What to Consider When Adding to Your Four-Legged Family
Learn to improve the odds of a long and happy life with your next K9 companion.
Posted Mar 24, 2015
By Dr. Meredith Stepita, DVM, DACVB
It’s human nature to make impulse decisions. The puppy in the window is so adorable, who could resist? I’ve personally taken home more than a couple of rescue dogs and cats without knowing much about their history and fortunately I’ve been lucky. Common sense tells us that this probably not the best way to choose a pet that may be with us for the next 16 years. In the moment you may forget about the expectations you have for your perfect dog. You may not take into account your busy lifestyle and the time commitment this pooch is going to require. What about breed, sex, and individual characteristics of the specific dog? The puppy is a cute fur ball now that could quickly grow into a 110 pound behemoth.
Here are some things to consider:
- Exercise requirements: Do you want a running partner? If so, a young, large breed such as a Labrador or Golden Retriever may be a good match. If a couch potato is more your style—which is nothing to be ashamed of (my personal dogs would win a contest for most time spent snoozing in a 24-hour period)—consider a small or toy breed, a Greyhound (dubbed the 60mph couch potato), or an adult dog.
- Age matters: What about a puppy vs. an adult dog? There are factors to consider here as well. If you obtain your puppy at under 16 weeks of age (ideally at under 12 weeks of age) you have influence over their sensitive period of socialization and should take full advantage of the opportunity. This is the period when puppies readily acquire behaviors that define their future abilities to form social partnerships with other dogs, animals and people. That means that you can help vaccinate your puppy against future behavior problems by ensuring quality socialization during this time. I cannot stress enough that you will never get this period in your puppy’s life back and appropriate socialization is very important to your puppy’s future. See blog titled “Jump start behavioral health in your puppy with socialization!” for more information (https://drstepita.wordpress.com/2014/02/24/jump-start-behavioral-health-...). Of course with a puppy you will also have to take the time to help them learn more acceptable behaviors rather than those that come naturally to them such as mouthing, jumping on people, and urinating in the house.
- ……And when your puppy grows up there could be problems. Dogs do not reach social maturity until 1-3 years of age and that is when I am most likely to see housemate dogs for fighting with each other. They may have gotten along beautifully when one (or both) was a puppy, but now resources such as your attention, food, and favorite toys carry new meaning. Research and personal experience have shown that two female dogs are most likely to fight whereas a male and female pair as least likely1,2. Two males living together are somewhere in the middle.
- Adult dogs can also make great pets: Another pro of adopting an adult dog is that if they have lived with someone for at least 1 month, that person may be able to tell you about the individual dog’s personality, likes, dislikes, etc. This information can be invaluable, but then there is that honeymoon period. This is the period when the dog is seemingly an angel, with no behavior problems to speak of. After that time the dog starts to get comfortable and behavior problems may start to rear their ugly head.
- Should I get my puppy from a breeder? Breeders vary widely—from accidental breedings to backyard breeders to people who do not have experience breeding, but want their dog to have a litter to highly experienced breeders who are very conscientious and work hard to eliminate genetic defects and preserve the characteristics of the breed. The latter will likely interview you extensively as they don’t want their puppies going to just anyone. You can and should research the breeder, meet the parents, and interview owners who have added puppies from the same parents to their homes. You may be able to meet the mother of a rescue puppy as well, but less information may be known about the behavior and breed of the parents. Genetic testing is now available that can give you some idea of what a dog’s breed may be.
- Medical requirements: Some breeds, such as English Bulldogs are notorious for having multiple medical problems which can become quite costly. Other dogs live into their teens with only a health check from your veterinarian once to twice yearly.
- Grooming requirements: Some dogs have hair that grows and will require regular grooming.
So you don’t get suckered into an impulse purchase take some time to think about your expectations, life style and what type of dog (age, breed, sex, behavioral characteristics) would work best for your family situation. That way, when you see a cute puppy you will have a better idea of if he could be the right fit. Re-evaluate once yearly or as major changes occur in your life, living, and family situation.
By Dr. Meredith Stepita, DVM, DACVB
Veterinary Behavior Specialists (www.vetbehaviorspecialists.com)
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1. Sherman CK, et al. Characteristics, treatment, and outcome of 99 cases of aggression between dogs. Appl Anim Behav Sci.1996;47:91–108.
2. Wrubel, KM et al. Interdog household aggression: 38 cases (2006–2007). J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2011;238:731–740