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Let's face it - everything is cute when it's small and furry. Puppies especially, but keep in mind that even a wolverine is playfully adorable if it's young enough, so for the sake of all the Fidos out there and your life, make a personal selection that is suited to your lifestyle. And as wonderful as they seem when they're young, keep in mind that they grow up and mature in more ways than probably most of the humans you know.
A good question to ask if you find yourself aching for a canine companion is whether you want a puppy or an adult. There are plenty of wonderful adult dogs that need a home. This is also an ideal choice if you are past the point or in repulsion of the rigors of potty-training as most adult dogs, barring any separation anxiety or bowel disorders, prefer to do their dirty business outside of the home. The majority have also long since past the tumultuous puppy stage which is equivalent to the human's terrible two's only this little one doesn't understand much, if any, English and won't wear a diaper.
When it comes to a dog, size does matter - in a big way. Ask yourself how much room you have and no, the park down the street doesn't count into the equation because you don't live there and for Fido to actually have a chance to run around in it, you would have to be with him on the other end of the leash. Your home is going to be your dog's home whether you're there or not and if you live in an efficiency apartment, two mammals running around in it is going to be a tight fit. A backyard is always more beneficial, but not necessary if you're around and available enough to get Fido the exercise he needs. Also, make sure that you check your landlord's pet policy for weight limits too. In most places the size of the dog is proportional to the amount of the pet deposit.
Once you've decided whether or not you can handle a big dog or would prefer a smaller one, your next hurdle is sifting through all the breed specifics. It should be said that there are literally thousands of pets, a number of them purebred, waiting for a good home at your local animal shelters for almost no cost, unlike purebreds from breeders that can run you a cost of hundreds, and in extreme cases, thousands of dollars. The pets at the shelter are quality animals that are sometimes actually in a life or death situation. The ASPCA doesn't just deal with stray dogs, they are involved in the prevention of animal cruelty and you'd be surprised how many litters of puppies they acquire on a daily basis. Check your local pet stores for "adoption days" that are run by local no-kill shelters or other pet placement groups.
Don't think that just because you have your heart set on a particular breed that a breeder is your only choice either. For every breed, there is usually a rescue organization that would love to find homes for all the pets that have either been found or surrendered because of various reasons. All kinds of information for every breed imaginable as well as a list of registered breeders in your area are available online at www.akc.org .
When going through the breeds, remember that temperament is vital - an example is an elderly couple that adopted a lab puppy and then had to give him away because he was too hyper. Not only was this pretty devastating to them, but to the dog as well. You wouldn't keep going out with someone who was always yelling at you, and dogs don't like that either, so think about the things you currently do now - not the things you will do once you get a dog. Everyone has that fantasy of going hiking with their dog on the snowy Alps, but in the real world, you're better off finding a pet that you don't have to change your entire life or address for. Do you already enjoy long walks or are you a homebody that gets worn out just walking to the living room? Exercise and not to mention bathroom habits are going to be the two major factors that Fido will need some kind of participation on your part to get done everyday.
When it comes to health, there are some breeds that are prone to more genetic diseases than the average mutt. Don't let that deter you, just be aware of what the history is of the breeder. A reputable breeder will give you all the information about the genetic line of the mother and father probably before you ask. Both of the parents should be registered with the AKC and should have documentation to prove it, not to mention a veterinarian for a reference.
Be prepared to lay down a pretty penny for your pooch's regular check ups. Health insurance is available for pets, believe it or not, but most people don't know about it till they see the pamphlet in the emergency room after something tragic has happened. Yearly check-ups are not usually covered, but these are important for your pet's health. Dogs are not like humans, if that's not obvious enough, so they can't tell you that their back has been hurting or they've been experiencing some hearing loss or that their vision has been cloudy lately. They also can't tell you if they've been bitten by a mosquito carrying heartworms or if they've contracted tapeworms. If they scratch a lot, then that's their signal to check for fleas, but that's about the extent of the amount of translations that they can get across. Luckily we have the angels of the animal health care industry to help us out with all of this - the veterinarians.
Your veterinarian's office is not just a fun place for puppy shots and to have a room full of people croon over how adorable he is, but for maintaining the health of your pet its entire lifetime. It's a good idea to have a veterinarian in mind before you adopt their future patient and to be aware of the cost for their services; that way the only surprises will be the ones Fido leaves for you on your floor. Yearly vaccinations, neutering, and spaying services are available at minimal costs through various charitable pet organizations in your area, but they usually don't have the resources or facilities to care for an injured or sick pet especially in an emergency - and don't doubt for a minute that there won't be at least a few of those in your pet's life.
Dogs are notorious for getting themselves into unimaginable situations. Veterinarians and animal technicians could tell you story after hair-raising story of examples of this. There are the stories of the dogs who eat pantyhose, birth control pills, bed sheets, and about a thousand that will eat those little rubber bouncy balls. Then there are the stories of the escape artists who roam the neighborhood or the ones who just ran for their lives because of fireworks that their owner was just sure they'd get a kick out of. There are the kids who were painting while mom had her back turned and before she could stop them they'd made the black lab a colorful Dalmatian with toxic paint that he got sick from.
The stories will go on and on, each a little weirder than the last, but the point is the same for all of them - pay attention to your dog's surroundings and train, train, train. I can't say this enough, training will save your dog's life, it's a proven fact, ask any veterinarian or dog owner. There are dog trainers all over the nation that will tell you the same thing - repetition and positive rewarding are key to training your dog. If a car is coming and he's off the leash for whatever reason, he must know that you mean it when you say "Come!" A dog that jumps all over your company will only be cute if it's little and very, very polite about it; anything bigger than ten pounds will just be a furry pest.
Think of it this way - you wouldn't move in with someone who didn't know where to go to the bathroom and never even turned their head when you called out their name, would you? Training resources are available throughout your community. Some trainers give private lessons, while other stores like PetsMart have group classes. For those who don't care how much it costs to make a dog learn to sit, there are doggy "boot camps" that the pup can go away to for a couple of weeks to learn basic commands, but for the companion animal, a few basic home lessons usually do the trick.
The point is to think about the things you want in a dog as well as what the dog would need from you and if you're prepared to provide for him. The fact that you will outlive this pet should be enough motivation to be completely willing to take the time and put forth the effort in ensuring them the best life they could have.
A lifelong animal enthusiast, I've worked for veterinarians, dog trainers, as well as volunteering for Friends For Life, a no-kill animal shelter located in Houston,Tx. Appropriately, I married a veterinarian technician and we have two mixed breed dogs and a kitten that seems to keep them in line in a way only a feline can. I would love to say that through my experience with the shelters around town and working at a vet's office that I've made many happy homes, but with every new home we find for a dog or cat, there seems to be another pet that will replace its spot almost immediately and the process never seems to end. Hopefully, through more exposure to these growing problems within the pet population, the public will make wiser decisions when it comes to thier pets.
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