This week: What to do BEFORE you bring a dog home.
1) Decide that you are committed to caring for another living creature for their ENTIRE life!
The minimum life expectancy of an otherwise healthy dog is 7 years (giant breeds) while the maximum is 16+ years (small dogs). In the Paws and Stripes program, we use dogs that fall into the medium/large category so life expectancy is 10-13 years. Now, I have had dogs most of my life, all of them have been medium to large in size and all of them lived to 13+ years. Part of that has to do with genetics while the other part has to do with how they were treated. The point is: If you are getting a dog, be prepared to care for them until they pass away. Too many dogs end up in shelters because people move, have a baby, don't have time, etc. and the dog no longer "fits" in their lives. I see it all the time and it breaks my heart!
2) Analyse your life style.
Are you extremely active? A couch potato? Somewhere in between? How many people live in your household and what are their ages? Is EVERYONE on board with the idea of including a dog in the family? These are just a few of the many questions you need to ask yourself before you start looking for a dog. Some dogs need a lot of exercise, others are happy laying on a nice bed in front of a fire most of the day. If you have very young children or live with a person that has physical limitations, it might be better to avoid a high energy dog. Regardless of your life style, you MUST have time to train your dog. If you can not take considerable time over the next 6-12 months training a dog and reinforcing that training, it is not likely that ANY dog will fit into your life style. Most dogs (even seniors) do not come pre-trained. You will have to do the work and if you don't, that dog probably will end up back where you got it in short order.
3) Research . . . then research . . . and research some more
Now that you are committed to care for a dog until it's natural life is over and you have a clear idea of the life style it is time to decide what kind of dog will fit well in your household. You may be interested in a particular breed or size of dog. Be realistic. Know what you are getting in to! If you do not have a lot of space and you can't exercise a lot with your dog, don't get a Husky! They love to run and like to do it as much as possible. But don't just assume because a dog is a particular breed that they will follow the "breed specifications". Every dog is and individual and they don't always fit nicely into categories. If you can't provide the environment that your dog needs, neither you or your dog will be happy.
4) Decide where to go.
"Kill" shelter; "No-kill shelter"; Rescue; Breeder; Pet store; neighbor; Store front . . . there are many places that you can get a dog. Some are better than others (don't get me started on puppy mills). Regardless of what you decide, make sure you have done your research! Don't just research types of dogs . . . research where you decide to go to get your dog. Ask for references, tour the facilities, make sure you are comfortable with the way the dogs are cared for before you take them to you home. Ask questions like: How often are the dogs getting exercised? What type of enrichment do they receive? The environment you get your dog from will affect them, so make sure you know what that looks like so you can decide if you can provide your new family member with what it needs.
5) Prepare your home.
This is really a non-stop activity, but is particularly important before you bring your dog home. If you don't want your dog to chew on shoes or clothes, make sure these things are not left where the dog can get to them. Hate counter surfing -- don't leave yummy morsels on the counter! Prepare a cozy space for your dog to sleep (I am a strong proponent of them sleeping in the bedroom, though not on YOUR bed). Check your property for things that may be hazardous to your dog (plants, pesticides, etc.) and that the fences and gates are well maintained and will not allow your dog to escape. It is important, particularly in the early months of integrating a new dog into your home, to limit the ways that your new family member can make mistakes. If the temptation is not there, then it is easy to avoid it. Look at your house from a dog's perspective . . . do you have valuable nick knacks on the coffee table where they can be toppled by a dog's wagging tail? Instead of trying to keep the dog from whacking them, put them where they are safe from sweeping tails, at least at first and maybe forever. If you don't want to prepare your home and maybe change some things about it, make sure you add that into the information you include in #2 above . . . if you don't, your new pup may be the source of many frustrations that could have been avoided.