On Adopting a Dog, or Puppy








I have had dogs for most of my life.  As a boy, the first dog I can remember with any clarity was a Boxer named Jiggs.  This was followed by, I think, a Collie, named Laddie, and then by a Beagle, named Corky. 

The first dog I got as an adult was a mixed breed dog named Vixen, adopted from the Yonkers Animal Shelter, a wonderful animal.  Over the years, I've adopted other dogs from animal shelters as well, most recently Cyrus, pictured above. 

When individuals adopt or purchase dogs or puppies, their attention is usually focused on what kind of dog one should get.  Actually, the two most important questions to ask oneself are these:

  1. Why do you want a dog?
  2. Are you really going to be able to take care of the dog properly?

When you get a dog, you are committing to a serious, long-term relationship.  Dogs need to be fed, every day.  Dogs need to be walked, a number of times each day.  Dogs need to go to the vet when they're sick.  Dogs need to be walked when you're sick, or when your boss asks you to work late, or when you want to meet friends after work for a drink.  Dogs need to be picked up after.  Dogs age more rapidly than humans do; your cute puppy will become an adult, and then an aged senior with health issues over the course of a decade or more. 

Good dog food is not cheap.  Kennel stays are not cheap.  Veterinarian bills are not cheap.  Cyrus - refer once again to that cute dog in the photo - started having seizures around age three, and his medical bills, including prescriptions, have run into the thousands of dollars.  He's a wonderful pet, and it's money well spent, of course; but it's not as if I'd been sitting around saying, "I wonder what to do with all this extra cash...."

Simply put, dogs can have a huge impact on your budget, and on your free time.  These are things to be considered before you get a dog, not afterwards.  Animal shelters love to see dogs go to good homes; no one likes to see a dog go to a home where the poor creature won't be treated properly. 

Puppies, cute as they are, present special problems.  They're not born house-trained, and the difference between going to the bathroom in your backyard or on your expensive carpet seems, at best, a small one to them.  The chew toy you bought at the pet store, your expensive shoes, and the trimmings on your furniture all look alike.  Puppies bite, and have to be trained to do otherwise.  Puppies bark, cry, and howl, especially when they want to be walked at two in the morning. 

If none of the above has deterred you, and if you're willing to remember that none of the above deterred you during tough times ahead, then we can turn to the question of why you want a dog.

My dogs have always been good watchdogs.  My home, and its occupants, have always been made much safer by their presence.  Good watchdogs are great to have, but they tend to bark a lot, and also tend to be big, strong dogs, who can pull you on a leash if not properly trained.

Is companionship what you're after?  Then how much room, and time, do you have for your intended companion?  It would be an awful thing to bring an Irish Wolfhound into a cramped apartment, but a dachshund might fit in well.  Some dogs require a great deal of exercise, some less so.  How much time are you going to devote to exercising your dog on a daily basis?

Are you going to take your dog to obedience school?  If you don't, it really isn't fair to complain about the dog being disobedient as he gets older.

Mixed Breed or Purebred?

You'll notice that I mentioned specific breeds above (Irish Wolfhounds, Dachshunds), as well as mixed breeds.  Many people mistakenly believe that they must, or should, get a purebred dog.  Actually, this is a big mistake.  I have had purebred dogs, as well as mixed breeds, and can tell you from experience that you should only get a purebred dog if you are going to purchase one from a top breeder, and are willing to pay top price.  Otherwise, get a mixed breed from a shelter.

This seems hard for most people to grasp.  Why would I pay $2,000 for a Golden Retriever from a top breeder when I can get an AKC-registered Golden Retriever for $800 from a pet shop, or from the guy down the street, or from the guy with the truck on the side of the road?

The $800 "purebred" comes at worst from a "puppy farm" where dogs are bred in awful conditions, and at best from a "backyard breeder."  These dogs are almost always over-bred and, consequently, will likely have all the bad genetic characteristics that come from breeding within a limited gene pool. 

Top breeders don't over-breed.  They don't breed dogs with apparent genetic liabilities.  That is why their dogs are so expensive.  If you have your heart set on a specific breed of dog, and have the money to pay a top breeder for one, then by all means go ahead.

If, on the other hand, you're on a bit of a budget, then think about what kind of dog you want in general terms, and then find a nearby animal shelter to visit.  Mixed breeds, by definition, come from larger gene pools.  As a general rule, everything else being equal, they're healthier than over-bred dogs.

Once You Adopt Your Dog, or Puppy

I say "dog, or puppy," because you really ought to consider adult dogs as well as puppies.  Puppies are cute, but adult dogs are often house-trained. 

In any event, once you adopt your dog, bring him or her to your local veterinarian within the first two weeks of adoption, and bring a stool sample.  (One more joy of pet ownership.)  You want to make sure the new arrival hasn't picked up bacteria at the shelter; if he or she has, then the vet will know how to treat it. 

Socialize your dog as much as possible, and as quickly as possible.  Never leave your dog "staked out."  It's cruel to the dog, and will probably cause him or her to have a warped personality in no time. 

Read pet books.  Learn what to do, and what not to do.  Ask your vet for advice.  Does your dog need to be treated for heartworm, or flea prevention? 

There's plenty of free advice on the internet (see below) and in books at the library about training your dog in a loving and gentle manner.  Read the advice, and follow it.

And, by all means, enjoy your new relationship.  My father used to say, "A guy can't be all bad if a dog loves him."  Strive to prove yourself worthy of such affection. 


Some Helpful Links

ASPCA - Lots of good information on this website.  You can also consider donating.

American Kennel Club.

Petfinder - A site for those interested in adopting homeless pets. There are plenty of pictures, and links to shelters in most geographic areas.



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