Above all else, when you are preparing for a puppy, you must do your homework! Here are some things to consider as you prepare for and choose the perfect puppy.
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- Research the type of puppy that will fit your circumstances. Not every puppy is right for you. Take into consideration where you live--are dogs even allowed where you live? If not, do not get a puppy with vague hopes that things will just work out. In most cases, there are reasons why there is a rule against pet ownership. Irresponsible people that do this are not just hurting themselves when they have to give the puppy up. They are causing the puppy anxiety and putting the relationship with their manager or property owner in jeopardy.
- Size. Think about how big the puppy will get. He will grow at least until he is six months and possibly more after that. If you live in an apartment, my best advice is to get a very small dog. If you live out in the country with a huge fenced property, a big dog is a great choice.
- Family situation. What is your family situation? Are there small children? This is an area that really needs special attention. Does the type of dog you want have the right disposition? CanisMajor is a good source to research your choices.
- Responsibility. Are you ready for the responsibility? Dogs must be observed closely but nowhere near as closely as a puppy. Puppies are not usually housetrained--they pee and poop everywhere
- Dedication. You need to be very dedicated to paying attention to your puppy's every move, especially until you figure out his signals. You must be ready to accept his accidents. After all, you would not expect a human baby to just stop going in his diaper--you know it will take some time. The same is true of puppies. If you do not want to clean up after him for awhile, don't get a puppy.
- The search. Where to get a puppy? If you live alone, have the patience of a saint, do not want to breed your dog and are not particular about the breed (i.e. do not want a registered puppy), the shelter may be the right answer for you. However, keep in mind many of the dogs in shelters are there because of behavioral problems. The animals have not been in the shelter long enough to show their true colors. It is a must to give a dog time to adjust to his surroundings (at least two weeks) before any judgment should be passed on the dog. Given that fact, it is not possible in a week to know what the dog is truly like. Many shelters do not even wait a full week before adopting out the dogs.
If you do decide to get your puppy from a shelter, go at least twice to visit the puppy before taking it home. Even if you do the two visits on the same day, it is a good idea to go twice to see if the puppy acts similarly both times. I know you are thinking, "But what if another person gets the puppy I want?" There are many puppies and that one was not meant for you. There is a dog that is a better fit and you will find it. Do not let a sense of urgency rush you or you may really regret it.
A great idea is to volunteer at the shelter until you find the perfect match for you. You will have ample time to spend getting to know all the dogs very well and also get a feel for what it will be like to have a dog and how much attention puppies require. Beyond that, you will also be a very valuable contributor to the shelter organization and may find that you don't even want a puppy but want to be a permanent volunteer at the shelter to get your doggie fix. You may develop a whole new set of values and a very different way of looking at the world of animals.
- Investigate. Beware of people who place ads that list several different kinds of dogs. Two or three is not horrible, but if you see more than three types of dogs listed, chances are it is a puppy mill. Be very cautious. If this is not a local breeder, then I would not recommend buying a puppy from such an establishment. If the breeder is local, I would personally go to the breeder and see what the conditions are.
If you go there and it is a puppy mill, do not even continue looking at the dogs. Leave and report them. Getting a puppy from a place like this is a mistake. You are probably wondering how to know if it is a puppy mill. Generally speaking, a puppy mill will have many more animals than can be cared for properly. Dogs will be in cramped spaces and the area will not be clean. Many times they will be in small individual cages and not be allowed out. They will be very vocal. They may also appear listless.
Do not let yourself get caught up in being the hero and rescuing a puppy. These puppies are known to have many problems emotionally and health issues as well. They are usually not registered. If they offer registration papers, be aware that these can be counterfeited. My best advice is as I stated before--move along. Another breeder to beware of is the "backyard" breeder. While many times you may find a purebred puppy that can be registered, they are not always given their shots or may not have medical records. Sometimes they are not purebred but may be sold as such.
Generally if you are not showing the dog and don’t mind a mutt, this is a good solution (if there are at least shot records). Do not pay as high a price as you would from a reputable breeder. An ethical breeder (reputable) is your best bet when looking for a reliable source for many reasons. They will have lineage, health records, immunization records, will know the temperament of the puppy and will have socialized the puppy and have him on his way to being housebroken. Many times, housebreaking will not be done by the breeder, as it is much easier for the new owner to keep track of the puppy once he is in his new home. Also, age can be a factor: A very young puppy is not equipped to understand the concept of "outside" yet. You may pay a little higher price for your puppy from an ethical breeder, however it is well worth it. Ethical breeders need to charge more because they are raising the puppy correctly and looking after his health. They are also more likely to feed the puppies appropriate and nutritional food.
- Readiness. You are still not ready to bring your puppy home. There are a few things you need to prepare at home first.
- Bowls for his food and water.
- A place for him to sleep.
- Toys, if he likes them.
- Chews (rawhide).
- Treats for training.
- Clothes--If your dog is a shorthaired small dog and you want to keep him warm (not silly clothes but a sweater will help).
- Blankets (if your house is a bit cold).
- If the dog will be outside, you will need to have a doghouse and blankets.
- Leash and collar or harness.
- Wee pads if he is not housebroken.
- A small kennel if you are going to kennel train him.
- A licensed veterinarian.
- Choosing your puppy. Now you are ready to choose your puppy. If you are allowed to choose your puppy and visit him a few times before taking him home, that is best but if you just can't wait and you are prepared, it is now time to choose your puppy. You will want to choose a puppy with bright shiny eyes, a shiny coat and the type of personality you like. One who comes to you is usually the best choice. If you want a shy dog, you may be looking at problems such as submissive wetting (very common in shy dogs).
The puppy should not look like a balloon with a tail. This can be a sign of worms. You should ask the breeder if he has been wormed and if not, it is the first thing you should do after taking him home. Or ask the breeder to do it and pick up your puppy in a few days. Ask the breeder which puppy he recommends for your situation. Be sure to get the registration papers and health records. This may cost more and if it is not important to you, it is okay to buy your puppy without papers. Keep in mind that you will not be able to breed purebred registered puppies without the papers.
- Taking your puppy home. Before taking the puppy inside your home, take him to your chosen potty area and let him sniff around. Chances are he will be nervous and need to go. This is the first step in housebreaking your new puppy. If your puppy goes potty, praise him. Tell him what a good puppy he is and give him one of the treats you already have waiting for him. Praise is very important and puppies live for it.
- When you do take your puppy inside, don’t hover but watch your puppy closely. He will want to investigate his new home much the way you would if you were just moving in. He will go to every room, sniffing and crawling into and around everything he can get to. If you have an area you want to keep off limits, do not allow the puppy access to the room even this one time. If you do, he will surely find a point of interest in that room and want to go back again and again.
There is also the possibility that your puppy will just curl up in a corner and act frightened for awhile. If your puppy does this, just leave him be for a few hours. This will be very difficult since you will want to play with and show off your new puppy, but think of it like this: You go to Italy alone and don’t know the language. You don’t even know how to ask for a bathroom or something to eat but all the people there talk to you and act as if you should understand everything they say. You get a room and want to rest after the long trip but people keep knocking on the door asking you questions. You can’t answer them and they go away. Then they tell all their friends there is a very funny, ignorant American in that room, so all their friends knock on your door and look at you and talk to you. You just want to sleep so you get mad and yell at them--now they are upset with you. This is much the way your puppy may feel--he is exhausted from all the change and just wants to be left alone. If you give him some time, he will get hungry or need to go potty so you must keep watch over him even while letting him rest.
- Training tips. When your puppy gets up and starts sniffing around, immediately take him outside to your designated area to go potty. He may be nervous so give him ample time. If he sniffs around, it is a good indication that he is looking for a place. If he stands close to you and doesn’t move, chances are he doesn’t need to go or does not understand why he is outside. Give him at least 10 minutes the first time you take him out. If he doesn’t go, you need to really watch it when you take him back in because he will go.
The moment he starts sniffing around inside, take him back out. There will be accidents unless he was already housebroken. Still, sometimes your puppy will have an accident or two because of nervousness. Do not spank your puppy. This is not his fault. A stern reprimand should be enough, along with being taken to the designated area. This process may take anywhere from two weeks to a month (possibly more with a stubborn or not so bright dog). This training is as much for you as the dog. If you don’t remain persistent, that is not the dog's fault.
Your puppy will only do what you teach him. If it is okay sometimes and very bad at other times, your dog will be confused. Chewing is another issue you may face. Again, do not allow your puppy to chew any item that you do not want it to chew again. For example, don’t give your puppy your sock and then later scold him for chewing one of your socks to shreds. Give him only specific dog chew toys. If he gets anything you don’t want chewed, take it away and sternly say, "No!" Be consistent. For the first few weeks, there will be issues. Be consistent and patient. You are just as much to blame as your puppy if he develops bad habits. Crate training is a good option for you if you work or are not able to watch your puppy for part of the day or just need some free time.
- Vaccinations. See your veterinarian as soon as possible and follow his instructions for whatever vaccinations he advises for your puppy. Keep your follow-up appointments. This may save a lot of heartbreak down the line.
- Enjoy your new puppy. If your puppy is trained and cared for properly, you will have a very loving and loyal pal for the next 7-14 years (not all dogs have the same life expectancy). Love him, brush him, train him, and spend many happy hours with him. Life is too short to waste a minute.
Colleen Del Bane, Creator of custom websites for ethical breeders of all animals:
541-476-3013 or 541-287-0282