Picking the perfect pooch
It’s often been wondered. Why do so many humans choose to spend their limited time on Earth caring for dogs, a furry but fragile being with an existence even more fleeting?
The answer seems simple enough.
Dogs bring us joy and companionship, warmth and unconditional love. Dogs do their best to please us and keep us smiling. They curl up with us when we’re feeling down or need some serious relaxation.
Dogs don’t hold our mistakes against us, nor judge us for our looks, our faults or lack of know-how.
But for all their great attributes, owning a dog is a heavy responsibility — and a possible liability.
When considering a new pet, make choices that are in the best interest of you and the animal.
A dog’s life
It’s said that every dog has its day. But every dog is probably going to have at least 12 years of faithful service, so decisions about his or her life need to be carefully thought out.
Do you honestly have the time and patience it takes to care for a dog? Are you prepared to feed it and walk it and take care of it the best way you know how?
Some people think a dog is a dog, but many specific breeds require special care and training. Are you prepared to properly train your dog, so it doesn’t develop behavioral problems down the road?
The news is filled with tragic tales of helpless animals, taken in by people who believed they had the capacity for pet ownership, only to leave their charges neglected, starving or in pain.
Just as terrible are the stories of dogs attacking or biting people or other animals. You can bet that behavior is also the product of an “owner” who didn’t take the time to properly socialize the dog, or, short of that, even take the effort to suitably restrain it.
A dog’s temperament is a direct result of the owner’s ability to understand it and give it what it instinctually needs.
Dogs’ actions are heavily ruled by pack behavior, left over in their DNA from when they were wild animals thousands of years ago. When they live with humans, the people become part of their pack. You must become the leader of that pack.
Dogs instinctively test the leadership of the being above them. If they don’t feel secure with their leader, they exhibit bad behavior.
For example, a dog may attempt to take an inappropriate role within the family, such as exhibiting dominance over human family members. The leader must be prepared to properly and peacefully correct that behavior.
Are you prepared to lead, do the research and put in the time for training? Take advantage of resources from those who have experience and expertise with all kinds of breeds and behavior. Sometimes you may think of your dog as a sympathetic human figure, but you must be able to put your emotions aside and treat your pet as the animal it is.
In the doghouse
Some of the most important limitations of dog ownership come down to simple physics.
Many larger dogs will need a long walk every day, while most small breeds only need a short walk and can get a lot of exercise just running around the house. Unless you are very laid back about the condition of your furniture and personal possessions, you definitely don’t want a large dog running around your house for the majority of its exercise.
Consider the kind of home your family can provide when selecting a particular breed or temperament. Not being a person, you cannot expect a dog to “make the best” of an untenable living situation. Instead, its response may be to become unruly and destructive.
Everyone dog and every dog family has different needs. If you have space and time limitations, it’s probably not a good idea to get a big, young dog that needs a lot of exercise. Not having enough exercise may result in the dog acting out. Problems that manifest include digging, chewing, scratching, barking and biting.
Some breeds instinctively like to wander away from home. Some hunting breeds are almost uncontrollable when they catch the scent of another animal.
If you don’t have extra time keeping such an animal restrained, or embarking on extra obedience training, maybe you’d do better selecting a breed that instinctively protects the home, or just likes to be around.
You should also find out if any members of your family are allergic, or even sensitive, to pet hair. Some breeds of dogs shed massive amounts of hair year-round. Curiously, most of these are short-haired breeds.
Other breeds hardly shed at all. Bo, the Portuguese Water Dog belonging to the family of U.S. President Barack Obama, is part of a breed classified as hypo-allergenic!
If you have, or plan to have children, it’s important to look for a breed that likes to be around little kids. Some breeds are at home with lots of people, but don’t like little ones.
If you take a good hard look at your family’s situation, you can find a dog that will fit into your lives nicely.
An old dog
Chances are, you will have years of enjoyment and happiness ahead of you loving, living and playing with your dog.
But even a well-behaved, well-adjusted dog gets old.
When a dog gets older, most begin to exhibit all manner of interesting health problems, including arthritis, gum disease, diabetes, kidney disease, cancer and dementia. With no words to cry out, they often begin to exhibit strange behaviors. Whining for no reason, chewing inexplicably, and most disturbingly, snapping, biting or growling.
Perhaps they lose their mental faculties — a sort of doggy senility — at a much speedier rate than we humans. Again, dogs are not people, and experience completely different behavioral changes over time.
Some animal experts theorize that unlike humans, dogs don’t realize they are coming to the end of their lives until they reach a truly advanced age. Then, they begin to act out as a way of dealing with the uncomfortable truth.
Sadly, most dog owners will have to put the welfare of their dog ahead of their own feelings and make the difficult choice to euthanize their beloved pet.
Taking dogs out for walks and other regular exercise greatly reduces anxiety, and will make the dog more peaceful in those Golden Years.
The family dog
The point is, all dogs are different, and all people are different. If you find a breed of dog that generally fits well into your family, it increases the chances that you and your pet can live in harmony.
Do your homework. Research the different kinds of breeds and take a long, hard look at your life.
Never adopt a puppy solely on looks. A cute little puppy does grow up to be an adult dog. Of course, there are also love stories that have grown from the most unlikely pairings. Never sell a pup short. If there is a true instinctive bond, you will know it. Don’t ignore it.
And when adopting a dog, don’t forget there are dogs other than puppies available, and many of these who have suffered abuse. Like every other living thing, they deserve love and a nice home.