I am a big dog lover, as can be seen through my Twitter account and here on my blog. One of the best moments of my life was letting a litter of puppies crawl all over me. Watching a Youtube video of a newborn pup squeaking for his mama is enough to send me into fits of joy.
Recently, I read a sad article about a shelter being filled to capacity by “returned” holiday gifts. Situations like this happen when that adorable puppy grows up into a rug-chewing, energy-abounding, peeing-on-the-carpet bundle of fur. I understand a relative wanting to give a little joy to a child or elder but not a lot of future thought goes into these adoptions or purchases. So, drawing from my experience as a lifelong dog owner, let me share with you five things to know before buying a dog either for yourself or for another person.
Don’t buy/adopt for another person.
We’ve all watched those adorable Youtube videos of Grandma getting a new Pomeranian or similar. We smile and feel the warm fuzzies and think, “Gosh, wouldn’t it be nice if we did this for so-and-so?”
Don’t do it.
Not unless you are absolutely, positively, 100%, swear-it-on-a-holy-book-in-front-of-a-judge certain that said person wants a new dog of a particular breed or size. And that you are absolutely, of the same level, certain that the said person has the personality and means to take care of said new dog. If there is even a shred of doubt in your mind regarding this…walk away.
Evaluate your/their living conditions.
If you’re absolutely set on surprising someone with a dog, or if you are wanting to buy a dog for yourself, then evaluate the conditions in which the dog will live. How you or the other person lives will determine what sort of dog is best.
For example, if you or said person live in an apartment, then a large breed like a St. Bernard may not be ideal. That doesn’t mean you have to get an ankle biter, though. There are medium dogs that can adapt well to apartment living. The Shiba Inu is a good example.
Another part of living conditions to take into account are any children. Not all dogs are good around children. See this list for dogs that are excellent companions for kids. Also bear in mind that you’ll have to train the child as well as the dog to make sure everyone gets along. Even the most patient of breeds will eventually lose patience with a child that keeps sticking his fingers into the dog’s face or nose. A little nip meant to be a warning can easily lead to a more damaging bite.
Evaluate your/their finances.
Whether you’re getting a mutt from a shelter or a purebred from a reputable breeder, owning a dog will cost. I’m not just talking about the one time neuter/spay fee. I’m talking about yearly vet visits, unexpected vet visits, boarding, grooming, toys, food, training classes, and other items.
Some dogs are more high maintenance than others. For example, a long-haired dog will require more care for his fur and ears than a short-haired breed. Some dogs are so energetic and curious that they need the occupation of toys and play to keep them from tearing apart the couch while other breeds don’t mind chilling all day at your feet.
And then there’s when the dog gets old. Some old age ailments are prevalent in certain breeds. For example, some breeds, like Retrievers and Rottweilers, are prone to hip dysplasia in old age. Some ailments come about from injuries earlier in life. We’re expecting our dog Benedict to develop arthritis in a paw that’s missing a toe. The point is, any dog can develop any number of problems, ranging from arthritis to cancer, as they enter middle or old age. Can you or the other person afford seeing to those needs?
Evaluate your/their personality and needs.
Not all breeds or mixes are for everyone. Let me give an example.
Our two dogs, Benedict and Scholastica, are Husky-Boxer mixes. They are medium sized dogs but very powerful thanks to their Husky father. What does that mean? It means we’ve had to spend extra time training them so as to not cause problems if I have to take them to the vet or to the boarders. I’m not very strong, so it would be easy for Ben and Scholly to yank me off my feet (and they have). Therefore, I’ve taught them to wait while I close the front door or stop when I need them to.
Our dogs would not be good for someone without a strong personality or the time and energy it would take to maintain training and control. They certainly wouldn’t be good for Grandma. Besides that, there’s all the trouble a dog can get into…
Know the breed or the mix of breeds. Research them. Talk to the breeder or shelter workers about how a certain dog or the parent(s) of a certain puppy behaves. Take into account your own or the other person’s personality and routine. Don’t get a dog that is highly sociable if you’re gone a lot of the day and don’t have another dog to keep him/her company. Don’t get a dog that is prone to being overly energetic when you’re more of a layabout. But no matter the breed, be prepared to play, pet, and spend time with your furry companion and be sure that, if you’re getting this dog for another person, they are prepared as well.
The Dog is Both Animal and Loved One
A dog occupies a strange position in the American household. He’s a loved one in that we love our pets. Many times, we treat him like one of the family. We hurt for him when he hurts and we mourn when he dies. But we can’t forget that a dog is also an animal. He’s a loyal animal that can be trained but an animal nonetheless. That means that sometimes his behavior can only be understood through the lens of animal instinct, pack dynamics, and nonverbal communication.
We think it’s cute when the family dog lays across us but we forget that this can be a way of a dog asserting dominance, which can make later training problematic. We think it’s funny when a dog runs in circles trying to catch his tail and forget that it could be a symptom of a budding compulsive disorder. We don’t think there’s any problem with the toddler getting on top of a dog and we ignore the warning signs in his flattened ears and stiff posture. Then, we’re surprised when said dog nips at the toddler.
Dogs are animals. When you go to adopt or buy, whether for yourself for a loved one, never for a second forget that you are buying an animal. It’s an animal with its own set of complex, non-human emotions and ways of communicating. You have to be certain you or the person you’re buying for can handle that.
But please don’t buy or adopt for another person. Even if you keep all of this stuff in mind, the dog might end up on the long ride to the shelter anyway. A pet, be it cat or dog or anything else, is a very personal choice that requires a lot of forethought. That doesn’t mean an impulse acquisition cannot turn out well. We never meant to get Benny and Scholly over our honeymoon but it happened. However, if we could do it over again, I would have preferred being prepared for having two puppies while on a vacation rather than having to make an emergency trip to Wal-Mart.
All of this serious business aside, though, a dog is a welcome companion and a joy-bringer for years to come.
Further resources: Pet Safety Guide at Expertise.com