Dogs are instinctively pack animals, but through the centuries they have become domesticated and introduced to family life. They regard their human family as their pack, and provide the same loyalty and devotion as they would to members of their own kin, earning them the reputation as man's best friend.
When choosing a puppy, proper thought should be given to its suitability to your household, in order to prevent untold heartache for both you and your dog in the long run. Firstly, the family needs to consider whether they are prepared to make the sacrifices needed to accommodate the new family member. It is not fair to get a new addition to the family if there is no-one at home all day, resulting in it doing solitary confinement. If you desperately want a furry friend under these circumstances, rather get two, who can be partners in crime whilst you're out earning their keep! You must, however, be prepared to exercise and shower them with attention when you get home.
You will need to consider the expenses of keeping a dog, which include feeding, licensing, vaccinations and vet bills. If you choose a breed with a long coat, you will also need to budget for regular trips to the dog parlour to keep him well groomed and prevent the coat from becoming a matted mess.
When there are young children in the family, it is important that you choose a puppy very carefully, perhaps postponing the adoption until your young ones are slightly older. It is a fallacy to think a tiny pup is suitable for a tiny tot! Young children tend to manhandle fragile puppies, which can be seriously hurt. Likewise, young pups have needle sharp teeth, which can result in tears all round as they playfully savage your tender little darlings. Teething pups will also chew on anything that appeals, and this will usually include your finest leather shoes, or newly upholstered lounge-suite!! You have been warned, so be prepared.
Is a bitch or dog a better choice for the family? A bitch will come in heat (which lasts 3 weeks) every six months. During this time she will attract the attention of every hot-blooded male dog in the neighbourhood, and will need to be kept securely confined. There are commercial products on the market, such as bitch sprays, which can be sprayed on the bitch to reduce her sex appeal to would-be suitors. Bitches are more even-tempered and placid than their male counterparts, and are less inclined to wander in search of a mate. Some people are attracted to the high spirited energy of dogs, which gives them a unique character, not often found in the bitch. Both dogs and bitches can be sterilised, and whatever sex you choose, unless you plan on breeding with your pet, it is advisable to take precautions against bringing unwanted litters into this world.
When choosing a puppy, you will also need to take into consideration the size of the breed. Do you want a big or small dog? Big dogs need space, exercise, and proper training, never forgetting that a BIG dog has a BIG appetite! A large uncontrollable mutt is no pleasure to have around, so be fair to your big buddy and train him to your ways from early days.
There are many avenues where you may find the friend of your dreams. If you are after a particular breed and prefer a pedigreed dog, it is best to contact a reputable breeder. If you are not that concerned about breeding and simply want a pet that you can love and cherish, then look at reputable pet shops, or in the classified section of your daily newspaper. A heart-warming option is to provide a home for Orphan Annie from your local animal shelter - this may save her life. Animal Welfare organisations do not usually give dogs away free to a good home, but charge what seems to be quite high prices for unwanted dogs. This is to deter people from taking animals they may tire of rapidly, and also covers the cost of vaccinations and sterilisation which is carried out on all animals as a matter of routine.
When choosing a puppy look for one that is lively, with bright eager eyes. It should not have a bloated stomach (a sign of worms), or be flea infested, although a deworming treatment and good bath should usually cure these two ills. A good rule of thumb when choosing an individual from a litter is to separate all the potentials (e.g. male or female, black or white, depending on your preference), put these down on the ground, turn your back and walk away, then turn around and call out to them. If you can resist the urge to take home the pack, the first one at your feet should have the honour of being your newly elected friend for life.