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Sunday, August 24, 2008

As Serious a Decision as Having Kids

Dear Jan,
My stepson and his wife recently got a German Shepherd puppy at seven weeks from a breeder in the Seattle area. They were doing everything right, but they started identifying some severe temperament problems when the puppy was about eleven weeks old. They had the pup evaluated by a "dog psychologist" and a vet, who both diagnosed "aggression issues" and recommended they return the pup to the breeder. They did, but now they plan to get another puppy from another breeder. My real concern is that neither one of them has the time to devote to raising a puppy right now, and that the same thing will happen again. Your thoughts?

Hi Rhonda,
Not having seen the puppy, it's hard to say whether returning the dog was the right thing to do. More often than not, these "temperament problems" can be worked out quickly in the hands of an experienced behaviorist/trainer, but follow-through is necessary on the part of the owners. If they don't have enough time for the dog, it won't work and will only get worse.

Choosing to bring a dog into a family is like choosing to bring a child into the family. The committment is shorter--about 10 to 16 years for a dog. But the needs of a lifetime are concentrated in those years, which means the responsible dog "parents" have to care for an infant, toddler, pre-schooler, pre-teen, adolescent, adult, and a geriatric all in the span of a few years. The joy of having a dog, like a child, is in seeing him develop, which requires a lot of interaction. They don't develop into the dogs of our dreams by sitting in back yards alone all day, any more than kids develop into all they can be if they spend half their lives in daycare. Some people think we dog parents who don't have "real" kids are crazy when we put our dogs first above everything else in our lives. If they realized, however, that dogs give back at least twice what you give to them, they may become more compassionate to the needs of a dog.

A young working couple, or a young family with multiple kids going in all directions every day, might not be a proper home for an emotionally needy young dog (and Shepherds can certainly be more needy and high maintenance than many other breeds). Dogs brought into this environment commonly end up one of two ways: either surrendered to a shelter or sold to another home, or stuck in a back yard, neglected, undertrained, underutilized and underappreciated.

Tips for Making the Decision
Should you bring a dog into your household? Consider these things:
1. Are you willing to design the next 10 years of your life around this dog (to include vacation plans, expenditures, physical activity, time necessary for training, and housing considerations)? Having a dog will greatly impair your ability to find rentals and to travel on the spur of the moment.

2. Do you have $2,000 to $4,000 a year to spend on dog-related expenses? (like food, routine and emergency vet bills, training, equipment, toys, and repair of damaged carpet sprinklers)

3. Why do you want to have this dog? If you've chosen a breed, what made you choose that particular breed? It should be because the breed personality and requirements fit you and your lifestyle.

4. Where do you see yourself in five years? If you're planning to move to Florida, don't get a Malamute now. If you're pursuing a job that will require lots of travel, don't get a dog at all. If someone in your family shows signs of developing allergies, DON'T GET A DOG unless you're willing to buy lots of Kleenex.

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