Adding a dog to your life can be one of the best experiences ever - or an absolute nightmare - depending on how much thought and planning you've put into this decision. You need to consider your lifestyle and surroundings, the time and energy you have, as well as how much money you want to spend. So before you commit to those big brown eyes and wagging tail, be sure you know (or have at least thought about) the answers to some pretty basic questions. QUESTION #1 Puppy or adult dog? It's the first thing you really need to think about. Puppies are cute and cuddly, but they don't stay that way for very long - you'll spend a lot more time with the adult dog than you do the adorable puppy. You should also know that it's very hard to get a good read on the future personality (not to mention size, coat and activity level) of the adult dog from the puppy.
Those adorable balls of fluff can also be mischievous, defiant and destructive and go through a stage of rebellious adolescence where they need almost constant supervision. You should also consider the cost and time commitment of vet visits, house training, behavior training and socialization. In contrast, adult dogs have passed through all this - so what you see is what you get. You may have little information on the puppyhood and early life, but you'll more than make up for this with an adult dog's better attention span (making training easier), as well as a more accurate read on size and the amount of shedding. Your vet will also be better able to diagnose health problems in an adult - ones that cannot be foreseen in a puppy. What's more, choosing an adult dog is a valuable service to good animals that need a loving home.
You'll find some wonderful dogs at your local animal shelter or online at petfinder.com Other good sources are your local classified pet column for lots of good, loving dogs that are "free to good home". QUESTION #2: Purebred or Mixed Breed? If you've got your heart set on a particular look or breed, need to consider allergies or other health issues, or have a specific purpose (a hunting companion or guard dog) in mind, then a pure breed is probably the right choice. The American Kennel Club (online at akc.
org/) recognizes over 150 different breeds and offers a good deal of information on each one. Purebreds come with generations of breeding to strengthen and refine special skills - so that tracking or retrieving abilities become far superior to those of the general population of dogs. The down side is that this can unknowingly pass on other, less desirable traits or serious health problems as well. Which breed is right for you and your family? Here's a quick, easy-to-do quiz that might help you narrow down the choices: www2.
dogbreedinfo.com/search.htm For many of us, a key factor that drives our choice of breeds is cost. Mixed breed dogs are almost always more affordable than a purebred, though they make take more time and legwork to find. You might want to start with your local animal shelter where dogs are brought in for a variety of different reasons and are examined by a vet and cared for until they can be adopted - some shelters even screen dogs for behavior issues. To adopt a dog (puppy or adult) from the shelter you'll typically be asked to pay a small fee to cover the exams and cost of neutering.
Rescue groups are another source for a potential best friend. Here dogs are placed in foster care with an experienced and loving host family, so you'll know a lot about each animal's temperament and level of training. If you do go this route, you should expect to complete some type of application process, as well as submit to possible home visits and a somewhat lengthy screening process. If all this seems too involved for you, consider making a regular check your local paper's classified section. You should also get the word out to family, friends and co-workers. The more people who know you are looking, the better.
QUESTION #3: Large or Small? As you have for the age and breed, you need to put some serious thought into the size of the dog you plan to bring into your home. Common sense might suggest that a large dog in a small apartment isn't the best choice, but these arrangements can be quite successful, if handled properly. Often it isn't so much about the size of the animal (or yours for that matter) but rather your ability to be in command and control at all times that really counts. Beyond this, larger breeds tend to cost more - you'll need to buy more food, bigger crates, beds and toys, not to mention a sturdier collar and leash.
Vet bills for surgery or medications will be higher, and grooming will also cost more. Smaller breeds are more affordable, but have a reputation (not deserved, but popular) for being high-strung and nippy, and can easily get underfoot, be hurt unintentionally or slip off unnoticed in the hustle and bustle of a busy home. Answer, or at least think about, these questions and you'll have a much better idea of what you're getting into. Not that you still can't be swept away by a pair of wide, trusting eyes or an adorable little face, but when that moment comes you'll have a far better chance of making this new addition to your life a lasting one.
Valerie Slaughter is a veteran marathoner and author of "You Want to Do What!?" who used to train with her dog, Sam. For articles, tips and information about pet care, visit: http://doghealthynews.wordpress.com/