Choosing a dog is an important decision. Choosing the right dog means considering breeds, and whether you'll choose buying a purebred or dog adoption. Although adopting is kind, it isn't a good fit for everyone. Responsible breeders work to meet breed standards and provide healthy puppies; using a breeder ensures you know what to expect. Also, age matters; adult dogs from shelters have mysterious backgrounds, while an 8-week-old puppy is yours to train and imprint, which may make using a trustworthy breeder right for you.
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When deciding whether you're using a breeder or adopting, decide if you want a purebred. Educate yourself about the various breeds, and if you realize a mixed-breed is fine, consider adoption. Although adoption can be managed several ways, shelters are most common. Visit your shelter, and do your homework. Ask questions, taking into consideration age, health, and history. If you have kids, you need a dog you can trust with them. Shelters have areas where potential parents can spend time getting to know the dog; they know choosing the right dog is a big decision. All your family members should meet the dog, and, if possible, visit more than once rather than adopting immediately.
Always remember to choose a breed with personality traits that best match your own. No matter your breed choice, going to a shelter can give you a variety of options. Over 8 million dogs enter shelters annually in the U.S., and over half are euthanized. Adoption saves a life. Many shelter dogs are there because their owners were uneducated and shocked by behavior or something ridiculous like hair. There are, however, shelter dogs with problems that are hard to solve. How do you know you're choosing the right dog when choosing a dog?
It's normal to be interested in the appearance or size of a specific dog, but each breed also has unique traits. Make sure you take the time to learn about your dog of choice. Educate yourself about the breeds you're interested in to be sure it's one that fits your personality and lifestyle. There are hundreds of available breeds, so there is bound to be one that is perfect for you. If you aren't positive the information you find is complete, talk to someone who owns or breeds the dog you're interested in. For example, the idea that you need a huge space for Great Danes or other giant breeds is a bit of a misconception.
Choosing a dog from a shelter means taking on that dog's history, and there are almost always behavioral issues and bad habits to fix. If you're new to training, you'll find a shelter dog will be harder to train than a puppy (adults are far more common than puppies at shelters). Shelters get purebreds, but most call a purebred rescue to get the dog. You can adopt a purebred through a rescue, or even foster one through them.
Something else to consider is the dog's age. Although shelters sometimes have puppies, they go fast, and adults are a lot more common. With adulthood comes whatever habits, good or bad, the dog picked up from its previous owners. In order to handle those habits, make sure you know how to train your new dog: buy books, read magazines, and visit quality websites. And always take a kind approach with training by using positive reinforcement. One way to find out just how much training they need is to find out their likes and dislikes. Sometimes that information is very limited, but hopefully you'll be able to find out if they are okay around cats, or children, or if they're housebroken.
The term "service dog" covers a lot of ground. Seeing eye dogs, Search and Rescue (SAR) dogs, and police and military dogs all provide services. Of course, your dog could provide service dog work in its own ways. When you buy a dog, consider the fact that most breeds are more than capable of doing more than just eating and sleeping. You could teach your dog to turn the lights on and off or open doors, and remember, once your dog knows how to fetch/bring and leave it, you've built the foundation for dozens of helpful actions. Your dog could also join you as a service dog in hospitals or nursing homes.
If you need a service dog, you may need to buy an already trained one unless you're able to do the training yourself. Do your research, then go buy your dog. If your personality and lifestyle mesh with that breed, you could routinely check area shelters in hope of finding one. Most likely you'll be adopting a mutt, but mutts also have the traits of whatever breeds they come from. If you are hoping not to have to buy a dog by choosing adoption, keep in mind that adoption isn't free, and there is a screening process.
If you decide against dog adoption, you'll be buying a puppy from a breeder. Buying a purebred means you need to know your breeds. Also, don't buy a puppy without first vetting the breeder. There are too many irresponsible backyard breeders, and buying from them actually increases the number of dogs that end up in a shelter. Make sure the breeder is reputable and takes furthering the breed seriously. You should be choosing a dog from a location where at least one older generation is on the property. Never buy a puppy from someone who doesn't have any of the parents present. You should meet one or more of the parents, and, ideally, grandparents. Owning a dog will affect your life for many years to come.
A few things to not do when you buy a dog include: don't go to a pet store, use caution with newspaper ads, and never purchase a dog sight unseen. Pet stores do not sell dogs as much as they did prior to the new millennium, but some still do. You want the healthiest dog with the best possible pedigree, which means no pet stores.
Newspaper ads are filled with backyard breeders who don't stop to consider whether or not the dogs they're using are good representations of the breed standard. That means they also don't bother with incredibly important details like OFA certifying - the Orthopedic Foundation Association certifies and grades, by x-rays, whether a dog's hips, elbows, and patellas are of good quality. If the parents of your puppy are OFA certified, it means the chances of your puppy suffering diseases such as hip dysplasia are greatly reduced.
Finally, if you buy dogs without seeing it first, there are three possible outcomes: everything is fine, or you've been taken in a scam and there is no puppy, or the health and quality of the puppy will be low (it may not even be the puppy you asked for). It's always better to use an established breeder with a good reputation, and the same goes for buying a service dog.
Dog adoption is rewarding and usually well worth the paperwork and waiting period. For example, if your dog isn't altered yet, they'll need to be before they can go home with you, which will delay things a few days. They'll also need their shots and license, and a microchip will be suggested. Once you get through the many steps, you'll be ready to take your dog home. Be patient, remembering new surroundings can be scary, especially for a dog who recently found themselves left behind at a shelter.
If at any time during the dog adoption process you begin to question whether or not it's a good idea, stop. Don't go forward just because you feel you should finish what you started. The shelter will check to make sure a dog is allowed on your property if it's a rental, and if your name isn't on the mortgage, you'll need the mortgage holder's written or verbal consent. Many shelters do ask for a significant amount of information, and if that bothers you, it might be better to buy a dog.
So to ensure you're choosing the right dog, whether buying a purebred or choosing adoption through a shelter, remember, there are factors to consider. Do your research, know your breeds - remember, mutts retain the characteristics of whatever breeds they're made up of - and take your time. Adopting may be right for you, or buying a purebred may prove best; just make sure you're choosing the right dog for you and your family.
When not writing about himself in the third person, Andy spends many an hour walking his mischievous, mixed breed rescue Mr Wox, aka Soxy Woxy. A leading authority on all dog-related topics, Andy is highly respected, deeply appreciated and widely admired.