So you’ve decided to get a puppy. Congratulations! You’re about to embark on the best and most fun 10-16 years, give or take a few. Let’s talk about some things to prepare you for the journey, especially if you’re a first-time puppy owner.
Have you decided what kind of dog to get? You may have a breed or two in mind, but have you researched their temperaments, grooming needs, medical tendencies? People can be suckered in by what the dog looks like but dogs are much more than their looks. So if you’re still undecided, here are some questions to ask yourself:
Big or small? There are pros and cons to both. Think about your living situations. Do you have space for a big dog? There are some caveats to this too. Some giant breeds do surprisingly well with apartment life, while “average” big dogs (like German shepherds or golden retrievers) are better suited to a bigger house and yard. Bigger dogs also have bigger poop and usually slobber more. Another consideration – giant breeds and toy breeds can have shorter life spans.
Long or short hair? Typically, dogs with short hair shed a lot but don’t need to go to the groomer for haircuts. There are some longhaired breeds that require an extreme amount of upkeep and grooming.
What is your lifestyle like? Do you want to take your dog everywhere with you or are you more likely to lounge on the couch most nights? Certain groups of dogs like terriers, retrievers, and shepherds (to name a few) need lots to stimulation, mentally and physically. Other dogs like Greyhounds, Shih Tzus and Mastiffs are more chill and don’t need so much stimulation. (Notice that there is no correlation between size here.)
Does this breed have any medical tendencies? When we speak of breeds, many times the dogs within that breed can be traced to a single or a few individuals. Such close knit breeding has led to breeds being more prone to certain disease or conditions. Bulldogs, Pugs, and Boston Terriers are brachycephalic, meaning they have shorter noses making it harder for them to breathe. This means these dogs need to be carefully monitored in outdoor settings or may not be able to partake in much physical activity. Dachshunds can have back issues. German Shepherds and other large breeds are prone to hip dysplasia. And there are so many others that are potentially life-threatening and expensive, so doing your homework is important!
Another option is choosing a dog who isn’t purebred. But it is helpful to know what kind of a mix you have on your hands because they can still exhibit the characteristics and propensities of their parent breeds.
So you know what kind of dog you want, now where should you start looking? There are several schools of thought on this. The most usual (and most controversial) question is choosing between a breeder or a rescue. Here are my thoughts: If you’re going to be a great parent and provide your puppy a happy and healthy life to the best of your abilities, you’re saving a life. If you’re looking for a mixed breed, definitely begin by looking at local shelters and rescues. When you adopt, not only are you saving that particular puppy’s life but the life of the next dog who took his spot in the rescue. There are plenty of private rescue organizations and no-kill facilities that work really hard to keep a no-kill status, so I recommend researching what’s available in your area. If you’re looking for a purebred, you might have a harder time finding what you’re looking for in a shelter. There is a lot of diversity in the breeding world when it comes to finding a responsible breeder. I won’t lie, I found Sully off Craigslist and he’s never had a medical issue. I’ve known other people who turn to Craigslist or similar platforms and have gotten extremely sick puppies who have died. Beware of “backyard breeders” who “just wanted their dog to experience mating and motherhood.” Sometimes these people don’t do their research or provide the proper care after the puppies are born. Here are some questions to ask your potential breeder:
“How long have you been doing this? How many litters have you raised?” This will give you a good idea of their experience with the breed and breeding in general.
“How many litters has this particular bitch had?” You want to be sure the breeder isn’t over-breeding a bitch or “getting as much out of her as possible.” That is, plain and simple, irresponsible breeding.
“What can you tell me about this breed?” See if their facts match up to your own research. Be prepared, if this breeder is truly an expert, you might get an extremely long answer. But if not, you’ll quickly be able to tell by their vague and general answers.
“Do you begin housetraining the puppies?” Most puppies will not come completely housetrained but some breeders will begin the process. This is a huge plus!
“What kind of socialization and stimulation do you provide?” You don’t want your breeder to have left the puppies in the box until they are bought. Were they handled by people? How many different people, and how often? Were they exposed to different sounds and ground textures? Exposed to confidence-building and problem-solving tasks?
“What’s the earliest you will release a puppy to a new home?” The answer should be 8 weeks. As a trainer, anything less than 8 weeks scares me. You deprive the puppy of some really good socialization and bite inhibition practice from mom and littermates. I have talked to many breeders about this and asked why some breeders let them go early. The answer I got: some breeders will release early because they have weaned from mom and they’re ready to get to the next litter. Pretty much, it’s a business move. Puppies still have lots to gain from hanging out with mom and littermates even if they have already weaned off. One or two weeks may not sound like a lot to you, but trust me, a lot happens behaviorally and cognitively in a puppy’s brain between the 6 to 8 week range.
Now that we’ve got the big exciting thing out of the way, let’s talk about some other smaller details like materials you’ll need to be fully prepared for puppy to be home.
First you’ll need an appropriately-sized crate. Whether you want a wire crate or a plastic airline crate is personal preference. The most important thing is the size. If your puppy is going to be large when he is fully grown, get a large crate but be sure it comes with a divider. This divider will be used to make the crate smaller and allows for more room as your puppy gets bigger. You want the crate to be large enough for puppy to lay in and stand up in comfortably but not big enough for a bed, water and puppy pads. We want to limit the space allowed in the crate while we go through housetraining.
Speaking of housetraining, you will also need an exercise pen that you can make a long term confinement area out of. We’ll talk more about housetraining tips in the next blog entry. But in short, the crate is used to contain your puppy for short periods of time. The special formula for determining what constitutes “short term” is age in months = hours, so 3 months old = 3 hours. The long term confinement area will be used when you have to leave your puppy longer than the special formula allows. Allow for a space large enough to allow for a sleeping area equipped with a bed or blankets on one side and a potty area on the other side. You can also leave water down as we are allowing a proper place to potty. What makes an appropriate potty area? You can use disposable potty pads but my favorite tool would be a potty patch, a piece of artificial turf and a catching tray. This looks and feels more like real grass.
You also need some walking attire. A collar with an ID tag with your name and phone number; a NON-retractable leash (usually 6 feet long), and a harness, if you’d like. One thing to note about harnesses: A typical harness is back-connecting, which means that the leash attaches to the harness on the back of your dog. This can cause dogs to pull! Back-connecting harnesses are only good to get pressure off the throat and trachea. If you are experiencing lots of pulling, you may need to switch to a front connecting harness or head halter.
You’ll also need some puppy food! There are SO many brands and formulas out there, it can be pretty overwhelming. I encourage you to be picky about the dog food you choose for your dog. Feeding lower quality food is equivalent to us eating fast food for every meal – that’s very unhealthy. You don’t have to spend a huge amount of money to get decent food, but putting in a little extra for your dog’s food can help alleviate health problems that can be costly later. A good source to do some research is http://www.dogfoodadvisor.com. And don’t forget the treats! The same tips apply to the treats you pick out as well. Just look at the ingredients. You’ll want treats for snacking time and treats for training. Training treats should be smaller, or something you can easily cut or tear, and odiferous.
How about some toys!? Every dog likes something different. Plush with squeakers or tough and rubbery, it’s personal preference. A few things I would be sure to get are chew toys, rubber toys you can put some sort of food item in, interactive food puzzles (tough plastic toys you can put their meal in for fun meal times), a traditional Kong (great to occupy your puppy when you fill with foodstuffs and freeze), and edible toys, like bully sticks, pig ears, smoked bones or anything natural.
You’ll need some other smaller items like a bed, bowls, grooming utensils (brush, toothbrush, nail trimmer, shampoo, etc.), poop bags and a holder.
Lastly, you’ll want to find some professionals you can count on for advice and support. You can’t start looking too early. My “teacher’s pet” clients are the ones who call and set up classes and training sessions before their puppy even comes home! You’ll want a veterinarian who stays current on modern medical techniques and schools of thought. You also want to find a trainer who offers private lessons, puppy classes, or both. Find yourself a good groomer, someone who will take their time to do positive association the first few times they groom your puppy. Having a pet sitter or daycare/boarding facility will come in handy for your dog to get a break during the day while you’re at work or to provide care while you’re away on vacation.
There’s lots of research to be done. Being prepared and knowledgeable before you get your puppy can make a world of difference when your puppy finally comes home! Now that you’re ready, go get that puppy!