Getting Your Puppy
Where to Find Your Puppy
Basic Puppy Care
Socializing Your Puppy
Deciding to Spay or Neuter
Using a Crate
Getting Your Puppy
Getting a new puppy is exciting! It is also a major responsibility. You are making a commitment to care for a dog for its lifetime, which can be 18 years or more. Before making this major decision, there are several factors you should consider. For more information go to www.akc.org and click on “Future Dog Owners” for other good articles.
What kind of lifestyle do you have? Will you have the time to spend with your dog every day, to exercise it and provide companionship? Do you work long hours away from home? Do you spend your spare time doing quiet activities or are you an active person? Will you enjoy brushing a dog or should you get a shorthaired dog? Do you need a dog that is good with kids?
Where will you keep the dog? Do you rent? If so, are you willing to make a commitment to always find a property to rent that will allow dogs? Will it live in the house? Do you have a fenced yard from which your pet cannot escape?
Who will take care of it? Be realistic about this. A 5-year old child is not capable of being responsible enough to take care of a dog. Getting a dog to teach responsibility is not a good idea unless the child is old enough and genuinely wants a dog. In most families, an adult ends up taking care of the dog. Does this person really want the dog, and does he/she have the time to take care of a puppy?
Who will do the training and socializing? In most families, this will again be an adult. Training and socialization are vital to having a dog that is a true companion for your family. Approximately 90% of dogs turned into shelters are dogs that have behavioral problems. Over 90% of these former pets have had no training!
Now that you’ve decided you are ready to get a puppy, you need to do your homework and decide what kind of dog to get, where to get it, and if you want a puppy or an older dog. This takes time and research but can make the difference between getting a healthy, well-adjusted addition to your family or a dog that does not fit in your lifestyle at all. While you want to find a dog that appeals to you in looks, some dogs that you think are pretty will not fit into your lifestyle.
What age dog should you get? A puppy needs to be taken outside many times a day, and even several times a night. They will be teething and chewing on anything they can find. They will, in play, “bite” people like they would their littermates. People do not play like that and children can be hurt or scared. It may be better to get an older dog. An older dog may already be housebroken, is past the teething and adolescent stage, and can usually sleep through the night. Sometimes a breeder will have an older puppy or even a retired show dog that they would be willing to place in a loving home. Breed rescue groups will have dogs in their care for adoption that may be perfect for you. Also, shelters and SPCA’s have older dogs.
The advantage of getting a purebred dog is that you know approximately how big it will be, what kind of coat it will have, and that there are certain characteristics that are common to the breed. Good breeders will also have been socializing the puppies since birth and will have had health testing done on both parents. Their puppies are usually raised in the breeder’s home so they are used to the sights and sounds of a household and being around people. The mother of the litter is usually there so that you can meet her and see what her temperament is like. The American Kennel Club (AKC) website has a link to each of the breeds that are registered with them. You may want to attend a dog show in your area to observe the breeds you like. Most handlers and breeders are willing to talk to you after they have shown their dogs.
Mixed breed dogs can make excellent pets and it is very rewarding to rescue a dog from a shelter. However, it may be hard to tell how big a mixed breed dog will be (unless it’s already full-grown, of course), how long its hair will be, or what characteristics the parents passed on to the puppy. In most cases you will not know the circumstances in which the dog has lived. If you take your time and select a dog that responds well to you and your family, you could end up with the perfect addition to your family.
Where to Find Your Puppy
It is important to investigate the different sources for acquiring your new family member. There are animal shelters, SPCA’s, breed rescue organizations, and hobby breeders.
When looking for a mixed breed, an animal shelter or the SPCA are good starting points. These dogs may have come from the street or abusive or neglectful situations. Ask the Shelter staff if they have any background on the dog, such as was it picked up as a stray, or turned in by the owner.
If you are interested in a specific breed, rescue organizations (see our article and links) usually have older dogs and, infrequently, puppies. Reputable rescue organizations will have had the dog spayed or neutered, made sure it is up to date on vaccinations, had any other medical treatments that were necessary done, and placed the dog in an experienced foster home for a period of time to make sure that behavioral problems are not evident. There is usually a minimal adoption fee to help cover the costs of these procedures.
“Hobby” breeders (generally referred to just as breeders) are those who spend a lot of time and money trying to produce healthy, sound, well-adjusted puppies. Their goal is to improve their breed and make sure their puppies are placed in to life long homes. They usually have the mother at home so you can meet her and see what her personality is like when you visit the puppies. They have done health testing on the mother and made sure that the father has had all his done (copies of all the testing should be provided). The puppies are usually raised in the house and are exposed to associated sights and sounds. They have been handled often to learn to love people. They will have been groomed. Breeders do not have many litters in a year—rarely more than one and often none. They do not have a constant supply of puppies so you will probably have to wait until they have a litter available. Breeders will talk to you about your lifestyle, the advantages and disadvantages of the breed, and get to know you. They will have a contract with what is expected of both the buyer and seller. In most cases, you will be required to have the puppy spayed or neutered. This is to ensure that all litters are carefully planned and that all puppies go to good homes and do not end up in abusive breeding situations. Many breeders will select the right puppy for you—they know the puppy’s personalities and have gotten to know you. They will try to pick the perfect match for you and your family.
Back-yard breeders are generally people who have a dog and decide to breed it. This can turn out good or bad. They may not have had the appropriate health testing done, researched pedigrees, or ascertained whether the temperaments are reliable. A backyard breeder may produce nice pets, but it is up to you to do your homework about your choice. You can begin by researching the health problems that are common in the breed. A listing of parent breed clubs is available at the AKC website. To be a responsible puppy owner, you need to learn what kinds of questions to ask about your particular breed.
All types of breeders advertise in newspapers or on the internet. You must learn to ask the questions that will help you get a good dog and not be fooled by slick advertising. Purebred puppies should be registered with the AKC (American Kennel Club), UKC (United Kennel Club), or CKC (Canadian Kennel Club). However, remember that AKC/UKC/CKC papers are simply a registry of quantity, not of quality. You should become an educated shopper when searching for a puppy that will be a lifetime member of your family.
Basic Care For Your Puppy
All puppies and dogs need basic health care their entire lives. They should see a veterinarian yearly for a checkup. Rabies vaccinations are required by law in NC. Talk to your breeder, your veterinarian, and do research to decide what vaccination schedule is best for your puppy. Some people prefer to do yearly titers after the initial puppy vaccinations. Many veterinary schools are now recommending boosters every 3 years instead of yearly. Others feel that yearly boosters should be done. Heartworms are a problem in NC and dogs should be on a preventative and should be checked yearly. Our website has links to some articles for you to start with on these issues.
All dogs require some weekly grooming. You may have a dog that requires daily grooming. All dogs should routinely have their toenails trimmed, ears cleaned, teeth cleaned, and should be brushed. Some dogs have longer hair or double coats, which require much more brushing. The non-shedding breeds all have coats that continue to grow, like human hair, and require not only a lot of brushing but also clipping and/or scissoring.
There are many different kinds of dog foods available: dry, canned, semi-moist, frozen, and even raw diets. Your breeder will usually provide recommendations about what foods have worked well with his or her dogs. Not all dogs do well on the same food, so your breeder’s recommendation is a good place to start. If your dog is sick often or has a poor coat or itchy skin, it may be worthwhile to try a different food. We have provided links on our website to some information about dog foods for your convenience.
Socializing Your Puppy
Puppies need socialization to develop into stable, confident adults. Socialization begins when the puppy is still with its mother and the rest of the litter. During this time they begin to learn how dogs communicate with each other. This is vital for your dog, as an adult, to be safe around other dogs. Puppies should always be left with their litter until they are at least 7 weeks old, and, many breeders keep them until they are 9-12 weeks old to make sure they have this time to learn.
After you get your puppy, you need to enroll in a puppy kindergarten class. A good class will begin teaching the basics of good behavior (but remember, it’s called kindergarten for a reason—these are young puppies and they are not capable of acting like a well-trained adult yet), and will get the puppy used to being around other dogs and people. If there is not a good puppy kindergarten class near you, take your puppy many different places, ask different people (children, adults, people with hats, people in wheelchairs, etc.) to pet your puppy, and try to find other puppies or tolerant adult dogs to play with your puppy. Without this socialization before the puppy is 4 months old, it will always be fearful of people and dogs, and fear can cause a dog to bite. If your puppy becomes too pushy or obnoxious with a puppy or adult, they will make a lot of noise and your puppy should back off or roll over. The other dog will probably stand over your puppy making lots of noise. This is teaching the puppy well-needed manners. Allow this to happen if the other dog is not hurting your puppy. Don’t let the puppy play with adult dogs you do not know to make sure it does not get hurt.
If you want to be able to take your dog on walks, go to a dog park, visit a friend with your dog, or do therapy work with your dog, your dog must have the confidence and skills to be able to handle different situations. A dog who has not learned to read dog language will either be fearful or oblivious when another dog tells it to back off (“He Only Wants to Say Hi”). If you are getting a dog for protection, this is even more important. You will not take the protective instincts out of your dog by socializing it with dogs and people. In fact, you will enable it to be protective when the need arises. An un-socialized dog will bark continuously at anything within its territory, which usually results in the dog being put outside or in a different room when you have company. A socialized dog, on the other hand, is happy with other people and dogs and can be with you.
Your puppy will go through two fear periods before it’s a year old. The first is usually when the puppy is about 8 weeks old. The second is sometime during the adolescence. During this time the puppy may seem to be afraid of many things that he/she was never afraid of before. This is normal and will pass if you do not make a big deal out of it. It is also important to make sure the puppy is not teased or scared by people or dogs during these periods. During adolescence, usually between 6 months and 1 year, the puppy will act like a teenager and will become somewhat unruly. This too shall pass!
One of the most important things you can do for your dog is to train it. A well-behaved dog is a pleasure to be around and will make you proud. Training also greatly increases the bond you have with your dog. Dogs easily learn to sit, down, stand, stay, come, and walk on a loose leash. There are many, many more things that a dog is capable of learning (most dogs LOVE learning and working with you). We have several articles on training on our website. The American Kennel Club offers a Canine Good Citizen test that is open to all dogs, both purebred and mixed-breed. This is a wonderful program that shows that your dog is a well-behaved companion. All dogs are capable of learning and performing the requirements of the test. We encourage all dog owners to train their dogs for this citizenship test.
Deciding to Spay or Neuter
A major decision you will have to make is whether you should have your dog spayed or neutered. If you are considering breeding your dog, please read our article on breeding and decide if you are able to accept the responsibilities that come with breeding. In most cases, spaying a female is recommended. It eliminates the heat cycles and the risk of pyometra and reduces the risk of mammary cancer. Owning an un-spayed female is a major responsibility. Even if you have a fenced yard, male dogs can climb over or crawl under your fence when a female in heat is the incentive. The heat cycle usually lasts 3 weeks and the female usually drips blood for the first week. The average female comes in heat every 6 months. Owners of female dogs that are not spayed must be extremely vigilant to watch for the first signs of a heat cycle (usually swelling of the vulva which may be very slight). During the 3 weeks or more that she is in heat, the owner must never let the dog outside unsupervised. Precautions must even be taken when leaving the dog in the house (males have been known to come through screen doors or windows for a female in heat). If you are planning to breed, a female can be bred by several different males (in fact, every puppy in a litter could have a different father) so the owner of a female must be vigilant for at least 3 weeks at least twice a year.
Owners of male dogs should consider having their dog neutered. Neutering will not make your dog less masculine. It will keep him from being as attracted to females in heat, which will decrease his tendency to roam (most counties have leash laws, so your loose dog could be picked up by Animal Control and a fine incurred to get him back). It will also decrease his tendency to be aggressive towards other male dogs. This will make him much easier to deal with in public. He will be less likely to mark objects in your house, but he will still look like a male dog and lift his leg.
Using a Crate
Crating for reasonable periods of time is not cruel. Most dogs introduced to crates as puppies will seek them out at times even as adults. They like the security of being in a confined area, even when the door is open. Crating a young dog for a few hours (not all day) while you are gone can keep it safe from chewing electrical cords, getting into things that may be poisonous, or chewing up something expensive. It will also make housebreaking easier. Crates should never be used as a punishment.
Crates are also used by many people when transporting their dog. In a wreck, an uncrated dog can be thrown from the car through the windshield and injured or killed. If a window breaks, a scared dog may jump out, be killed by traffic or become lost. Dogs in front seats can be killed if air bags are activated.
One other consideration is to have your dog permanently identified so that if it is lost or stolen you have a better chance of having it returned to you. This can be done by microchip (about the size of a grain of rice, inserted between the shoulder blades) or by tattoo (usually inside the thigh). Microchips require a scanner to read it. Most veterinarians and animal shelters have scanners. Tattooing is visible to anyone, but the hair over and around the tattoo must be clipped regularly to keep it visible. It should be checked often to make sure it is readable. A tattoo clinic is the best place to have this done, as they are trained specifically for tattooing. Most veterinarians are not, and their tattoos tend to fade. Tattooing dogs is not like tattooing people. Dogs that are used to being on a grooming table and used to the sound of clippers never make a sound or flinch. Dogs not used to being on a table or used to clippers will usually struggle, but they start long before the tattooing even begins.
Whichever method of identification you choose, MAKE SURE YOU REGISTER IT. An unregistered tattoo or microchip is useless in getting the dog back to you! The AKC has a Canine Recovery Program that registers all brands of microchips and/or tattoos, but there are other registries as well.
A last part of being a responsible dog owner is to clean up after your dog. Carry a baggy or two in your pocket whenever your dog is with you. Turn it inside out, put your hand in it, pick up the poop, turn the back right side out, and seal it. This will help make dogs welcome in parks and other places. If you travel with your dog, keep it crated if it may be destructive (or when you are not in the room) or bring a sheet from home to put over the bedspread to keep the motel’s bed coverings clean. Don’t leave your dog alone in the motel room if it will bark, and, do not let it bark at people walking past your door.
Following these basic guidelines will help to make sure you have a happy, healthy, well-mannered dog that you will be proud to have with you at all times.
North Carolina Responsible Animal Owners Alliance
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