Puppy or Adult Dog?

“I want a puppy so I can raise it the way I want it to be. What’s the big deal? Why should I have to take someone else’s problem dog when I can get a puppy and teach him everything I want him to know?”

This comment makes shelter people reply, “No offense, but since when are you an expert on dog behavior? What makes you think you know the first thing about raising and training a puppy?”

And here’s the truth behind the controversy. Puppies are complicated little beings, and they are not easy to live with. Sure, they’re adorable. They’re rolly-polly little fur-balls who lick your nose and wag their bottoms and delight you with their antics. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Actually, puppies are infants, and just as human infants have to learn how to become well-behaved family members, so do puppies. Just as human infants need proper care, feeding, and nurturing to thrive, so do puppies. Just as human infants can have emotional and behavioral problems if they are not handled properly, so can puppies. The difference is that when children grow up with problems, they can get psychological counseling. When puppies grow up with problems, they are frequently given away.

While children grow up, their parents get advice and support from family, school and pediatrician about proper child rearing. And still there are times when children don’t fulfill every hope and dream of their parents. While puppies grow up, the only support may be a vague idea of how to jerk a choke collar and rubbing the pup’s nose in any mess they make. Is it any wonder that many puppies do not turn out exactly as anticipated?

Are you looking for a dog for your family? Are you determined to get a young puppy? If so, PLEASE do your homework first. Read at least three books about training, so you can get an idea of the various opinions out there. Just as with teaching philosophies, there are lots of different ideas about the best way to train a puppy. Then analyze your lifestyle. Do you have the time to devote to an infant? Are you at home long enough each day to teach housebreaking, since a pup’s bladder and bowel can’t hold for more than a couple of hours. Are you willing to spend several hours each week teaching your pup to chew toys instead of furniture, to walk on a leash, to come when called, to stay out of the trash? Do you have small children who need to be taught gentleness because the pup has a very fragile body? Are you ready to deal with the high energy of a young pup?

If you cannot answer “yes” to ANY of these questions, you really ought to consider adopting an adult dog. Grown-up dogs are full size when you see them, so there are no surprises. Their personalities are formed, so you know if they’re going to be shy, assertive, or even aggressive. They can hold their bowels and bladders for much longer than pups (though even the best trained adult dog needs bathroom breaks at reasonable intervals). Adult dogs are less distractible, and can concentrate on training lessons (yes, you CAN teach an old dog new tricks). Adult dogs eat less than growing pups because they are finished growing and their bellies can hold more food.

It’s natural to want a puppy. It’s human nature to find them appealing. But the truth is that most dogs surrendered at shelters are between the ages of 6 months and 2 years. They were cute but they grew up and had problems. Hard to housebreak, chews furniture, barks all the time, pulls on the leash, hyperactive, snaps at the children. In almost every case, these problems are not the dog’s fault. They are the unfortunate result of well-meaning people who thought they could raise a dog the way they wanted it to be. They were wrong. Please don’t make the same mistake.

By the way, not all shelter dogs are there because they had problems. Most were given up because their people had problems. People develop allergies, move to a place that doesn’t allow pets, get a divorce, lose their job, or become physically unable to care for their animals. These dogs are often well cared for and well behaved, but they lost their homes anyway. Even those dogs who lost their homes because of behavioral problems can be adopted and trained to be good canine citizens.