Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Pooches: New Dog Owner Advice

 I was talking to E's cousin the other day, who is considering adopting her first dog as an adult. But before she makes this decision, she wanted some advice to see what she was getting into as a new dog owner and how she might prepare. Even though we do write about our pooches daily, it's hard to remember our lives before the dogs.
Here are some things I thought of, but I was hoping to hear everyone else's input and advice as well:

Know Your Dog  Beyond a Pretty Face/ Look into Fostering:
 I do have to admit, that before I met Miss M there was Johnny, and Beethoven; two other dogs I had met through Petfinder profiles. I was set to make them my dog. But, much like most of us learned in high school, we shouldn't make a commitment based on looks alone. And I wised up. I think it's really important to actually meet the dogs in person and spend time with them as they might be completely different than you expected from their profile, and they will be different depending on the situation. I actually visited Miss M twice at adoption events and once at her boarding facility. I was also so happy that her rescue, New Leash on Life, has a great Foster-to-Adopt program where they allow potential adopters to foster the dog for a few weeks, to make sure it's a good fit, before going through with the actual adoption. Since they gave me the physical resources, and the help of an 'adoption counselor' at this time, it helped me work through issues and become more confident that she was a good fit for life. And they actually have very few adoption returns because of this program. I think even if rescue groups don't have a foster-to-adopt program, it would also be a good idea to try out fostering with a group to get a sense of what dog ownership entails before committing to a full adoption.

Be Prepared for Problems and/or Training:
All dogs will have some kind of problem. Some dogs will bark. Some dogs won't like other dogs. Some dogs will have anxiety when you leave. Some dogs will have continual high energy. Some dogs chew. Some dogs are fearful. Some dogs won't like cats. Some dogs will knock over their tepees.
Training can help, but sometimes training can't fix everything completely, so if there is something that absolutely won't work with your lifestyle, then you should probably consider this before adopting. We liked choosing adult dogs because their personalities were already developed, so we knew exactly what we were getting. We also think it's so important to spend the time on training because it does create such a good connection with your dog.

Your Lifestyle will Change:
Having Miss M meant I couldn't just go out for Happy Hour after work, but I had to go home and feed and walk her. Or spend the extra money to hire a dogwalker.You will be going on walks in subzero temperatures and during 'monsoons'. You will pick up dog poo with your hand in a little plastic bag. I can't just go off on weekend trips anymore, but I have to either find someone we trust to take care of the dogs or spend money on boarding. We wake up early (by 7:00 on weekends!) and need to make sure we're back in the evening to feed and walk the dogs. We've become accustomed to spending $150+ each time we go to the vet. Not to mention all the miscellaneous dog items I suddenly feel compelled to buy.

Pitbull Specific: What to Know Before Adopting a Pit Bull:
 And though we wrote a more complete post about things to expect when adopting a pitbull, to summarize we would say:
1)When adopting a pitbull, know that you are now representing all pitbulls. Many people will judge the entire breed based on what they see from your one dog. You have to be that much more responsible, you need to be that much more diligent in training, and your dog needs to act that much better, because any misrepresentation from your dog will impact the entire breed.
2) Be aware of BSL (Breed Specific Legislation) laws in your area and areas where you may travel. Know that your dog may not be allowed in places that allow other dogs.
3) Have a thick skin

So this is what we've thought of...what did we leave out?


Tucker The Crestie said...

Great post as always! I think you covered a lot of very important points, and the one I agree with the most is not to choose a dog based on looks alone. Sometimes the dog (be it the individual or the breed or breed mix) that best suits your lifestyle is not one that you would necessarily select if you were picking out the dog that pleased you most aesthetically. Yet, the pretty will wear thin quickly if the dog/breed inside is not one that meshes well with your lifestyle/personality. Whereas, if you select a dog whose temperament, personality, and breed traits will allow it to live harmoniously with you and bring you pleasure rather than constant headaches, he or she will quickly become, in your eyes, the most beautiful/wonderful/special dog in the world.

I think it's also important to recognize that the dog may have suited your needs at 20 may not at 40, and vice versa. Don't get a Lab (just choosing a breed at random) just because you have always had Labs, your family has always had Labs, etc. if your specific situation no longer makes you or your home a good fit for one. There are enough breeds, and breed mixes out there, that the perfect breed/dog for everyone is out there. It just might not be the dog they thought they were looking for.

goosie mama said...

So funny, I actually had a conversation about this exact topic this weekend! While G is by far and away the best thing that's ever happened to me, having a dog can make it more difficult to be spontaneous. Although I'm not bothered by that (I'm a Planner with a capital 'P'), for many of my friends, the thought of not being able to get and go on a whim is a little hard to fathom. While it can feel like a trade-off at first having something entirely dependent on you, in my opinion, the benefits far outweighs the negatives!

DNCWWO said...

1. Agree with your point to expect behavior/training problems -- moving in with a new family is STRESSFUL for dogs. A dog that is housebroken may have potty problems, etc.

2. Implement Nothing in Life is Free (NILIF) immediately. A dog with clear rules and boundaries is a calmer, more confident dog.

3. Look for the dog that fits your lifestyle, NOT at specific breeds. There are common breed traits, but there are always exceptions to those rules. I hear a lot, "What breeds of dog are good with kids?" and the answer is, "All of them CAN be, but it's individual to each dog."

julie g said...

Great post! One of the two things I'd consider doing is spending a good 3-6 months before adopting just preparing - which vets (visit and talk to them before, gain opinions from trustworthy friends), what 'issues' you are willing to accept (adult dogs come with grown personalities but more often than not also with "baggage"), financial planning, diet/exercise, dog walkers, daycare, sitters, etc. As the dog gets elderly will your household suit him (stairs, floors, etc.)? Do you see yourself relocating any time in the future and can you take them with you? When that work event 'suddenly' comes up (as they often do) is there a support network to go to (paid and/or friends)?

As you mentioned, the second thing to consider is the time commitment - day,night,weekends,etc. Do you travel for work? Are family members ill or need frequent care? Are you taking in an animal which needs special care? How many years of training do you want to invest in?

I hope your friend gets the best dog for them and look forward to hearing their stories. ;-)

Kate said...

Great points. Similar to "know your dog dog beyond a pretty face," I would also talk to the volunteers at the rescue or shelter a lot. When we adopted Nemo we spoke with one of the head volunteers and discussed our lifestyle and what we were looking for in a dog. She immediately suggested Nemo to us and he's been a perfect fit. That never would have happened without her input.

In Black and White said...

Be realistic about the cost of a dog. Before I finally moved to an apartment where I was allowed pets, I worked out what size dog I'd like and then averaged out the cost per month. I started putting that much into a savings account every month which had the double benefits of both helping me to adjust to the budget and creating a doggy fund.
When I finally adopted Billy I'd already saved enough to cover his adoption fee, first vet visit, all of his new supplies and still have about $500 left over for extra vet bills.

Kristine said...

Great advice!

I think you have to decide early on what you can live with and what you can't. Before adopting understand your limits but also know where you are flexible.

I agree with Goosie Mama in that having a dog will definitely take away from spontaneity. Instead of going out with co-workers for a drink, you will find yourself rushing home to let the dog out. Instead of road-trips to amusement parks, you will have to plan holidays to dog friendly areas. Dog ownership does mean some sacrifice. I don't take dance classes anymore because I can't stay out that late on a weeknight. I need to be home with Shiva after leaving her alone during the day. But the sacrifice is definitely worth it!

Good luck!

Patty said...

great post! I agree with everyone who mentioned having a dog definitely cuts back on spontaneous plans. You make changes but they are well worth it in my opinion.

Faye said...

Make sure the dog you adopt matches your energy level. All dogs need the exercise and stimulation of walks. However, you may be able to get away with having a companion couch potato with some low energy breeds. Others will make you suffer--as they do--if exercise and interaction needs are not met.

Anonymous said...

y'all have it all figured out. i have no thoughts to add, somehow!

sweetpotatofire said...
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thatfirstyear said...

Hi! I am a new reader to your blog. You guys are great advocates for a breed that is sometimes misunderstood. And as a Chicago resident, I love your Chicago pictures!

I did want to add somethings about new dog ownership

1) The worries. When you are 100% responsible for another living thing, the worries come in. To make sure they are happy, healthy, warm/cool enough. Worries when they are sick and worries when you leave the house. It is just something to get used too.

2) Also nothing can beat a big smile and wiggly butt when you walk in the door.

3) Patterns. Dog like patterns. So your life becomes a pattern. With walks, feedings. Yes there may be a blizzard but your dog still needs to go to the bathroom.

And I 100% agree with looking beyond a pretty face. We got a snaggle-toothed scruff ball. She is definitely a mutt but she is just great.

Also thanks for being advocates for shelter dogs! You guys do a great job!

Unknown said...

I love this post. I particularly appreciate the part about being extra diligent with training and manners if you decide to adopt a bully breed. My only piece of advice would be to not give up those first difficult weeks of new dog ownership, Molly was a wreck for the first three weeks we had her but has improved immensely in just a couple months!

Kari in Alaska said...

the pretty face is the hard part for most. They make and impulse adoptions and it doesn't always work out well


houndstooth said...

I would say to do research and find a breed of dog that works well with you. In my husband's family, we're the only ones who don't have Labrador Retrievers. I don't have anything against Labs, but they're just not the breed for me on a long term basis. I have a lot of reasons for liking Greyhounds, and they just happen to be the breed for me. Even if you're adopting a mixed breed dog, it still has traits from somewhere.

Also, know your living limitations. I can't count the number of times somebody has come on a couple of dog forums that I visit and been in a panic because they adopted a dog, and now they find out their lease doesn't allow dogs of a certain kind or size. Know that you're making a long term commitment that will affect the kind of living arrangements that are open to you. In a perfect world, we'd all own our own homes, but in reality, a lot of people are renting or leasing and seem to forget these details when deciding to get a dog.

Kitty+Coco said...

First, the squinty eye pic is great. LOVE that one. Second, we agree completely with your tips. Even if you are familiar with a specific breed, each dog is different. I say this with experience. We also prepared for the worst..for example, the hyper trait of a Boston to be magnified. That way, we are thrilled to see her calm over the years. Also, enough can't be said of adopting an adult dog. Puppies are so very cute but need lots of training time (not to be had when working full time).

Alanna said...

Great post! My advice:

* Make sure you have the time to commit to a a dog - the regular walks and playing, time spent on training, being able to adjust your schedule so that the dog gets an adequate amount of both. (For me that means no more 16 hour studio marathons!)

* Be patient. No dog is perfect and none of them come perfectly trained. Training takes time and commitment but usually really pays off. But don't expect your dog to get it right away - there are always accidents and quirks!

* Take an obedience class - particularly if you've never trained a dog. The dog will probably have fun and you'll both learn a lot.

* (This goes with your suggestion to look beyond the pretty face :) Consider size of the dog. I always thought I'd love to have a huge dog like a Great Dane - then I spent a lot of time walking my friend's German Sheppard who has a good 20 pounds on me. I'm glad my dog is only 60lbs!

* Specifically for pitties/pittie mixes: There is a real stigma against the breed - in some cities/provinces more than others. I've found the best way to challenge this is to just ensure your dog is extra well behaved and sociable. When your dog is sweet and well trained it just highlights how ridiculous this stigma is. Lots of regular training and lots of socialization! I don't know if it's just mine or a pittie thing but social outings are probably my dog's favorite things so that's always been easy.

AC said...

Great post!

Adding to your lifestyle point...think about lifestyle changes over the next 10 years! Will you be moving, getting married, having kids? You need to make sure your new pup will fit into these changes. I hear about too many dogs being surrendered because their owner's new job keeps them away too long, they moved into a smaller space, their dog doesn't like their new toddler...

Life changes for all of us. It's important to find a dog that can adapt to major life shifts, if you foresee any in your near future.

For the Love of Dog said...

I love this post! Everything you said is absolutely right on point! When I got Keena my whole life changed. Having a dog is really like having a child, especially when you firt rescue a dog. Keena has separation anxiety, has torn up blinds, and chewed on door knobs when I have left her. Not to mention she has destroyed her extra large crate trying to escape. One more thing I would add to your post is also about the vet. When you adopt a dog you need to be prepared for a very large first vet bill. Keena had heartworms and needed to be spayed when I got her and I dropped about 800 dollars on my first visit. Look into pet insurance...they paid me back for the heartworm treatment. Also, I have a friend who got a dog that the shelter said was heartworm negative and when she took him to the vet found out it was a false negative test. She was VERY unprepared for the bill on that visit! All of this was totally worth it...Keena is the doggy love of my life! Adopting is a wonderful experience.

Annie and Keena

Of Pit Bulls and Patience said...

Wow, tons of great ideas! I'm obviously a huge supporter of the training, and being realistic about the type of home you can provide for a dog. I think the only thing I would add is that nothing is set in stone. A dog is an animal, and there is always an element of unpredictability with bringing a new dog home.

You decided to feed wellness dry food? Your new dog has a sensitive tummy. You're picturing daily trips to the dog park? Turns out large groups of rambunctious dogs is too overwhelming for your pup. You can only plan so much, and then try and take the unexpected as it comes.

Two French Bulldogs said...

we wish all new doggie owners would read your post!!
Benny & Lily

Anonymous said...

Hiya! That was a great post and I think it should be made mandatory for everyone to read before they become doggy-parents. There are so many people out there that just get a dog because he/she looked so cute or "for the kids"... WRONG WRONG WRONG! :(

Cheers and slobbers from DownUnder Teal'c

Anonymous said...

Wonderful suggestions! Mom said she found it helpful to do some reading as well. There are so many great books out on dog behavior (The other end of the leash) and dog training (The power of positive dog training) and Ian Dunbar's Before and After you get your Puppy). These really helped her and me :)

Waggin at ya,

parlance said...

What a great post. Thanks for this helpful overview. I've never adopted an adult dog, but I think my next dog will be a shelter rescued dog, so I really got a lot out of reading this.

Darwin said...

Great post,

I agree that our lifestyle has changed since our pug joined the household. We learned to share responsibilities in taking care of him. Patience and persistence was key in training Darwin. It's harder to meet up with coworkers/friends but we try our best to include him.

I think one of the most difficult problems I encountered was working full-time and finding the energy to play with him. Both of us are tired after work and I have to study with whatever time remains in the day. Rather than exercising I will take him for long walks and some days I'll bring him to doggy day care to give him time to play with other dogs. He loves it. It's costly but it's worth it...

Alvin said...
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Two Grad Students and a Pittie said...

Great post! Love the squinty eye pic! I agree with everything everyone said!

To New Yorkers, the breed restrictions in buildings as well as play groups is huge. Also, think about the hours you will spend walking. Two hours of our day is now spent exclusively walking Havi. Make sure you want to make that part of your routine. As well as expenses.

BUt really any con I can think of it outweighed by Havi right now attempting to convince me shes a lapdog.

Malissa said...

Great idea for a post. There have been excellent points made in these comments as well. I knew I wanted a pug for years and researched and talked to pug people all during that time. The breed fit my lifestyle and attitude. I agree that more people need to think before just getting a pretty face.

I love a piece of advice I got in a dog book about treating your dog like a child. Expose them to new sounds, smells, environments and surfaces so that they won't be afraid of new thing. I really took this to heart. I enjoy showing my boys new things, plus I believe it makes them more interested in the world around them.

Love your blog and the babies are adorbs. Miss M has the most fab pouty face!

Amy said...

Great post! I'd add that you need to consider your favorite activities and choose a dog that is compatible. For example, if you love to travel by airplane, it's best to choose a breed that is small enough to fly with you in the cabin. If you do a lot of RVing, you might want to choose a dog that doesn't shed. (Oops!) The point is to have the ability to continue to do the things you love - and have them be even better because you have your dog with you.

Unknown said...
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