Before You Decide to Adopt a Dog: Determining if You're Ready
By Robin Tierney
Are You Really Ready To Get A Dog?
Tips for deciding if this is the right time:
• Have you done homework, such as reading about housebreaking, training, behavioral problems, and daily care of a dog? And what kinds of dogs are best for you and your family? (See suggested reading at the end.)
• Will your working hours allow enough time to provide the care and exercise a dog needs every day?
• If you have children, will you have time to provide the daily care and exercise a dog needs every day?
• Will you have enough money to cover food, toys, annual vet exams, vaccinations, monthly heartworm preventative, flea control, unexpected medical costs, grooming, training, and boarding the pet when you travel?
• Are you ready to live with a pet? Can you depend on your children not to pester a dog and let a dog out the door? Will you be able to watch the dog at all times when children visit your home?
• If considering a puppy, will you be able to arrange for midday visits -- since puppies need to go out every 4 hours or so to become housebroken?
• Do you have time for obedience training and teaching house manners as necessary to help the dog become a good companion?
• Do you travel frequently, and if so, what are your plans for the dog?
• If you move, can you be sure your next place will allow dogs?
• Can you make the commitment to care for this animal for his or her lifetime?
Which Dog Is Right For You?
How to choose the best companion:
• Do you have a busy schedule or long hours? Puppies and young dogs require a lot of time and attention. Puppies can hold their bladders only 4 or 5 hours. Young dogs and even older dogs of active breeds require lots of exercise every day or behavioral problems will arise. A more mature, calmer dog will be a better choice.
• Do you have children under 12 or 14? Getting a dog is like adding another child to your household. And a puppy is even harder. Many families find that with the demands of raising children and driving them to various activities, they don't have time to housebreak or train a puppy. And soon the little puppy becomes a big dog jumping on children and guests, begging for attention, and even getting into trouble. Obedience training is recommended for every household member, so everyone is practicing the same techniques (consistent practice is the key to training). We strongly recommend families consider a more mature dog whose size and temperament is known. A dog who seems happy, active, likes to be touched, and is not sensitive to handling and noise is typically a good choice for homes with children.
• If you want a puppy, why? No matter how adorable, all puppies grow up, and grow quickly. A cute, sweet little puppy can become a rough and difficult dog if not given consistent, effective obedience training. Being good with children is highly dependent on the breed, temperament and practicing good obedience training. If you have a busy household, a puppy is not the best choice. Puppies require more supervision and training, especially for discouraging common behavior such as jumping, chewing and nipping.
• What size is right for you? If you have children in the home, tiny breeds are a poor choice, since children can accidentally hurt the dog, and many small breeds are naturally wary of children. Choose a dog with whom the children can safely play. And size does not indicate energy level; some small boisterous terriers seem to take up more room and time than a large calm dog. If you live in an apartment or condo, look for a reasonably quiet dog -- and practice techniques for avoiding separation anxiety from day one. (A dog with separation anxiety will often howl and bark, as well as destroy things out of fear, when left alone.)
• What about fur? Regardless of size, certain breeds require more grooming. And if you have allergies, think twice about getting a dog. While many believe that a dog who sheds less will be easier on allergies, the allergic reactions are triggered by dander and urine. Many people with allergies do fine with their dogs, but it helps to keep the house vacuumed, keep pets off your bed, use dander neutralizers on the fur, and to wash hands after petting the dog.
What Supplies Will You Need?
Supplies you'll need before bringing a dog home:
• I.D. tag with your address and phone number. A dog should wear this at all times.
• Fitted collar (buckle is better than adjustable). Its key function is to hold the all-important I.D. tag.
• Leash. Choose one that's comfortable on your hands. Choose a 4 or 6-foot. Retractable leashes are unreliable for active/larger dogs.
• Head harness, choker collar or neck/chest harness. Use one for walking the dog. Don't keep chain collars on the dog except for walking; the dog can get injured.
• Crate or baby gates. Choose a safe, secure place to confine the dog when you cannot watch him for the first few days or weeks until you can allow freer roam. Confine the dog in a family area, such as a family room or kitchen. Never in a basement (confining in damp, darker quarters lead to housebreaking/behavioral problems), never in a garage, never left outside unattended.
• Bowls for water and food.
• Comb and brush.
• Dog bed.
• Decent brand of food (the better the food, the healthier the dog).
What Medical Care Will the Dog Need?
All GRCGLA Rescue dogs come with a medical history record. GRCGLA Rescue dogs receive rabies and DHLPP vaccinations, spay/neuter, and microchip. The adopter agrees to do the recommended medical work after adoption and then visit the vet for annual exams and vaccinations, as well as for any special medical care or emergencies.
How to Set Home Rules
Before bringing a dog home, work out doggie duties in advance with the other members of your household. Decide: who will walk the dog...exercise the dog...feed the dog...and when? Which areas of the house are off-limits? Where will the dog sleep? Will the dog be allowed on furniture? Tip: Don't allow the dog on furniture until the dog has begun obedience training and the people in the home have established themselves as leaders of the pack. Trainers warn that when a dominant dog sleeps on the people's beds, the dog may consider herself equal or greater in leadership than the humans in the house.
Start day one by teaching your dog appropriate behavior through consistent, positive reinforcement.
Planning for a Successful Homecoming
If you have other pets, arrange the homecoming so that your other dogs can meet the new dog on neutral territory. If you have cats, make sure your cats have a safe haven to escape from the dog. Keep the leash on the dog indoors for the first hours or days (only when you're with him), and give a swift firm leash correction if the dog attempts to threaten the cats or engage in other undesirable behavior. To avoid other pets becoming jealous, be sure to pay attention to them too.
Schedule your time so you can introduce the new dog to his potty place, the yard, the house, his crate, as well as all household members. Practice putting him in the crate, leaving awhile, and returning. Teach him that is natural for the people to leave the house, and that they will come back. This will help the dog avoid separation anxiety. Resist the urge to spending all of the first day or weekend with the dog; leave the house for varying periods at the beginning so he gets the idea you will eventually return, and that he doesn't have to fear being alone.
Helping the Dog Adjust
Exercise. Plan plenty of play time for your dog, every day. Go for long walks; go jogging (on-leash of course). Find an enclosed area to play ball. A well-exercised dog is happier, healthier, and far less prone to behavioral problems.
Do not play tug-o-war, rough-house, or play other games that encourage aggression and teach your dog to challenge you.
Time out. If you have guests, or active children, monitor the dog to make sure he's not getting too tired or nervous. Sometimes, dogs signal "enough" by nipping, so try to not let things reach that point. If the dog seems like he wants a rest, let him relax alone.
Family membership. Treat your dog as a member of the family, an indoor resident. Don't leave a dog outside unattended; a dog can eventually learn to escape the yard or someone can harm or take him. It's not worth the risk.
Training essentials. Like children, dogs depend on adults to teach them good behavior. Remember that dogs need order. They like routine. And they are pack animals who need to know that someone is leader of the pack. If the human doesn't act as the "alpha," the dog will be confused, and may try to take charge. Teach your dog from the start that you are the leader of the pack, the one on whom he can depend for guidance and protection (not the other way around). Don't be harsh, and never hit a dog. Instead, teach your dog using consistent, positive reinforcement.
Whenever the dog engages in something unacceptable, nip that in the bud immediately. Warn him in a loud, disapproving voice -- Ah-AH-AHH! or NO! Then instruct him to do something good, such as "sit", and praise as soon as he obeys. Substitute a positive behavior for the negative one.
Destruction & Aggression. A dog cannot do damage if you don't allow this to happen. Watch your new dog carefully -- and keep her in a kitchen, in a crate or other secure area if you can't attend to her, with chew toys to keep her busy. Don't encourage rough or wild behavior. To avoid bites, don't place your face near the dog's face until you've started obedience training, taught him acceptable behavior and established yourself and other humans in the home as higher in the hierarchy. In other words, until you've earned the dog's respect. Tell everyone in your home to abide by this advice.
Remember: many dogs have not had the luck to be socialized yet. Their baggage may include unacceptable behaviors you must watch for, and then retrain with the help of books and professionals.
Safety. Remove dangerous objects from a dog's reach. Always keep a dog on-leash when outdoors in unfenced areas; watch even in a fenced yard.
Reward him for good behavior. "Rover, good boy!" and a pat on the head or neck rub. Give him ample, regular opportunities to "do good." Teach him commands such as "sit" and "stay" and "down" -- then practice them frequently so he can earn your praise. And "no free lunch" -- have him perform a simple act of obedience before giving him a treat or his meal.
Housebreaking. Read all you can about housebreaking. Even a dog considered housebroken can have accidents. Learning effective, humane techniques is NOT hard -- and taking the time upfront will pay off by speeding up the housebreaking process.
Trainers now recommend crate training for effective housebreaking. The dog is confined in a wire crate, kept in a well-lighted family area, for short periods of time. This technique utilizes a dog's instinct to avoiding messing in his den. He'll try to hold it until you let him out and take him to an approved potty spot (use the same area at the beginning to convey the message). Remember that puppies can't hold it for more than a few hours, so work up gradually. Do not crate a dog for more than 5 hours at a time.
The Key to a Happy Relationship: Commitment!
The keys to success are consistency -- and commitment. Be committed in helping your dog adjust and in integrating him into the family. Realize this living being is counting on you...that nobody is perfect...and that adjustment and training take time. Sign up for obedience training from the start.
Enter pet ownership as a lifetime commitment. Don't get a dog until you're sure you have the resources and time to care for this animal for the rest of his or her life. In return, you will be rewarded with unconditional love.
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This publication is copyrighted. Requests for permission to reprint any portion
should be sent to Robin Tierney, Tierneydog@yahoo.com