Choosing a Dog: What Clients Need to Know!
By Monique Feyrecilde BA, LVT, VTS (Behavior), Teaching Animals, Auburn WA
In my last blog HERE, we talked about pet selection counseling. What kind of pet is right for the family? Once you’ve helped the family answer this important question, the next step is to help them know which specific animal is right for their home. Today, we will talk about helping families screen dogs before purchase or adoption.
Help clients see what they should expect during the process of getting ready to purchase or adopt a new dog.
- Expect lots of questions! Breeders and shelters/rescues should ask plenty of questions before placing or selling a dog. They want the family to succeed as well! No questions asked is a big red flag.
- Never purchase or adopt sight-unseen! Buying puppies off the internet, shipping dogs from out-of-state, meeting in a parking lot to pick up a puppy, etc. are all risky.
- Some people are very familiar with the specific lines and tendencies within a particular pedigree and may feel comfortable purchasing in this way – but that is highly unlikely among average pet owners. Also, if the dog must be returned for any reason this becomes much more challenging at a distance.
- Expect to be welcomed. Breeders should be willing to allow families to visit the parent dogs and relatives on-site. Shelters or foster programs should welcome families to meet the dog in its familiar surroundings before adoption.
- Expect a safety net. Breeders should be willing to take back a puppy or dog for its entire lifetime, and this should be in the purchase contract. Shelters and rescues usually include this clause as well to protect the animal after adoption. Not every match is perfect, and that’s OK! Make sure there’s a safety net in place just in case.
Purchasing From a Breeder
A few tips can help families navigate the complicated process of finding the right breeder and right specific cross to most-likely meet their needs. Puppies are always an unknown quantity of sorts: it’s not possible to fully assess the personality and preferences of a puppy before purchase. The best predictors for how a puppy will turn out are either puppies from an earlier litter with the same parents (full siblings), or the traits of the parents and lateral relatives like littermates of the parents.
- Choose a puppy from parent dogs you wish were your own! Never select a puppy if you have worries about the personality, behavior, or health of the parent dogs.
- Be familiar with the genetic and health testing that should be performed for this breed, and assure the parents have been tested prior to breeding.
- Expect a health guarantee. Short-term for immediate illnesses (usually a few days to a week), and long-term for known possible genetic issues such as hip dysplasia (usually until age 2 years).
- Ask to see the purchase contract in advance, and make sure you’re comfortable with all the terms before meeting the puppies. It’s hard to say no once you’ve had a puppy in your lap!
- Beware of shy, lonely, or “leftover” puppies. Young puppies (under 8 weeks of age) should be social, willing to explore, and resilient in new situations. Puppies who hide for several minutes, are slow to approach, approach with their weight held over their rear legs/crouching, bark and hackle or growl when approached are at a higher risk of developing unwanted behaviors as adults. These puppies require absolute experts for owners and even then can be challenging to raise.
- There are no guarantees. Any puppy, even the most social and outgoing one, can develop unwanted behaviors later in life.
Adoption from Shelters, Rescues & Individuals
Communication is key. Make sure the shelter and rescue staff have a clear idea of what the family is looking for, what the family needs, and how those match up with the traits of any dog being considered. Many shelters and rescues require renters to show proof that the landlord allows pets: this is normal! Here are a few tips you can give adopters to apply during the search:
- Ask to meet the dog in a common area if possible, rather than just in the animal’s enclosure or run surrounded by other dogs.
- Ask lots of questions to find out all the information known about the dog. Was the dog a stray? A family pet? Is there known history of aggression or bites
- Is there a special handling protocol for the animal, or has it been noted to have special/additional behavioral needs while in the shelter?
- Why was the animal brought to the shelter? If it was surrendered by a previous owner, what was the reason given? Is that reason something the new owner could live with if it recurs?
Once a dog is selected and brought home, this major transition will usually impact the dog’s behavior for a while. I call this the Honeymoon Period. Behavioral suppression is common during the Honeymoon. After a few weeks, the family will get a clearer idea of the dog’s deeper personality, likes and dislikes, fears and loves. Prepare families to expect this shift in behavior 2-4 weeks after the dog comes home. Managing expectations sets families up for success.
What if it Doesn’t Work?
Not every pet is meant for every family, and the reverse is also true. If a family makes the difficult decision to return a dog to the breeder or shelter, it can be easy to judge the family as a failure. Remember, most people really are doing the best they can with the resources, knowledge, time, and skills they have at any given moment. Dogs returned safely to breeders or rescues have another opportunity to find just the right family in the future. Dogs who stay in homes where the family struggles and doesn’t like or even love the dog will have a compromised quality of life – and so will the humans.
Supporting families before, during, and after the process of bringing home a new dog can bond clients to the practice, improving the quality of life of dogs and humans. Matchmaking can also bring deep personal satisfaction to those of us who devote our lives to helping animals and people through veterinary medicine.