The decision to adopt a dog should be made carefully because it is a serious commitment that can last for several years. Small dogs may live 12 or more years, although very large dogs typically have a shorter lifespan, sometimes as brief as 8 years. Before buying a dog, potential owners should examine their lifestyle, living accommodations, and plans for the dog. Other decisions should include who, in the case of a family, will care for the dog and whether the family or individual owner will have enough time, attention, and money to meet the dog’s needs.
For example, a busy family might not have the necessary time to groom a dog with a thick coat, and some people might be unwilling to keep up with the frequent vacuuming needed with a breed that sheds large amounts of hair. Further, a large dog that requires lots of exercise would not thrive in a small apartment, nor would a tiny dog be safe around very young children, who may be too rough with these dogs. Potential owners also should decide which gender dog they prefer and if it will be used for breeding. Another decision is to determine if the dog will be a show dog, a working dog, or a pet because this will influence which individual to select. Finally, anyone who would like to acquire a dog should be sure to budget for its food; medical expenses, which will cover immunizations, check-ups, and sick visits; and any kennel care required in the owner’s absence.
Many people prefer a purebred dog so that they can predict how the dog will look and act when fully grown. Most veterinarians and responsible dog fanciers believe that a private breeder with a good track record in producing healthy puppies is the best option for choosing purebreds. To locate a breeder, check the newspaper, visit a dog show, contact a veterinarian or experienced acquaintance, or call a local kennel club or the AKC. Visit several breeders and meet each litter’s dam (mother) and sire (father), if possible. Be prepared to ask, and answer, a lot of questions. Reputable breeders vigorously screen prospective buyers to ensure that their puppies go to good homes. Other potential owners are satisfied with mixed-breed dogs, called mongrels or mutts. Animal shelters and humane societies, veterinarian offices, and classified advertising are all resources for finding a mixed-breed that meets the needs of a potential owner.
When adopting a puppy, wait until it is at least eight weeks of age before separating it from its mother. Although the various breeds, and dogs in general, have different temperaments, look for a clean puppy that is happy, outgoing, and alert. A puppy that is excessively shy or thin or that has obvious health problems, such as discharge from its eyes or nose, is not a good choice.
A new puppy should be taken to a veterinarian soon after adoption for a thorough physical examination and to ensure that it is current on vaccinations. All puppies need a series of immunizations to protect them against distemper, a viral disease that causes respiratory symptoms and can affect the nervous system; leptospirosis, a bacterial disease that damages the liver; hepatitis, a viral disease that also targets the liver; parvovirus, which harms the intestinal tract; and parainfluenza, which causes respiratory problems. Immunizations for these five diseases are usually administered in one vaccination. Dogs also need rabies shots to protect them from this virus, which is transmitted in the saliva by the bite of an infected animal and attacks the nervous system. Some owners opt for additional vaccinations against Lyme disease, a bacterial infection that is transmitted by parasitic deer ticks; kennel cough, a respiratory disease caused by the bordatella bacteria; and coronavirus, which targets the intestinal tract.
Most young puppies harbor roundworms, intestinal parasites that are diagnosed by examining a stool sample. Roundworms rob the puppy of nutrients, resulting in the puppy’s failure to thrive; the parasites are eliminated with several doses of oral medication. Dogs of all ages should follow a drug regimen to protect them from another parasite, heartworm, which damages heart tissue, obstructs blood flow, and often causes death. The veterinarian should also discuss spaying or neutering (making a dog infertile), which are essential in nonbreeding dogs to protect their health and reduce the population of unwanted dogs. This common surgical procedure is usually not done until a pup is six months old.
Veterinarians recommend that dogs of all ages have a yearly checkup, including vaccination booster shots and screening for external and internal parasites. Since dogs cannot communicate their health problems through words, an annual examination is important for the early detection and treatment of problems. Owners should be aware of signs of possible illness requiring veterinary attention, including changes in appetite and behavior.
All puppies and dogs have three daily requirements: plenty of fresh drinking water, correct amounts of nutritious food, and adequate exercise for the dog’s age, breed, and temperament. An outdoor dog needs shelter from the elements and plenty of shade during the summer months, and indoor pets must have regular access to the outdoors for elimination. Whatever their living arrangements, all dogs require the loving attention of their owners.
Grooming considerations vary from breed to breed. Short-coated dogs usually need to be brushed once or twice a week, whereas long-haired dogs may need daily grooming to prevent the coat from matting or tangling. Dogs need only be bathed when dirty, and the shampoo used should be one that will protect the coat’s natural oils. Grooming also includes attending to the dog’s eyes, ears, teeth, anal glands, and nails; details of such care, however, should first be explained by a veterinarian.