Are You Puppy Material?
Grab a pen and paper (or a laptop!) and work your way through the following list. (It would be ideal to pass the list along to all the members of your household as well.) Be honest with yourself because this isn’t a purse we’re talking about, and an impulsive pet purchase could live up to twenty years, or more. Dez, my faithful Border collie–Australian heeler cross, lived until the ripe old age of twenty-two!
Consider these talking points a do-it-yourself counselling session:
1. What’s your personality? Are you mellow and easygoing or wired-for-sound and always on the go? Are you a stickler for rules and planning or do you just go with the flow? Are you messy? Do you like organized chaos? Are you a party animal with tons of friends or more of the solitary type? Are you touchy-feely? patient? Do you like to try new things or are you a creature of habit? Take a moment to visualize how your personality might affect your day-to-day life with a puppy and make a list of the possible conflicts of interest, along with the types of compromises you will be willing to make in order to be a responsible pet owner.
2. What kind of lifestyle do you lead? Are you physically active? What kind of extracurricular activities do you participate in? Puppies and dogs need constant stimulation and novelty in their lives, so the more balanced you are, the more balanced they will be. What are some things that you already do that a puppy can do with you? (If you have mobility issues or are unwilling to provide your dog with lots of physical activities, consider adopting a senior dog that has started slowing down and will therefore be more than happy with daily, leisurely walks.)
3. What’s your daily schedule? Do you travel a lot for work? Chalk up a lot of overtime? Are you beholden to a strict routine? Take into account your work/life balance and be honest with yourself about the amount of time you can truly commit to training a puppy. Also record how you will adjust your life to suit a puppy’s needs. If your daytimer is already jam-packed, it’s doubtful that you’ll be able to provide the ample time, energy, consistency, patience and joie de vivre needed to raise a pup. Is there anything you’d be willing to sacrifice? I’m a firm believer that dogs shouldn’t be fixed to a strict schedule; it’s not only a dull grind, but if they’re put in a strict routine and you happen to deviate from that routine even once, they might act up by trashing the house. Just like us, dogs respond acutely to the element of surprise: in training, in exercise, and in their social lives.
4. Are you (or anyone in your household) able to take some time off from work to be with your puppy for the first few days? How about the ability to take a puppy to work? During your pup’s first days and months in your household, you’ll need to spend as much time as possible getting to know her, monitoring behaviours, tending to housetraining (meaning, potentially, a few days to a few weeks of disrupted sleep), bonding and playing chew games (among others). There’s a huge time commitment for everyone involved, and if you don’t carve out a place in your schedule for your pup now, you’ll pay for it big time in the future.
5. How many people make up your household? Is everyone willing to commit to the new pup? Not only for daily caregiving, but also by being consistent and working from the exact same page in terms of house rules and training? Consistency is key. I can’t say it enough.
6. Do you see your current living situation changing in the next month to year? marriage? a new baby? If you’re planning to introduce a new member to your family within the next year, consider holding off on the pup until you’ve settled into your new situation, ideally waiting until your youngest child is three years of age unless you are 10,000,000 percent committed to devoting a large portion of your life to pup- and child-rearing. Puppies are keenly tuned in to body language, so any awkward movements are unnatural to them and could be perceived as threatening or weak. If your older children are begging for a pup, first get them to commit to taking good care of a plant or a goldfish for at least six months. Then set up play dates and even dog-training dates with well-balanced, mature dogs, so they come to understand the level of work, patience and consistency required before the pup enters their lives.
7. Do you currently have a dog, a cat or other pets in your home? If you live in a multi-pet household, you probably already know how your pets react to other dogs and pups. An older dog can provide excellent guidance and support, but I suggest holding off on introducing a new pup to the family until your current dog is three years old—the point when dogs reach full maturity, understand the house rules and are able to provide guidance and structure to a new sibling. A well-behaved, contented adult dog can be a stellar teacher for your pup because she can tutor in a dog’s natural language, speaking primarily through body language and movement and vocalizing largely through growling and only the occasional bark. It’s even better if the dog you already have is five or six years old—or even in the golden senior years. But note that a pup should not be introduced to an elderly dog that has an aggressive streak or serious health issues.
8. Where do you live? Do you live in an apartment or in a house with a backyard? Are you within walking distance of more than one dog park? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: a backyard is just a more spacious jail cell for your pup than a small indoor space, and it shouldn’t become a substitute for long walks and romps. And you’ll need to house-train your pup outside—no puppy pads, no little boxes, no newspapers! House-training is the only situation in which a designated backyard spot will come in handy during the initial few months, though urban dwellers can always find a patch of grass nearby. Are you willing to commit to providing your pup with lots of fresh air, exercise and socialization in a variety of places?
9. Are you planning to move within the next year? Moving house is one of the most stressful events in our lives, and too often, we pass that stress onto our dogs, especially if we don’t make the time to meet their doggy needs—even if those needs are ignored for only a brief period of time. Would you be willing to wait until you’ve settled into your new place before you bring a puppy into your life?
10. Can you afford a puppy? And more important, can you afford a dog for the next twelve to sixteen years? Dogs can be very expensive, and it’s your duty to provide adequate veterinary care, food, equipment and personal supplies, and perhaps also cash for grooming and pet sitting. Have you looked into pet health insurance?
Excerpted from Brad Pattison’s Puppy Book by Brad Pattison Copyright © 2012 by Brad Pattison. Excerpted by permission of Random House of Canada Limited. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
For more great lifestyle tips & recipes, sign up for our Joie de Vivre newsletter!