Whatever it is, that has inspired you to consider adopting a dog, it is a journey you will never regret or forget. Dogs are amazing animals who give us unconditional love, who always seem to sense when we need some extra TLC and who can fill our days with laughter and companionship.
But before you go out to choose your new companion, there are a few things to consider.
Should you choose a puppy or an adult?
Puppies usually win the cute and cuddly battle, but puppies require more time, attention and training than most adult dogs. Socialisation, house training, controlled exercise and companionship all take time and energy. Puppies need an enormous amount of time and input, especially during the first 8-10 months of their lives.
On the plus side, getting a dog while very young (between 8-12 weeks of age ) allows time for imprinting with you and can be a good base for a long-term trust relationship between dog and owner.
Adult dogs on the other hand may already be well socialised, sterilised and require less training than puppies. They have also passed through the awkward (and often frustrating) stages of house-training and teething! An adult from a stable home often slots right into a new family situation with a similar routine and rhythm. Adults may however have more behavioural and anxiety issues if they were not treated and handled correctly as puppies.
Each age group has it’s challenges. Just be aware of these before you make your choice.
Is breed really that important?
Not all dogs are equal! Breed variety plays a big role in the needs, behaviour, costs, longevity and potential illnesses of individual dogs. Whether you are single or part of a family, the weather in your area and the size of your garden are just some of the factors that should impact your breed choice. Doing some research into specific breeds before choosing a dog, is a very important part of the adoption process.
What does it cost to own a dog?
Beyond the purchase price of the dog and the initial costs for beds, bowls, collars, leashes and toys, there are many other costs to consider:
Regular tick, flea and worm control
An identification disk or permanent microchip
The initial puppy vaccinations
Annual vaccinations and health checks
Geriatric health checks
Medical expenses and Pet Medical Aid
Remember that in most cases: the bigger and heavier the dog, the higher the costs.
Should I choose a dog from a breeder, a home or from an animal welfare shelter?
If you are looking for a purebred dog, a reputable breeder is definitely the way to go. KUSA (Kennel Union of South Africa) registered breeders have to comply with certain strict minimum requirements and this registration is recognised internationally. They have an excellent and helpful website and investigate their breeders very carefully. While there is never a guarantee choosing a pure-bred puppy via this avenue, this is an excellent place to start.
Try and meet both parents of your new puppy and ask around the health of each parent
Check puppy availability, as reputable breeders don’t over-breed their animals
Ask for a written contract
Try to personally choose your puppy, dont have it chosen for you. Select a confident, well-socialised pup in the litter, that engages well with you and the litter mates. The most dominant and the very shy puppies are usually not ideal
Avoid buying “purebred” dogs through the internet as fraud is rife!!
If exact lineage is not important to you, then choosing a puppy from a normal suburban household is a good alternative. These puppies are often raised as part of the family, are generally well socialised and probably already house trained! Try and apply similar principles when choosing your puppy as mentioned above and ask to see the vaccination booklet of the mother.
World-wide millions of dogs are abandoned annually and taken to animal welfare societies and shelters. South African animal shelters are full of dogs of all ages, shapes, sizes and breeds needing homes. The volunteers and staff of these organisations work tirelessly to ensure that each dog is matched to the right owner and often have strict adoption policies. This is good! It protects both the animal and the new owner from a mismatch. These dogs are usually already vaccinated and are often microchipped and sterilised.
With animals from shelters, it is important to take some precautions, especially if you already have animals at home:
Try and adopt at a time of year when you have a lot of time to spend with the new dog, to help with socialisation and integration into your home
All animals at home should have their vaccinations up to date
Ask careful questions about Parvovirus and Distemper virus exposure and illness in your new dog/puppy. Dogs exposed to Parvo virus can still become ill about 7 days after exposure to an infected dog or contaminated environment. They can start shedding virus 4-5 days after exposure (even before they become ill) and then still shed virus for approximately 2 weeks after recovery, but periods as long as 6 weeks post-recovery have been recorded. Dogs infected with Distemper can shed virus for several months
Just as an aside, don’t buy puppies off the street. I understand that this is unbearably difficult, but it is more effective to immediately report the seller to your local SPCA and let the inspectors confiscate the puppies. This way the puppies will be correctly vetted and rehomed and the “seller” does not receive any money for the pups. Buying puppies from street vendors just encourages backyard breeding.
Careful preparation and thoughtful planning when choosing your new dog can save your time, money and stress. Remember that these guys will be with you for 10-15 years! Take some time to think about your “adoption plan” before you go to choose your new family member.