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Choosing the Right Dog: Age and Gender

If you're like most people, when you think of getting a new dog, you think first of puppies. And why not? What's cuter or sweeter or funnier than a little puppy? Before you rule out an older dog, though, be sure you understand that there's more to a puppy than a cute face and puppy antics.

Puppies are babies, and they need a lot of attention. They have accidents on carpets. They have lots of energy, but not always at convenient times. They don't have much sense. The cute baby stage lasts only a few weeks, and then puppies turn into lanky adolescents—canine teenagers. Most stay that way for many months. A young dog will need you to devote lots of time to training so that he can develop into a well-adjusted, well-mannered adult.

If you've never had a dog before, a puppy may not be your best choice. If you're really devoted to learning as much as you can about training and caring for your puppy, if you have a responsible breeder who will guide you, and if you have a sense of humor even through late nights and messy cleanups, then maybe you are a puppy person. Ask your friends who have puppies or have had one recently and try to get a realistic view of what puppies, particularly puppies of your chosen breed, are like to raise. If it doesn't sound all that appealing, then do yourself and a dog a favor and adopt or buy an adult. You can always get a periodic puppy fix by visiting friends with puppies or by volunteering at your local shelter.

Aside from the chaos a puppy can bring into your life, consider some other factors as well. You can't predict exactly how a baby puppy will mature. An experienced breeder with a good eye can make an educated prediction, but lots of things can affect the outcome as a puppy grows. Starting with a puppy does give you more influence on its development, since you're in charge of socialization, training, nutrition, exercise, and everything else in his young life. The adult dog, like the adult person, is definitely the product of both its genes and its environment. In fact, that's why it's so important that you be committed to raising a puppy properly before buying one.

When you choose an adult dog, you pretty much get what you see. You can evaluate his basic temperament. You know how big he is. You can see his coat and have an idea of how much he sheds. If you adopt from a rescue or shelter, you may be able to arrange to have him checked and possibly x-rayed before you adopt him. If you get him from a responsible breeder, you may also get documentation of any health clearances he's had as well as his health history.

Why would an adult be available from a responsible breeder? Sometimes a show prospect just doesn't turn out to have what it takes for a successful competition career. Sometimes a breeder decides that a retired show or breeding dog would be happier as a pampered pet in a one- or two-dog family rather than as one of several dogs in the breeder's home. Sometimes a dog comes back to the breeder because of a problem in its home—perhaps divorce, illness, or death. Such a dog may be a good choice if the dog's history is important to you, but you don't think you're really a puppy person.

Pink Collar or Blue?

You may be wondering which makes a better pet, a male or female. A lot of people think that females (properly called bitches) make better pets than males (or dogs). Although there are some differences between the sexes—vive la difference!—the personality of the individual animal matters more than its sex. That is especially true of altered (spayed or castrated) dogs, and honestly, most dogs should be altered.

If you've decided on a purebred, ask breeders and owners of the breed about their experiences with males and females. In some breeds, males tend to be scrappier and females sweeter. In other breeds, males tend to be more affectionate and females more independent. But again, individual personality is far more important than gender.

More on: Pets

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Getting and Owning a Dog © 2003 by Sheila Webster Boneham, Ph.D. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit Amazon's web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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