Choosing the Right Dog
Can meeting dogs make you dog-drunk? Are puppies really blank slates that can be molded to fit your family? Can an old dog learn new tricks? What questions should you ask yourself before adopting? And, of course, where the hell should you go to get a dog?
Crystal returns to compare dog adoption to speed dating and pawn her Halloween candy off on Jess Wilson in this episode where we finish our discussion on how to find the best dog for your family.
Things to Consider Before Adopting a Dog
- What do you hope to do with your dog and how much energy is required to do those things?
- Do you want an energetic agility competitor? A moderately active jogging buddy? Or are you hoping for a low key couch potato to come home to after a long day of work?
- What kind of fur are you willing to tend to?
- There’s no such thing as a dog who doesn’t shed. There are light shedders and heavy shedders, seasonal shedders, and year-round shedders. Coats that are more like hair typically shed less, but if you think those coats aren’t going to be at least as much work as a typical sheddy dog, you may be surprised. Generally speaking, what you lose in dust and shedding, you’ll make up for in grooming needs. And that’s not just taking a dog to the groomer. Daily brushing is mandatory for a lot of hairy and curly-coated dogs. So is picking leaves, sticks, burs, mud, and poop out of their coats. If you love floof go for it! But be aware of what you’re signing up for.
- If you’re concerned about allergies and think a doodle will do the trick–consider that our allergies are usually related to a dog’s saliva and urine, not fur. Since dogs lick themselves to bath, your allergies might do better around smooth, low-maintenance dog fur that is easy to wipe down. Also, a lot of poodle mixes still shed a lot because the poodle coat doesn’t always win the genetic lottery.
- How much poop and pee do you want to deal with on a daily basis and for how long?
- If you’re signing up for a dog, you’re signing up for tracking your dog’s current health status through the state of their waste. The consistency and contents will matter because, if Muffin eats a toy, you’re going to want to know that it passed through okay. If Muffin gets diarrhea, you’re going to want to keep an eye on her and make sure she stays hydrated. And if there are worms or blood in it, off to vet you go. Poop is important and you will find yourself discussing it, scooping it, and even collecting it for the vet.
- Obviously, big dogs have big poop. But there’s a trade-off for those tiny Yorkie poops too. It’s true that some small dogs take longer to potty train. That’s not to say that you can’t potty train a little dog, or that some big dogs aren’t tough too. But that doesn’t change the simple biological fact that tiny dog bladders and digestive tracts are smaller and can be a little harder to regulate. On average, it takes 3 months (from the time they enter a new home) to fully potty train a BIG dog to the point of trustworthiness. Double that for little dogs and extend it in cases where the dog has an established history of accidents.
- What dog can you afford?
- No dog is cheap, not even a free one. The average pet owner spends $129/month on their dog and many would argue that this is a bargain! Estimate 2-3 times that in the first few months for equipment, supplies, and medical needs. Remember, some dogs need regular grooming, while others might need more expensive chew-proof toys or special training equipment.
- Dogs get sick too. Expect at least one round of kennel cough (AKA: bordetella) in the first year, especially if you frequent the park. This is the common cold for dogs. Yes, there is a vaccination for it and yes, your dog will probably get it at least once anyway because viruses mutate from year to year.
- If a dog with special needs catches your eye, great! These guys deserve the best! But make sure it’s in your time and money budget to care for them properly. Likewise, if you have money and time to spare, consider a dog with special needs and reap the rewards of an extra-special relationship. Nursing a dog back to health or tending to a chronically ill dog’s needs can be one of the most rewarding experiences you’ll ever have.
- Who will your dog need to live with?
- Everyone’s home situation is a little different. If you have kids, other pets, elderly parents living with you, etc, all of these beings need to be considered when you adopt a dog. If you plan to bring in a dog that will clash with a household member, have a plan to manage and train the dog so you aren’t setting them up to fail.
- What age of dog do you want to adopt?
- Puppies can often adapt to a family easily but they still come with their own genetic predispositions. Choosing the puppy personality for your family is key to setting yourself (and puppy) up for success.
- Assessing a puppy is tricky because they aren’t yet fully developed. People often mistake puppies as calm while they are in tiring growth spurts, only to be surprised at their immense energy a few weeks later. In other words, expect surprises and try to adopt a puppy who has had ample time to grow up with mama and siblings (resist the 6-week-old puppy adoption if you can). You’ll know more about them at 8-12 weeks. Research also shows that the more time a pup spends with their dog family, the stronger their social skills are, so that’s a big bonus!
- Puppies are arguably more work than adult dogs because they are discovering the world for the first time and tend to get into a lot of stuff. They’re also teething and learning bladder control. Older dogs still need to be managed, but with their adult teeth, worldly wisdom, and bladder control, it usually passes faster than pups. Like toddlers, puppies are often erratic sleepers and early risers. The older the dog, the more they sleep.
- Adopting an adult dog can be ten times easier than a puppy, but it still comes with risks. Adult dogs come with a higher behavior risk because they have previous experience and might be contending with trauma and stress. Temperament assessments can reveal a lot, but older dogs are also better at hiding things when shut down from a hard life. They often suppress some of their more destructive tendencies in the first 2-4 weeks that they’re home. This is called the honeymoon period and can make you think you have a perfect angel dog when you really have a cautious dog that is learning about their environment has yet to fully trust you.
Set the stage by beginning training and introducing boundaries within the first couple of days with any dog you adopt. Training and boundaries set clear expectations. Instituting a rewards system (ie: sit for food and treats=you get food and treats) teaches your dog how to get the things they want most while leaving little room for guesswork (ie: maybe if I jump on the counter I can get treats).
Plan to monitor your new dog carefully for the first couple of months (of the first couple of years for some puppies) using a leash, long leash, kennel, and/or x-pen. It will take at least that long to get to know each other and you’ll be able to nip unwelcome behavior changes in the bud right away because you’ll be present to catch them. Micro-manage and redirect to desired behaviors early on so that you can reap the benefits of a trustworthy, confident, and predictable dog for many years to come.
Maddie’s Fund – Behavioral Assessment in Animal Shelters
Understanding Your Hormones
The Whole Dog Journal: “How to Choose the Best Shelter Dog for Your Family”
C.A.R.A.T. Assessment Tool, Seminars, & Certification
ASPCA’s Position Statement on Shelter Dog Behavior Assessments