated and requires that you seriously know what you’re doing. Proper training of an adolescent is all that, plus the potential of being dangerous. Don’t forget that the puppy you adopt will be an adolescent in a matter of months. Experts and those who diligently work with experts to raise their puppies can make adolescence go more smoothly by correct handling of the puppy before adolescent age is reached. But that’s not usually what happens when owners don’t make carefully considered decisions in puppy adoption. Anybody who’s ever been in love with an incompatible person—due to differences in values or serious personality conflicts—knows that “love is not enough” to make a marriage work. Love is not enough to raise a puppy successfully, either. To succeed in your home, the puppy has to have a sound temperament that falls within the parameters of your resources, early-life handling that has not done irreparable damage beyond your ability to cope, and correct handling from you. Being a different species, a puppy requires far different handling than what works to raise a human baby. Thus, many people do better skipping the complicated puppy stage and the mercurial adolescent stage to go straight to having a grown dog. If your motive is to save a dog, here’s where it happens. The puppy you pass by will surely be adopted by someone else. The adult dog very well may not be. The adult dog has a mature temperament that can be much more accurately assessed. Size, coat grooming, activity level and most other aspects of what you will need to be able to handle to live with that dog are apparent in the adult. In the puppy, these factors are carefully hidden, like the legendary warriors hiding in the gift of the magnificent Trojan horse statue. Through the miracle of growth, all the traits of an adult dog are cleverly compacted into that soft little puppy body. No wonder we’re fooled. Everybody loves puppies, but do consider skipping puppyhood. A whole lot of good things happen when people are willing to adopt adult dogs. You and the dog will both be winners if you make this choice. It’s a much better and safer choice than a puppy when adopting a dog to live with young children, too.
Where are the Puppies?
Shelters place puppies in homes easily. Some have such demand for puppies that they transport them from other states and even from other countries in order to have puppies on hand for adoption. One concern with shelter puppies is the risk to the puppies’ health and temperaments from going through such a system at critical development stages. You get the same problems that happen with pet shop puppies. Pet shop puppies have also been transported, and like shelter puppies they have been exposed to illness from other dogs. They have had unfortunate experiences that will damage them for life. Some of these puppies will succeed as companion dogs. The risk is high, though, of early death because they can’t survive what they have been through, along with health and temperament problems due to their genetics and exposures. The most humane way to raise and place puppies is very personal. A good breeder makes extremely careful choices, knows what she is doing with all phases of the process, and breeds only the number of puppies she can properly handle. A good breeder’s puppies are healthy and your risk of extreme veterinary expenses (beyond the puppy well-baby checks, vaccinations, and spay/neuter at the right time) is greatly reduced. Your risk of the puppy dying soon after adoption is much lower than with shelter and pet shop puppies, too. The good breeder will want to know you well enough to determine that you’re able to give the puppy a good home. You should also want to know her well enough to determine that you can trust her. This means you and the breeder need to have a relationship. The puppy will have a lifelong safety net, since the good breeder will help one of her puppies at any age if the puppy needs a new home. When you have questions after adopting your dog—and you should!—the good breeder will make herself available to answer them. The breeder knows a lot about her dogs, because she knows their mothers and fathers and aunts and uncles and grandparents and cousins. You may be surprised how much it comes to mean to you that you can know the dogs who are related to your puppy. When the time comes that you lose your dog to death, you can go back to that family to adopt your next dog. The good breeder and her peers in the breed will be there to help you find the next dog. One of the mercies of losing a dog comes when it is possible to have another, if our life circumstances allow us to take up that responsibility all over again. Good breeders help make this possible. Keep in mind that the good breeder who takes care of any puppy she has produced if the dog ever needs a new home, throughout life, is going to have adult dogs available for adoption from time to time, too. These are marvelous adoptions, with all the advantages of known genetics and history as well as missing the chaos of puppyhood. Don’t think of adding a puppy to your life as a “purchase.” You don’t buy “puppy flesh,” if you make a responsible decision. Instead, you adopt a companion animal. Wherever you get your puppy or dog, any money that changes hands is a separate matter from what really happens when you get a dog. A puppy is not a good gift. Imagine giving someone a human baby without knowing if they want one. Giving them a puppy or dog isn’t much different, except in degree. It’s a huge responsibility that each person must choose to take or not take. Good breeders do not knowingly sell dogs to be placed in their real homes by other people. It is important to preserve the link between the breeder and the dog so that whoever is caring for the dog can get the breeder’s help when needed.
What Research Works?
Mixed breed puppies can grow into wonderful dogs. The healthiest mixes are those who are a cross between two purebred dogs. This is a hybrid and may have some genetic benefits. It will likely have the most extreme temperament traits of both breeds, though, so you need to research both breeds diligently and make sure you can handle all the possibilities. Most people are better off with a puppy from an established breed. The best breeders are found there, too. A mixed breed puppy is not a good choice for a first-time dog owner or for any situation where the dog’s temperament is extremely important. The major situation in which people make this mistake is adopting a mixed breed puppy to live with children, especially young children. You need the best possible temperament for that situation, not an unknown. If the children are younger than school age, it’s better to adopt an adult dog, or wait until they are older. A baby dog growing up with baby humans quite often doesn’t keep that home because of what happens to the puppy at critical development stages. Little kids cause pain and fear to puppies, and the puppies don’t react strongly enough for the parents to realize what terrible damage is happening. As the puppies mature into their adult instincts, they start protecting themselves because the parents didn’t know enough to protect them. This is a critical problem with any puppy, but when you don’t know what size the dog will grow to, how much guarding instinct, how reactive, and many other traits, the mix becomes a bigger risk. And of course there probably won’t be a good breeder to help you, because the best breeders do not breed mixes. If you want a mixed-breed dog, skipping puppyhood with your adoption will greatly improve both your chances and the dog’s chances of a successful life. Before deciding on any breed (or mix of breeds), spend significant time in personal, direct contact with dogs of that breed and people knowledgeable about them. Stay away from puppies! Puppies are not supposed to be at dog shows, so dog shows can be one place to research. Going to one dog show is not doing enough homework to choose a breed. It’s just one step. Buy a catalog to help you identify breeders you may wish to approach when they are not busy, to arrange a convenient time for a more educational meeting. Read about the breed, too, of course. Read more than one book, talk to as many people as you can who know the breed, and be sure to talk to rescue as well as breed club education officers. You can find the contact information for many of these people on the Internet, but Web surfing is not adequate research. You need to know so much more than you can find out that way. People like to talk about their dogs and to have other people admire them, so if you work at it, you can find the information you need from living and breathing people and dogs in person. When you have done this, it can be a reasonable option to get your dog from another geographical area. You should go there in person before committing to a dog, though.
The Bold Pup, the Shy Pup, the “Runt:” How to Choose
So now you’ve come down to a breed and a breeder, and a litter of puppies is available. How do you choose which to adopt? The best case is not to make that choice yourself. A good breeder knows her breed, the parents of these puppies and their relatives, and has studied these puppies as they’ve developed. She has also done her homework about YOU, and has a good idea what you can handle and what you need. You trust this breeder, right? Otherwise, what are you doing here? Leave! You need the right dog, and that dog is waiting for you somewhere. Don’t take the most available dog, the cheapest dog, the easiest dog to get quickly. Don’t let yourself down, and don’t let the right dog down, either. So, here you are with that breeder you trust. How to pick? Simple, she’ll pick your puppy. Of course you will have decided some things to guide her, such as whether you especially want or need one sex rather than the other and what training you plan to do with the pup. A pup destined to be a child’s playmate needs different traits than one who will be training for police work or high-powered dog sports. A pup you want to show, earn titles with, and breed needs many different attributes than a pup you will spay/neuter. Some wonderful dogs are unlikely to reproduce themselves well, or they have traits that will not interfere with your lifestyle but should not be bred on to become major aspects in the breed’s gene pool. Breeding dogs properly is a highly demanding calling and seldom profitable. Some people love it, while others would totally hate it. Living with intact male and female dogs of some breeds is a daunting task for many people. Giving up the pups is wrenching. Having mother dogs and puppies die in the birth process brings breeders terrible grief. Breeders who do the job well are heroes. Many of us would rather find other ways to serve humankind, while enjoying our dogs in a less complex lifestyle than breeding demands. Since the decision of whether or not to breed your dog often needs to be made at least tentatively when adopting a puppy, this is more research for you to do!
Deadlines Don’t Work
Getting a puppy for Christmas or Hanukkah is usually a terrible idea. You need the right puppy. The holidays are often the wrong time to find that puppy and also the wrong time to take on the extra work and lack of sleep that goes with adopting a new puppy. In the months following the holidays, a lot of people who didn’t do their research properly are giving up those puppies. This may well be the best time of year to adopt. Researching breeds is fun if you take your time. Doing it in a fever trying to get a dog on some schedule not only takes the fun out of it, but causes you to cut some critical corners. It takes time to meet people, talk to them, get to know them, and find the right opportunities to interact with and learn about the dogs. Remember that you’re forming relationships. You’re getting to know the other dog owners who will share a family tie of dogs with you. You’re finding out how these dogs smell, how they need their coats tended, what ear care they need, and how much money to set aside in a savings account for your dog’s veterinary expenses. Does this breed have a high incidence of hip dysplasia? What behaviors do you need to train? What activities is the breed well suited for, and which of those activities do you enjoy? The research takes you into the life you’ll be living with a dog of this breed (or breeds, in the case of a mix). It’s not preliminary time, but rather it’s the beginning of that life. It has its own rewards. Don’t skip past it or rush it. When selecting a dog, always remember the old saying “Marry in haste; repent at leisure.” Rushing ahead on emotion without doing the real-life research might accidentally find you the right dog. Your chances are reduced, though, and you miss too much of the good stuff!
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”