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First Steps to Dog Ownership




So, you want to get a dog. But where to start, you may ask. There are numerous ways to find the perfect dog, but the first step in the process is research. Not only do you want to find the best place to buy that bundle of joy, but you want to uncover what breed or collection of breeds — in the case of a mixed breed — is best for you and your lifestyle.

(You might want to read more about the different breeds and take our breed selector quiz in the Dog Breed Directory.)

Once you figure out what kind of dog you'd like, the work is just beginning. Don't fall in love with the first little critter your eye falls upon. Make sure you are buying from a reputable person or organization — after all buying a puppy or adopting an adult dog is a commitment you don't want to regret.

f you have your eye on a specific breed of dog, and you've done the proper research to ensure that you can handle all its behavioral and physical tendencies — including shedding and exercise needs — your best bet would be to visit a breeder. Some people feel that dog breeders are a big part of the pet overpopulation problem, in that a breeder's overstock just ends up in shelters or pet stores. However, reputable breeders are very concerned with the welfare of their litters. They will try to find good homes for the puppies, and sometimes even raise unsold dogs themselves.

Caring breeders usually require that buyers sign an official contract. It helps to educate the new owner as to the puppy's needs, and it typically includes clauses that forbid further dog breeding without the breeder's permission; forbid the puppy's sale, abandonment or transfer of ownership; ensure the puppy's spaying or neutering; and offer a return or refund if the pup either develops a hereditary illness or disease within the first year, of if the new owner can no longer care for him. The American Kennel Club, your veterinarian or your local animal shelter can provide a list of reputable breeders.

Before you visit any breeder, it's a good idea to prepare yourself with a list of questions.

Questions to Ask a Breeder

- What breeds are prone to hip dysplasia? (Bernese mountain dog, German shepherd, golden retriever, Rottweiler or Saint Bernard)

- Are the puppy's parents certified by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals?

- How well did the puppy's parents score on the hip dysplasia evaluation of the PennHip (University of Pennsylvania hip improvement program)?

- Have the dogs been socialized with dogs, humans and the normal sounds and sights of home life? (A conscientious breeder will provide pups with good living conditions where they can interact.)

- If possible, arrange to meet the litter's parents — the breeder ideally should keep the mother or both parents with the litter until the puppies are past the weaning stage and are well-socialized. If the parents are not well-adjusted, their behavior and attitudes may have been imprinted on the impressionable puppies.

- Are the dogs' living conditions clean and well-maintained?

- Does the dog's temperament match what you're looking for? Overt aggressiveness or meekness are red flags.

You should expect an inspection yourself. Remember that upstanding breeders will have a discerning eye as well — the pups are more than products and profits to them — so be prepared to answer some questions about yourself and your intended commitment to your new family member. Breeders should be able to supply you with a good deal of information regarding the proper care and upbringing of your puppy.

Any reputable breeder will have official, documented proof of the puppies' immunization and pedigree records. Ask to see them. You'll also get a copy to bring home with the pup. Take the immunization record to your veterinarian so she can start a medical file right away.

Many people stroll through malls, glance up at just the right moment, and fall in love with a cat, bird, dog, or even an iguana in the pet-store window. While pet shops are a great place to buy food, toys and other pet-related essentials, they are not your best bet for a four-legged friend.

Many pet stores do get their puppy stock from reputable breeders, but there are stores that buy their furry inventory from puppy mills. Breeding dogs en masse for profit (and not much else), puppy mills usually keep dogs in vile, inhumane conditions, with cages crammed together, no socialization of dogs with each other or with humans, and poor cleaning and feeding conditions. These circumstances do not produce well-adjusted dogs. Puppy-mill dogs are often in poor health and tend to be nervous, distrustful and hard to train, and may develop behavior problems that can never be overcome, even by the most patient, loving owner.

Pet stores tend to regard dogs as "merchandise," but these outfits don't always have a return policy or other guarantees in case you have taken home an unhealthy dog. Some stores, however, have arrangements with local animal shelters to display and find homes for shelter dogs. The care the animals receive in these stores is comparable to that of a shelter — generally higher than in most pet shops — and in return for their effort, the stores benefit from selling food, toys and other essentials to the adoptive family. Before you buy your puppy from a pet store, ask the store manager who supplies the animals — and insist on documented proof.


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