October 25, 2006
Guidelines for Choosing a Puppy
Selecting a puppy is not a lightweight decision, as it will impact your family's life for years to come. With forethought and careful research, you can make a sensible choice, avoiding the many pitfalls that cause owners to give up their young dogs for adoption. Here are some guidelines to help you make an intelligent puppy choice.
One of the first considerations is your actual living area. Do you live in an apartment, or are you a homeowner? If you own a home, do you have a yard? Is your yard fenced in? If you have a garden that a dog could destroy, are you prepared to create a separate area for your dog's potty and exercise time? Are all the plants on your property dog-friendly (non-poisonous)? How close are your nearest neighbors? Do they have children? Considering these questions will point you in the right direction.
Next, consider your immediate family. Do you live alone? Are you a couple without children? If you have children, what are their ages? You will need a dog that is child-friendly and able to take the wear and tear of living with kids.
After pondering all the above, think about the size your dog will reach at maturity. Large dogs may need more space than some apartments offer. Also, consider the activity level of your prospective pup. Breeds such as terriers and hunting dogs need lots of exercise because they have high energy levels.
Breed choice is a very important consideration. Time spent researching the different breeds will pay dividends. There are books, magazines, and websites where you can read up on any breed that catches your fancy. Many breeds have innate working behaviors. It is important that you understand how these behaviors will translate into the lifestyle you have to offer that dog. For example, herding breeds are known to chase cars, cyclists and skateboarders. German Shepherds are territorial and bark at "intruders." These behaviors may be difficult to manage in your environment and should affect your choice of puppy.
There are also grooming considerations. If you have concerns about shedding, then some breeds are definitely not for you. If your carpets are dark in color, then white, yellow, or golden-coated dogs who shed could be a source of endless work for you. Many breeds have long, high-maintenance coats that need regular combing and brushing. If you do not have time for extensive grooming, then short-haired breeds may better fit your lifestyle.
Socialization is the most important factor in determining your puppy's demeanor as an adult. Special attention must be devoted to the socialization of a new puppy of any breed, pure or mixed. Puppies are ready to be taken home when they are 49 days old (seven weeks). If your prospective puppy is older than 10 weeks, you should have second thoughts, as he might prove difficult to socialize properly. Proper socialization requires time. There are no short cuts. It would be wise to plan ahead. Set aside time to socialize your new pup almost immediately after you bring him home.
Once you have decided on the breed you want to own, start contacting reputable breeders to inquire about puppy availability. If you have decided to go for a mixed breed pup, contact shelters in your area to find out if any litters are available or on the way.
There are many questions you need to ask of breeders, such as health guarantees, parent size, temperament, and what, if any, socialization has been done by the breeder. Reputable breeders will guarantee your pup against congenital health defects, usually for a period ranging from 90 days up to one year. If problems arise, the breeder will replace the pup. Experienced breeders welcome your questions and many will have questions of their own for you to answer before they will even sell you a puppy.
It is important to set up a visit with the breeder when the litter is between five and six weeks of age. You will want to check the dame of the litter and, if possible, the sire as well. If their looks and temperaments are pleasing, this is a good sign. Next, observe the littermates, both as a group, and individually. Puppies' personalities begin to develop with their early interactions in the litter box, competing for choice feeding and sleeping sports. You may notice bold pups and shy pups. Many puppies will assume both dominant and submissive roles during play. This is normal, and even desirable, for house pets.
Much has been written about "puppy tests," but I, for one, am more concerned with proper socialization than the way a puppy appears on a given day when it is only a few weeks old. Socialization will have an enormous impact on puppies between the ages of eight and 16 weeks.
Still, there are some things you should check out when you visit the litter. Have the breeder bring each pup separately into a quiet room. When the pup is relaxed, check for normal sight and hearing. Bring a "squeaky toy" to see if he reacts to the sound. Toss it in front of the pup to test his vision. Carefully reach out and touch the puppy gently. Does it accept handling? Be careful not to scare a puppy. If he seems naturally cautious, make note of it. I prefer alert, outgoing pups. Every puppy has its own personality, and you can choose the personality that most appeals to you.
Whether you are looking for companionship or a working dog, careful planning and research should lead you to that special dog you have been hoping for.