Monday, November 9, 2009

Adopting VS. Buying

There are several ways to go about getting a new a dog - and neither way is better or worse than the other. However, when looking for a companion that is going to be by your side for the next decade (and possibly longer!) it's best to weigh all the options and choose what is best for your given situation.


By the term 'adoption', I am referring to going to a rescue organization or an animal control facility and paying a small fee to adopt an animal who doesn't have a home.

This can apply to purebreds (fun fact: 25% of all shelter dogs are purebred!), mutts, and dogs of all ages, breeds, size, and color.

Adoption is a great route for most people to go. Most organizations will have the animal altered, up to date on vaccinations, and micro chipped. Adoption fees can range from $30-200, but it still works out being the cheapest option to go when you factor in the medical care the animal received while with the organization.

When you adopt an animal - you are taking a truly homeless animal and giving it a home. Dogs are left at shelters for various reasons - some with no reason at all! Don't buy into the myth that a dog is in a shelter because it is a 'bad' dog - they get dropped off because the owner was moving, the dog was too hyper, the dog wasn't hyper enough, the dog was the wrong color for the furniture, someone in the family gets pregnant, and so on and so on.

When looking to adopt a dog - the sky is the limit. There are breed specific organizations that can place a dog with you if you need a purebred, and there are places to go if you need a mutt. There are always puppies available - and remember, when you adopt - you're saving a life.

When going to an organization to rescue a dog, here are a few things to help you find the right dog.
  1. Look at the adults! You'll know how large they are going to be, coat length, and you will be able to tell a lot more about their personality. A lot of them often have good manners and may have some training - and my personal favorite: adults are usually housebroken!
  2. Big, black dogs are always the last to get picked. If you're able to take a large dog - take a look! There is nothing wrong with them other than the color of their coat.
  3. Let the organization help you  pick one out. A lot of them have spent some time getting to know the dogs and will be able to help you find one with the personality you are looking for.
  4. Personality over appearance! Unless you are looking for certain characteristics in a dog (size, type of coat, breed), look for a dog that has a shining personality instead of finding one that is the cutest. Dogs will good personalities will be friendly, eager to see you, and will be a joy to have and to train. It does no good to adopt the prettiest dog there if he doesn't like you!
  5. Patience. Don't feel like you HAVE to take one the first time you visit if no one speaks out to you. It's much better to take your time and adopt the RIGHT dog.

I'm not going to tell you that buying a dog is an evil deed - it's not. However, too many people take it upon themselves to throw a male and female dog together to get puppies.

When buying a dog it is VERY important to research. Once you know what breed you want to purchase - look around and research breeders. If it is an AKC registered breed, start by looking at the accredited breeders listed by the AKC. Find out if a breeder does health checks on the parents, if they can provide titles on the dogs, if the dog can perform the function it was bred to do, and why they are breeding.

A lot of people find two dogs of the same breed (or worse, just mix two random ones!) and breed them together knowing someone will buy them. This often leads to dogs with genetic defects that are being carried on with no regards to the animal. German Shepherds, for example, are notoriously ridden with hip displaysia because so many people don't bother to get the hips x-rayed on both parents, or look at previous generations. These are not the breeders you want.

When looking for a breeder there a lot of things to look for:
  1. What age is the breeder letting the puppies go? Good breeders usually hang onto their pups until 12 weeks of age, sometimes a little later. The few extra weeks allows the pups to learn more from their mother and helps them become better companions in the long run.
  2. Why are they breeding? If the answer is anything other than that they are breeding quality dogs to furthur improve the breed - don't buy from them.
  3. If you are buying a dog for a function, have the parents proven that they can perform it? If you are looking into buying a Border Collie puppy - can the parents herd? Whether the parents can perform the task the dog was bred for is a good indicator of whether or not the puppy will be able to.
  4. Is the dog registered? Asking to see the pedigree of the parents is a good indication of seeing how careful the breeders have been. If the breeder tells you the puppies can not be registered - don't buy from them.
  5. What is the asking price? Backyard breeders tend to sell their dogs for eye-catching prices of $1-200. They aren't providing proper medical care and are feeding the bare minimum so they can make as much money as they can off a litter. Good breeders will often ask for $500-1000; and sometimes much more depending on the parents. It seems like a high amount to pay, and seems like the breeder stands to make a fortune - but good breeders rarely profit off a litter. They spend a lot of their own money to ensure the litters they bring into the world are wanted, healthy, and very high-quality.
  6. How much of the puppies' health does the breeder take care of? A bad breeder will hand you a puppy at 6 weeks and expect you to handle everything. Good breeders care about their puppies and often will handle the first one or two sets of puppy shots, deworm them, and ensure that they have been examined by a vet before they go home with you.
  7. Support. Good breeders want their dogs in forever homes, and will be happy to help you! If a breeder does not want to be contacted by you or seems uninterested in what happens to the puppy - do not buy from them! The breeder can be an invaluable source later if problems should arise.
  8. Where are the puppies born, and how are the parents treated? If you go to visit the puppies and the breeder refuses to let you see them - do NOT buy! Good breeders will be happy to introduce you to both parents (and in some cases, grandparents!) and show you where the puppies were born, where they are kept and how they are being raised. If you run into a breeder that wants to hide the puppies conditions, run. The parents of the puppies should be well mannered examples of the breed. If they are aggressive towards you or seem overly fearful, it may be an indication that they are not properly cared for.
When looking for your forever dog, make sure you weigh all of your options accordingly. Choosing to adopt or buy is a large part of getting a dog - and one of the more important ones. Whichever route you choose to go - make sure you get the right dog for you.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Selecting the Right Dog

Making the decision to bring a dog into your life is a very important one. From the moment you bring your dog (or puppy) home, you are completely responsible for everything involving that dog. His training, what he eats, how much exercise he gets, how he acts in your home – all of that is up to you.

Certain traits in some breeds of dogs, however, are part of what makes that dog unique. It is extremely important to consider all traits of the breed you are considering, and make sure that breed is right for you and your family.

It is estimated that there are some 400 breeds of dog in the world, however the AKC only recognizes about 150 of them.

Listing every single breed of dog in the world would end up with an extremely long post – and I doubt I could find information on all of them, so I will narrow it down to breeds recognized by the AKC.

Dogs are split into several groups – each group lists several breeds of dog that have similar traits. By looking at the needs of your family, you can narrow your search for the dog by deciding which group of dog best fits your needs.

If you look at the sporting group, you will see pointers, spaniels, setters and retrievers. These are the types of dogs that are going to require a lot of vigorous exercise to keep them healthy and mentally stimulated. The dogs in this group range in size, coat length, and appearance – but they are all dogs with a purpose.

Dogs in the non-sporting group are fairly diverse - including Dalmatians, Chow-Chows, Shiba Inus, and the Lhasa Apso. It is the most diverse group of dogs, and it seems to be where the AKC places dogs that don't quite fit into one of the other categories. The breeds in this category should be thoroughly researched before purchase or adoption.

Dogs in the working group were all bred to perform a job, such as guarding and pulling sleds or carts. The working dog group is comprised of fairly large dogs – the Great Dane, Bullmastiff, and Saint Bernard just to name a few. These large breeds require a lot of training due to their size and may not be suitable for a lot of people.

Dogs in the hound group are largely hunting dogs. Some of them are granted with extreme scenting abilities – like the Bloodhound and the Basset Hound – and some sight-hounds are gifted with extreme speed and stamina – like the Greyhound. These dogs require a lot of care – sight-hounds can often bound out of sight in a few strides after seeing a rabbit and run so far so fast that they become lost, or a a scent-hound may follow its nose into oncoming traffic.

Terriers are a tenacious group of dogs. They are feisty, generally have low tolerance for other animals and many of them were bred specifically to hunt and kill vermin. They can be stubborn and hard-headed, and many of them have wire coats that require a special grooming technique, called stripping.

Herding dogs all contain the ability to herd other animals where the dog wants them to go. They are very intelligent dogs, and very high-energy. They vary in size from the Welsh Corgis to the Bouvier des Flandres. Most of them will never come into contact with a farm animal – but that herding instinct is hard wired. Many of them will herd children and small animals as well, and require a lot of training to handle that intelligence and energy.

The toy group contains dogs that were bred for one purpose – to be small delightful little dogs. These dogs generally do very well in apartment settings, and some people will find it is a lot easier to handle a small dog. Size does not indicate how well they will work with children, however, as they are fragile and easily injured.

Then there are mix breeds. Any time a dog is comprised of more than one breed of dog – it is considered a mutt. Mutts can be just as wonderful as purebreds, and come in many more colors, coat lengths, and sizes. With purebreds you will know what the offspring should look like, and what type of behaviors should be passed on. Occasionally, however, you also get genetic defects, such as hip displaysia. Mutts typically are healthier on the whole because they have more variety in their genetic make-up. Neither mutt nor purebred is better than the other, and each has advantages and disadvantages.

Knowing what group of dog the breed you are interested falls under can help narrow down your choices.

For example, let's say that a young couple wish to purchase a dog. This couple lives in a small, 2 bedroom apartment, upstairs. Both of them work full-time, in a 9-5 workday. They don't currently have any children, but wish to do so soon. Which breed of dog should they look for?

Most apartment complexes limit the size of the dog you can have by weight. The most common weight limit I have seen is 25 pounds, but I have seen a few going up 75 pounds.

So we'll say, in our example, that our couple has a 50 pound weight limit. This narrows our search for the right dog quite a bit – it crosses off giant breeds like the Great Dane or the St. Bernard.

Next to consider might be energy levels. Will a young couple put in the effort to keep a Border Collie content in the few hours of the evening? It can be done, of course, but will the couple want to exercise their dog three to four hours a night every day for the next 10-13 years? What about a social life, family meet ups, or vacations? Do they want a dog to be their jogging partner, a dog to perform in agility, or a couch potato to sit and cuddle with?

Grooming is a big requirement, also. Some breeds shed a lot. The German Shepherd is often referred to as the 'German Shedder' – they shed a lot, and year round. Breeds like the Shih Tzu and the Yorkshire Terrier have hair instead of fur, and it does not shed – but it must be cut back often to keep the dog from growing mats. Poodles have special grooming requirements of their own due to the unique hair they have. How much time will the young couple want to spend grooming? Someone who doesn't mind brushing out a coat for 20 minutes a day and the regular haircuts might not mind a Shih Tzu, but if they aren't going to take the time to care for the coat it's best to go with a shorter coat to trim down the grooming requirements.

How much time will the couple have to train the dog? Some dogs are remarkably easier to train than others. Housebreaking can sometimes be difficult in the toy breeds. Walking properly on a leash is essential on all dogs – but especially with large dogs. Lack of training is what leads most people to take a dog to a shelter or rehome them.

How much does the couple want to spend on the dog? The larger the dog, the higher the bill. Food and medication go up quite a big in relation to the size of the dog.

What kind of temperament are they looking for? While a personality differs in individual dogs – breed traits are a way to judge some behaviors in the dog. Herding dogs were bred to herd – they want to do it. It is part of what makes them unique. It is not uncommon for herding dogs to herd their family around by nipping at the heels. Some dogs are more aloof by nature, some bark more – others are practically silent. Some are more suited to certain types of people than others.

And one of the most important aspects – does the living situation allow for certain breeds of dog? As much as it is unfair – a lot of apartment complexes (and some homeowner's insurance companies) completely ban certain breeds. Blacklisted breeds I have seen include German Shepherds, American Staffordshire Terriers, Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, Siberian Huskies, Alaskan Malamutes, Akitas, Boxers, Great Danes, Chow-Chows – or any dog that even remotely resembles any of those breeds. It is unfair and does not take into account individual dogs – it puts a blanket over all of them. However, it is best to follow the law and try to change it rather than break it. Hiding one of these dogs illegally will add fuel to the Breed-Specific Legislation lobbyists, and could possibly end with your dog being euthanized.

There is no one fool-proof answer to which dog is best in the case of this couple – perhaps a medium-sized mix from their local animal shelter fits their needs just fine. Perhaps they want a purebred with a specific purpose to train and show. Perhaps they just want a family pet.

As long as you weigh your options carefully and take a moment to sit back and look at what kind of dog actually fits your life style instead of worrying about what it looks like – you're going to end up with a family member who will be by your side for life.