If the kids are panting for a dog, they will bark and whine all day and night, but do they know what they are in for? Or for that matter, do you? We asked Donna Bainter, behavior manager for Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Tampa Bay, what you need to know before adding a dog to your own pack. Here are the questions you need to ask the shelter or breeder —and yourself — before taking that lump of fur home.
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 said. If you have a baby in the house and a puppy, that's twice the poop to deal with daily and usually it's the puppy that suffers from Mom's attention deficit, she warned. Be realistic about what you can handle.
If you can walk a dog five to six times a day for house-training purposes, by all means get a puppy. But Bainter makes the case for an older dog, especially in a busy household full of kids. "You'll know what you are getting as far as temperament and size." House training is probably already done for you.
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 to training 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 said, "and that's minimum. More if it's a big active dog." Be willing to take the dog to training classes. You don't have to spend too much (about $40 to $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 with a lifetime of good behavior.
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.
Animal Planet has a nice dog breed selector on its Web site (animalplanet.com), 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 if 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 you can think of.
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 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 litter mates. Also, you can see the size and temperament of the parents.
What are the behavior red flags?
When picking a dog out of a crowd at the shelter or among litter mates, many people become attracted to the shy dog, feeling the need to rescue the one that looks lonely. Don't. The shy guy turns into a fear biter and is more likely to lunge at kids than a mean dog, Bainter says.
You want the dog that is seeking your attention. He's not bossy, but he's not cowering. He has a low wagging tail and a soft look in his eye.
A good test is to pet the dog and wait a few seconds to see if he comes back for more. That's an affectionate dog. Run around. Most dogs will run after you playfully. Avoid the one that wants to jump on you, knock you down or use his mouth.