< A version of this article was published in the October 2014 issue of Down East Dog News>
Whether it is your first dog or you have had dogs your whole life, whether you have no other pets or lots of other pets, whether you live alone or live with a large family, adding a dog to your life is a big decision and requires careful thought and planning. As a pet care professional with over 19 years of experience, I have heard countless stories of what can happen when you bring a dog home on impulse. Yes, it might turnout just fine, but there have also been many times where being impulsive leads to heartache. I suspect that there is a “right dog” for most every situation, but not all dogs will be right for your situation. So before you start thinking about which breed you want, whether you’ll get a rescue or purebred, a puppy or an adult, I suggest you ask yourself the following questions.
What is the primary reason you want a dog? – Companionship is probably the most typical reason people get a dog. Other reasons might be so that you can compete in dog sports or to do therapy dog visits at nursing homes and hospitals. Perhaps you want a dog as a hunting companion or to help you on the farm. Some people will even think they want a dog to teach their children responsibility or for protection. If it’s either of these last two, I’ll try to talk you out of getting a dog for those reasons. Alternatively, you might be looking for a dog to be a service/assistance dog for yourself or a family member. In this situation your best option is to let a qualified and reputable service dog agency select and train the dog for you. Most dogs, even the ones specifically bred to be service dogs, do not have what it takes to develop into a reliable service dog. My point is that there are several reasons you might want a dog and how you answer this question will determine what breeds you should consider and those that would be out of the question, whether you want a puppy or an adult dog, and whether or not you should consider a purebred or a mutt.
Where will you be 15 years from now? – Depending on the breed and individual dog, your new canine friend will hopefully be with you for 12-15 years, perhaps longer. Your life, where you live, who lives with you, the amount of free time you have, your financial resources, your health and physical abilities, and your dog’s health can and will very likely change a great deal in 15 years. When adding a dog to a family I believe you need to plan for it being a lifetime commitment. That means you need to think ahead and be sure that the reason you want a dog today will still be the reason you want a dog several years from now. When we recently added our new dog my wife and I knew we needed a smaller dog. We both have back issues, and carrying our 16 year old Golden up and down the stairs was difficult at best and we knew we would not be able to do that 15 years from now.
What are your deal breakers? – Even though we make a lifetime commitment to a dog sometimes things happen and it is in the best interest of you and your dog to part ways. This can be heartbreaking for all involved. One of the best ways to prevent that heartache is to spend some time before you welcome a dog into your home deciding what would be a reason you would not want or be able to keep a dog. Some reasons that people have given for ending the relationship; the dog bites someone, you need to move into town and the dog cannot adapt, the dog kills another animal, someone in the family develops allergies, the dog urinates and defecates inside and cannot be trained, the dog has separation anxiety and you work 14 hours a day, the dog barks excessively and the neighbors are complaining, you move in with a new life partner and your dog hates their dog, etc.. The point is that unexpected things happen, sometimes beyond our control. If you can identify these deal breakers before you choose a dog, you may be able to select a pet that decreases the probability of these unfortunate situations developing.
What happens next? – After you have answered these questions for yourself, I recommend you share them with at least a few pet care professionals; a veterinarian, a dog trainer or behavior consultant, a daycare/kennel operator or a dog groomer. You want someone who can give you an objective opinion based on extensive experience with many breeds as well as individual dogs. Breeders, rescues, and shelters can provide useful input; however, remember that they are hoping you will choose one of the dogs that they have available. This is not to say that we do not all have our share of biases; for this reason talking to several people will give you a broader perspective. At Green Acres Kennel Shop, we will gladly sit down and have this discussion with you at no charge, because we know it’s going to result in a good match.
Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop (greenacreskennel.com) in Bangor. He is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP), Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), Associate Certified Cat Behavior Consultant (ACCBC) and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). He produces and co- hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show heard on The Pulse AM620 WZON and streamed at http://www.wzonradio.com/ every Saturday at 9 AM. A list of upcoming shows and podcasts of past shows can be found at www.woofmeowshow.com. Don also writes about pets at his blog: www.words-woofs-meows.com.
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