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A Beginner’s Guide To Getting a Dog

A few weeks ago, a client of mine was getting their home inspected for their first ever dog. Neither of them had ever owned a dog before and while I was listening to them describe “a long rope that you screw into the ground when you go on long trips” (aka a stake out), it occurred to me how inundated newbie dog owners must be when trying to navigate this amazing, yet crazy dog world. I thought I’d do a very basic blog here on some things newbie dog owners should think about and things that will definitely make taking your new best friend home go a bit smoother!

I’m going to do a two part series, this blog will be about finding and selecting your new best friend. And next week’s will look at ways you can prepare your family, home and your new dog for a successful lifelong friendship!

First things first as a rescuer I’m obligated to remind everyone that dogs are a life long commitment. While those cute little fluff ball puppies are beyond adorable, adopting one of those cuties is between a ten and eighteen year commitment. You and your family members will need to think about how you will accommodate many of the life events that might happen during that time. You could move, kids could go to school or graduate or move away to college, jobs might change, schedules could swap, etc. Though all these life changes and life transitions your ever faithful pal will be right there along side of you and you will need to make sure he or she has a place in those possible futures too.

Once you’ve seriously thought through the choice to get a dog you’ll need to determine where to get your new dog or puppy. Obviously I’m 10,000% pro-shelter adoption, but I can recognize that some folks might want a dog bred specifically for a certain task or skill. Shelters provide the best “deal” on new furry friends, and dogs adopted will come spayed/neutered, up to date on all shots, health checked, parasite free, and in some cases even microchipped. These services alone cost hundreds of dollars and are included in the adoption fee. Plus you’ll get to save a life and provide a loving warm home to a dog who has lost theirs for one reason or another.

I know that despite my shouting from the mountaintops about how great adoption is, some folks will still decide to adopt from a breeder. But I urge, urge, urge, you to do your research first to try and ensure you are supporting a responsible breeder who cares for and about the breed instead of the thousands of backyard breeders or puppy mills who are just out there to make a quick buck. I’ve yet to meet someone I know who purchased a dog who didn’t accidentally end up supporting and condemning mother dogs in puppy mills. There are so many “bad” ones out there it’s very easy to get misled and support someone you shouldn’t.

Throughout this quest to find a good place to (adopt!) get your next dog, breed will no doubt come into place. Dogs come in all shapes, sizes, temperaments, colors, energy and maintenance levels. You can 100% find a dog breed that best matches your family’s lifestyle and situation. So many times when I’m called in to help with a training issue it’s because the family’s lifestyle doesn’t match that of the dog they’ve selected. I’ll see a single person who works 9 to 5 living in an apartment with a Australian Cattle Dog who’s purpose in life is to herd cattle 24/7. There’s only so much you can do in a situation like that to make things work. The dog and family just aren’t that compatible.

To help you out there are some good websites out there that will list dog breeds and their typical traits. I like the dogtime website because it easily breaks down each dog breed into the various personality traits and clearly details out what you might expect. For those who are completely lost, there are online quizzes that can help you narrow down the hundreds of options to your top few choices.

For dogs that are multiple or mixed breeds, you can expect a nice mix of traits from both of the suspected parents. This can be nice to “mellow out” a higher energy dog or eliminate some of the strong drives that motivate purebred dogs. For evaluating mixed breeds dogs, take a look at each breed to get an overall feel for what the dog might be like before you meet them. Now, much like people, all dogs are different, and no single dog meets every single bullet point, but generally dogs tend to align to the breeds they are made of. You’ll also need to consider these natural instincts when selecting a dog to be a good fit for your family.

For my dogs, Esther is a jack russel terrier and shih tzu mix. She will chase any living thing if it moves fast enough – rabbits and squirrels are rarities in my yard. Is this a trait I could train out of her by teaching her a “leave it” command? Sure, but I’m going against a core instinct of her very nature which will make my job a lot harder. If I lived in an area where squirrels and rabbits were extremely common, having a dog who lost her mind over every one might be much more of a challenge. Other incompatible examples might be a protective German shepherd with a family who routinely hosts bbq events for the neighborhood, or a yappy sheltie in a small apartment retirement home. These are all things you’ll need to keep in mind when selecting your new friend.

Lastly seek out the advise of professions in the dog world. Ask a dog trainer or some other dog expert to help you select a good match. Some professionals even can accompany you to a shelter or rescue to help you in your choice. Their expert eye can oftentimes pick up on signals a newbie owner can miss. Things like: “he seems to guard his toys and bowls” might be a red flag for a family with children. These things are easily missed by the dog cuteness but can be easily seen by a trained (and neutral) third party.

Let’s recap:

  • Select a breed that fits your lifestyle and BE HONEST about that lifestyle. If you don’t want to spend 40 minutes brushing your dog every day, don’t get a dog who’s coat type requires this to be healthy!
  • Research places that (adopt!) have the dog breed or breeds you are considering. Keep an open mind too and be patient. The right dog fit is out there for you even if you have to search around a while.
  • Bring a friendly dog professional with you to pick our your friend to help make sure you’re picking a compatible new critter to add to your family.

Stay tuned next week for some tips for bringing home your newbie friend!