Finding the right pet for the right family is a win/win situation.
“Bringing home a new puppy or dog is a wonderful event. It’s something people always remember and something that puts a smile on their face,” says Doylestown Veterinary Hospital’s Dr. Lois Palin, VMD.
Pets are also frequent and popular holiday gifts – which is great. Giving a pet a good home is always cause for celebration. There are a few things responsible pet owners and potential gift-givers should consider before adopting an animal: the health and care necessities of certain breeds, temperament, and lifestyle accommodations, as well as various associated costs (spay/neuter, vaccinations, wellness care, etc.)
“Finding the right dog for your family is an important decision that requires careful thought and consideration. Making an informed decision about which pet is going to be right for you – and those you love – is so important.”
She offers the following suggestions to help the process along:
Be honest with yourself: The first step of pet ownership is a very basic one, says Dr. Palin: “Ask yourself if you’re ready for a new canine family member.”
The excitement of bringing a new pet home can sometimes cause proper planning to take a backseat. So, make yourself a list of questions and answer them truthfully before pet shopping.
- Are you prepared to feed, bathe, walk, and play with your new dog every day?
- Are you able to commit to being home to take care of the dog?
- Are family members willing to help with pet care?
“The bottom line is: are you and your family ready to devote the time and energy necessary to ensure that your dog is going to have a happy and healthy life?”
Surprising mom and dad or grandpa and grandma with a holiday puppy may also be tricky.
“In situations where people are empty-nesters, they may not want to be tied down with the responsibility,” Dr. Palin suggests. “Again, it goes back to thinking about the pet parent’s lifestyle. Do they want to be able to go away on the weekends and not worry about finding someone to take care of the dog? Surprises can be tough because it might not be what someone is hoping to have in their life at that moment.”
Understand there will be expenses. New pet owners will ultimately need to budget for the costs associated with growing their families.
“There will likely going be an adoption fee or a purchase price for a new dog, and that’s just the start,” says Dr. Palin. “You will need to buy a lot of supplies, including collars, ID tags, leashes, food and water bowls, food, treats, dog beds, and dog crates. And the list goes on.”
A new dog will also need to visit a veterinarian for routine examinations and vaccinations, and of course, for any health problems that may arise.
“Many people also consider taking on the monthly cost of pet insurance to provide some assurance that if they do have a large veterinary expense, that money doesn’t have to be the deciding factor on whether to proceed with a treatment,” Dr. Palin says.
“I think people just really need to honestly evaluate their budgets and see if they can afford a new canine companion.”
Research breeds. What kind of dog is going to be right for your lifestyle?
Dr. Palin recommends doing a deep dive on the various breeds of dogs that you naturally gravitate toward. What kind of temperament do you like in a dog? Are you looking for an active playtime pal or more of a couch potato? How about size? You might adore Great Danes, but do you have the square footage necessary?
Consider exercise requirements, too, Dr. Palin says. “Something like a Vizsla or a German Shorthaired Pointer is going to require a lot more exercise during the day than, say, a Basset Hound, which is going to be more laid back.”
Take some time to put some serious thought into breed. Dogs that are avid barkers may not be ideal for situations where homes are tightly grouped and neighbors are abundant. Dogs that shed frequently might exacerbate allergies.
Also, consider others in your family and additional social situations. Many breeds provide stalwart companions for children. Others are phenomenal companions to animal step siblings. Then some are shyer and prefer quality “alone time.”
“Ask yourself: do you want social situations to be part of your dog’s life, or are you OK with it being a loner?”
Rescue or Breeder? There are two primary avenues to take when finding the right pet for your family: a shelter or a reputable, professional breeder. Again, choosing between the two is largely dependent on your unique situation.
“Purebred dogs from a breeder have more predictability, I would say, in terms of their size, what kind of coat they’re going to have, their care requirements, and their temperament,” Dr. Palin says. “That can all be very helpful in selecting the right dog for you and your family.”
For pet owners who have very specific needs – wanting a dog that does not shed, for instance – a purebred puppy may be the ideal choice.
When searching for a trusted breeder, Dr. Palin suggests doing online research and beginning with the American Kennel Club (AKC).
“Here in Pennsylvania, there’s also the Pennsylvania Federation of Dog Clubs, local breed organizations, and even breed-specific rescues,” Dr. Palin continues.
Prospective pet parents should interview breeders to find out how long they’ve been breeding dogs and what types of health screenings they conduct before breeding for a litter.
“Reputable breeders are going to be happy to answer all of your questions,” Dr. Palin says. “Not only that, but my experience is that a good breeder is also going to have just as many questions as someone who is looking to get a puppy. They’re going to want to know about the lifestyle of the family to ensure it’s the best situation for a successful and long relationship.”
Good breeders will often schedule home visits, so they can meet a dog’s future parents while providing as much information as possible as to what the puppy will be like as an adult dog.
The best breeders, Dr. Palin adds, are fully committed to finding the perfect match for both pet parents and the dogs that they take home.
Search and Rescue. “There are also wonderful dogs of all ages that can be adopted at shelters,” Dr. Palin adds. “And you may be saving a pet’s life. There are far too many animals euthanized every year because they don’t have a home.”
Shelter dogs are often intensely loyal and appreciative of their newfound homes.
“Many rescue animals have had a rough start and will be grateful to have a new lease on life.”
When adopting a dog from a shelter, it is important to pay close attention to the behavioral assessment that the rescue group provides. Make note of any special needs that are listed to ascertain if the pet is a good fit for you.
Also, don’t make kneejerk reactions based on cute photos on shelter websites.
“I would strongly recommend trying to meet the dog before agreeing to the adoption, so you can make your judgment call about the personality,” Dr. Palin says.
The take-home message. “Don’t be impulsive,” says Dr. Palin. “Take time to think thoroughly through what it means to be a pet parent so that you and your dog have a long and very happy relationship.”