Dogs are great for us and for the community. But what sort of dog is best for you? What do I need to know before choosing a source (breeder, shelter, pound), purebred or crossbred, breed, and sex?
There are many considerations when deciding to bring a dog into your home.
Probably the first question to ask is ‘why do I want a dog?’. Next you need to decide how much time you will be able to commit to your dog for walks, training, grooming, playing and hanging out. Dogs are social animals and aren’t cut out for spending long periods of time alone. In addition to the time you’ll need to commit to your animal, there is a large financial commitment to be made. Unfortunately, there is no Medicare for animals and veterinary bills can add up quickly, although pet health insurance is becoming increasingly popular.
It’s important to have realistic expectations of dog ownership and to consider your ability to cope with problems that may arise such as accidents, illness, behaviour problems and changes in your personal circumstances.
The following are some important factors to think about:
Find good quality resources on breed information in order to find a breed suitable for your lifestyle. Things to consider are temperament, how much experience you may need to train and handle the dog, how much time will be required for exercise and grooming and whether the breed is predisposed to health problems. Other considerations are the breed’s life expectancy and an approximation of costs for food and health bills.
In terms of temperament, is the breed suitable for families with children, elderly or infirm people? What sort of environment is the dog to live in? -How big is the house and the yard and where is the house located e.g. if next to a sidewalk, avoid a breed that has a tendency to bark.
Large breed dogs may only live for 8 years whereas medium dogs can live to 15 years and small breeds even up to 20 years. The cost of owning a dog can be $1000 to over $2000 a year for food, veterinary costs, registration, grooming, training and boarding in addition to the initial costs of purchase, microchipping and desexing.
– Brachycephalic dogs e.g. Pug, Pekingese, Bulldog etc experience breathing difficulties of varying degrees because of their facial conformation. A brachycephalic skull is broad and short. Having a squished face can mean excess skin (facial folds and possibly facial fold dermatitis), excess tissue in the throat, a long soft palate and narrowed, shorter nasal passages which means reduced exercise ability (sometimes very limited exercise tolerance) and a susceptibility to hyperthermia (dogs thermoregulate through panting and if they have trouble circulating air then they overheat and this can rapidly become fatal). Surgery is recommended for dogs with brachycephalic airway syndrome (this can include widening the nostrils and shortening the soft palate) to improve their quality of life. This surgery is an additional cost to factor in.
Mixed breeds- it can be harder to know what you’re in for with a crossbred dog, particularly if it’s a puppy with unknown parentage from a shelter. Even in that situation though, it’s generally possible to have an idea of the breed type and it’s still important to research the relevant breeds and choose the dog most suitable for you. Experienced shelter staff can often make good predictions about a dog and help you to make the right decision.
Mixed breed and ‘designer’ breed –
‘Designer dogs’ have become very popular. These hybrids were developed to obtain a dog with particular desirable characteristics of two different breeds. Achieving the best of both breeds certainly can’t be expected to occur each or even a majority of times. It depends on the individual’s genetics and the heritability of desired traits.
They are not considered ‘breeds’ and are not registered with the Australian National Kennel Council. The breeders of planned hybrids aren’t subject to scrutiny of their breeding practices.
Some designer breeds have been established for some time and their physical, health and behavioural characteristics are fairly predictable. You can learn about the puppy from watching it’s parents (sire and dam)..
If, on the other hand, it is an early generation of a cross and/or little is known about the individual genetic backgrounds contributing to the litter, then there is no difference between the ‘designer dog’ and any other mixed breed dog.
There are some gender-based differences in behaviour. Entire male dogs are more likely to urine mark, mount people and / or dogs, and roam. Some types of aggression are more common in male dogs such as fighting with other male dogs and owner-directed aggression. Other types of aggression e.g. prey or fear related aggression have no gender association. If you already have a dog then something to consider is that aggression between dogs in a household is more common and occurs more seriously between female-female pairs. Generally speaking however, a dog of either gender would be appropriate for any prospective dog owner.
If you are thinking of having more than one dog, then you should be aware that two females together are a bit more likely to fight than two males, or a male and a female.
Raising a dog from puppyhood means you can be responsible for their early life experiences. However, looking after a puppy can be very hard work and requires a big commitment of time and energy, as well as a good understanding of dog behaviour and training.
Some behaviour problems attributable to the dog’s genetics and early life history don’t become apparent until the dog is 1-3 years of age, which is something to be aware of if adopting a dog in this age group.
A dog that’s greater than 4 years of age and exhibits good behaviour will most likely continue in that vein as long as the environment is stable.
A puppy’s socialisation period (3-14 weeks of age) is the time when the pup is most receptive to new experiences, learns what behaviours are expected of them and learns to interact with members of other species e.g. humans, cats. It’s important for them to experience different situations, be introduced to handling and meet lots of different people and dogs. These experiences must be positive so that the pup grows up to be confident and well adjusted. While the socialisation period is a key time in a dog’s life, the lessons learned during that time have to be continually reinforced throughout the dog’s life to prevent the development of behavioural issues.
Purchasing an animal from a shelter or rescue group is a rewarding experience in that you are giving a dog a second chance at a good home. There are some dogs in shelters that have been relinquished due to extenuating circumstances and others with genuine behaviour problems. The RSPCA uses a formal, standardised temperament test to assess each dog’s behavioural tendencies. Such behavioural evaluations are a valuable tool for determining a dog’s suitability for re-homing but unfortunately they’re not 100% predictive of a dog’s behaviour after adoption. Some surrendered dogs may come with a behavioural history, which can shine more light on the animal’s temperament although there is no guarantee of their accuracy.
Dogs that live in a foster home before adoption have more opportunity for accurate behaviour assessments. The foster carer can make behavioural observations in a wider variety of circumstances that are more reflective of what the dog will experience post adoption; they get more 1-on-1 time and they are away from the stress and confinement of a shelter.
Most shelters will have some sort of match making process so that each dog is matched with a suitable home. Prospective adopters may have to fill out an application or participate in an interview and dogs are categorised according to certain criteria such as training, grooming and exercise requirements. The RSPCA groups their dogs into 3 ‘lifestyle colours’ to match with 3 different household types. Go to http://www.adoptapet.com.au to learn more about the RSPCA’s pet matchmaker service.
The main benefit of purchasing a dog from a good quality, knowledgeable breeder is being able to assess the dog’s family history, as this will give you an idea of the dog’s genetics and what to expect in terms of health and temperament. Breeders should belong to the Australian National Kennel Control, which enforces a Code of Ethics and helps to educate breeders about the best genetic selection, breeding practices, and puppy rearing techniques. A good breeder should “vet” you to ensure you and the pup are a good match, and provide you with detailed, sensible health care advice.
A serious downside to many purebred dogs is that they are predisposed to certain health problems. It’s important that you find a breeder who is knowledgeable regarding the conditions that their breed is predisposed to and is actively selecting against undesirable heritable traits and working to produce healthy, functional dogs with good temperaments.
Considering that a dog’s critical period of development from 3 weeks of age, they should be in a nurturing environment with knowledgeable people committed to starting the process of socialisation.
Meeting the parents will provide some insight into your pup’s temperament. Viewing the environment of the bitch and litter is an essential step in selecting a responsible casual breeder. Remember that a puppy is open to socialisation from 3 weeks. The breeder will be responsible for the pup’s early experiences and you want to ensure that they have a good start to life.
Internet and pet store
There will most likely be no information regarding the dog’s parentage and family history. It’s also likely that there will be little to no transparency regarding the dog’s early life.
Finally, in order to resist an impulse purchase, it’s helpful to have an agreement that everyone involved promises to abide by. An example is the ‘rule of 3’, where you agree that you’re not allowed to bring home a puppy or dog until at least 3 options have been explored.
Deciding on the right dog for you takes a lot of time and careful thought. Bringing a new puppy or dog into your home is an exciting, joyful time. It’s sobering to think that approximately 1 million dogs and cats are bought every year and every year about 250 000 dogs and cats are euthanised.
If you would like to discuss choosing a dog that’s right for you, please call 6242 7276 to arrange a visit for pre-adoption counselling.
Dr Kim Cleary