The need for finding your dog


John Preston Smith

John Preston Smith


“Purchasing a dog should not be a knee-jerk reaction to what you perceive as a want… when it is the need that is important.” — John Preston Smith

Having trained more than 14,000 dogs since 1963, I have been asked certain questions repeatedly by my clients. There are five. Who, what, when, why, and where to buy a dog? Here are my thoughts.

Who to purchase a dog for? I think everyone in the world should have a dog. The practicality of this, however, is not, well, practical. I believe dogs are one of the greatest gifts our Maker has provided. But, dogs are not for everyone. Kids, yes. But disposition, character, and temperament are critical — of the dog, that is. Training for young tykes regarding the do’s and don’ts should be taken seriously. Dogs are not pillows, trampolines, punching bags or pull toys. Children should be taught not to pounce on a dog’s most tender possessions… his feet.

Should teenagers have a dog? Maybe. Their interests are usually scattered. I recommend a heart-to-heart before purchasing a dog for young people. Will they be willing to feed, exercise, groom, train and clean up behind the new addition? For adults, dogs can be child, mate, and empty-nest substitutes.

However, before purchasing a dog try this: Drive through your neighborhood. How many dogs do you see chained, fenced in small enclosures, or rummaging through garbage. My take: If these dogs had been procured for the right reason, then these travesties would never have happened. No matter who a dog is purchased for, it should be approached as a major decision. A decision that is costly, long-term, and emotional. Yet, consider this: Where else in the world, for a mere hundred bucks, can you purchase a life-long friend?

What dog to buy? Purchasing a dog should not be a knee-jerk reaction. When you need a car, do you run to the car lot and grab the first one you see simply because it’s “so cute?” Probably not. Rather, you consider size, how it will be used, the mileage, the initial cost and maintenance, new versus used, et cetera.

Try this: Give a lot of thought to what you need from a dog. Disposition is critical. Do you need a protection, alarm, or family dog? Is size a factor (do you live in an apartment, house, or 50-acre farm)? Single or double coat (definitely double coated if he is to be an outside dog)? Many veterinarians and dog trainers can help you with understanding the characteristics of different breeds. Or, you can study the “breed standard” of any dog by going online. And while you’re at it, read articles regarding health issues. Some examples: Bulldogs may have respiratory problems. Pugs may have eye problems. German Shepherds may have hip dysplasia concerns. Elongated dogs like dachshunds may have back problems. And finally, does anyone in your household have an allergy to dogs? Bottom line: Make an informed decision.

When not to buy a dog? I am not in favor of purchasing dogs for celebrations like birthdays, anniversaries, or as a replacement pet if you have not discussed this with the person receiving the dog. Don’t buy pups in the wintertime that you plan to leave outside. Don’t purchase a dog for a child unless you plan training both. Many dogs are not intentionally mistreated. However, too often our best intentions get lost in the shuffle after the excitement of the new family addition wears off.

Why purchase a dog? Any of us who had a family dog when we were young know those times as memorable and special. I have previously mentioned how dogs fill a void in our lives in many situations. How about what dogs do for the military, the police, the blind, the autistic, and the disabled. In the early 1960s I advocated that nursing homes and homes for the elderly should have a resident canine. Why? For the same reasons that therapy dogs are used by volunteers in hospitals today. What do dogs bring to the table? Solace, comfort, relaxation, someone to talk with, friendship, good memories. They help us fight loneliness, depression, and fear. There are a gazillion reasons to buy a dog. Just be sure yours is the right one.

Where to buy a dog? The choices are three. From a breeder, a pet shop, or a rescue organization.

From a breeder: When purchasing from a breeder, be sure to see the sire and dame of the litter. In dogs, what you see, mostly, is what you get. If the parents are friendly, aloof, accepting, standoffish, reserved, playful, aggressive, then those balls of fur fighting for your attention will most probably maintain the disposition of their parents. Many dogs a breeder has are not good enough to fit the ideal of the standard of the breed and will not be shown in the confirmation ring at a dog show. Therefore, those dogs are sold as “pet quality.” A pet-quality dog from a breeder will be more expensive than purchasing a mixed-breed dog. However, always compare price and cost. Price is what you pay for a dog. Cost is the money you will put out over the lifespan of your pet. Don’t be afraid to ask your veterinarian about which dog he believes will be healthier in the long run.

From a pet shop: I am not a fan.

From a rescue organization: Probably, this is where most folks get dogs. However, the temperament of mixed-breed dogs is often based on speculation. What really occurred in the life of a dog that caused him to land in a county shelter? Was it relocation, divorce, abuse, biting, health issues, or a lack of training? All my childhood dogs came from the city pound. They all had quirks, but they were great dogs and I loved them. In addition to your local humane society, there are many organizations that sponsor rescue and adoption for pets needing a forever home. One such agency, Little Victories, is in Barboursville, W. Va., near my hometown.

The next question coming from many folks is this: How do I know which dog to purchase? I’ll discuss temper testing and assessment techniques in my next column.

Thanks for reading.

John Preston Smith is the author of “The Legend of the Last Dog.” All of his books are listed at jprestonsmith.com.

John Preston Smith
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