|So..... You Want a Dog???
|1. MAKE SURE YOU'RE READY TO GET A DOG
Here's the dog-owner's mantra: A dog is a living thing. A dog is a living thing. A dog is a living thing. If you want a dog because you
think it'll look great in that new jeep you just bought at 15% interest, think how much fun it will be when it tears up the leather upholstery
so thoroughly that even the repo man is impressed. This isn't like buying a new pair of shoes. It's closer to having a child. A child that
doesn't speak English and occasionally eats poop. If that thought sends you screaming from the room, consider another kind of pet
instead, like maybe a fish or a plant or a pair of shoes.
Repeat the mantra a few more times. A dog is a living thing. A dog is a living thing. A dog is a living thing. If you work from 8 a.m. to
10 p.m. six days a week, you're going to have a lonely, unhappy dog on your hands. And how do dogs show their unhappiness? In the
absence of being able to say, "Pay attention to me, Poindexter," they'll do things like pee on your high school yearbook or methodically
eat all your CDs. This isn't their fault. All together now - a dog is a living thing, a dog is a living thing, a dog is a living thing.
Here's a little "pup quiz" (the puns never stop!) that will help determine if you are ready to add one more member to the family. Answer
"yes" or "no" to the following questions:
Do you like dogs?
Does the health of your household allow for a pet dog? (allergies, etc.)
Does your building allow dogs?
Are you financially secure?
Are you OK with picking up dog poop, mopping up dog pee, or cleaning up dog vomit?
If you answered "no" to any of these, then you're probably not ready to become a dog owner. That's OK though . . . you're
still allowed to like them.
2. DECIDE WHAT BREED BEST FITS YOUR PERSONALITY
Getting a pet dog is really a Zen process of self-discovery. You can't know the right dog for you until you know yourself. For example, a
jock would prefer an active dog. A lazy slug would prefer a dog that doesn't require much exercise. A touchy-feely person would prefer
a friendly dog. A tightly-wound person would probably prefer a dog that doesn't bark or shed too much. Think of picking a pup like
choosing a mate; you have to find one that compliments your personality.
Here are some very general guidelines. Of course, we won't list every dog breed on the planet, but they'll get you thinking in the right
Dogs that don't require much exercise
toy breeds (such as a Chihuahua or Pekingese)
Good with kids
English Cocker Spaniel
Old English Sheepdog
Good city dogs
Chesapeake Bay Retriever
Greater Swiss Mountain Dog
Old English Sheepdog
There are dozens of breeds and dozens of traits to sort them by. You get the idea.
Again, these guidelines are EXTREMELY rough. Picking a dog based on these lists is like getting a phone number off a
bathroom wall. There are no shortcuts. A good place to start your research is by checking out the American Kennel Club's
complete list of breeds. Then try going to a dog show or talking to a vet. In our opinion, though, the absolutely best way to
research is to talk to friends who have dogs. Believe us, they'll give you more information than you care to know.
In case you didn't realize it, all of the breeds we listed above are purebreds. This means that they are the product of parents of the
same breed. To get a true purebred worthy of being in a dog show, you often have to pay thousands of dollars. Most people get mixes
of some sort (the "cockapoo," a combo of a cocker spaniel and a poodle, is quite popular), because rumor has it that purebred dogs
can have personality problems because the gene pool is so small (think of people who marry their cousins). As a result, many people
choose to go with a mutt, a mish-mash of different breeds. Mutts can combine the best of two or more breeds in a one-of-a-kind dog.
Having a mutt is like the canine equivalent of owning an original work of art. Benji was a mutt. And who doesn't like Benji?
Is this all sounding like too much work? Then go back again and reread step 1, because the work is just beginning. A dog is a living
thing, but millions of dogs die every year because their masters didn't realize how much work caring for a dog really is. We're not trying
to bum you out, but this is nothing compared to how bummed you'll be if you become one of those failed former dog owners.
3. DECIDE WHAT BREED BEST FITS YOUR LIVING ARRANGEMENTS
Now that you've got yourself figured out, it's time to figure out what kind of life you lead.
Evaluate your living space. How much space do you have for a dog? Do you have a fenced yard? What kind of life do you lead? Do
you want a great big dog, a little bitty dog or something in between? Sure, that Irish Wolfhound matches your eyes perfectly, but it's not
gonna fit into your studio apartment. Conversely, that Chihuahua is never going to be able to navigate your 40-acre spread. It seems
obvious, but no matter how well your personality fits a particular breed, you have to make sure that your living arrangements match it
too. It would be cruel to keep a big dog locked up all day in a tiny apartment.
Evaluate your schedule. How much are you home? How many times per day can you walk a dog? If you just thought "per day?" then go
back to step 1 and reread it ten times. Some dogs are more independent than others, so if you're not around a lot, it won't do you much
good to get a clingy dog. Always remember that dogs get lonely, and if you're gone for days on end (even if the neighbor pops in just to
feed it), the dog'll still get depressed. Yes, doggie Prozac stock has gone through the roof, but at whose expense?
Anticipate future lifestyle changes. Do you have kids? Will you ever have kids? Are you sure? You don't want to get into a situation
where you have to put the kid up for adoption because he or she can't get along with the dog. Better to get a kid-friendly dog in the first
place, just in case.
Evaluate your activity level. Picture your idea of a fun time, and be sure that the right kind of dog fits within it. If you love to go hiking, a
Yorkie's not gonna be able to keep up. If you like sitting and knitting, a Border Collie's going to make your life a living hell.
Once again, do your homework. Talk to friends, vets, dog breeders, and trainers to find out which breed is best for you.
4. MAKE SURE YOU CAN AFFORD IT
Whoever said that two can live as cheaply as one never had a dog. A dog isn't going to break you financially, but it is an investment.
Over the life of the pet, you can expect to shell out as much money as you would on a decent used car (or a crappy new one). But really,
which would you rather have - a Yugo or unconditional love? Be honest.
The actual dog isn't expensive (you can get one for free at your local animal shelter). Rather, most of the expense will be buying dog
food. Ask your vet to recommend a brand.
Vet? What vet? The vet that you're going to take your dog to as soon as you get home from the shelter or breeder, Sherlock. Proper
veterinary care is non-negotiable. Things like check-ups, shots, neutering or spaying, flea and tick control, and dental care will keep
your dog in good running condition and win you a place in Good Dog Owner Heaven. Once a year is all it takes, assuming your pup
isn't playing in the street or smoking a pack a day. But it's still an expense, and you should always have a little backup cash handy in
case the dog accidentally swallows your eyelash curler.
Other doggie accoutrements that you'll need to purchase include (for starters):
Big, sturdy, stable, unbreakable food dish and water dish
Comfortable, strong collar or harness and matching leash
Current ID tag with address and phone number (really important!)
Solid, roomy crate for transport (many dogs also use them as a safe sleeping place in the house)
Warm, dry, wind-and-waterproof doghouse (but your dear little pup will be an indoor dog, we hope)
Little knitted doggie sweaters are optional in cooler climates.
5. PICK A PLACE TO PICK THE PUP
Once you've determined the right breed for your lifestyle, one possibility is to go through a breeder. You can find breeders by looking in
the classified ads in your newspaper (the prices are usually pretty steep, ranging from $100 to $3000, depending on the breed and the
quality of the puppies). Alternatively, you can call the American Kennel Club at 1900-407-PUPS. The breeder reference person will put
you in touch with reputable breeders in your area. Then call several breeders and talk with them; they're a valuable source of
information about the breed you've chosen.
Breeders are a good route because you'll get someone who knows all about your breed of dog, so if you have any questions, you'll
have a new friend to ask. Also, breeders generally take very good care of their dogs. So good, in fact, that they'll usually interview the
prospective buyer to make sure that the dog is going to a loving home. The drawback about using a breeder is the price - you can get
a puppy for free at a shelter. But if you're looking for a pretty puppy that you might eventually want to breed or take to dog shows, using
a breeder is the way to go.
Also known as "the pound," shelters are connected with purebred rescue programs, giving you that purebred chic look combined with
the warm, gooey, self-righteous satisfaction of rescuing a homeless dog. The benefit of a shelter is that 1) it's free (or really really
cheap), and 2) you're saving a dog's life. The main drawback is that the dog could have some kind of personality or health problem
(based on how it was treated before you got to the pound). That's a lot to deal with.
As long as you're at the shelter, consider strolling past the puppies and adopting an adult dog. Friendly, well-trained adult dogs will
often wind up in the shelter through no fault of their own. Maybe their owner lost the appeal and got sent up the river for 20 to life . . . you
never know. Actually, sometimes you do know. Many adult dogs come with a written history; some even come with the former owner's
contact number so you can get a character reference. Adopt an adult dog and you can save yourself the heartbreak of housebreaking .
. . and very probably save the dog's life.
Pet stores . . . Just say no!
Here's a way NOT to get a dog. When you see those little puppies in mall pet stores, our advice is: run away. Many pet stores sell dogs
from puppy mills. If you thought that the plight of veal calves was bad . . . well, you're right, it is. But puppy mills are right there with it
when it comes to wholesale animal cruelty. They basically churn out puppies for pet stores, kill the ones that don't look like they'd sell
well, and keep the live ones in awful living conditions. And pet store puppies that don't get bought are sent to the pound.
Don't be fooled by the breeding papers they'll wave in your face. There's a special place in hell reserved for people who sell puppy mill
puppies. It's just down the hall from the place reserved for people who buy puppy mill puppies. You're not rescuing the dog; you're
perpetuating the puppy mill industry. Can you tell that we're against this yet? To find out more information about stopping puppy mills,
visit the Help Puppies web site.
6. PREPARE YOURSELF FOR TRAINING AND
Yes, this article is about how to pick the perfect pet dog, but you should also know what you're in for once you get it. It is important to
train and "fix" your pup, and it's better to get this information sooner than later.
We assume you want a dog because you yearn for the companionship of an animal, not just because you want a new toy (unless it's a
toy dog, which, by definition, absolves you). But getting the dog is only part of the equation. To create a wonderful companion and a
happy, healthy dog, you have to put some time into obedience training. Just as time on the Stairmaster every day makes for a butt you
can be proud of, so too will consistent daily obedience training make for a mutt you can be proud of. At the very least, you'll want to
housebreak your pooch. Teaching commands like "sit" and "stay" will make your life a LOT easier. And if you go on to advanced
obedience training, you too can have one of those superstar dogs that catches Frisbees and runs obstacle courses when it's not busy
The point: obedience training is how you get the best from your dog. It's also how you give the best to your dog: a well-trained dog is a
happy dog. They're secure. They know that you're the boss and that you've got a plan. So keep training in mind when you get a pup.
Fix my dog? I didn't even know it was broken! But unless you're prepared to take care of 13 more puppies, you really should spay (for
girl dogs) or neuter (for boy dogs) your dog immediately. Millions of dogs die each year in shelters and on the streets, and much of it
could be prevented if people had their pets fixed. You might think that having your 'nads snipped off is a bad thing, but the world does
not need more puppies. It needs people to take care of the ones that have already been born. Just ask Bob Barker.
Next to getting married, having kids, buying a house or running a country, caring for a dog is the biggest commitment you'll ever make.
You know why: because a dog is a living thing. Dogs feel pain, fear, loneliness, joy, love, and loyalty. Dogs also occasionally feel the
need to shred Gucci loafers. It's all part of the dog-owning experience.
This SYW has focused almost entirely on the unglamorous responsible side of dog ownership. You already know all the reasons why
you want a dog. We wanna make sure you know what you're getting into. But if you take care of your dog properly and treat it with
consistent love and affection, you'll be rewarded for your efforts more richly even than people who bought Microsoft at $20 a share. Of
course, your reward will be in companionship, not financial security. But who knows? If you train your pup well enough, maybe he'll be
sniffing out hot stocks before it's over.