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Am I ready for a dog? Picking a winner!

By Pia Silvani, CPDT-KA, CCBC

How do you know if you’re ready for a dog? Where do you begin? First, don’t rush. Careful planning, research, and assessing your lifestyle are the keys to finding the “right” dog.

Before taking the plunge, ask yourself WHY you want a dog. Is it because…

  • Your child wants a dog?

  • Your resident dog appears to be lonely?

  • You simply can't resist the doggie in the window?

If you answered "yes," avoid getting a dog. Here's why:

  • It's unrealistic to expect your child to care for a dog. While it’s wonderful to involve children, it is unfair to expect them to make this commitment. The responsibility will ultimately be put on the adults.

  • Dog's don't "need" another canine companion. While most dogs enjoy the companionship of other dogs, they don’t require one. If you don’t have time for one dog, you won’t have time for two!

  • Getting a dog on impulse is risky. If you feel sorry for the dog or couldn't resist, you are off to a bad start.

If you answered "no" to the previous questions, consider the following. Give yourself time to think what your future life will be.

  • Dogs do not come housetrained. Housetraining can take from 2-4 months. This means purchasing a crate, gates, nighttime outings in the cold or rain, and more.

  • Dogs require exercise. Dogs do not self-exercise. People think their dog is getting sufficient exercise when he "runs around the yard." He's not. He is simply getting rid of pent-up energy.

  • Dogs require socialization. If you dog spends most of his time at home, he will not fare well with strangers or dogs. This means daily trips into publich places so he can develop good social skills.

  • Dogs require interactive play sessions. Playing helps develop a bond and gives your dog an opportunity to learn rules and self-control. Playing with the resident dog will not aid in the dog’s socialization.

  • Dogs require good diets, routine health care and grooming. Poor diets can result in overweight, unhealthy dogs. Daily brushing and checking your dog over for parasites is important. Annual check-ups with your veterinarian are mandatory to ensure longevity and health.

  • Dogs require training. To live happily in today’s society, dogs need to learn to accept humans as their leaders. Dogs weren’t born with good manners.

Don't be discouraged!

Starting your Search

First, decide whether you want a puppy or an adult. Puppies will take up more of your time, yet an adult dog may come with some unacceptable behaviors. On the other hand, some adult dogs have had training, but there is always a period of adjustment. Therefore, both require training and management.

  • Ask questions. Good shelters, rescue groups and breeders will ask you questions about your lifestyle. Both are making every effort to match you with a puppy or dog that will suit your lifestyle to avoid disappointment and future relinquishments.

  • If you are unsure of the breed or mix, visit dog shows, and talk to breeders and animal professionals. Avoid getting a dog simply because you like his looks or size.

  • Familiarize yourself with what your dog was initially bred to do and consider your lifestyle. A Border Collie is a lovely dog but typically doesn’t make a good pet for an inactive family. Small dogs are not always the best apartment dogs. A Jack Russell Terrier is small, yet extremely active, while Greyhounds can be wonderful couch potatoes.

  • Ask shelter and rescue groups what their criteria is for testing the dog’s behavior. While no behavioral assessment is foolproof, the staff will have a better idea about the dog to help match him with the right family. Do not settle! If something strikes you as ‘just not right’ go with your gutt.

  • A reputable breeder breeds for good conformation and temperament. Both sire and dam have been certified for clean hips and eyes. Having “papers” simply means that the dog’s parents were both purebred dogs, and nothing more. Professional breeders rarely advertise a litter in the newspaper.

  • Breeders should be proud to show off their dogs. Be cautious if a breeder will not permit you to interact with the litter or dam. A well-tempered dam will protect her litter for the first 2-3 weeks and thereafter permit people to hand the pups. Do not meet the breeder off site. On-site visits will give you a lot of information about the way the pup was raised.

Picking a Winner!

Choose a friendly, lovable, social dog. He should seek out your attention and enjoy being touched. A timid, fearful, puppy or dog hiding in the corner may turn around with extra training, but expect to invest more time for training.

You should be able to touch the dog when he is eating and take a bone away without issue.

Watch for signs of excessive barking, lunging or growling. If he growls or lunges at anyone, say “no thank you.”

If you have children, make sure the dog enjoys their company. If you have any doubt, say “no thank you.”

Ask questions: What does he do when you clip his nails? How is he around other dogs? Did the dog ever bite anyone? Use this information to make wise decisions.

Spend time together and you will see why so many of us continue to live with dogs!

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