Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Selecting Your New Puppy -- Just Get the Cute One, Right?


 Recently, my family welcomed a new puppy into our home. Over winter, our two senior dogs passed away, and our current dog really missed having a housemate. We had a lot to consider before bringing home a new puppy. We already have an established routine with children, and our current dog, Bruce, a two-year-old Mountain Cur/Boxer mix. Not only am I a stay at home mother of four young children, I am a dog trainer, and I also raise SDIT (service dog in training) puppies for BFF Dog Training LLC. Once the service dog puppies have learned basic obedience with me, they go on to the awesomely dedicated service dog trainer, to be trained to behave as Diabetes Alert Dogs (DAD's). All of these are some very important jobs that I do not take lightly, and it was very important to me to make sure we made the right decision when it came to inviting the right new puppy into our lives.

 We can all guess some of the basic considerations such as time, money, housing and training. There's a couple of other things that people either don't give much thought to, or don't consider at all. What breed of dog would fit best in our household? Do I just want that specific breed because it looks cool, or because it would be the best match with my lifestyle? Where should I get my dog from? What are my goals for my dog? Do I want a couch potato, a workout buddy, a sidekick that travels everywhere with me or a dog to perform in competitions?
I'll bring you back to my situation as an example. I am a big fan of Australian Shepherds. That's not to say that I do not like other breeds, quite the opposite. I love so many different types of dogs and I'm a huge fan of mutts. However, I'm not an animal hoarder. I feel it's important to decide what specific breed has the most qualities, and traits that work best for me and my family. Keep in mind I have an eighty pound mixed breed, Bruce, that we adopted from the shelter. He's handsome, and awesome, but he's a naturally fearful dog. I've done a ton of confidence building and training with him which has made him a wonderful family dog. Knowing his strengths, and weaknesses, has helped me decided what I was looking for in his perfect housemate. I wanted a dog that would mature to be about 50-60 pounds. A female dog, to compliment him, since he's a male, and also for any other dogs that we would work with. (Sometimes I come across dogs that need help overcoming their issues with males, or female dogs.) A dog, that has a natural confidence, and drive, to balance out his lack of confidence, while not being intimidated by his stature. A dog that would rather stick with her pack, than follow her nose on a game trail. I wanted a dog that would be a best friend to everyone in my household, and help socialize the little puppies I raise. Aussie's are amazing because, they look soft, and friendly but can be fierce enough to take on cattle. Strategic, smart, agile, loyal and confident. That's what I was looking for.


I also wanted a dog that came from a reputable breeder. I love rescues, and will always have a rescue dog, but I also love reputable breeders. Breeders that want to ensure the quality of the dog, verses the looks and quantity for profit. Puppy mills are everywhere, and disguise themselves as innocent ads on Craigslist, Facebook, and in pet stores. When looking for a breeder you really need to research them. I had a few breeders in mind before my need for a new puppy came around, and by the time I was actually looking I had already done enough research to narrow it down to the very best one for me. That was over a period of years. Yeah, I'm a bit of a planner. ;)

As a dog trainer, I come across a lot of people that bought a puppy on a whim. They see a Cane Corso puppy, and they fall in love. Who wouldn't? They are adorable. But, they are a large guarding breed. They definitely need training, but beyond that they need a job. If you don't give them a job, they will be protecting your couch from your house guests which equals big trouble. Or the people that see the movie "Max", and fall in love with the Belgian Malinois. They are an amazing breed, but that doesn't mean they are a great fit for the average household. There's a reason their nickname is "Maligator". They were bred to use those chompers. How about Yorkshire Terriers? Sure, they small and super cute. I haven't met one yet that didn't have some major behavioral problems. It's a combination of people treating them like they are human babies, or toys, and bad breeding. Pocket pooches are a fan favorite of puppy mills. People love carrying their dogs in designer bags, and don't mind paying thousands for poorly bred, little dogs. You can look at any breed, and make generalizations about them which is why it's important to research your breed of choice, and research your breeder. What is the quality of the puppy they are turning out? 

Humans breed dogs in order to achieve or maintain specific characteristic traits. These traits go beyond appearance. They include things like prey drive, heightened sense of smell, endurance, amicability, resilience, confidence, speed, intensity, aggression, health, etc. There are even differences in a specific breed based on where they are from regionally. All of that happens because of breeding, and the lineage. When looking at a specific breed make sure to take into account what potential health problems could arise, and what level of training will be needed. Every dog is an individual, and they don't always carry every trait known to that breed but it's best to make sure to do your homework so no surprises arise. Adopting dogs from shelters, and rescues means you generally have no idea about the genetic make up. That doesn't mean that they are bad dogs. Most of my best dogs were adopted, and mixed breeds. Many shelters, and rescues do a wonderful job assessing the dog's personality, and behavior before making them available for adoption. When you are looking for a new dog don't get pressured by other people's beliefs. You have to find the right balance, and right fit for your existing household. Just make sure to really think about it before making the leap. Dogs are not disposable, you should be the forever home for your newly acquired dog.
Sarah Mahrle-Thomas owns Strive Balanced Dog Training in Oshkosh, WI. She and her husband have four young children and two family dogs -- Bruce and Ohana.
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