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- Selecting a Dog
Dogs, should I get an adult or puppy?
Most people are attracted to puppies for one very specific reason. They are just sooo cute!!! With a puppy you also have the advantage of being the first influence (besides the dam and/or breeder) in the puppy's life. With only a few weeks of life behind him, you won't be left wondering if he has a tragic past of being abandoned and maybe that's why he decided to eat your couch while you were gone, or other hidden behavioral issues.
Of course, with the advantage of starting with something so young and pliable comes the responsibility of molding this dog into a good one. And that is no small amount of work. There are vaccinations to consider, socializing (both canine and human), experience, and training. The list seems short, but covers almost every moment of your time with your puppy.
Young puppies need their shots. To not vaccinate is to court heartbreak. Nearly all of the dog diseases that are vaccinated against are fatal or usually so. And some of them, like Parvo, can live for years in the soil waiting for a potential host. Puppies can receive vaccinations starting at 6,7, or 8 weeks old and receive two more boosters at three week intervals. It is important to protect your puppy until he receives all of his shots and is fully vaccinated. Basically, this amounts to keeping him in the house, in your yard, or in yard with other dogs you know are vaccinated and healthy, until he has finished. I have heard, in person, from two breeders (one of them my own) who had clients take their puppy out before it had finished it's vaccination series, and ended up losing him.
Fortunately this "bubble" period doesn't last long and ends between 12-14 weeks depending on when he started his series.
Now, thankfully vaccinations are relatively inexpensive. Many vets also have "puppy plans" where you can pay a monthly fee and it will cover your visits to their office and the necessary services for the first year of your dogs life. There is also pet health insurance (you just knew it would come to this didn't you?), which works on the same principle as human health insurance.
Puppies also need a variety of experiences and socializing to help them become well balanced adults. The more experience they have as youngsters, the better they will be able to adjust and adapt as adults. There are biological factors to consider here as well when you look at socializing. The peak socialization period for canines occurs between 4-8 weeks. This is why many breeders do not let their puppies go to their new homes before the 8 week mark. While with their siblings, puppies learn important lessons on how to communicate with other dogs, what to expect and what behaviors are acceptable. This is also when they will learn to control their bites so they can play without hurting their litter-mates.
From 8-12 weeks is the peak human socialization period. This is when the puppy most readily will bond with his new family. That's not to say you can't get a dog that is older, but a dog that has had absolutely no human contact between birth and 12 weeks won't really make a suitable pet. At least, not the kind people are looking for.
Okay, most of you probably caught that the human socialization period ends before your pup will be fully vaccinated. It's definitely a tricky business making sure he meets people of all different ages and cultures while staying safe, but with a little planning, it can be done! We invited people over to our house who we knew, and took him to the houses of people we knew, as well as having doggy play dates there. Coincidentally, this also meant a lot of car traveling, which is another good thing to get used to!
Puppies also go through "fear periods". In a fear period your puppy may act more nervous than normal and be easily startled. It is important to note that significant negative experiences during this time will be remembered throughout his lifetime. Therefore, try to keep things as positive as possible during these phases. Just taking things easy at home, where you have the most control over his environment, until he's over this phase is probably your best bet.
Training is another important aspect of owning a puppy. Research the methods available to you and decide which one you like best. Then budget for it because training is usually a bit pricey up front. However, that's just half the battle, consistency is the key to training a dog. If you lack consistency in enforcing the rules and expectations of your house, it won't matter how prestigious of an academy your puppy graduated from, it won't stick.
Puppies are amazing and very cute. But they take a lot of energy. You will have to take them out in the middle of the night to go potty for the few few weeks and even if they're a "low energy" breed they still have lots and lots of puppy energy bouncing around inside of them for the first year. If this is something you are comfortable taking on, then a puppy might be right for you! But if you're a little apprehensive about all this responsibility and time investment, you may want to consider a slightly older dog.
The Juvenile (or Teenager)
Between the ages of about 9mo - 2yrs dogs are in what might be termed the "juvenile" age. They still have tons of energy, but are no longer the smallish balls of fluff they used to be. Towards the beginning of this age, puppies will shed their puppy coat and receive their adult one. They will lose their sharp puppy teeth and gain larger adult teeth. Dogs frequently swallow these puppy teeth, so don't worry if you don't find any on the rug. During this time dogs will also become sexually mature if they haven't been fixed (although some small breeds will mature earlier than this). Dogs will also finish much of their physical growth in terms of height and weight, although muscles mass will still be developing.
There are many advantages to adopting a juvenile dog, and a few drawbacks as well. For starters, most of them will have already been vaccinated, so there is no worry about taking them outside right away. They are also fine candidates for toilet training right away (if indeed they aren't already housebroken.) Some of them may even have been trained previously in obedience commands. Plus, you get the advantage of a young dog who has many many years left in his life to share with you!
Now, a couple of the drawbacks. The fact that the dog may be vaccinated is no guarantee that it is vaccinated! They may not have any training or manners and you might be starting off with a dog that has all the discipline of a puppy (that is, none), but is about 10 times bigger! They may even have bad manners or habits that need working on from the previous owners.
Starting at this age and further on it is a good idea to try to learn as much about the dog's history as you can. He did not spend his primary socialization period with you, and while that shouldn't affect his ability to form a loving bond with you and yours, you will want to know about any serious negative experiences he may have had, or things that he doesn't do well/needs training with. Standards for this are things like cats and children.
The Adult Dog
With an adult dog you are past the high energy puppy stage. For an adult dog, learning new tasks, although not impossible, can take longer than it would if he were a puppy or juvenile.
There are a hundred and one reasons why an adult dog may be available for adoption. It may be something that you need to note, such as a behavioral problem they have acquired that their previous owner was unable to overcome, or something completely out of the dog's control, such as a move to non-dog friendly housing.
Because there is such a wide variety in previous lifestyles and owners it's a good idea, when considering an adult dog, to get as familiar with them as possible. Know their quirks (if any), training, personality and anything that might make them less than suitable for your lifestyle (ie: if you have small pets and children the dog would need to be comfortable around both.) Also, remember to read up on the breed of dog you are looking at. If it's a mutt, try to determine the two breeds it looks the most like and read up on them. If you can't do that, (and sometimes you really can't!) try to pin point their ancestry and read up on that particular type of dog.(Is it a hound? Some type of terrier?) Anything that you find out will help give you an edge on predicting how your dog will react to different things. It won't be perfect of course, but here every little bit helps!
Try to talk to anyone who has been working with the dog such as the handlers, rescue homes where the dog may have stayed, and, if at all possible, the previous owner. If you do as much research at this phase of the procedure, you will have less chance of choosing a dog that doesn't fit your lifestyle.
If you are thinking of adopting an older dog you probably have already researched it, but here a few things to consider if you are new to the game.
The senior dog is usually more sedentary, quiet, almost always trained in some fashion and generally just not as insane as a puppy or juvenile. However, they may have a harder time picking up new training or unlearning unwanted behaviors than a younger dog and even an adult dog. Sometimes older people are more comfortable adopting an older dog who will be more sedate and that they know they will outlive, and so ensure him a "forever" home.
One thing you will want to remember about adopting a senior dog is that they are most likely going to start having health problems (just like we do) and so you will have larger medical bills than you would normally have with a younger dog. Also if you buy pet insurance, that will probably be more expensive too.
The best fit for you
In the end, the right age choice is whatever age of dog you are most comfortable and capable of working with. Keeping in mind of course, that no dog will stay a puppy forever and every dog will eventually grow old. No matter which age you decide on, your new family member will still have lots of love and happiness to share with you!
More dog related questions you might have: