Friday, February 15, 2008

Thinking About Getting A Dog?

The Responsibilities and Rewards of Caring for My New Puppy
by Dawn Ross

Are you considering getting a dog? If you are and you have never owned a dog before, please read this article about my experience with my new puppy. This article is not about trying to convince you to get or not to get a dog. It is about making sure that you understand the responsibilities involved in taking care of a dog. If you know what to expect, you will be more prepared to handle what is to come.

I knew what to expect when I got my new puppy. There were a few difficult times and many messes to clean up. She took a lot of time and patience. But I can tell you that because I was prepared, me and my puppy are much happier. Every day she grows into my heart and becomes better behaved. And every day, the task of taking care of her becomes easier as she learns the routines and rules of the house.

Research - What kind of dog or puppy to get I currently have a six-year-old dog named Sephi. I had her since she was a puppy and she has been my only dog for all these years. I have been considering getting another dog for some time. However, I had to be careful in choosing another dog because Sephi is an alpha dog. If I got another dog who was also used to being the alpha dog, there would be a lot of fighting to deal with. So, I decided to get a puppy and a breed or breed mix that tended to be gentle in nature. A puppy would have no issues with Sephi being in charge and a gentle breed would most likely never contest Sephi's status.

Research - Time, money, and living conditions Before I went searching for a puppy, I checked with my apartments to make sure I could have another pet. I also made sure that I could fit the expenses of a new pet into my budget. And finally, I needed to make sure I had the time for a new dog. Living in an apartment, I would have to take the dogs out for a walk everyday, even in winter. I would have to be around to keep a puppy from barking and disturbing the neighbors. And I couldn't very well train a puppy if I didn't have the time.

I am lucky enough to be able to work from home so time was not a problem. I had a Christmas bonus coming so I had the funds for the initial care and supplies. There was enough room in my budget for the additional monthly costs of a pet, including what my apartments call a "pet rent fee". My apartments said I could have up to two pets - no weight limit.

Research - Where to get a puppy The next step was to actually find a puppy. I could have gone to the humane society or gotten a puppy from an individual. I was seriously considering adopting from the humane society since there are so many benefits to adopting from one, but the opportunity to get a puppy from an individual came up just after Thanksgiving. This individual had adopted a puppy from a humane society. And after only one week of keeping this puppy, she decided that she could not handle the responsibility. She was not prepared for how much work goes into the care of a puppy. I was prepared, so I adopted the 3-month-old puppy. Her name is Maya and she is a yellow lab.

First Step - Get the puppy to a vet and get pet supplies Since the woman who originally adopted Maya got her from a humane society, Maya was already fixed and already had her first set of puppy shots. Irregardless, the first thing I did after getting Maya was take her to the vet. The woman had given me Maya's vet records so while my vet reviewed those, I took Maya shopping. I planned on crate-training Maya so I bought a kennel. I bought food and water dishes so that Maya could have bowls separate from Sephi's. I also bought a dog bed, toys, leashes, and collars. When I was finished, the vet set up an appointment for her booster shots.

Getting the puppy acquainted with the family Sephi was not at all thrilled about the new family member. Maya, of course, wanted to play but Sephi would have none of it. Sephi growled and even snapped at Maya and Maya backed off. But it would take a couple more weeks and a few more hard lessons before both Maya and Sephi would learn to get along. Maya had to learn Sephi's limits and Sephi had to learn that I was not going to tolerate any aggressive behavior.

Maya's first very hard lesson was learned when she got too near to Sephi when she was eating. That was Sephi's first lesson too since she got reprimanded for hurting Maya. I was there to intervene so Maya was not seriously hurt. For about two weeks, I kept a very close eye on the two and intervened when things came close to getting out of hand. If I was not home to watch them, Maya was put in her kennel. After about two weeks, the two get along very well. Maya has learned when to leave Sephi alone and they both have learned to play together.

Potty training While I was keeping an eye on how Sephi and Maya got along, I also had to watch Maya for any signs of needing to go potty. She was not potty trained yet. I let Maya outside every hour or so (every few hours at night) and any other time it seemed like she had to go to the bathroom. Besides making sure I let Maya outside constantly, I also potty trained her using positive reinforcement. If I caught Maya going inside, I made a sharp reprimand and took her outside immediately. Once she was outside and finished her business, I gave her lots of praise and a treat. Despite my vigilance, Maya had lots of accidents inside. The carpet in my apartment was already old, so no big deal for me. But if you have a nice carpet, don't fool yourself in thinking the puppy is never going to have an accident inside.

Not only did I have to clean up messes inside, I had to clean up messes outside. As a pet owner, it is my responsibility to clean up after my dog. I clean up after them when they go outside in the apartment courtyard and I clean up after them when we go for walks.

Crate training I was very lucky in that Maya took to the kennel right away. Generally, a puppy left in a kennel will cry. And as much as you want to let them out when they cry, you can't. If you do, it teaches the puppy that if they cry you will let them out. This defeats the purpose of crate training. Maya whined a little at first, but she stopped doing it within a couple of days.

Until Maya is potty trained she will always be put in the kennel at night. She is less inclined to have an accident if she is in the kennel. She is always put in a kennel when I have to leave the house. And she is sometimes put in the kennel when I am doing something where I can not keep an eye on her.

It helps to use positive reinforcement when crate training. I give Maya a treat whenever she goes inside and I tell her what a good puppy she is. There are times now when she will go in there on her own to sleep. She is very comfortable and happy in her kennel.

Vet visit Our first vet visit was successful. Being a puppy, Maya handled the prodding and poking very well. The vet noticed, however, that Maya had a slight greenish discharge from her vaginal area. It was nothing serious but it needed to be treated. In addition to the costs for Maya's booster shots, I also purchased medicine. Every day for two weeks, I put the medicine on Maya's vaginal area. It was not a fun task, but it could have been worse. Things like this will come up from time to time so if you get a dog, you need to be prepared to pay extra vet costs once in a while. Sephi has had ear infections. And at one time, I paid $300 plus for x-rays because I thought she was having problems with her hips.

Grooming It is important to keep a dog's nails trim - especially dogs that are primarily indoors. The nails of outdoor dogs are generally kept trim by natural wear and tear, but the nails of indoor dogs probably need to be trimmed once a week. You can take your dog to the vet or a groomer to get their nails trimmed or you can ask you vet to show you how to do it yourself. I cut Sephi and Maya's nails myself. Sephi is easy to do because I have been trimming her nails almost every week since I had her. Sephi also knows that she gets a treat when I am done. Maya, however, is still learning. It is a challenge cutting the nails of a dog who won't hold still. I try to do it when she is tired. That way she is much more relaxed and less likely to think it is a game.

Sephi and Maya are short-haired dogs so they don't need professional grooming. If you get a long-haired dog, you may have to get a groomer or learn to groom the dog's hair yourself. I don't take my dogs to a groomer but I do take them to a place where I can bathe them. I could bathe them in my own tub, but this place is much more convenient. They have the space, the equipment, the shampoo, everything, all ready to go. It's not free, so be sure to add this to your budget of pet care. I take Sephi and Maya to get bathed at least once a month.

Making the home safe Being a puppy, Maya likes to investigate things by putting them in her mouth. I put safety covers on all my plugs. I secured all the wires from my computer and television so that she could not get to them. I have always made sure that I keep a lid on the trash so Sephi could not get into it. Sephi is well-behaved but even she makes mistakes from time to time. And anything I did not want to get destroyed is put up out of Maya's reach. Maya has toys in a toy box she is allowed to play with. If I find something she is not supposed to have, I take it away, say "no", and give her a toy she is allowed to play with.

Food As puppies grow you need to feed them more, and as they get closer to adulthood you need to feed them less. I feed Maya puppy food, not adult food, and I read the label on the bag on how much to feed. The pet food companies are pretty knowledgeable about this sort of thing so I trust it. Maya gets dog treats when she does something good, but she does not get people food of any kind. There are so many things out there that are harmful to dogs. Chocolate, for instance, is very bad for them. Onions, grapes, and nuts can be bad for them as well. So just play it safe and only give your dog the proper food.

I feed my dogs nothing but dry dog food. Dry dog food is better for their teeth since the canned wet food tends to stick to their teeth and gums more. If you feed your dog wet food, make sure to also give them dry food. Dog bones can also be good for their teeth. Pet stores sell all sorts of dog bones that are great for not only your dog's teeth, but their breath too.

Training Training is an ongoing process and not one I can fully go over in this article. But training is important for a dog. I started training Maya the day I brought her home. I feel that the most important thing to teach a puppy besides potty training is teaching them to come when they are called. When I take Maya for a walk, I don't want her accidentally getting from my grip and running into the street. Or if I open the door outside, I don't want her charging out and running off. It is very important to me that she always comes when she is called

I use positive reinforcement in all my training. Every time Maya came when she was called, I gave her a treat. As she masters this command, I cut back on the treats. This same technique will be used for all the commands I will teach her. I will also teach her to sit, stay, lay down, and heal.

Another thing I have to teach Maya is manners. As a puppy, she likes to nip and lick. Her puppy teeth are sharp and can actually break the skin. And I hate dogs licking me. It's hard to use positive reinforcement on this one, so I use the word "no". Maya learned the word "no" right away. It is used quite often. If she bites or licks, I also hold her muzzle when I say "no". Other manners she needs to learn include not jumping on people, not barking, and not to go in off-limit areas. You may also want to teach your dog not to get on the furniture. I love my dogs to get on the couch or the bed with me so I do not teach this one.

An important thing that I teach Maya more by my actions than by any commands is that I am the one in charge. This sounds rather harsh, but in order for both you and your pet to be happy, your pet has to understand that you are the boss. You are going to do things that the dog is not going to understand but things that are necessary. If you are not in charge, your dog is not going to let you do those things - like clipping nails or grooming, like giving medicine when they are sick, like treating injuries, etc. Training helps to establish that. Consistency helps as well. I also have a hierarchy in which we eat. I eat my meal first and they are not allowed to beg. Then I feed them. Sephi gets served first, then Maya. And when Maya eats, I will put my hands in her food and take some away. I do this because she is a puppy and she has to understand that I should be able to take anything away from her at any time. I can not have Maya eating something dangerous and growling at me when I try to take it.

If you are not ready for all the responsibilities of getting a puppy, get a dog that is already grown. If you adopt from the humane society, they generally have an idea on the dog's behavior and training. Or you can get a dog from an individual who can no longer keep their pet for whatever reason. An individual will be able to tell you a lot of information. Just be careful of anyone who tells you nothing but good stuff. They may just be telling you that to get you to take the dog off their hands. You will still need to do some of the things mentioned above, but much of the hard work has probably already been done.

Now that I have told you about the responsibilities of getting a dog or puppy, let me tell you about the rewards. Maya is the cutest thing. From the clumsy way she walks, to the long floppy ears and the big head on the little body, Maya is everything we all love about puppies. She follows me everywhere. Maya loves to sit with me on the couch and now that she is doing better with her potty training, she gets to sleep on the bed as well. Watching her and Sephi play is very entertaining. When they wrestle and play tug-of-war with the toys, they make me laugh. They are both so happy to see me when I get home. Whenever I take my dogs for a walk, Maya gets lots of attention for being a puppy and Sephi gets lots of attention for being such a well-mannered dog. I feel great pride in my dogs when people comment on them. They are my family and I don't think I could ever do without them.

About the Author
Dawn Ross - Animal lover and a lifetiem pet owner with work and volunteer experience at an animal shelter, humane society, and a pet boarding kennel. Site owner of

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