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Finding the right breed or cross breed of dog is extremely important.
Here I hope to make you think beyond the cute fur factor of the dog and delve into what the dog is all about.
What it was bred for
Size and needs both
Mental and physical requirements
How it would or wouldn’t fit into your lifestyle/life phase
What kinds of activities you would like to do with it
Its always a great idea to go to dog shows and talk to the owners and breeders about their dogs and what they do with them or why they particularly love that breed. Understanding what a particular dog was bred to do will give you definite insight as to how it might fit into your family.
Lots of families automatically get Golden Retrievers or Labradors because they have a pretty good reputation with kids and are friendly looking dogs.
What people don't consider are the fact that these two dogs potentially need a lot of exercise and brain stimulation to be happy and think they have "bad dogs" when their back yards are getting torn up or their kids get knocked over by an excitable ( now 25kg ) dog.
Another favourite seems to be the cattle/ sheep herding dogs such as Border Collies or Cattle Dogs. When the dogs start snapping at the kids heels or rounding up other dogs in the park the owners think their dog is reactive or out of control, when really if they researched the breed its what they were bred to do!
It's a case of educating yourself on how to harness that instinct into a more positive activity such as agility.
While a dog might have a “generalised” personality such as this, the next step is to talk to the breeders about the bloodlines and what kind of temperament has been bred into them, however getting an idea of the kinds of traits they have before jumping in and getting the dog will prepare you well ahead.
If you are choosing a pure bred dog, always visit the parents and chat to the breeder. Watch the dogs interact with each other and their "people" as well as strangers. It will give you a big hint as to some of the traits the pup is likely to have. See if the pups share toys or food, are bullying each other or playing nicely or maybe they don't even hang out with their litter mates and prefer to be in their own space.
In a case such as an adoption, do some background research on what breeds make up that dog. Shelters should temperament test a dog before allowing it to go up for adoption, so feel free to ask as many questions as you want to.
At the end of the day, the shelters want their rescues to go to forever homes so having informed and prepared new doggy parents should be important to them.
Most places will usually give a trial period for the dog to settle in and the family to decide if its a good match.
Remember also that often a kennel or shelter is a stressful environment for a dog. The less that desirable behaviours they show in a shelter environment may not happen in your home. In saying that, a kennel is also a controlled environment where the dogs rarely interact with each other so again your adopted dog could show new behaviours in a home environment such as resource guarding or weeing randomly to mark their territory or as a stress related behaviour.
Please also consider what phase of life you are in.
Are you renting
Have kids or planning to?
Travel a lot?
Do you work long hours?
Do you have long term /terminal illness?
Are you financially secure/can provide ongoing care
How old are you
What is your level of fitness
How much time do you have to dedicate to training walking, feeding etc?
Do you have a big enough yard, shelter for it?
Have you got permission to have a dog? e.g. landlord, parents, council.
Do you want a lap dog, walking buddy, running buddy, sports dog, hunting, family friendly etc.
You need to be clear about the level of impact your dog will have on your life and the level of impact your life will have on your dog.
If changes in your lifestyle occur, can your dog depend on you to make them a priority?
Having worked in rescue, too many times I have seen dogs given away because their family moved or had a baby and they no longer had time for it. A dog is for its entire life, not a toy you discard when you are bored with it.
ADOPT OR SHOP?
It's no secret I am an advocate for adopting animals. In Australia in 2014 250,000 healthy dogs and cats were put to sleep through no fault of their own. These stats to me are astounding.
Further still, contrary to popular belief, lots of people want puppies and still head to breeders even though there are thousands of puppies waiting for their for their forever homes in shelters and breed rescues.
If you plan ahead and can be patient, you can find a perfect puppy for your situation without supporting a breeding culture.
For me, I’ve done both and before I understood the severity of homeless animals I too unknowingly supported the “backyard breeder” and was even one myself! Once I knew what was going on in the world I decided I would never purchase a dog from the paper,
pet shop or an unregistered/ irresponsible breeder again.
I adopted one of my dogs from the RSPCA seven years ago as a 5 month old pup and then purchased my Golden Retriever after researching reputable breeders after I couldn't find one in the breed rescue groups that was suitable for what I planned to do with her ( agility and therapy dog.)
I also recently added one of my foster pups to our family, a staffy kelpie mix due to his placid personality around my young children.
Even with all the publicity, there is often a stigma around the idea of adopting a dog, especially a mature dog because you “don’t know its health or behaviour history.” While this is true in a sense, getting a puppy from a backyard breeder holds no guarauntees either and some personality traits can be genetic not just “bad owners.”
THE COST OF A PUPPY'S FIRST YEAR
When people first buy a dog the first thing they think about is how much its going to cost to actually purchase the dog but rarely consider its ongoing life expenses.
Depending on what kind of dog you got they could live anywhere from 7-17 years. A fox terrier I had as a client was 21 (human) years young!
Even if your dog was free/a giveaway it is never free to keep a dog and therefor its important to understand the costs involved from the beginning. Not only will be this benefit you but also your dog as it is less likely to be surrended down the track for financial reasons.
Here is an outline of what kind of costs could occur over their lifetime:
Purchase price of the dog
Desexing , microchipping and registration *Vaccinations and worming ( worming is extremely important if you have the dog come in to contact with children)
Other veterinary costs such as blood tests, medications, emergency surgery etc. You might want to consider pet insurance
Nutritionally complete food
Training (puppy classes, obedience club, one on one trainer etc)
Dog day care/boarding
Tools such as lead collars and car harness/crates etc *Environmental enrichment (toys, treats) Bedding
Transport ( taxi, bigger car etc) Replacement of chewed items/ bedding
Fines from council if your dog escapes
Getting a puppy, irrespective of its purchase price plus proper healthcare and training could cost you $2,000- $4000 in its first year.
FINDING A REPUTABLE BREEDER
There are a few ways and not all are fool proof so it is important to do your own research as much as you can.
First and foremost a reputable breeder should be more than happy and to and competent in answering your questions about anything to do with your purchase including contract terms, breeding lines, health concerns for the breed, hip and elbow scoring, ongoing health care. They should not breed a single dog more than every couple of years. Sometimes they have multiple dogs to supply the demand but should not be “farming” puppies in the hundreds.
Price does not always decide whether a dog is good quality or comes from a good breeder. Some breeds are in higher demand than others and this can often be the reason prices are driven up. If you tried to find a French Bulldog in Australia since they became “trendy” pets, they can be expensive starting at around $3000 and upwards depending on colour and confirmation.
The breeder should be able to recommend best nutrition choices ( most likely a premium nutritionally complete vet/pet store food.)
They will allow and encourage potential meet and greets after 6 weeks until you pick up the pup. Puppies should never be released any earlier than 8 weeks old but ideally 9-10 weeks is better as this age is critical to learn appropriate social manners amongst their litter mates.
They should show an interest in why you chose the breed and offer advice on the kind of personality or traits your pup will carry such as prey drive, barking and any other breed specific traits, especially relevant to the lines they have bred.
They should tell you both the good and the bad to ensure you are ready for a dog like theirs.
Some breeders will have contracts that outline what you can do with the dog. For examples showing, breeding, mandatory desexing , health guarantees or returning the dog should you no longer be able to care for it any longer. It is really important you read and understand any contract thoroughly before purchasing any puppy. You may also be asked personal questions about your income, lifestyle and often even a property inspection to ensure you have a secure yard.
DIY BEHAVIOURAL TESTING
How is the puppy interacting with you and anyone else that is there? Are they happily approaching, hanging back or do they cower or cringe when you move too fast?
Do loud noises frighten them?
e.g. clapping your hands or knocking their food bowl.
Can they hear you?
Deafness can run in certain dog breeds such as Dalmatians.
Can they see you?
Some dogs with loose skin can have issues seeing people due to the rolls over their faces and may require corrective
surgery. Also they could be born with blindness or have sustained an eye injury during rough play.
Are they hand shy?
Maybe they don't like hands near their faces, being touched in certain areas
How do they interact around food. Do they guard it or share nicely?
What about when you pat them, do they try to warn the other pups away from getting your affections?
Do they take food from your hand gently?
Are they playful with you and/or their litter mates? Do they like toys?
How rough is the play? Have they learned when enough is enough and to stop annoying the other pups?
Do they appear sluggish
Do they nip/bite/mouth you?
Do they separate themselves from the group for some alone time?
Do they walk straight or have any signs of limping?
Do they have any open sores/swelling?
Are they underweight/overweight/bloated?
Are they missing hair in patches ( mange)?
Are they free of parasites such as fleas?
Any lumps or bumps on their body or in their mouth (tooth assess)?
Do their ears smell ? Yeasty smelling ears are usually a sign of infection
Does their breath smell unusually foul?
Are their stools soft and formed?
Is there any sign of worms parasites in their stools such as worms?
Are they furiously scratching themselves or have red/flaky patches on their skin?
Can you lure them in to a position such as a sit with a treat Are they motivated by food, toys or something else?
Do they know any commands?
Are they toilet trained?
Please consider bringing a new dog into your home very carefully. They will never understand why you left them behind. Your problems are not their problems. Only get a dog if you are willing to commit to it for life, for the good and the bad.