Living with a pet is an enjoyable, rewarding experience. Dogs and cats are fun to live with, and can also provide people with a large measure of comfort. Ask any satisfied pet owner about the pleasure they feel when they come home to a warm welcome from their dog or cat. You’ll hear how much happiness a pet can bring to a person’s life.
Pet owners have a responsibility to their dog or cat. Caring for a pet involves a lifelong commitment to the animal’s well-being. Before selecting a pet you should spend some time considering your choice. Your family members will also be affected by your decision to adopt a pet. Be sure to discuss the issues with them as you consider acquiring a pet. Everyone in your household should agree with your decision. Consideration should also be given to the adaptability of pets already in the household. Young animals generally adapt more easily to new pets than older animals do.
If you are willing to make the necessary commitments to ensure that your pet will have a healthy and happy life, you will certainly enjoy the benefits of owning a pet. Your pet will also enjoy the benefits of having a considerate, dedicated owner.
What type of pet is right for you?
Dogs are sincere, loyal and loving companions. Dog owners can enjoy active, outdoor recreation with their pets as well as quiet, relaxing times. Dogs add enjoyment to most situations – from playing ball with friends to reading a book or watching television with your companion nearby.
There are many important things to keep in mind before deciding on whether or not to get a dog. Dogs, and especially puppies, can be very appealing pets. Seeing a dog at an animal shelter can really tug at a person’s heartstrings. Animal shelters – the term includes Humane Societies and Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCAs) – will not allow you to adopt an animal on impulse. You should not acquire a dog on impulse from any other source either. Never buy one as a gift for someone. Each person should choose their own dog. Take the time to carefully consider whether or not you can accommodate a dog in your life.
Selecting a Dog
A DOG CAN BE AN EXCELLENT COMPANION, IF YOU ARE WILLING TO MAKE THE PROPER COMMITMENTS. Your relationship with a dog should be mutually beneficial, enjoying each other’s company at play and at rest. Scientists have found that dogs and cats are good for your health. People who enjoy the companionship of a pet, either a cat or a dog, may be better equipped to withstand some of the stresses of life.
Is A Dog The Right Pet For You?
A DOG REQUIRES A LOT OF ATTENTION AND CARE. You must be able to provide your dog with food and a constant supply of fresh, clean water. Dogs also need regular exercise and should be walked 2 or 3 times a day. Letting your dog out in a backyard does not provide it with enough exercise, stimulation or fun.
If you are often away from home for extended periods of time, it will be difficult for you to care for your dog properly. You must be prepared to care for your dog for a long time; small dogs may live for 15 or more years and large dogs usually live less than 12 years.
You must allow for time to train your dog. Obedience classes are the best way to do this. Most lessons take one hour a week in class and you will need at least an eight-week session. An additional 20 or 30 minutes a day are required for practice out of class during your dog’s first year. It is important to continue working with your dog for it to become well-behaved and properly socialized. Training can be fun and a well-trained dog will be welcome in more places. Benefits of these efforts will be enjoyed by you and your dog throughout its entire life.
Dogs require regular grooming to keep their coats clean and healthy. You will need to either take time to do the grooming yourself with a comb or brush, or take your dog to a grooming parlour. You will also need to trim your dog’s nails every few weeks, check to make sure its ears are clean and brush its teeth regularly. You will have to clean your home more often, especially if your dog is a long-haired breed.
MOST DOGS NEED A LOT OF LIVING SPACE. You may not have room for a large dog if your home is small. It is also important that you have access to a fenced backyard or other safe exercise area. Urban dwellers especially should make sure they have access to a suitable exercise area before getting a dog.
Certain dogs are noisier than others, and barking dogs will annoy close neighbours in the city. Large dogs can scale short fences, so you may need to install a higher fence if you plan to let your dog run loose in your backyard. Other dogs, especially hounds and terriers, can dig under fences. Water dogs, like retrievers and spaniels, enjoy swimming and appreciate having access to freshwater swimming areas.
Some apartment buildings do not allow dogs and it is unfair to a dog and to other tenants to try to hide a dog in such an apartment.
Some people are allergic to dogs or cats and may suffer if a dog lives in their home. If you have experienced allergic reactions near dogs, you may want to be tested for allergies before acquiring a dog for yourself. Allergy sufferers can become uncomfortable and have difficulty breathing when they are indoors with a dog or cat. Allergy sufferers who like dogs should be aware that some breeds, like poodles, do not usually cause allergic reactions.
THE INITIAL COST OF PURCHASING A DOG IS JUST THE FIRST EXPENSE IN MAINTAINING A HEALTHY, HAPPY DOG. There are also costs for food, collars, leashes, toys and licenses. Health care, including annual visits to the veterinarian’s office for check-ups and vaccinations, and surgical fees to have your dog spayed or neutered, must also be paid. Identification, including dog tags, tattoos or microchips, should also be purchased to protect your dog and to satisfy municipal bylaws. Training fees and health insurance can also add to the cost of keeping a dog.
If you leave home for extended periods of time you will need to pay boarding fees if you have to leave your dog at a kennel.
What Type Of Dog Is Right For You?
IF YOU HAVE THE COMMITMENT, TIME, MONEY AND SPACE TO ACCOMMODATE A DOG, you must now consider what type of dog to choose. Consider where you will obtain the dog, how you will care for it and what type of dog will best fit in with your lifestyle.
IDEALLY, YOU SHOULD ACQUIRE A PUPPY WHEN IT IS ABOUT 8 TO 12 WEEKS OLD. This will give the pup time with its mother and litter-mates, so that it socializes better with other dogs later in life. However, puppies also bond quickly with people at a young age. It is important that the puppy learns to interact with people as well as with other dogs. The time frame during which this socialization best occurs is between 6 weeks and 6 months of age. Puppies who don’t grow accustomed to people before they are 14 weeks old can become fearful or aggressive around humans. A properly raised puppy should become a well-adjusted, friendly dog.
Puppies require consistent care and close attention, and may soil your house until they become house-trained, generally by the time they are about three months old. Puppies may engage in play biting and chew furniture. If you have small children you will have to be vigilant to ensure that rough treatment doesn’t harm the puppy’s fragile bones. No young child should be left alone with a puppy or dog.
You might consider acquiring a puppy or an adult dog from an animal shelter. It is a common misconception that an older dog can’t adapt to a new home. Many adult dogs available for adoption are victims of unfortunate circumstances in a previous home. They are often housebroken and already have some training. An owner may have to work harder to establish a solid bond with a mature dog, especially if it is a stray or abandoned animal which has been mistreated in the past. How well a dog has previously socialized with other people will largely determine how it adapts to your family.
Ask the shelter staff if they know anything about the dog’s previous owners and their routine with the dog. The dog will be more at ease with you if you can maintain a similar routine. It may take time to modify the dog’s behavioural patterns, but you will find that rescuing an older dog from loneliness can be very rewarding. A good obedience class will hasten bonding with an older dog and aid in correcting inappropriate behaviour.
Should You Spay/Neuter Your Dog?
MALE DOGS USUALLY TEND TO BE BIGGER THAN FEMALES OF THE SAME BREED. Unsterilized male dogs may be constantly anxious if there are in-season females nearby. Male dogs will use trees and posts to mark territory by leaving small amounts of urine. A male dog may urinate indoors if another dog has been inside recently, especially if it is not neutered. Male dogs may also display overt sexual behaviour during adolescence, although this tendency will diminish when the dog is neutered and as the dog ages.
Every 6 to 10 months, unspayed female dogs will have an oestrus period, commonly known as being in heat, that lasts about three weeks. The dog’s behaviour may change temporarily during this time and it may become less obedient.
You should have your dog sterilized by the time it is 6 to 8 months old. A veterinarian spays a female dog by removing the dog’s uterus and ovaries. A male dog is neutered by having a veterinarian remove the dog’s testicles. These operations are both safe. Having your dog sterilized early decreases its risk of developing tumours of the genital organs. Sterilization also helps eliminate many medical and behavioural problems. Most importantly, sterilizing your dog eliminates unwanted offspring that contribute to the number of animals needing homes. There are not enough good homes for all the cats and dogs in Canada so thousands must be euthanised every year.
Choosing A Breed
BESIDES BEING DIFFERENT IN APPEARANCE AND SIZE, EACH BREED OF DOG HAS DIFFERENT PERSONALITY TRAITS AND CARE REQUIREMENTS.
Purebred dogs are sometimes bred with close relations to keep certain desired physical characteristics in their offspring. Unfortunately, this practice can accentuate undesirable traits in a breed and may increase the tendency towards hereditary diseases. Avoid dogs that are the result of inbreeding. A veterinarian can inform you of some of the more important common problems in breeds you are considering.
Consider what activities you plan to engage in with your dog. If you like to camp or hike, a sporting dog, such as a Retriever or a Spaniel, would be a good choice. If you want a running companion consider a highly-energetic, long-legged breed like the Doberman or Husky. All dogs like to run, but short-legged breeds like the Basset Hound or Corgi may tire more quickly than a human runner. Black dogs and dogs with thick coats can overheat more quickly in hot weather.
Long-haired dogs require more grooming, especially after a walk outdoors. Small dogs can easily be injured by curious children or unwary adults. Some dogs are not suited to cold weather and you may find it difficult to exercise them during harsh Canadian winters. Dog boots and coats may be a necessity for dogs with very short hair. Certain breeds of dogs are bred for specific purposes and it may be hard to train such a dog away from certain behaviour. A veterinarian, animal shelter staff, kennel club member or dog breeder should be able to explain the advantages and disadvantages of different dog breeds.
MIXED BREED DOGS, OR MONGRELS, ARE DOGS OF UNKNOWN PARENTAGE. Crossbreeds are the offspring of two or more different breeds. Mixed breed dogs usually turn out to be intelligent, loving, problem-free family pets, although it can be difficult to predict their character traits.
Mixed breeds are usually less expensive to acquire than purebred dogs. It is also generally accepted that mixed breeds are more resistant to certain health problems than purebred dogs. When selecting a mixed breed dog, ask the shelter or store staff if they have noticed anything, good or bad, about the dog’s behaviour.
Where Should You Look For A Dog?
WHEN YOU GO SEARCHING FOR YOUR IDEAL DOG THERE ARE SEVERAL PLACES YOU SHOULD LOOK. Animal shelters often have a wide variety of dogs in their kennels. Many dogs end up in shelters through no fault of their own and it is wrong to assume they won’t make ideal pets. They may have been abandoned and just need a second chance at a loving home.
If you have your heart set on a purebred dog, you should buy directly from a reputable breeder. A veterinarian, the Dogs in Canada Annual directory, or a kennel club should be able to direct you to a reputable breeder. You should always inspect the facilities and the dogs yourself. You should also ask for references from satisfied owners. A reputable breeder will ask you questions to ensure you will provide a good home for the dog.
A good breeder will have their breeding stock checked and certified against genetic disorders and will sell puppies with at least one set of vaccinations, a non-breeding agreement, and a guarantee against genetic disorders. Beware of breeders who will not allow you to see their kennel facilities and at least one parent of the puppy, or who breed a large number of breeds.
Some pet stores sell puppies. Others also serve as adoption agencies, matching prospective owners with dogs from animal shelters. If the puppies are not from an animal shelter, ask the pet store owner for information about the breeder before selecting a puppy. Look for the same qualities in a pet store as at a dog breeder’s facility. Good pet stores and dog breeding facilities should boast clean living areas, knowledgeable staff and healthy-looking pups. Expect a breeder or store staff to talk frankly about the nature of the animal you have in mind.
Whether you are at an animal shelter, dog breeder, or pet store, be sure to ask questions about each individual dog. The staff may have noticed certain behaviour and traits in either the dog you are considering, or in its parents. If it is possible, try to see the dog’s parents, since they may display desirable or undesirable traits not yet evident in their offspring. If you adopt the dog from an animal shelter, ask the staff if they have noticed anything, good or bad, about the dog’s behaviour. Some animal shelters conduct temperament testing of the dogs they have available for adoption.
In Canada, there is a growing awareness of the existence of puppy mills. Mills produce large numbers of puppies in poor, unhygienic conditions. Puppies raised in mills are often unsociable and make unsuitable pets. More importantly, conditions in mills are often unhealthy and the breeding dogs and puppies in them live unhappy lives. Be wary of buying a dog from someone who won’t or can’t tell you where the dog was born and raised. You should contact your local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals (SPCA) or humane society to report an establishment selling obviously unhealthy dogs or cats.
When you get a dog from any source, be sure to reach an agreement regarding returning the pet. You should be allowed time to take the animal to a veterinarian of your choice for an examination to ensure the dog or puppy is in good health. If you are offered a guarantee, make sure you understand exactly what the guarantee means for you and your dog.
Tips On Selecting A Dog
WHEN LOOKING FOR A DOG, DO NOT MAKE YOUR CHOICE BASED SOLELY ON A DOG’S APPEARANCE. Remember that common traits of a breed may not be present in every dog of that breed. Some dogs may be more dominant or submissive than others, or perhaps more excitable or fearful than others of the same breed or litter. Observe and handle each dog to determine any obvious traits it may have. Given the proper training and care, a puppy is likely to grow into a friendly, well-adjusted dog.
HERE ARE SOME SIMPLE TESTS TO TRY ON A NEW PUPPY TO TEST ITS TEMPERAMENT. A reputable dog breeder may have already done temperament tests on the puppies. If so, you should rely on their judgement to match a puppy to your situation.
Place the puppy on the ground out of the sight and hearing of the other pups. Step away from it and crouch down. Observe the puppy’s reactions when you clap your hands and call to it. A puppy that comes quickly with its tail level or down will probably respond well to training. A puppy that comes quickly and bites at you may be excessively dominant and difficult to handle for first-time dog owners. A pup that comes slowly or crawls, or that does not come at all, will likely turn into an overly submissive or anti-social dog.
Pet the puppy on his head, neck, shoulders and back. Touch its ears, muzzle and feet. A dominant puppy will growl, jump at you or attempt to bite your hands. An adaptable, easily-trained pup will wiggle and lick at your hands. A submissive puppy will roll over, bare his belly, turn his head away, and possibly urinate. A fearful or shy puppy may ignore you or struggle and walk away when released.
Roll the puppy onto its side or back and hold it gently until it calms down. Dominant, aggressive puppies will struggle violently, bite, cry and/or growl. An adaptable puppy will struggle, but should quickly calm down without any biting. Submissive puppies will calm down without struggling.
First-time dog owners, and people with children, should try to acquire an adaptable, easily-trained puppy. Dominant, aggressive or fearful pups are difficult to train and will be unsuitable for families with young children or for inexperienced dog owners. A submissive puppy will need gentle handling, and could be a good companion for a senior citizen or quiet adult. An overly submissive puppy will need to be protected from rough handling and may be unsuitable for families with young children.
YOU CAN MAKE PREDICTIONS ABOUT A DOG’S FUTURE HEALTH BY BEING VERY OBSERVANT WHEN YOU FIRST SEE IT. Puppies who have runny eyes, who sneeze, cough or vomit, who have diarrhea, scratch excessively, or who appear very thin should be examined by a veterinarian. It is natural to feel sympathy for the runt of a litter of puppies, but be warned that a runt may have more health problems than its litter-mates.
Other Sources Of Information On Choosing A Pet
ASK VETERINARIANS, THE SPCA OR A HUMANE SOCIETY TO HELP YOU SELECT THE RIGHT PET. Ask satisfied neighbours and friends how they selected their pet and what makes their relationship with their pet successful. Kennel clubs and dog trainers may have good information about dogs. Cat fancier associations will have information about cats and kittens.
Look under ‘dog’ or ‘cat’ in your library or bookstore and you will find numerous books devoted to helping you select a pet. The Pet Owner’s Guide to Dogs by Kay White offers advice on selecting, training and maintaining a dog. The Cornell Book of Cats, edited by Mordecai Segal, offers advice on selecting a cat. It profiles numerous breeds and gives information about medical conditions that can afflict cats. Many other books with general information on dogs or cats will have a chapter or section dealing with pet selection.
Computer users with access to the World Wide Web can find further information if they use their browser to look up pet-related topics.
As you look for information on selecting a pet, you may wish to gather information on feeding and caring for your prospective pet. Books in your local library will contain this information. The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association has a booklet available called “A Commonsense Guide to Feeding Your Dog or Cat”, which can be obtained by writing to the CVMA, 339 Booth Street, Ottawa, ON CAN K1R 7K1.
When you choose a pet, you are making an important decision that will affect your life – and the life of the pet you select – for many years. It is important to take the time to choose wisely. A good choice will lead to a mutually beneficial relationship between you and your pet. Take the time to ask questions; pet ownership and all its benefits should be an enjoyable experience which can only be achieved by an educated and eager prospective owner.