Making the Commitment >
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Where Do I Get a Dog? >
Which Puppy Passes the Test? >

Making the Commitment

The Humane Society of the United States lists several questions you should ask yourself before making the commitment to a pet. They submit that the answers should be yes to all of the following questions:
  • Are you allowed to have a dog where you live?
  • Can you afford a dog at this time?
  • Have you considered the neighbors?
  • Present and future: Are you prepared to have a dog?
  • Do you know how to care for a dog?
  • Do all of your family members agree about getting a dog?
  • Is your family situation stable?
  • Will this dog be the only pet in the house?
  • Will it get along with other pets?
  • Can your schedule accommodate a dog?
  • Does your lifestyle accommodate a dog?
  • Are you free from physical restriction limiting your ability to care for a dog?
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Finding a Match

Relaxing after a rough day
Before you select a specific dog, there are several things to consider. This is especially hard to think about when you are looking into the sweet eyes of a puppy. However, considering that you will probably have that dog from 10-15 years and puppyhood lasts only months, it is important to do your homework before you get the dog.

You must consider the following issues:

Size. Do you live in a small space or a large space for this dog? Do you want a dog that you can carry and cuddle, or a big strapping dog that you can lie on? Does this dog fit in your car? In a plane carrier bag? Also the amount of food the dog eats varies in proportion to the size of the dog, as does the amount of fecal matter it produces.

Biking in Martha's Vineyard
Activity level. This means the amount of exercise the dog needs. Some breeds of dogs need to "get out there and run". Other dogs, even some large breeds, need very little exercise. Match a dog's needs to your lifestyle. If you jog daily and plan to take the dog, a higher energy level dog is for you (you wouldn't enjoy dragging your dog with you). Conversely, if you are not very physically active, a high energy dog wouldn't fit into your lifestyle. From my experience, I have noted that a high energy dog, without the physical release it needs, can find other outlets for its energy release, like your attractive rug or leather couch.

Hair and fur. Does anyone in your family have allergies to dog fur? (There are alternatives). Is anyone going to be running for the vacuum cleaner at the sight of a dog hair on the floor? Does the dog's coat match the environment in which you live and the place where you intend to keep your dog? A short haired dog needs protection outside in severe climates, but a double coated dog sheds a great deal and is uncomfortable in your environment. Do you mind high maintenance grooming for your dog, or is just a "bath and brush--ready to go" what you have in mind?
Personality with children. Some dogs are more physically and emotionally sensitive than others. Some children are, too. If you have children, think of their ages and personalities. Do they want to roughhouse with their dog, or dress it up? A shy sensitive dog in a loud active house might be overwhelmed and become fearful. However, an insensitive dog in a quiet house might appear to be "a bull in a china shop."
Age. Puppyhood can be trying and yet wonderful. Everyone loves to hold the new puppy gently sleeping in your arms. But the reality of housebreaking scheduling, chewing and other behaviors of puppyhood are more than some people wish to go through. If you are one of those people, an older dog may be the solution. A possible disadvantage is that with older dogs, you often do not know what they have been through in the past, and this may present problems. A benefit is that you usually have the dog's mental maturity working with you.
Pure breed or mutt. Some people want the characteristics bred into certain breeds, like asthetics, speed, personality or working ability. These people usually opt for specific breeds. They are fairly assured of the look, temperament and size of the dog they choose. Others are interested in a specific dog. They may or may not know the parent dogs or the variety of breeds in their mixed breed dog, and it doesn't matter. That dog will become a member of their family regardless. There has been a lot written about which type of dog is smarter, healthier and more of a companion. I think it depends on the individual dog. Lassie is a pure bred but Benji is a mixed breed taken from a shelter. Both are excellent.

Price. Pure bred dogs are usually somewhat expensive depending on the breed and the breeder. They can run from $300 to $2,000. Older pure bred dogs can be obtained for free from rescue groups. Mixed breed dogs are nearly free from shelters. They usually have been spayed or neutered for free through the shelter and have had their shots. This cuts down on the initial cost of the dog a great deal.

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Where Do I Get a Dog?

Where can you find the one dog for you? It's nice if a lovely stray follows you home and sits obediently at your feet, but that doesn't happen very often. A responsible pet owner should decide what he wants in a dog and then decide where to get it.

Here are some ways to find your "four legged significant other:"

Shelters. There are about 50 million dogs out there already alive. Many already live in shelter and are homeless. If you are not interested in a pure breed, adopting a dog from a shelter is a humane and reasonable choice. These dogs need homes and you can locate a dog of any age at a shelter. The price is right and more importantly, you save a life.

Specific breed rescue. Rescue groups are made up of people who care for homeless dogs usually of a specific breed. Some dogs can't be kept by their owners for various reasons, often beyond their control. Greyhounds, for example, may be raced for several years as young adults and after that period their money making ability is cut down and the dogs are abandoned. This does not necessarily mean that there is anything wrong with the dog. Most of them make fine pets. Adult dogs may be easier to care for as they know "basic living skills." If you are interested in acquiring a dog in this way, contact the club associated with the specific breed to find an appropriate rescue group.

Breeder. If you have chosen a specific breed of dog, I suggest that you find a good breeder. A breeder is a person who mates dogs of the same breed to produce puppies. A good breeder mates two dogs that have positive characteristics with regard to the dog's health, intelligence, personality and physical beauty. Less reputable breeders just mate two dogs regardless of their mental or physical health, so you have to interview the breeder and look at other dogs that they have bred. A good breeder will interview you to see if you and the puppy are a good match, and you will provide a good home. DogWorld Magazine has an article in which the author surveys questions good breeders might ask in order to place their dogs properly. Breeders may be located through the American Kennel Club.

Newspaper advertisements. Be careful. People placing ads can be very responsible and caring, but sometimes they are not. Do a little homework and investigate. A new puppy is always cute and will sell itself, but you may have this pet for 10-15 years so choose carefully.

Pet Shops. As a rule I do not recommend buying a puppy from a pet shop. Dogs are often acquired from puppy mills (mass production under deplorable conditions) and not bred for quality. I know of one pet shop in Manhattan that seems to offer dogs of decent quality, but considering the number of pet shops that exist, you are taking a big chance.

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Which Puppy Passes the Test?

Please note these tips before picking a puppy.
  1. For most people, look for middle of the road. Do not choose the most bold or the most shy in the littler or facility.

  2. Cradle the puppy in your arms, tummy up, like a baby. Does the puppy fight that position or relax in it? I'd take the puppy who allows me to do so, for I feel it demonstrates that dog's willingness to trust, submit and cooperate.

  3. Make a loud and unusual sound and observe the puppy's reactions. Does the puppy run and hide or attack? I am for an interested but not agressive puppy.

  4. If you squat down and say "here puppy" in a pleasant voice, which puppy comes and which cowers away? This test gives you an idea of which dogs are people oriented and which are not. This may or may not change in a dog's lifetime.

  5. Don't take a puppy before the 7th or 8th week of age. They learn a great deal from their littermates and mother about caring, sharing and getting along with other dogs (things we can't teach them).

  6. Choosing a puppy is great fun, but do it with some thought to the future and make a commitment to the puppy you choose.

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