So you’re thinking about getting a dog? Congratulations! You and your dog can have an incredibly beneficial relationship.
People choose dogs as pets for many reasons. They have natural beauty, they have excellent character and they make affectionate lifelong companions. In addition to the joy of owning a dog, be aware of the responsibilities you’re incurring. Ask yourself the following questions.
Can your living arrangements accommodate a dog?
- Do you move often or live in apartments where dogs may not be welcome?
- Do you have a roommate or spouse who dislikes dogs or is allergic to them?
- Do you know someone who can care for your dog when you’re out of town?
What is your financial situation?
- Can you afford a dog?
- Do you have money left over after your bills are paid and your basic necessities purchased?
- Are you willing to make sure your dog has proper health care, which can vary from $200 to more than $1000 per year?
- Can you afford $600 a year in food and other supplies?
- Can you afford to board her or pay for a pet sitter when you’re out of town?
How busy are you?
- Do you have time for a dog? Dogs need regular, daily exercise—and running around the backyard alone doesn’t count.
- Do you have time to walk a dog? Play with a dog?
- Do you have other pets or children?
- Are your children old enough to understand a dog’s need to be left alone and play gently?
- Will your children be jealous of a new pet?
- Are you buying a dog under the condition and assumption that your children will take care of the dog? Having a dog may not be the best way to teach your children responsibility. The hard truth for parents is this: be willing and prepared to care for any dog you purchase for your kids, despite what pre-purchase promises you extract from them.
Here are the essentials for caring for a dog. Have them ready when you bring your new friend home for the first time.
Food: Buy at least a two-week supply, or more if you don’t like making frequent trips to the store. Before you stock up, though, wait to see if your new dog likes the food you’ve selected.
Dishes: Stainless steel dishes are recommended, as they’re the most durable, they’re easily cleaned and they don’t retain odors.
Leash and Collar: The collar should fit loosely, with room for two fingers between it and your dog’s neck. A six-foot-long leash is good for walking and training.
Poop Bags and a Scoop: Responsible dog ownership isn’t always a bouquet of roses, but our neighbors appreciate it when we clean up after our pooches.
Grooming Supplies: A brush, comb and shampoo for your dog are basic supplies unless you plan to have your dog professionally groomed.
Toys: Of course, buy toys! Check for small parts that the dog could swallow or that could be a choking hazard.
Bedding: You can use an old blanket for your dog to sleep and rest on. Most dogs love to sleep in your bedroom so they can keep an eye on you, but you can train your dog to sleep wherever you wish.
Choosing a Healthy Dog
Unless you’re rescuing a dog with a known illness or injury, you’ll be better off starting out with a healthy dog.
Look for the following traits:
- bright eyes, with no discharge of any sort
- clean ears and skin
- pink gums and correctly aligned teeth
- a well-proportioned body
- a shiny coat
- good eyesight and hearing—check this by jingling your keys and seeing if the dog responds.
If you have any questions, talk to the staff at the shelter, the breeder or a veterinarian. Ask whether you can return the dog if your veterinarian discovers any serious problems.
Where to Get a Dog
So many choices . . . what’s best for you?
Animal Shelter: This is a great place to buy a mixed breed dog, which makes a great family pet. A good shelter has knowledgeable staff members who can tell you about the dog. Many shelters try to provide as much information as they can about the dog’s background in hopes of placing the right dog in the right home. If you can, play with the dog alone so you can see how she behaves. You can evaluate her health as well.
Breed Rescue Groups and Service Dogs: These are good sources for purebreds. Breed rescue groups provide homes for unwanted dogs. Service dogs who were bred to help the physically or mentally challenged but didn’t make the cut are available for adoption. Check with local shelters, veterinary clinics and phone directories for recommendations and contacts.
Buying From a Breeder: You can find a good breeder at a dog show or your local veterinary clinic can recommend one. If you want a purebred dog, make sure the breeder you select breeds only healthy dogs that are free of hereditary diseases.
You can expect be interviewed by the breeder too. A good breeder wants to make sure that you’ll provide a happy home for the dog because she cares about her dog’s placement, not just the money.
Wherever you obtain your dog, have your veterinarian examine her to ensure that she’s healthy.
Questions to Ask a Breeder
- What is the breed’s history?
- Do you screen for diseases?
- What breed clubs do you belong to?
- How long have you been breeding?
- Have you bred many types of dogs?
- Can I have references of other families who bought from you?
- What kind of contract or guarantee do you offer?
- Do you socialize the dogs? How?
- What kind of papers do you have on the dog I want?
- How long is the wait for the dog I want?
- Has a veterinarian seen the puppies?
Pet Shops: Although some pet stores have a reputation of selling puppies obtained from puppy mills, you can acquire a happy, healthy pup from a good pet shop. With a bit of research, you can find good pet stores with quality animals. Ask them the same questions you would of the breeder and compare pricing and quality with those of local breeders.
What’s a Puppy Mill?
Puppy mills, by definition, breed large numbers of poor quality dogs, often in unhealthy conditions. Many times, the dogs’ pedigrees are also in question.
One disadvantage with pet stores is that you generally cannot view the parents of the puppy you’re considering for purchase.
Newspaper Ads: Obtaining your dog from an ad in the local newspaper usually means you’ll be dealing with a “backyard breeder,” although professional breeders do advertise in newspapers. A backyard breeder is a dog owner who just happens to have puppies for sale. Be careful here, as backyard breeders typically don’t understand the work and commitment involved in producing healthy, quality animals. Genetic screening of the parents may not be done and they may have taken shortcuts on other health measures. Ask the same questions as you would of the professional breeder.