By Maureen Patin CPDT-KA ,Founder / Head Trainer of What a Great Dog! Training Centers
Some of my fondest childhood memories are times I spent with our family dog. And, as an adult, I look to my dogs for fun, support and companionship. I truly can’t imagine life without them.
But, as a prospective new dog owner, its important to pause and ensure that the major responsibility that you’re about to take on is the right decision for you AND for the dog. A bit of looking in the mirror and pre-planning will go a long way toward a successful adoption!
First, think through the practicality of this adoption one time prior to committing to add a dog to your family. A good, honest assessment of your situation is certainly warranted before taking on the major responsibility of adding a dog to your family. Does your lifestyle (work, social, family obligations) truly have space for a very time consuming, new family member? Is there an adult in the family who has agreed to be ultimately responsible for the dog’s care? It’s great for kids to participate in the care. But, it is not fair TO THE DOG for a child to have primary responsibility. Is your current home suited to a dog? Is there any chance that you’ll have to move to a home that is not suitable for a dog? Remember, adoption is for life! Is your entire household on board with adding a dog to the family, along with all the hair, dirt and allergens that come with them? Be sure to consider the needs of existing pets in this decision too. Are you financially comfortable with the costs that come along with a dog? The adoption fee and initial supplies are a very small fraction of the lifetime costs of veterinary care, training, quality food and supplies. Assuming you’re comfortable with all of those factors, let’s move on.
Planning ahead and logically selecting a dog that will fit into your life can save you from heartache down the road. Be realistic about your lifestyle as you choose the age and breed or mix of your new dog. We all like to picture ourselves as highly active and able to devote hours a day to exercising and training our new dog. But, be honest with yourself if the truth is that you’ll spend more time snuggled up on the couch than hiking through the woods. How do you want to spend time with your dog (running, snuggling, dog sport)? Do you have small children, or might in the future? Be realistic and choose an age and breed of dog that fits.
If selecting a puppy, be realistic about your willingness and ability to deal with all things puppy. Housetraining, chewing, puppy biting and endless energy come with the territory. Choose the pup’s size and coat type carefully, as both change dramatically as pups mature. Carefully consider your ability and willingness to work through potential behavior and/or medical issues. Adopting a dog is a “for better and for worse, in sickness and in health” type of situation.
Tips for Integrating a New Dog into the Family:
Don’t lose sight of the fact that this is a major, potentially traumatic, transition for your new dog. A puppy will have the stress of leaving his mother and litter mates. Many rescued dogs may have recently endured the trauma of being stray, neglected possibly housed in a noisy shelter. While you know he is now safe and loved, it will take your new dog awhile to understand that. Give him time to adjust before inviting people to meet him. Quiet time at home with you is the best agenda for the first week with your new dog.
A training class which utilizes positive, reward-based training is an essential step in integrating your new dog. If your new dog has significant behavior issues (separation anxiety, aggression, fear, resource guarding, etc.), schedule a private session with a qualified trainer right away. Having a good strategy for safely and correctly modifying these behaviors is critical. Much of the dog behavior information you’ll find on the internet is outdated, dangerous or just plain incorrect. An expert is best able to steer you in the right direction.
Play it safe with introducing your new dog to other pets in the family. Many dogs view smaller pets as prey. Don’t assume that your new dog will understand that your cat is not to be harmed. Also, take care in introducing your new dog to other dogs in the family. Parallel on-leash walking in neutral space is the best way for dogs to meet. A qualified trainer can give you further tips and even help with the process.
Congratulations on taking the time to think logically about this decision. The planning you do prior to selecting a dog will go a long way toward helping your new dog quickly become a beloved family member.