So you think you want a puppy…

The caller seemed truly surprised by what I had just told him. “Well how am I going to do all this, I have a full time job? And you know, I have kids, too, who need my attention. Really, I don’t think that’s possible.” Right about now is when I usually have to take a very deep breath and try to remain calm instead of exploding on the phone. How many conversations have I had like this in the past years? Countless. So I decided to vent my frustration by writing this article in the hope that some people will read and understand it, and make the right decision before yet another dog suffers from his owner’s poor judgment when it comes to getting a new dog, let alone a puppy.

To start with, I have felt very frustrated over and over again when new owners pick a breed based on either looks, anecdotes or even myths. Researching a breed thoroughly is of utmost importance. However, many people get lulled into some illusions. Since the Labrador down the street is so well behaved and truly a joy to be around, people often assume that’s how this breed and every representative of it should be and will turn out. Who knows how much work the owners of this lab have put into their dog to make him look that good! Don’t just talk to the breeder, since this often gives potential customers a one-sided impression. I have found too many breeders to be deceptive about drawbacks of their breed. Educate yourself about the breed by talking to trainers and other owners. Observe dogs of the breed if possible. And PLEASE consider your lifestyle – if you pick a high-energy breed you, the owner, had better not be a couch potato. These dogs need to rid themselves of their energy through aerobic exercise, off-leash running, etc. Often rambunctious, very out-going dogs call for lots and lots of training to learn manners around people as well as other dogs.

Another problem I find often with inexperienced dog owners is the underestimation of the amount of time this dog will need. Not only quality time spent with the owner, but the amount and even cost of training required. A 6-week puppy class is NOT enough for any dog. As the dog goes through adolescence (which I lovingly refer to as “juvenile delinquency”), training and socialization becomes even more important since the dog’s behavior goes through phases of adjustment. Just think about human teenagers – what happened to the sweet little child that now is pushy, demanding and challenging??

Most people who get a young puppy are overwhelmed when they realize the time and effort it takes to raise him. You can not have a full time job away from your home and have the puppy be home alone in a crate all day long. Someone must take the puppy out every couple of hours for potty breaks, lots of play and socialization time. If you have a neighbor, friend, family member, or pet sitter who can provide this on a regular basis, things look much better. It is NOT an option ever to leave a puppy in the crate for hours and hours at a time so the poor dog soils his crate in sheer desperation. Even if you provide him a safe room where he can’t get out or hurt himself, puppies need the human contact for many reasons. They will get bored and frustrated if left to their own devices. Also, if you have kids, consider their busy schedule. How often have clients complained about not making it to dog training classes because somebody had a soccer game or had to be dropped of for ballet or music lessons? You know your kids’ commitments before you get a dog. I don’t tolerate excuses for not being able to practice and socialize with their dog because they were too busy during the week. Know beforehand that acquiring a dog, and especially a puppy, is a huge step. I get very upset with dog owners who don’t put any time and effort into the puppy upbringing, don’t follow my advice and suggestions, and then they complain about the “bad” behavior from the dog. Do I really need to point out that chewing, digging, barking, and general destructive behaviors are simply outlets of boredom, frustration, or even anxiety?

Raising a puppy will require hawk-like supervision, not just keeping an eye on him. Too many liberties and privileges can easily result in a dog becoming confused about the rules. Every time a client complains about an “accident” in the house or another pair of expensive shoes being destroyed I usually ask the question “Where were you when this happened? How did the puppy get access to this item? Why was he in this room by himself?” Having a puppy tethered to your waist or strictly watched over would not have allowed him to choose the wrong bathroom spot or the item to chew.

So the bottom line is very simple. Consider your lifestyle and current commitments before getting any dog, especially a young puppy. It is very time consuming and a big responsibility to add a pet to any family. If you truly can make the time and sacrifices necessary to give him the best possible upbringing and life he deserves, rethink everything again. If you’re still willing to become an educated, responsible dog owner whose pet will not become a nuisance to anybody due to lack of exercise, socialization, and training, go ahead… and call me for an appointment to start you off on the right paw!