By Susan Spisak
You’ve decided to adopt a dog. That's great, but since this is a long-term commitment and requires work, consider a few things. Decide what breed is best and whether you’re going to find him through a reputable breeder, shelter, or rescue. Then choose a vet, prepare for his homecoming, have a plan for training, and don’t forget his entertainment! Most importantly, bring him home when your days are calm. This chaotic holiday season may not be the best time—you may want to wait until the new year so he can settle in successfully.
Choosing A Breed
Start by being honest about your lifestyle, your family, and home environment. Unfortunately, many dogs are relinquished because their owners weren’t realistic about what they could handle. I know of an elderly couple who had to have a pup—they purchased one through a breeder only to discover she had far more energy and strength than they did. The pup was rehomed with the help of a rescue group. Along that same vein, if you do not have the time required to housebreak a puppy, think about an older dog.
If your family walks daily, look for a breed who needs activity. And if you have small children, an unflappable breed is a must. Think toddlers who pull on tails or may ride the dog like a horsey. Speaking of children, it’s important that they understand proper pet manners.
For condo or apartment dwellers, don’t think you’re limited to a tiny canine unless management has weight limits. A large couch potato or senior will enjoy lazing the day away. And skip a pint size yapper—your neighbors won’t be thrilled.
If you’re certain you want a purebred puppy, take the American Kennel Club’s test to determine the top breeds for you at akc.org/dog-breed-selector/. Then find a reputable breeder and their pups. This site, marketplace.akc.org/puppies/all-breeds/Maine, can guide you. Be sure to meet the breeder, the pups’ parents, aka sire and dame, and any other dogs there. Watch how the breeder interacts with his dogs. Are they part of the home as family pets? If you discover the dogs are kenneled in crates in the basement, garage, or barn, or you aren’t allowed to meet any dogs, walk away.
If you go through a shelter or rescue, scour their websites searching for dogs. (Know that you may be able to find pups through these organizations as well, but they likely won’t have the certifications.) Outline what you’d like to have in your pet on your application. A perk of working with rescues is that most dogs are in foster homes and the housebreaking, training, and socialization process has begun. Their fosters can provide feedback on its personality, and what setting the dog will flourish in.
Make sure you plan a few “meet and greets” with any potential dogs. Have all family members with you, as well as any resident dogs. If you have any felines, be sure any canines that you’re considering are cat friendly. Have a thorough discussion with the staff on the pet’s habits and personality details so you can understand his likes, dislikes, and quirks.
The Nitty Gritty’s
Before that fun journey begins with your pal, make sure you’re well-versed. Arm yourself with knowledge on socialization (regardless if he is a pup or older), housebreaking and crate training, and especially if you’re adopting a wee one, gating and feeding. Libraries, bookstores, and online sites offer much information.
Choose a well-respected veterinarian, and the closer to your home, the better so you can get your bud in for annual visits and emergency needs. These appointments are important because they afford your doctor the opportunity to look for abnormalities and signs of disease in addition to the routine tests. If you’re budget-minded, low-cost vet clinics are offered through shelters and can be utilized supplementally.
Research food products (and talk to that new vet) to ensure you’re going to feed him the right stuff. Know that the often-hyped grain free, organic, or holistic may not be best. Gear food choices toward breed, age, size, and any known issues like a sensitive stomach. Make sure it’s “complete and balanced,” meaning it’s been verified by the strict Association of American Feed Control Officials. For more info, check out DogFoodAdvisor at dogfoodadvisor.com/.
Decide where your friend will sleep. A pup or a one-time stray may relish the security of a crate. A comfy dog bed in a few rooms is an option. Personally, my dogs are gated in the family room and attached laundry room at night, and they can tuck in on the couches or their beds.
Regular grooming is important. Who doesn’t love being treated to some pampering? For baths, it doesn’t matter if you drop him off at your favorite groomers or take him to a do-it-yourself dog wash like the ones at Loyal Biscuit Co. stores (loyalbiscuit.com/pages/dog-wash) . Use a shampoo that will be best for his skin and fur type and be sure to read the ingredients. It’s important since the FDA doesn’t regulate non-medicated shampoos. For more info about shampoos, petshampooingredientdatabase.com/.
Heidi Neal, from Loyal Biscuit Co., likes to use Earthbath D Wipe Hypo-Allergenic wipes, in regular or scented, and Tropiclean Waterless Shampoo between grooms and “Also, continuing to brush with a grooming tool appropriate for the dog’s coat,” she added.
Check out area trainers. Sara Sokol, certified trainer and owner of Mr. Dog Training, recommended that new dog guardians enroll in a class with a positive reinforcement trainer before bringing home the new dog or puppy, so you two can get off on the “right paw.” Sara shared that a good basics class should include several components including dog body language, understanding learning theory and how that applies to training and communication, an enrichment program, and building trust and communication with your new canine companion. (For information on her classes mrdogtraining.com/.)
Entertaining Your Pet
Don Hanson, PCBC-A, BFRAP, Owner and President of Green Acres Kennel Shop in Bangor, said dogs need mental enrichment more than physical exercise. “Insufficient stimulation of their brains is often the cause of behaviors we’re not particularly fond of. A dog is a social animal, like us, so some of the best mental stimulation we can provide is interaction with us.”
A slow walk, with the dog having opportunities to stop and sniff, is perfect to de-stress. However, this is not always as simple as it sounds, especially in the winter. Slow-smoked bones can keep a dog engaged for hours, and this works all year round.
“Around for decades, stuffed the Kong was the first mental enrichment toy for dogs and, in my opinion, is still the best. Fill it with kibble and some dry treats and wedge a raw carrot in the bottom to hold everything inside; in my experience, that can keep a dog busy for anywhere from 20 to 90 minutes.” He added to feed your dog less on these days.
“Mental enrichment is extremely important for dogs, but it’s also the new buzz phrase triggering the greedier instincts of humanity. Many ebooks, written by AI (Advanced Idiociy), are available on the topic and costly products that the average dog will figure out and possibly destroy in less than 5 minutes. Buyer beware. If it sounds too good to be true, it is. The best way to provide the engagement your dog seeks is to take a break, turn off the cell phone, and interact with them.”
Another great outlet if he’s a water-loving sort is indoor swims with a skilled assistant. There’s All 4 Paws Wellness in Portland owned and operated by Christine Fraser DVM. Gentle hydrotherapy can provide fitness, facilitate rehabilitation, and accelerate weight loss if necessary. Dr. Fraser said it is good for older and arthritic dogs, especially in the warm therapy pool that they have. “Learning to swim can also help dogs develop confidence, as well as serve as a great outlet for excess energy when the weather makes it difficult to get adequate exercise outdoors in the winter.” (all4pawswellness.com/)
Water Bark Wellness in Rockport is owned by certified instructor Kate Griffin. She’s almost always booked and can only accommodate a new client if the schedule allows. She explains it’s because her clientele understands the hydrotherapy benefits: “Swimming is a fabulous way for dogs to have fun and burn off pent up energy. It’s a full body workout, relieves stress and anxiety, and is easy on the joints.” (waterbarkwellness.com/)