Updated: Aug 1
Big puppy eyes, soft puppy ears, and wet puppy kisses….so irresistible! Walking past the puppies in pet shops and shelters tugs at our heartstrings.
A young woman holding a pencil is looking up and to the left where a heart-shaped "dream bubble" shows a cute Rat Terrier puppy's face. Many of us had a puppy growing up and it was all fun and games, right? Let’s be honest, who actually took care of it? Probably your parents. Or maybe you raised your last dog from puppyhood, but it’s been 12 years. We somehow forget what it takes to raise a puppy right. So take some time to think about it – are you really ready? Puppies are very time-, energy-, money- and attention-intensive. Let us count the ways:
1. SOCIALIZATION: Puppies need to be carefully exposed to many, many people, dogs, sights, sounds, and new environments (see 12 MUST-HAVE Experiences Before 12 Weeks) every day for the first 2 months that you have them and a few times weekly for the rest of their first year, and still several times per month thereafter in order to prevent regression. If you do not do this, your puppy is highly likely to grow up with fear and/or aggression issues that will affect him for the rest of his life, no matter how friendly and happy-go-lucky he may seem at 3 or 4 months old. I cannot tell you how many of my clients’ dogs have suffered this fate. If you don’t have 30-40 minutes per day to dedicate to properly and positively socializing your puppy, you’re not read for a puppy.
2. POTTY TRAINING: House-training (or rather, the lack thereof), is one of the top reasons dogs are relinquished to shelters. Puppies’ bladders aren’t fully formed until around 6 months of age (sometimes longer), which means that depending on the size of your puppy at maturity, he may need to urinate anywhere from every 15 minutes to 2 hours for at least the first 6 months. You absolutely cannot let your puppy roam your house unsupervised and expect him to magically potty train himself. You have to be there to show him where to go and when to go. If you aren’t going to be there when he has to “go” (read: if you work full time and cannot at least come home on your lunch break), you’re going to have potty training issues –maybe for life– so you’re not read for a puppy.
3. CHEWING & BITING: Puppies are born with incredibly sharp teeth, and they begin teething as young as 3 months, and may continue until as old 9 months of age, and most dogs will want to use their jaws for their intended purpose –chewing and biting– for the rest of their lives. It may be cute and funny when he nibbles on your fingers or runs around with stolen laundry in his mouth when he is 3 months old, but it won’t be so fun when he continues his antics as an adult. It is up to you to keep them from chewing on things they shouldn’t, and to show them what things they should chew on. If you are not going to remove everything “chewable” from your puppy’s reach and replace these things with those he should be chewing on, and if you aren’t going to kindly teach your puppy not to bite, then you’re not read for a puppy.
4. BARKING: Puppies bark. It’s one of the ways they communicate with us and with each other. They also tend to bark out of boredom, lack of exercise, and anxiety. It is quite possible (and not very complicated) to teach puppies that barking is not the best way to communicate with us or to get what they want, but you must start on day one. It is up to you to train your puppy how to get what he wants/needs in a polite and [human world] socially acceptable way (such as by sitting), as well as to teach your dog to be calm and confident without you there. Bark collars (whether shock, vibration, or spray) do not teach your dog acceptable behaviors and while they may stop your dog from barking, the quieting effect is almost always temporary but the emotional injury/anxiety they create is permanent. They can also cause physical injuries such as burns/welts from traditional shock collars, or respiratory issues from inhaling citronella spray. If you are not going to take the time to teach your puppy that being quiet and calm pays off (and especially if your neighbors will call animal control if your puppy barks), then you’re not read for a puppy.
5. EXERCISE & PLAY: Puppies have tons of energy! In order to expend their mental and physical energy, it is critical that your puppy get daily (or at least near-daily) walks for his entire life. Even if you have a fantastic yard, your puppy needs to go out and explore the world. Imagine living in a mansion, but never being able to leave….don’t you think you’d still get bored at some point? Walks are more important for emotional well-being than physical well-being since games like tug and fetch burn off more calories than going on a neighborhood stroll. And don’t kid yourself that your dog will exercise himself if you leave him in the yard all day – with the exception of chasing the occasional bird and barking at passing neighbors, you dog is either napping or learning how to be destructive in your yard by digging, chewing, climbing, etc. If you don’t have the time to play fetch, tug, or chase (puppy chases you – never chase your puppy!) or any other game with your puppy for 10-15 minutes per day, plus walk for 30-60 minutes per day, then you’re not read for a puppy.
6. TRAINING: Puppies are incredibly intelligent and despite the fact that they are a very different species from our own, just from watching us, they generally learn to interact with us pretty well. That being said, even if you consider your dog to be your child, he is still a canine, and in the canine world, it is perfectly acceptable to bolt through entryways, to snatch things that they want, to growl in order to protect the things they have in their possession, to chase/bite things that move quickly (read: children and other types of pets), and to run away from things/activities they don’t enjoy. Unfortunately, that is pretty much the opposite of how humans expect them to act, so it is up to us to show them what we expect of them. If you do not have 15-20 minutes per day, every day, to spend training your puppy to fit in with the human world for at least the first year, then you’re not read for a puppy.
7. VETERINARY BILLS: Puppies are expensive! I met a puppy who needed emergency surgery and an artificial eye replacement when she was a mere 12 weeks old because she got a little too close to the cat. A client with 16 week old puppy needed a $3,300 surgery to fix his knee after he tore the cartilage out of his knee when he jumped off of the couch. No matter how careful you are, accidents happen. Having paid plenty of my own pet emergency medical bills as well as expensive care for persistent allergies and other health treatments (until I began feeding a fresh food diet – no more kibble in this house), I highly recommend investing in pet insurance* or starting a veterinary savings account. If you can’t afford to spay/neuter your pet, to pay for initial vaccinations and booster vaccinations or titer tests thereafter, to pay for a high quality diet (in order to prevent future health issues), to pay for an annual dog license, and to pay for emergency vet visits, then you’re not read for a puppy (or any dog for that matter).
So you are ready for a puppy?
If you have the time, the energy, and the money to properly take care of a puppy, then think hard about where you get one from. DO NOT purchase a puppy from a pet store or from an “online [mass] breeder” (unless you want a puppy with high probability for potty training issues, health problems, fear and anxieties, and/or aggression). These dogs are from puppy mills, no exceptions.
If you are set on getting a purebred dog, talk to people you know who own the breed, look into breed-specific rescue groups, check shelters and www.petfinder.com, research breeders and talk to the breeders themselves! A good breeder will welcome your emails and phone calls about anything and everything, and they will surely be asking you more questions than you will think to ask yourself. They will open their home to you and they will interview you and make you sign a contract. You’ll also probably have to wait a bit because with very few exceptions, good breeders will only have 1-2 litters per year and they often have wait-lists, but it’s worth the wait! On the other hand, mystery breed pups from rescues and shelters can be equally wonderful and they are so unique, you’ll never find another dog quite the one you’ve got! I’ve got two very special mutts and I adore them!
So you’re not ready for a puppy?
That’s okay! Most of us honestly are not best-equipped to raise puppies. I highly recommend looking into adopting or purchasing an adult. If you choose a dog who is 2 years or older, you will likely skip most of the crazy puppy energy and you are less likely to be met with behavioral surprises since the dog will already be both physically and emotionally mature. Depending on your needs and interests, you can find a wonderful dog in need of a home in so many places. Shelters, rescue groups, adoption events, and even failed CCI dogs (those who were raised to be Service Dogs but didn’t quite make the cut) and retired show dogs. The two latter groups are generally especially well socialized to people, dogs, and everything else, though retired show dogs may or may not have any formal obedience skills (COME, SIT, DOWN, STAY, LEAVE IT, etc). That is not to say that “rescue” dogs do not make as good of pets (I’ve got two and they are great!), only that they may need a little more socialization and training than a dog who was pre-trained by a professional. I will be writing a blogpost very soon about what to look for when looking into breeders and rescue groups, but feel free to contact me with any questions in the mean time if you can’t wait!
*For more information about pet insurance, go to www.petinsurancereview.com to get 8 free quotes. While I am not specifically advocating TruPanion, they have a great at-a-glance comparison chart, and I have heard many good reviews from happy customers of TruPanion. There are also typically multi-pet discounts and discounts for paying for an entire year at once. You may also want to check out www.petassure.com and www.unitedpetcare.com (which are veterinary discount programs that only work with participating vets). Whomever you choose, just be sure to read the fine print to make sure that any lifelong conditions such as kidney disease or diabetes won’t become a “pre-existing condition” at the next policy year after diagnosis.