by Sandi Dremel
The decision to get a dog is not something to be taken lightly. An adorable puppy can tug at our heartstrings but, in the end, will require a significant investment of your time and money for a significant number of years. Socializing and training a new puppy is time consuming and, occasionally, frustrating. It can increase the amount of stress on the family, and the dog, working to provide the constant supervision, socialization, and training that is necessary to successfully integrate a dog into a family environment. This is especially true if the primary caregiver(s) are working outside of the home and/or have young children, an elderly parent, or other persons and/or pets to care for. This does not mean that it cannot be done. But, the investment of time, energy, and money, required, is often underestimated by prospective dog owners.
Additionally, depending upon what breed you ultimately select it may take some time to find the right breeder and the right puppy. Reputable, ethical breeders do not breed frequently. And, they only breed when they have found a pair who have been proven to possess the health and temperaments required to insure, to the extent possible, healthy, well tempered, offspring.
Making this decision impulsively, can lead to frustration, disappointment, and eventually, may result in the surrender of the dog to a shelter or rescue.
In the US, the tragic fact is that, millions of the dogs are prematurely euthanized, annually. And, most often, it is the owners, not the dogs, who are responsible for their premature deaths. Impulsive or poorly thought out decisions; the selection of a difficult or headstrong breed because it is ‘popular’ or you like how it looks; or, for that matter, any dog selected for looks rather than temperament, ‘match’ to your lifestyle, and your ability to provide proper care and environment; the lack of consideration of the lifestyle changes you may experience over the next 12 to 14 years; as well as the lack of proper socialization, training, physical activity, and attention – these are all major contributors to the need for so many shelters and rescues. And, results, all too frequently, in premature euthanasia.
The first question you should ask yourself, honestly… Why do I (we) want a dog?
If your answer is:
For my son/daughter/children: Trust me, this will be your dog. The kids will play with the dog occasionally, will groan and grumble about any dog-related responsibilities and will probably only do them, begrudgingly, after significant prodding from you. As children’s interests and activities change, frequently, their involvement with the dog, will most likely be, inconsistent, at best. Additionally, your children, especially, young children, will need to be ‘trained’ in how to behave with the dog and will need to be supervised when with the dog.
For protection: I know some may disagree but, it is my opinion, that the only time is it a good idea to get a dog for the purpose of protection is in professional or agricultural situations and only when the owner/trainer is humane and knowledgeable of dog behavior and dominant dog training/handling. In all other situations - probably 99.9% - an alarm system, security fence, or other measures are much more appropriate and effective.
To breed puppies: If you’ve read the third paragraph of this piece and still feel this way, there is probably little I can offer to change your mind. But, just in case, let me restate the case a little more thoroughly. The breeding of dogs is a responsibility not to be taken lightly. If it is not your intention to remain responsible for all of your puppies for their entire lives, including being willing to take back and care for those who may find themselves homeless, do not enter into this endeavor. If you are planning on breeding for profit, understand that there are much easier, more profitable and ethical ways to make a buck. Dogs are living beings and dog breeding requires a significant investment of time, money, labor, knowledge, both academic and practical, patience, and emotional fortitude, to be done responsibly and humanely. Please visit a few of the shelter and rescue websites, or your local shelter, and witness the problem yourself. View the faces of the homeless dogs and talk to the volunteers and staff who, all too often, must take that ‘final walk’ with them.
Because BreedX is ‘Cool’, was in a movie you saw, is unique and exotic, is free/cheap, or other such nonsense: One of the WORST reasons to get a dog, or any other animal, for that matter, is because of their physical appearance or popularity due to a movie, TV show, or other publicity. Often, these venues feature exotic, rare or unique breeds who are, in the overwhelming majority of situations, unsuitable as companions. This visibility may also draw out those ‘breeders’ whose primary motivation is profit versus health, temperament, structural soundness and the welfare of their dogs. And, remember to incorporate the same thoughtful consideration on whether or not to get a dog, and which breed or mix, when your friend, coworker or relative offers you one of Fluffy’s puppies. Dogs are never really ‘free’ or ‘cheap’ and, in reality, require significant financial, physical, time, and environmental resources. At a minimum, none of these, or other such reasons, are sound selection factors for getting a dog and selecting a particular breed or mix. And, remember, if it is difficult for you to find information on a particular breed, or a breeder of the breed, it follows that you will most likely also have difficulty finding local support services that are familiar with the training, health care, and maintenance needs of that breed.
However, if you are interested in getting a dog for the right reasons, please ask yourself the following 10 questions, prior to selecting a breed and breeder or visiting your local shelter or rescue facility
While there are a few breeds, especially exotic or rare breeds, that I would not recommend to people considering dog ownership, there are several shared traits and needs that are basic to all dogs. All require socialization, training, a secure, comfortable and safe environment, grooming and health maintenance, professional health care, a quality diet, companionship, attention, and love. All dogs are canines and think like canines. It is important that you educate yourself through books, training classes, etc. so that you will be able to interpret and understand their behavior and respond appropriately.
Additionally, with regard to “non-shedding dogs”, while there is no such animal (except for hairless varieties which present greater maintenance and care challenges), some do shed considerably less than others (i.e., several terrier breeds, schnauzers, poodles, etc.). However, understand that if it is an allergy or asthma that you are concerned with, it is likely not the shedding of hair that causes the reaction in humans, it is proteins in the saliva, dander or contact with urine, that will often trigger allergic reactions. Non-allergenic breeds of dogs or cats do not exist. Animals tend to shed dander at different rates and hair length is only a minor factor in the amount of dander an animal makes. Animals may also be more allergenic at certain times of the year as they go through dander-shedding cycles. The characteristics of a person’s allergies can also change over time. Purchasing a so-called “non-allergenic” breed usually does not work out. Getting rid of a pet after emotional attachments have been made is hard for all involved.
However, if it is the ‘mess’ you are concerned about, while you can minimize the amount and/or length of the hair/undercoat shed via breed selection and proper grooming, dogs can and do make messes having nothing to do with shedding. So, if muddy coat and paws or a bit of doggy ‘fragrance’ are going to through you into a tailspin, please reevaluate if this is the best time for you to get a dog.
Thoughtful breed and breeder selection can improve, to some degree, the odds that you will find a healthy, well-tempered, dog that meets your expectations in a family pet. Deciding to get an older adoptable pure or mixed breed dog can eliminate a few ‘unknowns’ (See The Virtues of an Older Dog by Valerie Macys) but, may, on the other hand, present alternative concerns. In any event, at some point during your dog’s life, you will face some ‘surprises’ or ‘issues’ that will require some flexibility and out-of-the-ordinary amount of patience, time, and effort on your part. Even when dealing with the most reputable breeder, rescue or shelter, and being extremely diligent and thorough, in your research, your ability to predict you and your dog’s future, is limited. Therefore, just as in marriage or parenthood, you must be willing to be somewhat flexible and sincerely committed to responding, responsibly, to deviations from your expectations.
And, finally, while doing some research on weight pulling, I came across a great, practical, primer/warning by Amy Gerson, on what life with dogs can be like (note: this primer/warning is no longer online). While, specifically, written for Malamutes, these ‘issues’ can be found in any dog breed or mix and are examples of what you must be willing to deal with when you decide to get a dog. It is true, that many behavioral issues can be solved through training and sufficient activity and exercise; some of these traits are inherent enough to be recurring and frustrating to owners. If digging, chewing, etc. are likely to result in your packing your dog off to a shelter, please reconsider your decision to get a dog.
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