How to Choose Your Next Dog
Who can resist a cute puppy??
When it is time to add a new canine family member the choices are staggering. Should it be an adult that needs rescue? Is the type of dog that caught your eye a good match for your family? Do you want or need a purebred with a pedigree or a mixed breed? There are no universal answers for these questions since every dog owner has unique requirements and can offer their pet a unique home. There are, however, some general rules that are very useful to follow in your search for the ideal pet.
Know What You Want and Need In a Dog
If you want to take long hikes and have an exercise companion, the flat faced breeds are probably not for you because of their problems with their respiratory systems. If you want a low energy pet that doesn't take a lot of attention, the retriever breeds won't work well for you. If you have very specific size, personality and appearance expectations, choosing a purebred dog will give you a more predictable outcome than a mixed breed dog that could look far different as an adult than it does as a puppy. The American Kennel Club website is a good source for researching characteristics of dog breeds. To learn more, click here.
Does a Pedigree Matter?
There are a number of "kennel clubs" that issue breed pedigrees. The American Kennel Club (AKC) is the largest and most widely recognized in the United States. This organization runs a registry of many dog breeds and sets the standards for what is considered appropriate show conformation and behaviors of its breeds. A puppy born to parents that are AKC registered is eligible to be registered, and thus, has a "pedigree." Having a pedigree does not mean a pup is a good example of its breed. In every litter of puppies, even those born to the most elite show dogs, the majority of pups are classified "pet quality." These may be wonderful dogs, but are not going to be used for the show ring and breeding. They may have problems such as poor dental alignment, heart mumurs, knee cap abnormalities, a coat or markings that aren't standard for the breed, or just be too big or too small for the show specifications. You can be sure that the pedigreed puppies in the pet stores are "pet quality."
Where Should I Get My Puppy?
The best way to know your next dog will have a good personality and a healthy start is to visit the breeder. This may mean traveling to another state to visit with a reputable breeder of the registered dog of your dreams or it may mean a visit to a neighbor whose dog just had an unplanned pregnancy. Look over the facility. Is it clean? Does is smell of dog waste and unwashed dogs? Dirty animals and housing means it will be more likely that your new pet will have infectious diseases ranging from intestinal worms to kennel cough. Meet the mother and father of the puppy. The adults should be friendly, healthy and attractive. There is no reason for a breeder of any sort to deny a potential puppy customer a visit and meeeting of this sort. It's obvious that pet stores and internet sources can't fill this bill. Period. There's no way around it: if you can't travel to see your puppy and its environment and parents, then you're possibly getting a puppy from a substandard source.
Heard of puppy mills? There are more of these than can be counted especially in the Mid-West and Pennslyvania. Some of the Amish are making good livings from indiscriminately breeding and selling puppies under terrible conditions for the poor dogs. Don't think that by supporting these businesses that you are rescuing dogs. The opposite is true. The more people who buy from puppy mills, the more lucrative it becomes to continue that type of dog breeding.
Your local pet store may run a reputable business, but before you fall in love with a puppy there consider the following. Often puppies are acquired from distant sources, ie, puppy mills. Not only are these animals born into rough environments, they are shipped to the stores when they are between 6 and 8 weeks old. Animal behaviorists have found that this early age is exactly when puppies need to stay with their mothers for optimum social development. In addition to disrupting the pups' social structure, the arrival of the puppies to the store with many other pups from a variety of sources exposes them to all sorts of diseases. The pet stores also charge a premium for the time and effort of acquiring and housing the pets. Pet store puppies, almost all of which are "pet quality" often cost as much as "show quality" pups bought directly from the breeder. Be sure to see the paperwork for any puppy you may be buying from a pet store. If it comes from a source that isn't local and isn't available for a visit, think again about buying that pup.
How about the internet as a source of your next puppy? Remember that the photos of the idyllic facility you see on the internet may or may not be real. The breeder who swears they've been breeding top dogs for years may or may not be truthful. Your dog will be an investment in money and love for years to come. Investigate thoroughly by talking to references, asking for show records of the dam and sire if the breeder says they are show dogs, and then, go visit! Meet the breeder, meet the dogs, pick out your puppy. Is it an extra expense? Of course, but the rewards make it worth it. Can't find a breeder closer to home? If you're not looking for a rare breed, that's unlikely. A drive of a few hours takes us (here in Connecticut) to New York City, Boston, Philadelphia and even Washington, D.C. These metropolitan areas and their surrounding areas will offer nearly any breed available in the U.S.
Rescue dogs come with their own advantages and disadvantages. Adults and youngsters are now being shipped all over the country in the effort to re-home dogs in need. Offering love and a stable environment to these individuals is a wonderful act of kindness, but you need to be realistic. These dogs may not understand how to live in a home. They may not be housebroken or know about children or other pets. It may take them months to bond to you after their unknown previous experiences. There may be pre-existing health problems that may be difficult and/or expensive to solve. These animals are huge commitments that can turn out beautifully but you must be prepared.
Bottom line: Buyer Beware! Every puppy and dog pulls at your heartstrings, so do your homework, be aware of the pitfalls of the process and try to avoid them. Your family companion deserves the best start you can offer.