So, you think you want a puppy. Who wouldn’t? Puppies are so cute and cuddly—think of all the Instagram pictures and videos you’ll get to take. Maybe one of them will go viral! Play your cards right and you’ll have the next internet sensation! Move over Grumpy Cat!
Well, future pet parent, let’s go over a few things to make sure you’re REALLY prepared for this puppy…
1. Have you ever parented a toddler? Babysat one for a weekend? Do you have one now? (if the answer to this last one is yes, are you totally certain you want to add ANOTHER one into the mix?) Because puppies are basically the same as 2-year old humans, except they bite harder and more often, don’t speak English, and run around naked, peeing and pooping anywhere they want.
2. POTTY-TRAINING WILL BE HELL. You’ll be amazed at how much urine can come from one creature. And it doesn’t only happen before and after work—your puppy will have to pee when you’re gone during the day. And in the middle of the night. And on the weekends when you want to leave with your friends or go to your high-schooler’s basketball tournament three hours away. Even when you’re home with your puppy, you’ll take your eyes off it for 2.6 seconds, look back and find a puddle. Live in an apartment with lots of stairs? That’ll be fun for you—think of all the exercise you’re going to get! Live in a cold climate? Make sure you have a coat and boots that are easy to put on in a sleep-induced fog, because your puppy’s bladder doesn’t care that it’s 3:00 AM and snowing. Stock-up on paper towels and don’t skimp on the cheap ones, they really are less absorbent.
3. Buy a good dog crate. No, it’s not inhumane.
Think back to the toddler analogy—would you go to work for 8 hours and leave your toddler child alone and unsupervised all day? Even if you left a full sippy-cup of apple juice and huge bowl of Cheerios, what do you think you’d come home to? Why would you expect anything different from your puppy?
So, get a crate. Start them in it right away. Make it a fun, cozy place to be. Let them hang out in it even when you’re home. Nothing causes more despair to a puppy than being shoved into a crate a few seconds before their person leaves for the day, only to be remedied with the euphoria of being released from prison the moment that same person returns. If this is emotional roller coaster is the pattern you want to create, then let me suggest reading a future post titled “Separation Anxiety—it’s not him it’s you.”
3. Start a savings account. Or get pet health insurance. Or both.
Puppies are expensive—even the “free” puppies. Depending on the age that you get them, puppies need a minimum of 2-3 visits to the vet in the first few months for vaccinations, deworming, spaying/neutering, etc. (see the post about the first puppy visit). Call around to vet clinics in your area and get an idea on about how much this will cost. Ask if they have a wellness plan that will allow you to spread-out the expenses over several months. Depending on where you live, the necessary puppy visits will likely cost at minimum $400-500. That does NOT include food, treats, toys, crate, carpet and upholstery stain remover, puppy classes, new couch, new lawn, new laptop cord, new shoes, and cell phone case. That also doesn’t cover any illness or injury, and contrary to public opinion, veterinarians don’t work for free just because they love animals.
4. Research the breed. Research that thing so hard. Then research some more.
Have friends in the veterinary world? Ask them about their recommendations (over a beer—that YOU paid for).
Make an appointment with your vet to discuss it (don’t just drop in with a “quick” question and get disgruntled with the “quick” answer).
Don’t rely on Google alone.
Don’t get sucked in by the designer mashed-up name (think, anything with the suffix “doodle” or “weenie”).
Don’t be fooled by the prefix “mini” (veterinarians are laughing behind the exam room door when that mini Australian Shepherd that cost almost 10% of your annual salary is now three times as big as its parents).
One thing that many people tend to overlook is the purpose of the breed. Ask yourself why breeders literally spend hundreds of years developing and perfecting the current traits and behaviors? What was their intent?
First example–border collies. They are HERDING DOGS. They herd. It’s. In. Their. Blood. If they don’t herd, they MUST work in some fashion. If you don’t give them many jobs to do (all day, every day) they will find something to do, like destroy your apartment when you’re at work. Or wrangle the neighborhood children when they get off the bus. Or just go bat-shit crazy because they had no choice but to let the OCD take over. It’s ADHD on overdrive. Pretty much the same idea for any dog in the herding group including those oh-so popular mini Aussie’s that seem to be taking over the world right now.
Next, anything with the word “terrier” attached to it. The Merriam-Webster definition of the word terrier is “any of various usually small energetic dogs originally used by hunters to dig for small game and engage the quarry (prey) underground or drive it out.” Terriers are natural born killers. Their preferred targets include: rodents, squirrels, snakes, stuffed toys, cats, veterinary staff and couch cushions. They also hate having their nails trimmed—which must be because of that “dig for small game” instinct and they value those razor-sharps daggers.
Labrador Retriever. Think Marley and Me. Enough said.
This list could go on and on. Perhaps I’ll do a breed-by-breed review someday…but for now, just realize that many dogs were developed for a purpose. Find that purpose. Make sure it matches yours.
5. A picture is NOT worth a thousand words. Translation: you absolutely cannot determine a puppy’s personality by looking at a picture. Or base it off the breeder’s report of the parents and/or siblings personalities. There is no one more opposite of my personality than my brother, and we’ll completely leave my mother OUT of this conversation.
If you can, visit your prospective puppy in a group setting. Watch how they interact with all the other puppies. See that one hiding and cowering in the corner? It will likely always be that way unless you have expert-level dog training skills. Same for the one bullying all the other puppies. He’s going to resent being restrained and may challenge every obedience command ever teach him. A growl may sound cute and funny at 8 weeks old, but not so much at 8 months old. Look for the one somewhere in the middle of the pack. The one that happily comes up to everyone, sits in your lap and starts licking (not biting) your face. Pick that one.
6. Puppy Kindergarten. It’s a thing. Do it.
Or do something similar if there aren’t formal classes offered near you. Puppies NEED exposure to people, places and things. Have a friend with a chill, well-mannered dog? Go for walks with them. Go to the park with them (maybe it’s the good-looking girl in your building that you’ve been trying to talk to. Forget Tinder, use that new adorable puppy!)
The method doesn’t really matter. Once you’ve gotten that first round or two of vaccinations done, hit the streets (properly leashed) and show your puppy that the world is not such a scary place. BUT teach them how to conquer the world with manners! EVERY DOG NEEDS TRAINING! Period. And they don’t train themselves. I have three kids. They need me to instruct them on how to behave and function in society. Same with dogs. You will have to do it, and you may have to pay someone to help, or at least watch a lot of YouTube.
OK, got it all down? Great! See you in several months, because it sounds like you have a lot of homework to do to become a perfectly prepared puppy pet parent!! Then get your Amazon Prime account renewed and start ordering EVERYTHING in the pet and puppy care section.
Lissa Lynn, DVM