Choosing Your Dog - Puppy vs Adult

March 10th, 2008
Choosing Your Dog - Puppy vs Adult

Tens of thousands of dogs are surrendered to animal shelters every year, so its important to consider the consequences before choosing your dog, puppy vs adult. Rachel Belshaw reports.

Deciding between getting a puppy or adult dog is important as both have their advantages and disadvantages. However, you need to take into account your home environment and lifestyle before you bring any dog into your home no matter what age. Families, couples, singles, the elderly everyone bears responsibility for the chosen pet.

The confronting reality is that every year, Australia-wide, animal shelters receive dogs that are handed in for any of a number of reasons. They may be escapees from yards that aren’t dog-proof or they may have been removed from their homes by the RSPCA after the animal was abused or neglected. In any of these situations, had the owner thought carefully about the consequences of dog ownership, the outcome may have been very different.

Many factors must be taken into consideration before bringing home a dog (or any pet for that matter). Work and time constraints, your financial situation and even the type of dwelling you live in will have an effect on how well the dog will integrate into your life.

Once you’ve chosen the breed you’d like, its a good idea to take a step back and work out whether you will be able to properly care for a puppy or whether an adult dog is better suited to your lifestyle. Puppies are hard work and not every home situation is suited to take on these bundles of energy.

The joy of puppies

Puppies truly are a pleasure to bring up. Their mischievous, clumsy ways have an irresistable way of bringing a smile to our faces and the bond we form by being with them from a young age creates a special friendship. The benefits, should you have the opportunity to raise a puppy, are bountiful.

At the top of their credentials list is their ability to adapt to their new owners lifestyle quickly and easily. Due to the young age of a puppy, its normally far easier for both the dog and owner to integrate their lives than it is for an adult dog. Familiarising with a routine often comes quite quickly for puppies.

An important time of life for pups is during their critical learning stage, which, as renowned dog trainer and self-proclaimed Dog Whisperer John Richardson explained, is normally between eight and 20 weeks. Its during this time that dogs develop their adult socialisation skills, he said.

This is known as the sensitive period and what happens during this time will have an effect on a puppy for the rest of its life, he told Dogs Life. During this period, the dog will pick up on what is happening around it and build the character and interaction skills that it will carry for the rest of its life.

For many people, raising a puppy ensures they will begin with an emotional and behavioural clean slate. While this is usually the case, hard work lies ahead for the new owner to ensure that behavioural problems are not caused by a lack of attention or discipline. However, a puppy is unlikely to have experienced any traumatic situations that will have altered its disposition or make it behave in a strange manner when in certain situations.

Another advantage to owning a puppy is that it is possible to choose the specific breed and breeder of your pet. In this way, you are able to pick a puppy based on its family history, ensuring the correct temperament is chosen. You can, to a certain extent, be confident that you will have a less aggressive dog if the dogs have been bred well.

Be aware that while the pleasure of raising a puppy is immense, the problems associated with a mismatched pet and lifestyle can be dramatic. No matter how much you want a puppy, its not fair on the animal to bring it into a situation that is unsuitable. If you intend buying a puppy from a breeder, it will be hard to find one willing to let a pup go to a home such as this.

Puppies perfect match or disaster?

Puppies are hard work. Anyone who is considering taking on the responsibility of a puppy needs to be aware that they will to need a lot of time to spend with the animal. From training to play and socialisation, puppies are very time-consuming.

If you are currently in a situation where no one is at home during the day, you work nine to five, have a time-consuming job and lifestyle, you probably aren’t in the best position to take on a puppy.

Dogs Life spoke to Barbara Ludowici, Corgi breeder of 40 years, about caring for puppies. Puppies need company when they are little and, if they are companion dogs, they will need company even when they are an adult to keep them happy and out of mischief. If you aren’t able to stay with them, they are likely to whinge and whine while you are away. This is upsetting for both the puppy and your neighbours, she said.

If you have children, the best time to get a puppy is while your kids are young. This, RSPCA shelter manager Karen Thorne told Dogs Life, can dispel some of the jealousy issues that can occur.

For the dog, quite suddenly there is someone else to compete with for your attention. This can be upsetting and can cause problems for all family members.

If you have children, this can be a good time to get a puppy as they can grow up together and accept and become aware of one another, Thorne said.

Puppy pre-schools are a great way to socialise and train a puppy. A lot of breeders, trainers and veterinarians recommend these as a good place to start once the puppy is old enough and had all necessary vaccinations. At these schools, owners are introduced to basic training skills and puppies gain valuable socialisation skills by interacting with other dogs. Toilet training and basic obedience are important behaviours that can be learnt at puppy pre-school. A committed puppy paren’t should consider this option.

Puppies need a puppy-proof environment. They like to dig and can easily gain access to neighbouring backyards and the street if given the opportunity. Securing the backyard and making it dog-proof will make sure your dog will stay in your backyard. Also, be aware that there are many plants that can be dangerous if your dog eats them. Your local vet should be able to supply you with a list of known plants that are potentially harmful to dogs.

If you have a pool, this needs to be fenced off to make sure no unpleasant drowning accidents occur. This is especially important when the puppy is young. If you are unwilling to remove any plants that are potentially harmful to dogs or you wont be able to erect a pool fence, reconsider taking on the responsibility of dog ownership, as both of these backyard issues are very important to the wellbeing of your potential pooch.

Before you go out and buy or adopt a puppy, make sure you do some reading first. Reading up on training and what is needed for the health and wellbeing of a puppy may really put things into perspective.

Importantly, you should consider very carefully the breed of dog that you will take on. Remember, puppies don’t stay puppies forever, so find out how big the puppy will grow when its an adult, how much it will eat and any common ailments the breed is prone to developing.

The older mate

Many animal shelters across the country house dogs that need new homes. A confronting statistic is that just over 40 per cent of the dogs received by the RSPCA last year were euthanised, so if you’re looking for an older mate, the RSPCA is a great place to start searching.

However, if you are worried about taking in an animal from a shelter due to any pre-existing emotional or health problems, many breeders also need to find homes for some of their adult dogs once they are no longer breeding from them. This can be a great opportunity to pick up the breed you want in an adult dog.

Most adult dogs will already be trained in basic commands, but this does not mean you can’t teach old dogs new tricks. Richardson, the dog trainer, told Dogs Life that training dogs into their adult years is beneficial to their health and can help prevent dementia in their older years.

Another tip you don’t usually have to worry about with an adult dog is the initial outlay of money needed for puppy vaccinations, and desexing may have already occurred.

Another advantage to having an adult dog is that you can already see the dogs full size and, after spending some time with the animal, what sort of nature it has. However, an older dog will generally take a little longer to fit into your routine and your lifestyle. This may even take quite some time.

Depending on the history of the dog, it may have some predispositions created by an emotional or traumatic experience earlier in life. This can cause problems in the new home, but with significant research done by the new owners and, if necessary, some trips to an animal psychiatrist, these problems can soon be dealt with.

Adult matchmaking

Those who don’t have the time to train and socialise a young puppy should consider adopting an older dog. However, if the owners are not at home during the week, this is still not a great situation for an adult dog. All dogs require attention to keep them out of mischief and for their own psychological wellbeing.

Experienced dog owners who understand these dogs may come with pre-existing medical and behavioural problems are good candidates for adult dog ownership. Because of their experience with older dogs, they are more likely to be able to provide a loving and safe environment for these types of dogs.

Elderly people will find it hard to reach down low to a puppy, which is required in order to train the dog. Puppies also have a never-ending supply of energy that may not be matched by the elderly person. However, a mature dog may be just the trick (if it is not too small a breed). Their calm temperament and larger size will make time spent together enjoyable.

While puppies are ideal for young families, Thorne says adult dogs can also have a successful integration. If concerned about taking in an animal from a shelter due to behavioural problems, Thorne told Dogs Life that while not all adoptions are successful, many are.

The RSPCA assesses the animals behaviour and can get a pretty good idea of its temperament and may be able to advise what kind of family situation it would be best suited to. They can tell if the dog can handle living with cats, noises etc. The RSPCA tries to give the best possible information to new owners to create the perfect match, she said.

The repercussions

The wrong environment can have terrible repercussions for either the animal or family, or both, according to veterinarian Dr Sonya El-Chami.
Illness or death can occur from such diseases as parvovirus or roundworm if the owners aren’t committed to the health of the animal, El-Chami said. Another problem, she noted, is that if the dog is left poorly socialised, the animal may eventually be surrendered due to behavioural problems, thus another unwanted pet in a shelter.

If you’re thinking about getting a second dog, consider the impact this may have on the first dog, she advises. Will the first dog cope and react well toward the second or will it get territorial? Do the two breeds suit one another? Can you afford two dogs? Do you have the space and time for two dogs? Often, its a good idea to get two different sexes for the best match.

With so many animals in Australian shelters, it really is important that people think through the decision of pet ownership carefully. A pet, like a human, is happiest when living in a secure, safe environment and given plenty of love and attention.

The alarming facts

  • In 2004/2005 the RSPCA received 132,159 animals. Of these, 45.4 per cent were dogs.
  • 56.2 per cent of the dogs received by the RSPCA in this period were rehomed (either reclaimed by their owners or placed in a new home by the RSPCA).
  • 34.4 per cent of dogs received were euthanised.

Training tips from John Richardson, The Dog Whisperer

When training your dog, make sure the environment is quiet and distraction-free. This allows the dog to be focused on you and what you’re doing.

Dont overdo training your dog when it is young, as puppies tend to have short attention spans. Ten-minute sessions will be enough to avoid the puppy getting bored.

Make training exercises fun by using different tools (toys etc) and giving treats as rewards.
You can teach old dogs new tricks. It is important that we keep our old dogs minds active and help ward off dementia, Richardson said.

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