Before you bring home that new puppy, you should ask yourself whether you are the right human for her. Here are some questions to consider.
Do you have children?
If so, then you’ll need a kid-friendly pooch. Your kids will also have to be dog-friendly — prepare for the extra steps it takes to teach them to train the dog, and to respect her space.
Are there already other dogs in your home?
Introducing a new one will involve some additional steps, too. Watch your prospective puppy at the shelter to see how she gets along with the other dogs. If she’s combative there, she’s not going to turn into a pacifist when she gets to her new home.
Does your job take you away a lot?
Do you have to travel for work or have a long commute? Think about whether you can invest in help while you’re away.
Are you a couch potato?
Be honest with yourself here, because some dogs need considerably more exercise than others. Are you sure you will be up to taking 30-minute walks in February?
Do you live in a cramped city apartment?
If that little puppy you have your eye on is likely to grow into a behemoth, maybe you should rethink your dream breed. Remember, though, that some smaller, more active dogs can take up a lot of space (and energy) in their own way.
Do you have friends, family members, or professional dog walkers who’ll be able to help out when necessary?
You should have at least one person you can leave a set of keys with who can handle feeding and medication — and who has contact information for your vet.
Can you afford him?
Depending on its breed, your puppy could end up costing you from $600 to roughly $900 each year — beyond what you paid to adopt her. So, before you commit, make a budget and figure out what you can handle.
Recurring veterinary bills?
Beyond the initial $200 to spay her — plus $150 for the first exam, another $150 for vaccinations, $130 for heartworm testing — it’s smart to plan how you’ll pay for ongoing medical care. Put aside an extra $210 for toy breeds and up to $260 for a large dog, and definitely consider pet health insurance.
Bigger dogs eat more. And if yours has special dietary requirements, the bargain supermarket brand is out of the question. At minimum, owners spend $55 annually to feed a toy breed, $120 for a medium-size dog, and $235 for a giant.
You may need training classes, the occasional sitter, and extras like a gate, car-seat tether, wee pads, and non-toxic cleaning products. And don’t forget cute looks also have a price. Grooming and nail grinding expenses can add up, too.
Where to find your new dog
There are really three options: You can go to a shelter, contact a rescue group, or go to a breeder. Fortunately, there are now online sites that can help you locate puppies that are up for adoption.
Almost every county and bigger city has a shelter run by the local government, as well as others run by nonprofit groups. Some will have state-of-the art facilities, and others may be more basic but, as a rule, dogs from shelters will have had shots and possibly some basic training because these make them more adoptable.
Think you will only find mutts in a shelter? Think again. An estimated 25 percent of dogs up for adoption are purebreds who have been given up for all sorts of reasons.
Adopting from a shelter
Before you go to a shelter, it’s a good idea to have a plan in place so that you don’t get swept away emotionally by those pleading faces. Here’s what you need to know before you go.
- If you can, pick a shelter that is close to home. That way, you can easily make two or three visits if you’re having a problem making up your mind.
- To get to know a dog’s real personality ignore him at first, but stand or sit nearby, so she can get used to your presence (and your scent). If you face the dog or try to talk to her, she has to adjust to you, and you won’t be able to get to really know her.
- Pay very close attention to body language and energy. Ears perked up and tail held high? That may signal an excited, dominant state, which you shouldn’t reward with attention. Give attention to a submissive dog whose head is slightly down and whose tail is wagging but held halfway up.
- Dogs that rush to the front of the cage are showing signs of anxiety, frustration, or dominance. The ones that cower at the back of the cage may have shyness issues that can translate into fear-related aggressiveness.
- Narrow your choice down to two or three. Ask if you can take each one for a short leash walk. Ask shelter workers about the dogs’ personalities and habits. Do they have any health issues, for example? Or have they been adopted and returned? If so, why?
Choosing a good breeder
- Be sure to get referrals (from vets, the AKC, local breed clubs).
- A good breeder will be able to answer questions about the dog’s ancestry (remember to ask about parents’ and grandparents’ temperaments. This will tell you a great deal).
- Energy level is critical, so be sure to ask about it.
- Pay attention to behavior. If a pup bounces off the walls at the breeder’s, he’ll probably do it at your home.
- Ask for contact information for other people who have adopted the breeder’s puppies.
- Make sure you see several puppies, so you can find the one you’re most comfortable — and compatible — with.
- No good breeder — and this is something to remember! — will ever let you adopt a puppy that’s younger than eight weeks old.
Places to avoid
Stay away from that pet store at the mall, and avoid buying a pet over the Internet.
In both cases, you’re probably buying a dog from a puppy mill, one of the horrendous breeding farms that churn out litters of puppies in the worst conditions.
So, if your child spots an adorable face in a window, don’t fall for it. Why reward the people who make a living mass-producing damaged puppies in awful conditions?