I had planned to write a completely different post this week, but then suddenly this little bundle of joy entered our lives. He is adorable, cuddly and has an incredible pedigree. My husband and our current dog already love him dearly. However, he is not a present. He is a puppy. So if you are even considering a puppy this holiday season please consider the following:
- Puppies cost money. An average estimate is $1500 in the first year. Well, I know it is more than that, if you include the cost of a puppy kindergarten class and a spay or neuter. I would say you must budget at least $2000. The puppy could get sick and you may want to take a vacation which means you have to pay someone or a kennel to care for your puppy.
- Puppies need a lot of care and attention. If you are already running yourself and your children all over town to activities, how are you going to fit a puppy into that schedule?
- Puppies require that you read at least one book. Hate to read? Then don’t get a puppy. I have learned many many tips from reading dog training books and memoirs over the years. Some that I recommend include: Good Owners, Great Dogs by Brian Kilcommons, Dogs of Bedlam Farm by Jon Katz, Marley & Me by John Grogan and No Bad Dogs by Barbara Wodehouse. I also subscribe to the Cesar Milan website. Each week he provides good training videos and advice. Keep in mind that no trainer is perfect. You may not agree with everything, but you will be able to gather a bit of advice from each.
- Different breeds of puppies are you–guessed it–different. Read a book or magazine about the breed you are adopting. If you are adopting a mixed breed, read about the primary breed, if it is known. A hound and a terrier have completely different traits and you need to understand those traits before bringing your puppy home. The web has a ton of information so take advantage of it.
- Puppies require a flexible schedule. I work part time and right now I am off on a post-surgical leave of absence. I will write about my surgical recovery eventually, but this seemed so much more important with the holidays near. Puppies have to be taken out for a potty break on average every two hours for proper house training. How are you going to do that?
- Puppies require a basic obedience or kindergarten class. I recommend going to a dog training club, not a store that sells pet products. There are too many distractions and until he has had his third set of vaccines a puppy should not be in such a public place. The clubs in my opinion also have top quality trainers that are often handlers themselves or AKC judges. Local shelters also many times offer classes, and again I feel this is preferable to a pet store training class.
- Puppies require vet care. This again can add up; enough said.
- Puppies can make you sleep deprived. It all depends. Just like a baby, your puppy may sleep through the night right away or may take a long time to get on a schedule. My first puppy took three months whereas my current puppy is already sleeping through the night.
- Puppies learn the world with their mouths. Just like babies, they want to put everything in their mouths. With babies it usually ends around two years, depending on the breed it usually ends at 18 months for dogs. Think about it, all that time to be pulling stuff out of their mouths and keeping them from biting you and everything in sight. One of my funniest memories of Pumpkin, (my beloved first pooch as an adult) was trying to keep her from eating cigarette butts at outdoor cafes. Okay, now it is funny; then not so much.
- Puppies have to be house trained. Consistency is key. You cannot give up and you must be on top of them constantly. We have hardwood floors, so the clean up is easy. What if you have carpet?
- Puppies need regular exercise and walking. I am not a dog park person, nor do I have a strong desire to run or bike with my dogs. I enjoy a long and peaceful walk each day, sometimes twice in the good weather. It gives us time to work on commands and it gives me time to think and have some peace and quiet. Not everyone has the desire to meditate and live in the moment. But when I am with my dogs walking through a lovely park on a sunny day, I celebrate life in all its wonder and take time to count my many blessings. One of my favorite things about Cesar Milan is that he emphasizes the importance of the walk, even if you have a fenced in yard. I also signal my dogs that it is time for their walk by channeling Barbara Woodhouse and using her famous phrase, “walkies.”
- Breeds of puppies and mixed breeds are all very different. You may think you are a big dog person. However, have you ever walked a large breed or cared for one? Large breeds cost more money. They eat more and typically require more training and exercise. That doesn’t mean that they can’t make wonderful family companions. Just know what you are in for. Go to a friend’s house and have your child walk the Golden, Lab or Shepherd. Then decide if you are really ready for a large breed.
- What about small breeds? Recently I read that the shelters in California are filling up with the small breeds. Most were adopted by women who wanted to look like Paris Hilton, meaning walking around in their designer clothes with their designer dog in their designer handbag. What they fail to realize is that small dogs can be feisty, nippy, and stubborn. They may not want to wear that designer outfit you just bought for them. They need proper training and care just as much as the large breeds.
I found these statistics on the ASPCA website: More than 20 percent of people who leave dogs in shelters originally adopted them from a shelter (source: NCPPSP). Five out of ten dogs and seven out of ten cats in shelters are destroyed simply because there is no one to adopt them.
Please, I beg of you, do not get a puppy from a pet store or backyard breeder. Seek out a reputable breeder through a breed club or the AKC. If you are considering adopting a puppy for the holidays write to me and I will help you find a good breeder in your area. Pet store puppies come from Puppy Mills where the conditions are horrific. The females are kept in small cages and forced to have litter after litter of pups until they die, usually at four or five years of age. The conditions are unsanitary and inhumane. You may think you are saving the puppy, but you are keeping these murderers in business. Don’t do it. Top quality breeders place their dogs in good homes, have spay and neuter requirements, raise the puppies in loving conditions, and they provide a puppy that is healthy and much easier to deal with.
Please do not adopt a puggle or a labradoodle or any of the other “breeds” that are being designed to make money. When last I checked there were over 150 breeds recognized by the AKC. Find one from that list that meets your needs. We do not need more dogs being created to end up in shelters or overburden the rescue organizations.
If you adopt from a shelter or rescue group, that is wonderful! But be prepared, you may be getting a dog that needs extra care, training and attention. Or you may get the perfect pup. It all depends. Just have the resources available to you so you don’t end up being in that 20%. Both you and the dog will be harmed by a poor and sad outcome.
Finally, consider adopting an older dog. My older dog Jose was a rescue from a friend. He came to me at four years and was already house trained. However, he needed training class and some expensive vet care. I was prepared, so the relationship has blossomed. There are lots of great organizations out there and your local shelter may have a program placing senior dogs whose owners have passed without provisions in their wills for placement. Seeing Eye Dog organizations also have dogs available for adoption who do not make the cut, but who will make wonderful family pets.
Recently I was out walking Jose and my new puppy, a Miniature Schnauzer named Dash. A neighbor stopped me to ask advice about getting a dog for her kids. We talked for quite a bit and I encouraged her to stop by the house, if she had further questions. I was happy that she had reached out to an obvious dog person. Hopefully, I saved a life.
Are you thinking of adopting a puppy for the holidays? What are your thoughts in general on pet ownership in the U.S.?