Thursday, June 23, 2011

Choosing a Breed and Age

If you are absolutely confident in your abilities to fully provide for your dog, it’s time to choose a breed that will fit you.  Contrary to popular belief, there is no good “starter dog” that fits everybody.  There is only a good dog for you.

The size of the dog is quite important for several reasons.  Large dogs cost more to maintain due to more food consumption and the higher costs of larger items—collars, harnesses, beds, and even cars and furniture will have to be scaled up to accommodate a larger dog.  If you are physically unsound or lacking in strength, a smaller dog will be better and more manageable—you absolutely must be able to control your dog if it becomes necessary to do so, no excuses.   Finally, if you live in a small home or apartment, dog size may be important to you if you fear your dog and all of the dog’s stuff encroaching on what little free space there may be.  Other than this, there is usually no problem housing any size dog in a small home or apartment assuming the dog in question is properly stimulated.

Many folks believe that the smaller the dog, the lower the energy level.  This is a serious error!  Giant breeds tend to be lazy lap dogs, and many smaller dogs like Corgis and Jack Russell Terriers are packed with energy.  The dog’s original purpose determines the energy level you should expect, not its size. It’s important to pick a dog with an energy level right for you.  An understimulated dog causes destruction, regardless of the size of the dog or the size of the home.  If your dog is bored and destructive, it is a good sign that you are not giving it the attention it requires. 

Your living environment is a consideration to make for the health and comfort of the dog.  For example, flat-faced (brachycephalic) dogs do very poorly in heat and are prone to heat stroke.  Thin-coated breeds can become cold very easily and may require sweaters or other accommodations.  The coat which lends itself to insulation against heat and cold must also be groomed regularly.  The question at hand is then, “how regularly would you like that to be?”

Lastly, you must also think about the temperament of the dog you want.  This includes affection level, playfulness, its ability to get along with other pets, its friendliness towards strangers, and its intelligence.

All dogs are not created equal, and all of the above must be considered when searching for a new pal.  Fortunately, the fine folks at Animal Planet have put together a great dog breed selector quiz, which will give you an idea of what breeds are suited for you.  Even if you are not seeking a pure bred dog, knowing what breeds to look for in a mutt can be very beneficial, as the offspring will have qualities of all breeds in the mix.

Now, the real research begins.  Pick what breed(s) interest you the most and begin seeking outside information on those breed(s).  Find out about potential health problems in the breed(s) and look into those.  Think about if those problems will be something you’ll be able to handle or afford when the time comes.  Behavioral tics and training problems typical to the breed(s) are also great things to dig up information about.  Do not skimp on the research!  You will not regret it.  While doing your research, please keep in mind that all dogs are individuals and may not conform to what is typical for the breed, but you cannot count on this when you adopt.  It is also extremely beneficial to look up general dog knowledge at this stage.  Basic behavioral psychology, positive training, clicker/marker training, crate training, collar and leash choices, types and quality of food, vaccine schedules, dog body language, calming signals, and dog laws in your area are all things every dog owner should know. 

If you know what breed you are looking for, it is time to consider whether you should adopt a puppy or an adult.  Of course, everybody wants a puppy, but a puppy is simply not right for many dog owners for one main reason: puppies are time sinks.  Like a human baby, puppy needs almost constant attention.  When starting out, a puppy needs to go outside every 1-2 hours, and this includes the time when you should be sleeping.  As the puppy ages, it will gradually be able to hold its bladder needs longer and longer—especially throughout the night—but during the day a puppy needs to be tended to.  When the puppy isn’t sleeping, eating, or pooping, it needs to be experiencing the world in and outside of the house.  A well-socialized puppy makes for a happy, mostly easy-going adult, after all. Socialization must be balanced with vaccinations (and therefore several trips to the vet), as well, to maintain a healthy puppy.  Seriously consider the additional commitment a puppy requires and be honest with yourself about your schedule. Non-puppies of any age make excellent companions for those who don’t have the time to rear a puppy or for those who don’t want the hassle.  No dog is too old to invest its love in a new family. 

The next installment of Own Responsibly will be a rather massive piece about how and why there are avenues better suited for acquiring dogs than others.  Thank you for reading.

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