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Dogs: Introduction / Getting a Puppy

No one needs to introduce “man’s best friend.” Thousands of years of close association between humans and canines have resulted in an entire literature praising the dog as a companion. So, rather than discussing the dog in your life, let’s start by looking at the people in the life of the pet you have or are considering getting.

Far too many of us forget, when some funny little rascal in a shop window captures our hearts, that by taking it home we are making a commitment. That the pup is willing to do so is obvious, and this is the greatest part of its appeal. But what of our own, in a relationship that may continue as long as thirteen years and more?

To the first humans who formed bonds with dogs, they were undoubtedly a new form of tool — efficient working animals that demanded a minimum amount of care. Today’s hunting dogs and watchdogs demand more attention; nevertheless, they earn their keep. The vast majority of dogs owned today, though, are kept as pets. They are popular because they are social animals, which in their native state live in packs. Instinctively, dogs look for companionship, want to belong, and are ready to freely invest their love.

To be loved is flattering, of course, and because we too are social animals, we respond. Many humans form attachments to dogs they would find difficult with their own species, for a dog’s love is undemanding — on the surface. It asks little and is quite ready to accept us and love us for what we are.

In that first wave of excitement as it charms us, it is easy to overlook the fact that it needs much. In a modern civilization, dogs are far more dependent on us than they were on our ancestors. Only a century ago, when the majority of Americans lived in rural areas, the dog was still able to do a fairly efficient job of fending for itself. Though it was far more likely to become diseased than is today’s pet, it was able to get much of its food by catching small game. And, at the same time, it got the exercise it needed.

In the city or the suburbs where most of us live today, it is impossible for a dog to get its food and exercise independent of us. That is why it is so important, in getting a dog, to think of the future. What happens when the fresh charm of the puppy wears off and we find ourselves with the adult dog? What do we do with the nonhuman member of the family when vacation time rolls around? These things must be considered and, if they are, you can do a great deal to minimize the problems at the time you select your pet.


The basic decisions about what kind of dog you should get center around sex and breed. In both cases, the important things to consider are your present circumstances — life-style, if you will — and your future intentions. You might well be drawn toward a particular choice because of a pet remembered from your childhood, but the pet that was ideal in the conditions your family lived under then might be poorly suited to your life today.

Male versus female? The majority of pet owners have no intention of breeding their animals when they mature — and the sexuality of a mature dog is more inclined to pose problems than anything else. If you have a male and he can be allowed to run free where he will have sexual opportunities, there will be minimal problems; if he is confined, this is another matter entirely. Don’t be so naive as to think a dog’s sexual desires are stimulated only by the scent of a bitch in heat. A male kept confined is quite likely to become sexually aggressive with humans, which can be an annoyance if not an embarrassment.

Certainly, a female in heat is a stimulant to males in the neighborhood — and if you have a female, there can be unwanted pregnancies when she is allowed out, and there can be a pack of aroused males haunting your home. Fortunately, spaying can solve these problems simply and permanently — or, if you have ideas of breeding, the “pill” is available for dogs as well as humans.

There are too many breeds to allow any real examination of the merits of each, but some general rules are possible. First, there is the matter of size. Obviously, for an apartment dweller, one of the toy breeds is far more practical than a Saint Bernard or a Newfoundland. It isn’t simply a matter of living space, either. Larger dogs require a proportionately greater amount of exercise space. Unless your dog will have an opportunity to run free, this means walks, in foul weather as well as fair.

This explains, to a great extent, the enormous popularity of dachshunds, Chihuahuas, and miniature poodles and schnauzers today. But bear in mind that breeding for special characteristics usually means that when you make your selection, you are making a choice between problems. If you get a toy, for example, accept the fact that you’re facing an uphill job in training it not to get on the sofa or easy chairs, something unlikely to interest a larger dog.

Then there’s the matter of personality; here you must allow for individual differences, bearing in mind that the smaller breeds are likely to show greater variations in character than the larger. Generally, though, again, it is possible to arrive at some broad categories. A hound — whether Afghan, beagle, basset, or stretched-out dachshund — is always a hound. Let it spot a rabbit — or let your pet cat or bird make a sudden move — and instinct will probably override training; Dogs bred for guard duty, such as the Dobermans, are not necessarily vicious by nature; but they will tend to settle their affections on either individuals or the members of a family group and not welcome the attentions of strangers. There are entire books on this subject, but any reputable dealer will be able to advise you in the choice of breeds.

The emphasis on breeding, testified to by papers showing American Kennel Club registration, obscures the fact that there are differences in quality among the purebreds no matter how pure a dog’s ancestry might be. Every thing hinges on the merits of the individual pup’s ancestors. The pet shop owner might have the documentation but, no matter how well you have informed yourself, you cannot judge the perfection of form you will get in the mature animal by looking at the pup. And the papers, actually, tell you little beyond the fact that your pet is truly of its breed. To learn anything more than this involves a time-consuming, bothersome search through the A.K.C. record books to discover how well the pup’s forebears did in competitive shows.

Purebreds, though, are more easily predicted than mixed-breed dogs; be cause of that, and because there is prestige attached to their ownership, purebreds are far more popular than the lowly mutt. But muffs have virtues of their own and, aside from the fact that there are so many without homes, don’t deserve to be overlooked. Inbreeding, the very thing that produces the purebreds, also tends to produce congenital faults such as the German shepherd’s inherent tendency to problems with its hindquarters. These are far less likely with the muffs, which are generally much hardier, healthier animals.


One good place to look for a dog is the local American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the ASPCA. Dogs you get there are, for the most part, disease-free — and there are money-back guarantees if the dog does become ill within a certain period of lime. The ASPCA requires male dogs to be castrated, female dogs to be spayed (see Prevention of Pregnancy).

Generally, throughout the country, those in the business of selling purebred dogs must meet strict standards to get and keep their registration. Finding an honest dealer, then, is not a major problem — if you’re given A.K.C. papers on a dog, there’s little reason to doubt their authenticity. The fact remains, however, that they are in the business of marketing dogs, and the primary objective is to make a profit — which depends on volume, and on the ability to provide a wide variety of breeds for shoppers.

The pups they handle come from a number of sources, including kennels that may be thousands of miles away. After the strain of traveling, these young dogs are brought together in close quarters. Each could have contracted some infection at its point of origin and each, in a somewhat weakened condition, is likely to pick up another in the pet shop because its resistance has been lowered.

If, once you have settled on a breed you like, you are within reach of a ‘kennel that specializes in this type, you could reduce the possibilities of contagion by going directly to the source. It’s a good idea to have a look, yourself, at the conditions at the kennel — and if you have in mind showing or breeding your dog, the kennel is definitely a better bet: any kennel owner handling animals of show quality will have books showing the performances of the pup’s ancestors.

This matter of lineage, by the way, is of importance only if you do have such plans for the future. You can expect every show point won by dogs in your pup’s line to be reflected in its price. Unless you look forward to getting your money back through stud fees or selling litters, recognize that owning a member of the canine nobility can be an expensive proposition.

Ultimately, from the standpoint of assuring yourself that you are getting a healthy animal likely to have a good temperament, your best source is a personal friend. You will know that the possibilities of the pup’s contracting an infectious disease are at a minimum — and you can get to know both the parents in advance, watching for traits that might show up in the next generation such as shyness, nervousness, or irritability.

In judging the individual pup out of a litter or a selection in a pet store, pick the one that appears healthiest and most alert. This is no guarantee that an infection is not incubating, and will emerge later, but it does reduce the odds. Shyness, again, is not a desirable characteristic, though it might to some have a certain wistful appeal in a pup. The more gregarious animal will give you the greater trust, I believe, and become the closer friend — though this is a matter of personal taste.

Many pet shops offer warranties allowing you to return a pup within one month if it has been inspected by a veterinarian and found to be diseased or suffering from congenital defects. While, in comparison shopping, it is desirable to consider this as a factor in your choice, you should understand that it is not any absolute assurance that all is well. The incubation period for many diseases extends beyond the warranty, and an apparently healthy pup may still become diseased. Many congenital defects will not become obvious until the dog has reached maturity. Pulling off having the pup checked by the veterinarian until the last possible moment has its pitfalls, too. The longer you keep it, the tighter the hold it gains on your affections and it becomes increasingly difficult to return the pet you have come to love, knowing it will almost certainly be destroyed.

But love is what it’s all about. The pup’s willingness to give love is the source of its appeal. It is a commitment that deserves to be matched by your own, to make sure your pet lives a full and healthy life. This section is designed to help you do the best job possible.

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