By Jayel Rao*
Despite being in the third month of 2021 now, we are still getting used to the new normal with this pandemic affecting everyone worldwide. One thing that has helped countless individuals and families during these stressful times is the company of their pets. It has been proven scientifically that petting, cuddling, or even making long eye contact with our pets releases ‘feel good’ hormones like oxytocin, serotonin etc. and also helps in lowering our blood pressure. One of the benefits of pandemic was the work from home option available to almost everyone. And a majority of us have taken the big step of getting a puppy during this time. Let us take a look at the points that all prospective pet parents need to consider before getting a puppy, be it a pandemic situation or otherwise:
Long Term Commitment
Pets are a long term commitment for at least 10–15 years. They would be dependent on you for their food, water, exercise, and vet visits. Getting a pet home should be an informed decision and not an impulsive one! You need to consider that your kids would eventually grow up and go away for college/work or that you may have a very good possibility of moving out of the country for work in future. If it is indeed on the insistence of your kids that you are getting a puppy, please know that you or your partner would still have to remain the primary caretaker. Who would take the responsibility of your pet in that case? Would you be willing to take the pet with you in case of relocation? You need to discuss this with your family before deciding to get a pet.
Research On The Breed
A lot of times, kids (and sometimes we adults too) are fixated on a particular breed. But not all breeds are suitable for all families! High energy breeds like a Labrador or a Boxer may not be suitable for a family where the primary caretaker is looking for a sedate pace in life. Similarly, it would be unfair to get dogs that are bred to be in severe cold climatic conditions to live in a hot and humid place. Beagle is a small breed and sometimes an obvious choice for an apartment dog, but a beagle pup would require more mentally stimulating games to keep him out of mischief. You may consult a trainer or a behaviourist who can understand your family dynamics and recommend an appropriate breed for your family. Or if there is a specific breed of your liking then they would help you understand that breed and what you can expect in terms of breed specific qualities and quirks, the type of exercises they would require, and in general, the common ailments that the breed is prone to. This would give you a fair idea on what to expect. Also, speaking with families having the breed you are looking for would help you immensely!
Adopt Or Buy
Once you have done your research about the breed that would suit you the most, then comes the question of where to get your puppy from? There are two options – you can look at adoption and open your home to a deserving dog or you can get your puppy from a breeder.
If you are looking for adoption, do consult a behaviourist who can help you do temperament testing. A temperament testing would help in understanding if the dog would do well in your family environment. For e.g., if a dog gets stressed in the company of kids then it wouldn’t adjust well in a family with young children but can blossom in a family with grown up kids or only adults. Similarly, a dog who loves human company would not do well to be sent to a farm house where owners visit only occasionally. Once you have decided to go ahead with adoption and the puppy/dog comes home, get a trainer/behaviourist on board to help the dog adjust well in new environment and also to help you understand your dog so that the transition is smooth for everyone.
Let us look at the other option now. As a general rule, I would advise against going to a pet shop. They source extremely young puppies from puppy mills where female dogs are bred continuously in inhuman conditions. Avoid agents who say that they can get you a puppy of any breed that you want. Such middlemen get you very young pups, separated from their mother in a tender age of <30–35 days. A puppy should stay with its mother and its littermates until at least 7–8 weeks. It helps the pup not only to get stronger but the mother dog also teaches her puppy to control its biting behaviour, among other things, while it is teething. A very young puppy is susceptible to catch air borne infection very easily. Infections like Parvovirus and Distemper can be fatal in unvaccinated puppies that travel from the puppy mill breeder to your home.
I would like to reiterate my point that getting a pup should not be an impulsive decision. These days most pet parents from a housing complex are connected on WhatsApp groups. Make that your starting point. Connect with as many pet parents as you can. Ask them where did they get their pups from and their experiences? You should also speak with as many breeders as possible. Good breeders would be the ones who would ask you a lot of questions. They would want their puppies to go to good families. A good breeder may not have a litter readily available but it would be worth waiting for a pup from them. A good breeder would have a litter from a healthy male and female, both having an even temperament. Many common breed specific ailments are genetically transferred. For e.g., large breed dogs like German Shepherd, Rottweiler, Labrador, Golden Retriever etc. are generally predisposed to Hip Dysplasia at later stages in their life. It can severely affect the quality of a puppy’s life if it is genetically inherited and the symptoms start showing in a young puppy.
Your Dog Is Your Responsibility
Your dog deserves to go to various places with you. But it also means that they need to behave well in those (public) places! Hence, training your dog is your responsibility, and the training should ideally begin from the day they come home and not 6 months later. Yes, it is true that dogs can be trained at any stage of their life, but then if you start their training, say 6 months later, they would have to unlearn a lot of things and learn them afresh. Wouldn’t it be better if they learn it correctly the first time?
A couple of points to keep in mind while training are:
- Whether you train them or hire a professional, please do not use punitive methods or let anyone use them on your dog.
- A reward based training works wonderfully.
- Your puppy should look forward to the training sessions and not be scared of the trainer.
- An effective trainer would actually train you and your family to train your dog.
- Use these training sessions and the daily walk & play routines to create a bond with your dog.
Your puppy is going to be a very integral part of your family, hence, take all the above points into consideration and be sure that your decision is not just based on your current situation but also keeping in mind the upcoming 10–15 years of your life.
*Author is a Chartered Accountant by profession and a Certified Canine Trainer from Mumbai. She’s trained under Shirin Merchant, pioneer of positive reinforcement training in India.