Over the years, I had somehow made myself believe that as a student, it is impossible to have a pet dog – first, there was school, then work, then travel … I could keep going for pages. I never questioned this idea, or even thought much about how I came to such a conclusion. Recently however, as my schedule has settled down to being very fixed and predictable, I found myself longing for a furry friend, one that I have always have had since a kid. Like almost every other decision I make, this too was impulse-driven and took only a moment to confirm. But also, like all of my other decisions, before it turns into an action, I had to do hours of research, read a few books and and have countless conversations with experts and people with more experience.
This post is intended to serve as a summary – from the inception of an idea to have a pet dog, to confirming it as a valid, viable option and finally putting down a deposit to reserve a puppy. This may come very naturally to some of you, but it was a very intense and confusing time period for me as I considered carefully, the pros and cons, the type of dog that is right for me, the costs, the importance of responsible breeding, the right breeder, so on so forth. If you have already been through this, and figured it all out, then there is possibly no need to read on. If you are thinking of getting a dog, or have gotten one without thinking about much of this, or are just interested in how it all works, then you may want to devote the next 10 minutes of your time to reading this – trust me, it will save you 100s of hours gathering the same information from all around the internet. That being said, I will try to keep the information as short and precise as possible.
Are You Ready for a Dog?
The biggest hurdle to overcome in getting a dog is, your attitude towards the commitment. It is at least a decade-long commitment that will require routine — exercise, communication, feeding, potty, vet bills, emergencies, so on and so forth — every single day. Getting a dog without being ready for the commitment is almost like having a baby without being financially and mentally stable. In your end, it may become a burden that you simply cannot handle (and unlike cute babies, dogs that are not raised properly can develop severe aggression issues that can be emotionally and physically devastating). In the dog’s part, it may mean ending up at a shelter, and eventually, being euthanized. So, think it through and make sure you are 120% ready when you think you are ready.
Costs of Owning a Dog
All dogs can eventually be traced back to feral wolves. Although the mitochondrial DNA of dogs and wolves differ by less than 1%, the dogs that we see today can be a far cry from looking and acting like a wolf. Take the Siberian Huskey or the German Shepherd, which have retained the wolf-like looks pretty intact, in comparison to a St. Bernard, which is much larger and is almost bear-like, or a pug, which is much smaller, with shorter legs and a completely recessed snout. All of these are the results of selective breeding, which initially began with the goal of improving certain characteristics like eyesight, strength and smell. However, during the Victorian era, it soon turned into something done for producing dogs more for show, rather than quality. This gave us a variety of dogs ranging from a 150 lb Newfoundland to a 10lb Chihuahua. Because of this diversity, dogs have developed many health issues such as hip dysplesia, cancer, bloat, epilepsy — this list could go on forever. You may find a great dog and be a happy owner with only regular costs, or get a dog with genetic issues and end up with 1000s of dollars in vet bills in addition to the regular upkeep and the cost of the dog itself.
The costs also largely depend on the breed of the dog, the breeder, age of the dog, etc.
Which is the right dog for you?
This is a very important question to ask before making a decision to get a dog. Even though we may have a breed that we have always admired, it may not always be the right dog at your given situation. Some dogs are too large, some are known to be loud, some have high prey drive, some are very high energy, so on and so forth. Although most of this can be reflective of your commitment, disposition and order in the pack, breed as well as breeding will have a lot to do with the predictability of your dog’s temperament, behavior, prey drive and energy levels.
An english Bulldog may not be the right option for you if you plan to be very active, run marathons and hike long trails. To the other end, a German Shepherd may not be the right dog for you if you plan to lie on the couch watching TV most of the time. That being said, it is not always the size that defines a dog’s characteristics. The Great Dane (one of the largest breeds), is not a good option for active individuals as it tends to be on the lazier side, while a small Russel Terrier has endless amounts of energy to spare.
The right dog is the one that matches your lifestyle, your energy levels and your habits. Only after that matches should you look beyond to the breeds that you have fancied for reasons such as their looks, a documentary you may have watched or through a movie that may have stuck with you.
Purebred vs. Mongrel (mutt)
This one depends on the circumstances and could be slightly controversial. The general idea behind mutts is to get a best of both worlds. A German Shepherd – lab mix could have the intelligence of a German Shepherd, but the unparalleled friendliness of a lab. That being said, it could also be a mixture of two very high energy dogs, with the dark side of German Shepherd, but with the looks of a lab. It is easy to guess how this situation could be disastrous — an out of control dog that looks like a lab, but is uncontrollably high energy/aggressive.
This is where purebreds come in — predictability. A well-bred lab will almost always have the characteristics a labrador retriever should have. It will be friendly, good with children, will have high energy and would love to retrieve stuff. The diseases it may suffer would be tested throughout its ancestors and measures taken to make sure it has not been passed on. It is not simply about health — predictable temperament and nerve are invaluable, especially if you want a large dog to be a family pet that will be around your friends and kids. And for that reason, purebred is probably the right direction to go.
Importance of Breeding
It is a common misconception to think that correct breeding only has health benefits. As a matter of fact, every single attribute of your dog — it’s temperament, prey drive, energy levels, focus and nerve is passed on through its pedigree. A perfect example of that is the famous fox domestication experiment carried out by Russian geneticist Dmitry K. Belyaev. Wild foxes were bred, and for each generation, the more aggressive ones were separated from the timid ones. Then they were continued to be bred separately always putting the aggressive ones with that aggressive pack, and the timid ones with the calmer pack. After more than 50 generations of foxes, the aggressive pack were a vicious group of untamable monster-like creatures, while the timid ones behaved almost exactly like dogs — they loved to be petted, wagged their tails and even licked humans — which is completely abnormal for a normal fox. The same is the case with dogs, hence of utmost importance to track the lineage of your dog’s pedigree at least up to 3 generations, which will be a very accurate reflection of how your dog will be.
Choosing the Right Breeder
Since breeding is so important, choosing the right breeder becomes equally important. With dogs in such demand, it is easy to buy two dogs and breed them in the backyard and turn it into a puppy mill of sorts. Although these breeders may have their puppies registered with the AKC and provide health certificates through hip and elbow scans, there is usually no evidence of how your puppy’s temperament, drive, focus and energy is going to be. That is because even they do not have any idea of their Dam and Sire’s pedigree to track up to. In essence, they do not know their own dogs, which a good breeder will, up to 10s of generations. Here is a guide from the Humane Society on how to find a responsible breeder. I am copying that word to word as I could not have written it any better.
A responsible breeder:
- Allows you to visit and willingly shows you all areas where puppies and breeding dogs spend their time.
- Those areas are clean, spacious, and well-maintained
- Has dogs who appear lively, clean, and healthy, and don’t shy away from visitors
- Keeps their breeding dogs as you feel a responsible person would keep their pets: not overpopulated, crowded, dirty, or continually confined to cages
- Keeps their dogs in roomy spaces that meet the needs of their particular breed; for example, most small breeds will be housed in the home, sporting breeds will have plenty of space for exercise, etc. (National breed clubs can provide input on the specific needs of each breed of dog)
- Breeds only one or a few types of dogs and is knowledgeable about the breeds and their special requirements
- Doesn’t always have puppies available but may keep a list of interested people for the next available litter or refer people to other responsible breeders or breed clubs
- Meets psychological, as well as physical, needs of their dogs by providing toys, socialization, exercise, and enrichment as befits the specific breed
- Encourages you to spend time with the puppy’s parents—at a minimum, the pup’s mother—when you visit
- Has a strong relationship with one or more local veterinarians and shows you individual records of veterinary visits for your puppy
- Explains in detail the potential genetic and developmental problems inherent to the breed and provides documentation that the puppy’s parents and grandparents have been professionally evaluated in an effort to breed those problems out of their puppies. (This will include testing for genetic diseases for which there are valid testing protocols available)
- Offers guidance for the care and training of your puppy and is available for assistance after you take your puppy home
- Provides references from other families who have previously purchased one of their puppies
- Is often actively involved with local, state, and national clubs that specialize in the specific breed; responsible breeders may also compete with the dogs in conformation events, obedience trials, tracking and agility trials, or other performance events
- Sells puppies only to people he/she has met in person, not to pet stores or to unknown buyers over the Internet
- Encourages multiple visits and wants your entire family to meet the puppy
- Provides you with a written contract and health guarantee and allows plenty of time for you to read it thoroughly
- Doesn’t require that you use a specific veterinarian
A responsible breeder requires you to:
- Explain why you want a dog
- Explain who in your family will be responsible for the pup’s daily care and training; where the dog will spend most of his or her time; and what “rules” have been decided upon for the puppy—for example, whether the dog will be allowed on furniture
- Provide proof from your landlord or condominium board (if you rent or live in a condominium complex) that you are allowed to have a dog
- Provide a veterinary reference if you have had other pets
- Sign a contract that you will spay or neuter the dog unless you will be actively showing him or her
- Sign a contract stating that you will return the dog to the breeder should you be unable to keep the dog at any point in the dog’s life
General Ideas — http://www.germanshepherds.com
Find a Responsible Breeder, The Humane Society — http://www.humanesociety.org/assets/pdfs/pets/puppy_mills/find_responsible_dog_breeder.pdf
Domesticated Foxes, NPR — http://www.npr.org/2012/03/18/148758624/domesticated-foxes-mans-new-best-friend
Dogs Decoded, PBS & Nova — http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/nature/dogs-decoded.html
Pedigree Dogs Exposed, BBC — http://www.myspace.com/video/vid/44215931
Science of Dogs, National Geographic Channel — http://shop.nationalgeographic.com/ngs/product/dvds/animals-and-nature/animals-and-wildlife/science-of-dogs-dvd-exclusive