Why I Would Never Get a Puppy

A client with two small children and an eight week old English Bulldog once said to me, “Puppies are much more difficult to raise than kids. It’s like having a baby that doesn’t wear a diaper.” Most people considering getting a puppy have no idea what they are getting themselves into. I often tell clients that they need to think of their four month old puppy as though she is a toddler. You can never leave a dog that age alone unsupervised unless she is in a pen, crate, or enclosure that is safe. She can chew on electrical wires in your house or back yard and get electrocuted and die. Just as with babies, for every story I hear of a puppy that was a dream to raise I hear another one that was a nightmare.
If you are considering getting a puppy under six months of age, you should be prepared to do the following things for the first few weeks or even months after getting your new puppy if you want to end up with a well-adjusted adult dog:
  • Never leave your puppy alone during the first two weeks or until she loves being in her crate
  • Get up multiple times through the night to take your puppy outside to relieve.
  • Have every piece of furniture, shoe, pant leg, finger, and everything else at her level chewed up
  • Spend 15 minutes, five to ten times per day minimum playing with your puppy
Every puppy is unique. Like babies, some puppies are able to sleep through the night while others can’t sleep for more than two hours at a time. I often have clients call me and ask what they can do to get their 12 week old puppy to stop howling for hours on end when she is in her crate. The answer couldn’t be simpler — don’t put your 12 week old puppy in a crate for hours on end. Expecting a puppy that age to spend so much time alone without protesting is not a reasonable expectation. Similarly, expecting your young puppy to sleep through the night may not be reasonable depending on what your puppy is capable of tolerating. Just as with children, the key to successfully raising a puppy is to adjust your expectations to what is reasonable.
One of the biggest challenges with young dogs is finding constructive outlets for all of that puppy energy. Most veterinarians don’t emphasize this enough, but if you have Parvo where you live, until your puppy is fully vaccinated against the Parvo virus after the third booster given at 16 weeks of age, you should absolutely NOT let your puppy on grass or dirt in any public areas where there could be a stray dog! I have never heard it discussed before, but I think that even greeting fully vaccinated dogs is not worth the risk. Even if your friend’s dog is fully vaccinated against Parvo, what if she sniffs a pile of feces on your lawn as she is walking up to your door that was left by a stray dog with Parvo. Then when your puppy licks her nose your puppy has been exposed to the virus from a dog that was fully vaccinated. The chances of your puppy getting the Parvo virus are slim, but if a puppy does get Parvo, it will almost certainly die. It’s not worth the risk. This means that for the first couple of months, until she is fully vaccinated, you can’t take your puppy to the off-leash dog park.  This will severely limit your options for keeping your puppy fully engaged both mentally and physically to get all that puppy energy out.
Maybe you are the unique individual who has lots of time and energy to put into this endeavor and you love puppies. Or maybe you believe the fallacy that only a young puppy can bond with you in that special way, or that your dog will be better behaved or more trainable if you start when it is very young. Even if you fall into this category and believe all of these things, there is still one very good reason why I would recommend you never get a puppy under six months of age: canine temperament.
It is extremely difficult to assess the temperament of a very young dog. Temperament is, or should be, the most important consideration when it comes to choosing a dog. Cuteness aside, if you want to know if you could really like or bond with a dog, it is the dog’s demeanor that will be the deciding factor, not her physical appearance. There are tests you can do that give you an idea of how a young puppy deals with stress, etc., but these tests don’t tell you much. There’s just no way to know what kind of dog you are going to end up with. You can hedge your bet by choosing a particular breed or meeting the parents in advance, but that only tilts the odds in one direction or another.
On the other hand, it is quite easy to get a feel for the disposition of a six to 18 month old puppy. There are many aspects to a dog’s disposition and each individual may value a different combination of attributes. I prefer dogs that are very responsive and dogs that crave human interaction. Consequently, I am not as fond of the terrier breeds in general as I am of retrievers (with one exception being pit bulls, which I don’t consider terriers).  Terriers are, on average, not very responsive. By that I mean they don’t readily take their lead from the owner because they are more independent. Terriers also typically are somewhat indifferent to human interaction — they don’t seek affection from people as readily as retrievers do.
If you are considering getting a dog, I would strongly suggest you spend some time at the off-leash dog park observing and interacting with a variety of dogs to better understand what it is that attracts you to a dog. Once you have figured that out, then start looking for a six to 18 month old puppy at the animal shelter that has those characteristics that you value. There may be physical attributes that you want such as short hair or medium-size, but make demeanor the top priority. If you find it difficult to evaluate shelter dogs’ demeanors, which is no easy task, consider hiring a professional dog trainer to help you.
When all is said and done, the best way to increase the chances of a good fit between you and your new dog is to get a dog that has already made it through the difficult puppy stage. This will allow you to bypass the potentially demanding tasks associated with the first 6 months of puppyhood. In addition, you will be able to much more confidently evaluate the dog’s temperament and hedge your bet that you will end up with the dog you really want.
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[…] of the behavior before I can even think about how I am going to change the behavior. Consider a one year old puppy that jumps on people when greeting. There are many ways to respond to this behavior — some […]

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