So you want to adopt a puppy?
We receive a lot of applications for the puppies in our rescue, a LOT more than we receive for our adults dogs, sadly. Oftentimes, in speaking with the applicants, we realize they have not fully thought through what adopting a puppy really means and the responsibilities that come along with it. In order to provide accurate and rational information to our adopters, we have put together the following talking points regarding adopting a new puppy. We hope you find this tip sheet useful in your search for a new pet!
Raising them right
The number one reason we hear for wanting to adopt a puppy is “I want to raise it right so I know how it will be as an adult.” While we understand the desire to start fresh with a young puppy in order to teach it all the right things and keep it from learning all the wrong things; this thinking is actually based on several inaccuracies:
- Raising a puppy yourself guarantees it will be good with other dogs, children, adults, cats, etc. when it is older: The nature vs. nurture debate is on-going and long argued. However, scientists today agree that it is approximately 60% genetics and 40% environment. This means that your dog’s temperament is 60% determined by its genes and 40% determined by the way you raise it. So even if you do everything correctly and introduce the dog to new stimuli in exactly the right way, you may still end up with a dog that does not do well in certain situations (i.e. with other dogs, children, cats, etc.).
- “Socializing” your puppy means taking it to the dog park or puppy play classes: Although MABB agrees that socializing a puppy properly is the best way to ensure that it does well with other dogs, children, cats, etc.; it is actually very difficult to properly socialize a puppy. Too often people assume that just having a puppy around other dogs (i.e. at the dog park), or children, or cats, when it is young will mean that it will be good with all these things when it is older. In fact, properly socializing a puppy is a lot of hard work! It means ensuring that your puppy does not have negative experiences with other dogs or children or cats, etc. It means knowing exactly how your puppy is feeling in any given situation and knowing when to intervene before the experience becomes a negative one. This requires extensive knowledge of dog behavior and dog body language that many people do not have. In fact, many professional trainers will tell you that properly socializing a puppy can be a full-time job – and often is for them! MABB strongly encourages researching dog behavior (specifically stress/anxiety signals in dogs) before adopting any dog, as well as consulting with a professional behaviorist regarding the proper way to socialize a dog.
- It’s easier to train a puppy: Most people have heard the old adage “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” But did you know this is absolutely NOT true? In fact, many times the older/adult dogs actually learn things MORE quickly than puppies! While it is true that some of the adult dogs in our rescue are not house-trained or crate-trained or know any commands when we first take them from the shelter, our foster parents work very hard to teach our dogs the skills they need to be successful in an adoptive home. What we have found is that the majority of older/adult dogs in our rescue actually learn these skills faster than the puppies. They have fully-developed brains and bodies which allows them to pick up on things more easily, and put into use the skills we teach them.
Puppies and children
While many people think that raising a puppy and a child (or children) together is best for both, this is not necessarily the case. Although puppies are easier to manage with children when they are small, they grow up very quickly and within a couple months they will no longer be so little.
Oftentimes, we have found that when asked, children want a dog that does NOT do all the things a puppy does – like jump up on them, or chew on their belongings, or nibble their toes/nose/fingers, or steal their food. As we mentioned previously, it is also not always easier to train a puppy to NOT do these things.
The most important thing to remember when considering adding a dog to a home with children is that, no matter how old the dog is, constant management will be required at absolutely all times. Managing the interactions between a dog and child does not mean simply supervising the two together. Management means ensuring the safety and happiness of both dog and child at all times; and if either is compromised for one or both parties, removing both parties from the situation immediately. It is not ok to supervise your child as it sits upon, crawls upon, or bounces upon your dog, even if you dog does not react overtly to these behaviors. There may be dogs that tolerate this behavior but there is virtually no dog that ENJOYS this behavior. Understanding the signs that your dog is uncomfortable is imperative to knowing when it is appropriate to intervene. Some dogs may be uncomfortable with many behaviors or actions from children (and this has little to do with whether that dog was “raised with children). Again, knowing what your dog is telling you is necessary for ensuring his happiness and safety. For more information on dog behavior, please see our Dog Behavior tip sheet.
It is equally important to ensure the child is enjoying the interaction as well. Dogs, even the most well-trained dogs, will sometimes jump on children, or attempt to take food from children, or steal toys from children. If the child does not enjoy these behaviors, it is not acceptable to allow the dog to continue performing them.
MABB strongly recommends that when looking for a dog that will do well with children, adopters focus on those dogs that have shown they are good with children. Sometimes this includes puppies but many times it also includes adult dogs.
Puppies and other dogs
Again, while most dogs appear to get along well when at least one of them is a puppy, puppies grow up quickly and are very soon full-grown adults. Even when a puppy grows up with another dog, it does not guarantee that the dogs will always get along. Living in a multi-dog household requires management and supervision and this is true even if one dog is a puppy.
It is also difficult to predict a puppy’s personality before it reaches adulthood. Part of that personality is shaped by the environment in which it is raised. As discussed earlier, it can be very difficult to ensure a purely positive environment with purely positive experiences, even for the most knowledgeable trainer or behaviorist. Frequently, puppies that appeared to be dog-friendly when younger grow up to be less than dog-friendly as an adult. Sometimes this even means having issues with the other dog(s) in its household.
When looking to add a second dog to your home, MABB encourages adopters to let their current dog be the deciding factor. Some dogs may not appreciate puppy antics so while you may have your heart set on adopting a puppy, your current dog may have other ideas. Finding a dog with the right temperament to match your current dog’s personality should be the most important factor; this may include puppies, as well as adult dogs.
Again, MABB strongly recommends that when looking for a dog that does well with another dog, adopters consider adult dogs that are known to be good with other dogs. Adult dogs with a history of being good with other dogs may be more likely to do well with other dogs in their household than puppies.
More on puppy socialization
As mentioned previously, proper and appropriate socialization of a puppy requires a LOT of hard work on the part of the owner/trainer. It does not mean simply taking your puppy to a puppy play class, or taking your puppy to the dog park, or arranging lots of play dates for your puppy. In fact, doing any of these things can have the OPPOSITE intended effect on your puppy – it can teach your puppy that other dogs are scary or intimidating and make them uncomfortable around other dogs (which can lead to fear aggression toward other dogs when the puppy grows up).
In fact, many trainers recommend against any type of puppy play socialization because the most important thing to teach any dog is that WITH YOU is the most important (and fun!) place the dog can possibly be. Here is one trainer’s take on puppy socialization:
Puppy Classes that have playing as a priority are setting up some of those puppies for social issues later on in life. If these guys have a temperament flaw (love dogs way too much, or are scared of them) these group festivities teach them to be much stronger, or much weaker, but more importantly, every single puppy leaves being dog obsessed.
For puppies that do lack confidence, or are bullies with other puppies, over-socialization is just as bad as none. You will make them dog obsessed, and I bet you $20 that fearful dog-obsessed puppy will have aggression when he hits puberty, the same as his over-confident friend.
These groups should instead be focused on short interactions with other puppies, safely, so EVERY puppy enjoys it, and then the owners should be a way more fun option than the other dogs. Puppy play should be boring in comparison.
Teaching your dog that you are the most important person (and the most fun person) in the world, if they have not yet become dog obsessed, is really easy to do.
Again, knowing when your dog is uncomfortable in a situation with other dogs is critical to ensuring legitimate and successful “socialization.”
More on dog genetics
As mentioned earlier, it is important to understand that approximately 60% of a dog’s temperament is determined by genetics. Moreover, significant research has been done that shows environmental stress on pregnant females can have negative impacts on her offspring during gestation (stressful environments for pregnant females can include shelters, puppy mills, or any other environment with constant noise/stress/etc., or where the pregnant female does not receive proper medical care). This has actually even been shown to be true of environmental stress on BOTH male and female parents during the creation of the individual sperm and egg cells. If a male is under stress during the time his body is making sperm, those sperm cells can carry “stressful DNA” (for lack of a better term) that is passed on to his offspring, which can then be exhibited in any number of characteristics in that offspring. The same is true of the female during her egg cell production; and then again during gestation of her offspring. This “stressful DNA” can induce behaviors in the offspring that include increased reactivity to stimuli (i.e. other dogs, cats, children, etc.), and/or the inability to self-regulate reactions to stress, and/or appropriately appease in stressful situations.
For example, a dog WITHOUT this “stressful DNA” may be put in a situation with another dog where he is uncomfortable. However, he may be able to self-regulate his reaction to this situation by moving away from the dog that is making him uncomfortable. By removing himself from the situation, he avoids conflict. But a dog WITH this “stressful DNA” may instead up-regulate in this situation, meaning she will become MORE stressed and reactive to the inappropriate dog, and attempt to bite.
It is impossible to know whether a puppy (or any other dog) carries this “stressful DNA”; and even if it does, whether it will exhibit behaviors typical of this “stressful DNA.” Every dog owner must be prepared to deal with the possibility that their dog will, at some point in her life, exhibit these behaviors. It is also important to realize that even a dog that DOES have increased reactivity can still live well with other dogs, cats, children, etc. – it is just up to the dog owner to understand their dog’s body language and manage the dog in situations where she may be uncomfortable.