I often wish people would come talk to me before they arrive at my clinic with their new dog. This is a decision, after all, that they will (hopefully) live with for the next 10 to 15 years. I’d ask them, first off, why they want a dog. Do they want to run or hike with him, or do they want something to keep their elderly mom company? How do they feel about having a dog that has to go to the groomer every other month? Are there small children or cats in the household? How much time do they have to train and socialize a puppy? Most of all, what is their previous dog owning experience?
There is the right dog out there for everyone, but sometimes you have to look a little. Before you look, spend some time thinking about the characteristics that matter to you. For example, I’m a busy person. While I like dog training, with two small kids and a full-time job, I don’t exactly have a lot of time to devote to a dog with serious training issues. At the same time, with those same two small, loud, energetic children, I need a dog that can handle a full body hug and who doesn’t get freaked out by two children that spend the greater portion of their day running and shrieking through the house.
For a while, I was considering getting a Vizsla puppy from a breeder. My first dog as an adult was a Vizsla. They are a high energy dog, but I’m a runner and a hiker, so I wanted a dog who could keep up with me. I’ve owned one before and liked their temperament and their short hair. My only hesitation was what I call “purebred guilt.”
We have three really great shelters in the Pittsburgh area. Animal Friends, Western Pennsylvania Humane Society and Animal Rescue League. Plus, there are numerous other shelters in the surrounding counties and smaller agencies, such as Animal Advocates. While they do sometimes have puppies, they mostly have a lot of young, middle-aged or older dogs. I’m a big fan of these shelters and I know that there are many dogs out there looking for homes. Every dog that is adopted opens up a cage for another dog that is at risk of dying simply because there is nowhere for him to go.
One of the biggest advantages of adopting an adult dog is that they often come already trained. People move away, owners die, situations change, and the dog is relinquished to the shelter. I have seen a lot of really great pets come out of these shelters. I’ve seen a lot of wonderful dogs that are perfect from Day One, and each time the client comes in, we all remark how we can’t believe this perfect dog was just sitting in a shelter. The downside is that you have to be careful how you choose. It’s OK to adopt the dog that growls when people approach but you have to understand that this is a problem that requires special work, and you will need to handle with care the situations that you put that dog into. Or, that dog with the wonderful personality may need a refresher course in housebreaking. She has been living in a cage for two months and may not know how to tell you she needs to go outside.
One the other hand, a puppy, whether it be purebred or mixed is a lot more work. They need constant supervision, a ton of socializing, and every bit of training required to be an upstanding member of society. All of these things are up to you to provide. The only advantage of a purebred is that you do get breed predictability. In other words, you can expect a certain outcome depending on the breed you choose. This goes out the window, however, with all the designer breeds we see these days, a great marketing ploy to get people to part with a lot of money for what we used to call “mutts” and now, we call “Puggles,” “Teddy Bears” and anything with a “-doodle” at the end.
Shelter dogs are not only cheaper right up front–adoptions usually range less than $100 vs. $1,000 or more for a purebred, but shelter dogs come to us usually already spayed or neutered and with all of their shots. A puppy bought from a private party often comes with nothing. You will need to pay to have it de-wormed, given a series of vaccines, and altered.
In my case, I looked a little at various Vizsla breeders online and thought about sending prospective breeders a letter of introduction. As a veterinarian, though, there was always a little voice in the back of my head telling me to wait. You see, we vets tend to have animals drop into our laps. Sure enough, several months ago, a client stopped by to have us check for a microchip in a stray. The dog had been picked up by a county sheriff, and they had been searching for the owner for weeks. They notified animal control, posted flyers, and did everything they were supposed to (and more!) It was time to find the guy a new home.
This pup (I estimated him to be about five months old) had a nice personality that immediately caught my attention. He was a scrawny 20 pounds but even once he filled out, would be about medium in size. He looked a lot like a Brittany spaniel, which, as a hunting breed, told me he would have plenty of energy for hiking. I knew we had found our new dog.
That is not to say he was by all means perfect. He had zero training, questionable housebreaking, and like all young dogs, he destroys something pretty much every day. But he’s a great hiking companion, our kids absolutely love him, and with a lot of work and training, he’s getting better and better.
I really don’t care whether someone buys a puppy or adopts (OK, I do die a little inside when someone buys a dog from a pet store, which mainly traffics in puppy mill dogs.) What I do care about is that if you are going to be a dog owner, you need to raise that dog right, socialize it, train it, and commit to it. You will own it and care for it until it takes its last breath on this Earth. Animals are not toys. They have brains and emotions, and they feel pain and loss. This is why, after all, we love them so.