Off to a good start

By Tracie Korol

“We just got a puppy this weekend!” is a sentence I hear more often than a non-dog person would. I wade cautiously into these exchanges curious to know if the new owner was overcome with spontaneous puppy desire, shelter guilt or had they actually planned for what could become a 16-year commitment. Unfortunately, many of these new dog ventures fail because people do not take adequate time at the very beginning to evaluate the desired dog or their own abilities to deal with it once it becomes a part of the family.

Practically speaking, if you’re considering adding a puppy to the family, ask the question, “How much time do I have?’” If you bring a baby dog home on a whim, you will spend weeks, months or even years playing catch-up struggling to recover from mistakes made in the first few weeks. It may even grow into the problem of “how-do-we-get-rid-of” if the concerns become chronic. There are way too many of those poor pets at any shelter.

First, when you get the itch for a puppy, resist. Instead, begin your search by visualizing the whole package of dogness: the ideal age, size, coat, breed or breed cross, energy level, attention span, ability to give and receive attention, sociability, portability, genetics and current AND down-the-road health status. With that vision in mind, visit shelters frequently without bringing a dog home. It will be a killer to walk past all those pleading eyes, but keep the vision of your perfect dog in mind each time you visit. Be flexible to a degree but stick with it because little deviations from your ideal can become huge problems in the long run.

For instance, you like to keep your house tidy and you finally have white furniture now that the kids are gone, your vision of the perfect dog is a medium-sized, shorthaired white dog that is content to stand around on a dropcloth. However, you fall in love with a shaggy black puppy that grows into a 70-pound kind-of-a-shepherd that spends most of its free time off-loading long hair and tracking in sand. In time, the relationship with the dog will suffer because your desire for a grime-free living room may confine the dog to the kitchen or, worse, the backyard.  DO NOT settle for a dog that doesn’t gladden your heart in every way and you won’t find yourself returning an older, less adoptable dog to the shelter when it doesn’t work out.

While you are visiting shelters, prepare your house and your personal lifestyle for your little addition.  Purchase ALL the things you’ll need to make the transition easier before you bring the puppy home: get a crate,  make some good puppy food, get a good leash (not one of those retractable thingys), stock up on grooming equipment, toys, Nature’s Miracle, and lots of paper towels. Think about containment. Do you need a portable pen? (yes) Do you need to make a major household improvement by fencing the backyard?  (yes) Think long and hard about your commitment to time spent with the dog.  Are you committed to taking walks several times a day no matter what the weather or your social obligations?  (yes) Are you committed to constantly supervising your pup for the first weeks? (yes) Are you committed to paring down your environment to absolute basics to protect your puppy from the temptation of desirable objects? (yes)

Occasionally, I have the pleasure of hosting puppies. Before a visit, I roll up the carpets, close off all but the assigned area, tie up any exposed cords, put plants out of danger-range, and have the paper towels and cleaner readily at hand. Yet, invariably, I still have to run down Master Pup when he speeds past with some kind of contraband in his mouth.  Even when “completely prepared,” these crafty little creatures have a knack for finding the forgotten and unknown … and then eating it. I might have tended a few thousand puppies in my time, and trust me, they all find contraband.

These considerations are only the beginning of accepting responsibility for the life of another living creature. The way you prepare and care for your pup in the first few weeks will determine your success of a life-long relationship of companionship and love.  I think the Boy Scouts summed it up: Be Prepared.

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