Are you ready for a puppy? It’s not difficult to conjure up dewy-eyed images of long walks in a summer meadow with a dog...
The grass waving as he forges through after the ball you’ve just thrown, before he lets out an excited yelp and returns to your side for another game… it’s for certain that a puppy will become your faithful friend.
His love is unconditional, but as an owner you have a responsibility to your puppy to help him to develop into a healthy, obedient, and good-natured adult dog. Puppies are not born fully trained and before anyone signs up they should be willing to commit to a dog for the rest of its life.
It’s also important to consider the whole family and what having a dog may mean for them. Chewed books and toys can be a tough lesson for a child learning that they shouldn’t have left their possessions lying around.
A puppy is a serious responsibility
Make sure you have asked all the right questions to yourself:
- Why do I want a dog?
- Have I worked out all the costs involved?
- Does my job mean that I will be leaving my dog on its own for long periods of time?
- Do I have the correct environment for a dog?
- How do I feel about going for walks everyday?
- Am I ready for a possible 15+ year commitment to a dog?
Life without pets means doing anything you want, from going on holiday at short notice, or even staying out later than planned. Once you have a dog to look after, all this changes. A pup is for life - your life. Take a look at your lifestyle and the environment you live in.
What breed of dog will suit my family?
First consider your house. A small house and garden is unlikely to make a good home for a big or active dog unless you have plenty of time and open spaces nearby for exercising.
Do you have children and what are their ages? Do you plan to have children? Some dogs relish family life while for others it would be a nightmare. Consider too any regular visitors to your home - a big, bouncy dog will not be a good combination with an elderly aunt, for example. Have you any pets already? If so take into account their age, size, breed, sex and temperament. Other pets such as rabbits and cats may rule out some dogs, unless you have adequate time and experience to socialize them properly. Finally, how would you sum up your household? Quiet and calm, lively and busy or very variable?
What are your work commitments?
Is your house left empty from morning to evening and do you often have to stay late unexpectedly or work weekends? Some dogs bond very strongly with their owners while others are more independent and adaptable. A stressed and unhappy dog can easily develop behavioural problems.
What dog is best for me?
You can now start matching your requirements to specific breeds. Rule out dogs who are the wrong size and type straight away, along with those who just aren't to your personal taste. Read up on breeds that have caught your eye and find out what they were originally bred for. For example, a Border Collie was bred to work sheep so needs a lot of exercise and has a strong herding instinct, requires a very active owner and good socialization. Also check if your favoured breeds have any tendencies towards certain health problems.
Once you have drawn up a long list, speak to local owners and the breed clubs. Visit breed shows or a training class and ask every dog expert you can find. If you get the chance, visit a show such as Discover Dogs, where hundreds of breeds are exhibited and their owners/breeders are available to give advice.
Reputable dog breeders
Once you have decided on the breed, you can set about finding your pup. Although there are plenty of reputable breeders there are also some unscrupulous ones. You need to know whether the pups a breeder is offering are right for you - certain blood lines may be known for certain characteristics or even hereditary problems, plus some dogs are bred for the show ring or working environment rather than as pets. Start by calling the breed club secretary who should be able to tell you of suitable local breeders. Then call the most promising ones to see if they have puppies available and if you like the sound of them, arrange a visit. Even if there are no pups currently available, don't be put off. Often the best breeders are those with waiting lists. Don't be surprised if you get quizzed too - good breeders will want to know if you have done your homework.