Friday, July 1, 2011

Tips For Choosing Your New Dog

We all understand that adopting a new pet should never be an "impulse buy".  I've seen many big-hearted people swing by adoption events, never having considered or thought they wanted a/another dog, and expressed a desire to adopt after empathizing with the dog's plight as being homeless.  I think part of the impulse, is the fear that if you walk away from the animal you just fell madly in love with, it will be adopted by someone else, or meet a horrible fate.  Upon speaking with whoever is running that rescue, I'm sure they'd be quick to learn that filling out an application to 'hold' the dog enables them the ability to walk away and consider if it's a fit for their life.

Dawn, who ran the Pyrenees rescue, always asked everyone to consider their "ten year plan".  "I have no children" may yield an added family member who may not be great with children.  What they didn't consider, is that they may have children one day, or may realize a relative who is always over has now decided to have children.  I have seen dogs adopted by enlisted service people, who move frequently, and realize they must surrender their animals due to new locations.  People with homes have had foreclosures, and feel they cannot find an apartment which takes dogs.  (Of course, dog lovers will argue they weren't looking hard enough).  Before considering the breed, age, and needs of the dog, consider yours.  Not your situation today, but all your possible scenarios for the projected life expectancy of the dog.  None of us have crystal balls, but if one thinks hard enough, they will likely be able to be realistic with themselves.

Once your ten year plan has been determined, and you decide you are a good candidate to find a new pet, draw up your wish list in your head, or write it down.  Don't go to an adoption event, deciding you will let a dog "choose you".  I think the 'choose you' scenario is okay, once you have determined your dog breed match and are selecting from several appropriate dogs.  Ask yourself, how often can I walk my dog?  What is *my* energy level?  What is my tolerance for destruction, ie. digging, eating things I love, etc.  Is my job so stressful that any inconvenience will irritate me when I get home?  Is my significant other on board?  If I have children, will I have enough time to do it all? Once you have your list ready, then you can do some breed research.

Start looking for some of your key points, ie. search "low energy dogs", "dogs with long lives", "dogs that don't bark much".  Understand this will guide you towards a breed standard, which is merely your starting point.  Understanding what is natural for a specific breed will not only help you choose the correct match, it will also prepare you for behaviors you may not see at that adoption event.  Dogs can act quite different in those environments, and even in their foster homes.  We've encountered dogs that barked all the time in rescue, which hardly made a peep once they found their forever home.  It's also worked vice versa.  The point is to understand, for example, "Pyrs can be night barkers".  Your new friend may not do this for a couple of months, settle in, and decide they can officially be the guardian they were bred to be.

Some dogs may seem fearful, and end up being confident once they have your gentle leadership.  Others, may have never chased a cat in their life, but then decide your Fluffy really is far too enticing to not chase.  When you do your breed research, ask yourself "What is their job?".  Many families love dogs who are herding dogs by nature, and on top of their high energy, the dog may find it's appropriate to run your children in circles around the living room.

When you have made your lists of your dream dog, realized your breed match, then start looking.  Are you a first time dog owner?  Avoid dogs who may need training that you are unsure you can provide yet.  Everyone seems to want puppies:  Are you sure you have the time to train?  At an adoption event, we nearly fell  over ourselves when a woman proclaimed "I just want a good puppy who will be a good dog".  She thought they *came* that way.  She was denied a puppy by all the rescues who attended, and urged towards an older dog whose behaviors are more clearly defined.  All dogs have the potential to be naughty, and even an older dog may become naughty if you are not providing them leadership, attention, and affection when appropriate.

Before you ink that adoption contract, consider your finances.  Not now, for the next decade.  Do you have money put aside?  I once spoke to a woman who said she couldn't afford a lot of vet care, so wanted a younger dog.  I quickly reminded her that eventually her dog will age, and her finances may become stressed.  In addition, I reminded her all our friends need annual vet exams regardless of age or infirmity, and often running blood work may be recommended.  I explained that perfectly healthy dogs eventually will need dentals done, and they aren't cheap.  Dentals are essential to the overall health of your dog, and cannot be skipped. Dog food prices may be a consideration.  Some people are turned off by large breeds, expecting to pay a ton more for food.  While not completely untrue, most would be surprised at how little some larger dogs will need.  They think Pyrs may eat 10 cups a day, but it's more like 4 total, maybe 3 or 5.  Don't cheap out on dog food; better foods yield better health, and likely diminished vet bills long term.

Okay, now it's safe to fall in love!  Never go window shopping without having done all your preparations and home work done.  Without the safety net of drafting your ideal dog, you will fall madly in love with the border collie who is just adorable, and realize you really needed a slower dog.  Conversely, you could quite easily fall in love with an angelic Pyrenees, only to realize you really wanted a buddy to go running with you.  When unsure, ask your friends and family for objective advice.  "What kind of a dog do you think would be good for me?".  If you have current other animals, talk to your veterinarian and get their advice.

Pets are forever.  It's better to wait and save the "right" one, then feel compelled to try and save a life, only to realize you are not the right match for each other.


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