Kids want a dog? Answer these 5 questions first
We asked Donna Bainter, behavior manager for SPCA Tampa Bay, what you need to know before adding a dog to your own pack. Here's the questions you need to ask the shelter or breeder -- and yourself -- before taking that lump of fur home.
1. The age-old question: puppy, adolescent or adult?
"People always want a puppy and I always tell them there's no such thing as a clean slate," Bainter says. If you have a baby in the house and a puppy, that's twice the poop to deal with on a daily basis and usually it's the puppy that suffers from Mom's attention deficit, she warned. So be realistic about what you can handle.
If you can walk a dog 5-6 times a day for housetraining purposes, by all means get a puppy. But Bainter makes the case for an older or adolescent dog, especially in a busy household full of kids. "You'll know what you are getting as far as temperament and size." And you'll also likely have the housetraining done for you already.
2. How will this dog fit into our lifestyle?
Consider the time, training, exercise, cost and lifestyle required when bringing a dog into the family. Don't get a puppy if you can't commit the time it takes to train them. Don't get an active dog that needs lots of exercise time if you can't do the same. And if allergies are an issue, narrow your search to dogs that are recommended for allergy sufferers.
"Any dog should be out and about a minimum of 20 to 40 minutes a day," Bainter says, "and that's minimum. More if it's a big active dog." Be willing to take the dog to a training class or two. You don't have to spend too much, (about $40-$125 for six to eight weeks of classes) because the biggest commitment is your time. It takes one night a week for six to eight weeks, with "homework" each night for about 10 minutes. That investment pays off big time with a lifetime of good behavior.
3. Which breed?
The biggest mistake dog adopters make, Bainter says, is the same mistake the Bachelorette makes: basing a decision on looks rather than temperament and lifestyle.
The Animal Planet has a nice dog breed selector on its site where it asks a series of lifestyle questions such as whether you want a high-energy jogging partner or a couch potato, whether you have other pets or if you want to avoid a dog that needs lots of grooming.
If you have your heart set on a certain breed, consider the many rescue organizations devoted to specific breeds. There's one for just about every kind of dog imaginable.
4. Shelter or breeder?
People want a puppy because with a shelter dog, "they think something is broken." Not so, Bainter says. Dogs are often in shelters because their previous owners didn't take the time to train them or exercise them. Ask why the dog is there. The shelters want to make a good match so they'll place a gentle dog with a family and most also offer training classes and veterinary services for free.
If it's a purebred puppy you are buying, look for the parents, Bainter said. If there are parents around to check out, then you won't be supporting a puppy mill and can ensure the dog had enough time with a mother and littermates. Also, you can see the size and temperament of the parents.
5. What are the behavior red flags?
If you are picking a dog out of a crowd at the shelter or among many litter mates, many people become attracted to the shy dog in the corner, feeling that maternal instinct to rescue the lonely-looking one. Don't. The shy guy in the corner turns into a fear biter and they are more likely to lunge at your kids than a mean dog, Bainter says.
You want the dog that is seeking your attention. It's not bossy, but it's not cowering. It has a low wagging tail and a soft look in his eye.
Some other red flags are if the dog jumps up on you repeatedly, especially for large dogs that could hurt kids or elderly people. When you pet him, if he shakes you off, moves away, freezes or growls, he either doesn't enjoy being touched or isn't fond of people.
A good test is to pet the dog and then wait a few seconds to see if he comes back for more. That's an affectionate dog. Another test is to run around. Most dogs will run after you playfully, but avoid the one that wants to jump on you, knock you down or use his mouth.
UPDATE: Yahoo! Shine parenting editor Charlene Prince Birkeland has linked to this article and posted her own, very helpful observations, such as preparing yourself for unexpected costs (Like dropping a couple grand for emergency surgery. Yikes!)
The SPCA Tampa Bay celebrates Christmas in July on Saturday, July 26, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., at the animal shelter in Largo, 9099 130th Ave. N, with hundreds of pets, both young and mature, on hand. Adoption fees will be discounted for pets over 6 months of age. Santa and Mrs. Paws will be there for photos with the kids. Pet-related gifts will also be on sale for 20 to 50 percent off.
-- Sharon Kennedy Wynne