Monday, August 29, 2011

Are You Ready for A Puppy?

Author, Jan Casey

There she sat. A little red dog with one brown eye and one blue eye. A puppy, Maggie, sitting in the shelter, waiting for someone to come rescue her, perhaps someone with children, perhaps someone with a large yard in which she could run or perhaps an older owner who just wants companionship. Maggie was found running on a street in bad shape. She was now clean with a roof over her head, but alone except for the workers who came to play with her for a short while daily. When I met Maggie, I was participating in an internship at the Peaceable Paws Dog Training Academy. My assignment was to train her so she would be more adoptable and so I could learn better training techniques. We interns had walked through the shelter the day before, looking at the dogs, making mental notes as to which one we would like to choose as our partner for the next week. Maggie was not on my list. She was a puppy and I hadn’t worked with a puppy for a few years. She was anxious, squatting every time someone spoke to her. She was too cute; I could get attached, but I couldn’t adopt her as I had no more room in my small home for another dog. All the other dogs on my list were chosen before I could blink, so Maggie would be with me, sharing with me the jobs of student and teacher. Fate has a funny way of teaching us what we need to learn.

I use the lessons that Maggie and my own dogs have taught me with Finn, Sigi, and Baylee Rae in my puppy class. Puppies are fun. They make you laugh. They remind us what it’s like to see things for the first time. They also depend on us. They are needy. They make mistakes and they have accidents. They are not perfect. If you are thinking of getting a puppy, please consider the following requirements that the pup will have:

Equipment: Your pup will need a leash and several collars as he grows (flat buckle or martingale, never prong, shock or choke as they can cause physical and emotional damage). He will need a top quality food, toys, grooming supplies, food and water bowls. He will need a crate. Even if you rarely use the crate at home, crate training allows a dog to be less stressed in the event of boarding or a stay at the vet’s office.

Veterinary care: Pups need a series of shots to protect them from diseases, some of which can be fatal. Vaccinations must be maintained on a yearly basis after the first series. Monthly heartworm medication is a must. You will need to establish a good relationship with a caring and knowledgeable vet as you will see the vet many times throughout your dog’s lifetime.

Training: The number one reason that cute little puppies become dogs in shelters is behavior issues. Positive training can help you address issues that might otherwise cause them to be surrendered to a shelter. Puppies need to be socialized before 16 weeks of age in order to learn about the world and avoid fear issues which later may become aggression. Socialization is more that learning basic commands such as “sit” and “down.” Puppy socialization class should be followed by manners class so the pup can learn proper behavior that allows it to be a part of the family at all times.

Time and Patience: Young puppies need to be taken outside every hour (more if they are playing hard), immediately upon awakening, and right after eating or drinking. They will need exercise and lots of it. You will need to find the time to take them outside for exercise even when you are too tired, it’s too cold or hot, or you just want to watch TV. They will have accidents, they will wake you at 2 a.m. to go out and then just sniff, they will chew your daughter’s $100 ballet shoes (ask my sister), they will destroy anything within their reach that you find important and irreplaceable. You will need to search deep in your soul for the patience needed to deal with these things and to keep from reacting to those who say “ This too shall pass” even though you know they are right.

Please look beyond the big eyes and floppy ears when considering whether to get a puppy. Think of the requirements he will have. Think about whether you are willing and able to provide for him over the next 14 years. If not, please consider adopting an older dog who will probably have fewer needs and an established personality. Older dogs probably will be past their destructive phase, and they seem to be aware and grateful that they are taken into a loving home. The shelter has many wonderful dogs for adoption and there are breed specific rescue groups as well.

As for Maggie, I do not know her outcome. She learned well and taught me much. I pray nightly that she was lucky enough to be adopted by someone who could love her and learn from her just as I did in our short time together.

Jan Casey is a reward-based trainer in Florida and owner of Smiles and Wags Pet Services . Mrs. Casey is a member of the Association of Animal Behavior Professionals. Mrs. Casey is a columnist for the Cookeville, Tennessee Herald-Citizen Pet Pages and Kid's Korner . This column was originally written for the Herald-Citizen .

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