Adopting a Puppy – Age Matters!

Adopting a Puppy – Age Matters!

Recently my very best friend added a beautiful coonhound named Merlin to her family, consisting of herself, her boyfriend, a loving young pit-mix, and a young cat. I was ecstatic, knowing that they had been looking for a puppy for a while.

There was one problem though, and she knew that was the case. This puppy was only 6 weeks old. Why was my friends 6 week old puppy a problem?

In an ideal situation would be to take the puppy sometime between 10 and 12 weeks, though if you’re picking them up later you would want for there to have been many interactions between you and the pup so you aren’t a completely new person. At the very least you should pick up your puppy when they are 8 weeks. This is because in this time your dog is learning about him or herself, about dogs, and about proper interactions. Your puppy will learn from his mother, his litter-mates, and from the other people and animals in his breeders household.

There is no benefit from separating a dog from its family unit early. There is nothing to gain from it. The breeder is the only one who might gain anything early because they get money from the dog early, and don’t have to spend money feeding those puppies an extra couple weeks. For a breeder to do this is not only unethical, but is in ignorance, irresponsibility, and at the very worst is out of greed. If a breeder gives puppies up before they are eight weeks old, or refuses to keep a puppy until it is eight weeks old then you should walk away. Along the same lines, if the mother is no longer able to interact with or is no longer on site with the puppies you should also walk away.

The steps a litter goes through are roughly these:

  1. Birth – 2 Weeks: No expectations. Nurse, Sleep, eliminate by mothers encouragement.
  2. 2 – 3 Weeks: Eyes and ears open. First chance to be aware of surroundings via more than touch and smell.
  3. 3-16 Weeks: Socialization Period. Begin interacting with surroundings.
    1. 6-12 Weeks: Critical Period. When dogs develop social skills. 50% of the dogs eventual temperament will be developed during this time. Incorrect social behavior is tolerated mildly but corrected.
  4. 13 Weeks – 6 Months: Beginning of adulthood. Incorrect social behavior no longer tolerated by other dogs.

In the first two weeks of a dogs critical socialization period some very important things happen. At this time the dogs are fully weaned and will not be nursing from the mother, but it is vital that they still be interacting with her. This is because she is the key figure in their lives and she will now be teaching them proper social behavior. Before now she allowed them the climb on her, nibble her, chew her, and even possibly hang from her ears or tail by teeth. Now, she will physically show them that the behavior they used to get away with is not appropriate and will not be tolerated. She will yelp when they nip her to show them that nibbling and biting is only tolerated so far. She will enforce rules and show them what is and what isn’t good behavior. The mother is the first one to show them they are no longer babies and that they are expected to behave, and what behaving means.

As mentioned above, it’s during this time that about half of the dogs eventual temperament is developed. This is because the puppies will learn that there is a hierarchy to things, that there are things expected of them. Not only will their mother teach them what they can and cannot get away with, but their siblings will do the same. We have all seen puppies rough-house and then hear one yelp and the playing stop. This is so important as this teaches dogs not only when they’ve gone too far, but also helps teach them the signs and signals that other dogs will give off when they’re reaching the line or need a break.

Dogs who are separated from their litter and from their mother before this happens are effectively socially and emotionally crippled. They aren’t given the opportunities to learn what is and isn’t acceptable social behavior and because of that are more likely to over stimulate others, or go too far when “playing”.

They are also more likely to become fearful in new situations as they have no experience truly interacting with their surroundings. Because of this they can go into these new situations and become fear-biters or fear-aggressive. These dogs are not angry or mean, but they will view new experiences as attacks and react by defending themselves. Dogs separated too early from their mothers and siblings are usually ones who will over or under react to dogs because they never learned how to read calming or stress signals in others. This usually causes many fights to happen and can cause your dog to develop more phobias and fears.

Other problems which people might experience from dogs who they get from a breeder too early can be health related. In the extra time with their litter and their mother the puppy will be protected and learn self-soothing techniques which can help them in situations of anxiety or overstimulation. If they don’t get this they are more prone to separation anxiety which because of the stress hormones released can very negatively affect your dogs long-term health. They can also have more difficulty with weight gain and growth in their lifetimes. They will be more prone to illnesses and health problems throughout their lives and they usually have a higher mortality rate than is the norm for their breeds.

Overall, there is no benefit in separating a dog from its mother or siblings early and there are many negatives that would otherwise be avoided.

When getting a puppy always know that your breeder is doing everything that is best for their dogs. This includes things like health checks and not over-breeding, but it also includes simple things like keeping a litter together for a responsible amount of time, at least 8 weeks. If a breeder has beautiful dogs but does not do this, walk away.

In the case of little Merlin, my friend’s new pup, we’re moving forward. The breeder did do wrong by the pup by separating him from his litter and his mother at that age and more knowledge about the outcomes could have helped all involved, but what’s done is done. All I can hope is that by letting more people know why early separations are horrible for the dogs and why you should always completely look into a situation before getting a new dog from a breeder, or from anywhere, I can help dogs in the future avoid this situation.

Getting a Shelter Dog

Getting a Shelter Dog

As you may have guessed from previous posts, my first recommendation when looking for a new dog is to research and find a responsible breeder whom you like and to get in touch with them. But there are countless reasons why this might not be possible for you or why you may not want to get a puppy. Some of these reasons can include:

  • You don’t have time for serious training
  • You don’t believe you have the experience level for a puppy
  • You have a young child and don’t have the time for a puppy
  • Your family travels a lot and an older dog would be simpler
  • There are no breeders near you or within decent driving distance, but there are shelters
  • You like the idea of saving a life

If your reason for getting a shelter dog is anything but the final reason, please take a serious look at your life, your current responsibilities, and your finances. Do not get a dog out of convenience or simply because you believe having one would be nice. Getting a dog is not something every family should do, it is not a privilege given to you as a human adult. Getting a dog is a responsibility and should not be taken lightly.

If you look at everything and still believe that getting a dog is something you should do and your family is ready, then by all means DO go to a shelter! Even though the numbers show that the families seeking dog ownership outweigh the number of homeless dogs, the reality isn’t quite so cut and dry. If it were, then we would soon have no need for shelters and no shelter would be “at-capacity”.

If you know that you want to get a rescue dog but have interest in certain specific breeds, there are countless breed specific rescues which you can look to. From the ever popular Golden to the more rare Basenji, there is a rescue organization with both young and old dogs alike. The benefit of these groups aren’t only that you can get a purebred or high percentage purebred dog, but that they have some wonderful processes that will pair you and your family with a dog whose energy level and temperament should match your own, so long as you are honest on their questionnaire. In these situations please, do not overestimate what you will do. If you are normally a couch potato netflix watcher, don’t say that you are very active. This will not give you a dog who will encourage you to get out and moving. More likely this will give you a dog who will not be content with what you give them and who may become destructive. For more information on the importance of not only Physical but Mental exercise, please see some of my previous posts.

If you are not set into any breed or type in particular, you’re more likely to find a dog whom you will love at any shelter. I would recommend going to one which has a no-kill policy and whose personnel are helpful and politely answer any questions you have. When you go, have a general idea in mind of what you are looking for. If you want an older dog because you want to help them and understand that older dogs are more likely to stay in a shelter for longer, don’t spend time looking at any puppies or young dogs the shelter may have. If you want a shepherd or spaniel type dog who’ll be a good jogging partner, spend less time with the small toy breeds. There is nothing against these dogs but once you spend any time with a dog you are likely to want to “save” them, and if you get a dog who doesn’t fit with your personality or lifestyle you may become frustrated with them and have “buyers-remorse” for a living being.

Once you have settled on a dog that you like, ask about them. If you are at a breed specific rescue then the people in charge will most likely know more about a dogs previous situation, but both breed specific rescues and every-day shelters should do temperament testing for their dogs and should know if there are any apparent “problems” they may have.

Has the dog interacted with children? Other Dogs? Cats?

How does he walk on a leash? Do they recommend a Harness?

Does she know any commands?

Are they house trained? Crate Trained?

Do they have any known health problems?

Was he at a healthy weight when he came in?

How does she do with food? Is she protective and defensive during meals?

Do they know if he’s ever been accused of biting someone?

What methods of training were used previously?

Any questions that you ask is a good question. Anything that pertains to your life and what the dog will be around if you were to take them is important.

If you have found your dog, congratulations! Before taking him or her home be sure you have everything they’ll need when you get home. Many shelters have a list of veterinarians in the nearby area who they work with and who will give discounted first visits. Look and see if one is in your area or if you already know one. If you already have a vet and they are not on the list but you know you’ll never go to the vet on the list after the first visit, go to your normal vet. Regardless, set up a first appointment for within the first week of owning the dog. This will make sure that they are healthy and is usually a contractual obligation of getting the dog.

Next up is to give your dog some time to settle in. It might sound nice to go out and introduce everyone you know to your new dog, but recognize that this is a very new, scary, and stressful situation for your new friend. Take your time and introduce them slowly. Depending on your dog’s level you might want to try a training or socialization class as a “refresher” course of sorts. This will also help you bond with your new dog and help show them that you are their friend and the person whom they can trust to guide them.

Most of all, have fun and enjoy your dog!

What is “Responsible Dog Ownership”?

What is “Responsible Dog Ownership”?

You will hear me say time and time again that we need more Responsible Dog Owners. That they are who will in the long run help dogs, breeds, and encourage positive action.

Owning a god is not a privilege but a responsibility.

What is a responsible owner though? Here’s how I like to explain and how I understand responsible ownership.

Responsible Dog Owners should go through three stages.

1.) Determining if a dog is right for them and all involved.

This means that the person has acknowledged the responsibility of dog ownership and has decided that they can not only enjoy having a dog in their life, but that they can better a dogs life. This person will assess their abilities, meaning their physical, mental, and financial abilities to own a dog and that they come to the conclusion that they can. This person will then think about their expectations of a dog and what they want from their dog. Whether it is a TV watching companion or a marathon running training partner. They will then take this expectations and see what dog breeds would work for them. They will take into account size, coat length, trainability, energy level, and more. They might have color interests for a dog, such as liking Merle Australian Shepherds more than Red Tris, but this will rank low on their list of “wants” for a dog and would not keep them from getting one who fits all of their other criteria.

The final step this person will hit before moving on is to determine where they get their dog from. For a responsible owner there are three choices.

A Responsible Breeder, a Breed Specific Rescue which is most likely associated with a kennel club or breed club, or a local No-Kill shelter.

2.) Picking out and preparing for their new dog.

The next step is to actually pick out the puppy who will be with you for the rest of their lives. Depending on where you’re getting your dog, some things may vary. For example-

If getting your dog from a responsible breeder you may first have to fill out a questionnaire with the breeder. This will tell the breeder a lot about you and also allow you to tell the breeder what’s important to you. This will help the breeder steer you to a puppy who has a temperament and energy level that will fit your lifestyle. Note, a responsible breeder will always put temperament over coat or eye color and reserves the right to deny a dog to a person if they believe that person to be unfit for their line, the breed, or for dogs in general. Expect to not only ask questions, but have questions asked of you. These pups are the breeders making, and they will take great care to place them with responsible and confident people.

You will most likely, if accepted by the breeder, then be put on a “wait list” and you will be notified if a litter is born and especially if the breeder believes a puppies traits fit what you are looking for.

You will also be expected to sign a contract which at the very least will say that the breeder guarantees a clean bill of health, that the dog will be “covered” for a specified time from the day it leaves their possession so that if anything major does come up that they should notify the breeder immediately, and then there will be conditions to the sale/adoption. For pets these usually include that the dog cannot be bred and should be spayed or neutered, that if for any reason the buyer cannot keep the dog that they are not to sell, give, or re-home the dog to anyone except the breeder without express written permission from the breeder, and that if for any reason the breeder finds or learns that the dog is being mistreated, abused, neglected, or that the owner did not follow other conditions of the contract, that the seller retains the right to remove the dog and will not be required to reimburse the buyer for anything.

If getting from a shelter you may be able to get a dog same day and select from any number of animals and ages. Many shelters now how personnel whose job it is to be sure that pet adopters select dogs that will fit their lifestyle, but it is not the norm for a shelter to refuse adoption for this reason.

Between the time you decide that you truly do want a dog and the day you bring a dog into your home you should prepare as well.

This means not only buying toys, a bed, a crate, food, and bowls. But buying a collar, harness, and lead and also getting in contact with a local vet. It is recommended to get in with your vet as soon as you can once you have a new dog, especially a puppy.

3.) Practicing responsible ownership – A Day to Day task for the life of the animal.

Now you’ve got your dog in the home with you. This is where the true “responsible ownership” comes to play. Everything else was preparing you for this. Your job now is to prepare your dog for the world and be her ambassador. This means training in a proper way, socializing them, and taking them to regular vet visits. This means being aware of changes in your dogs personality or actions so you can contact your vet to see if something is wrong. This means going above and beyond giving your dog the necessities for life, but that you are a true friend to your dog. This means exercising and playing regularly. This means challenging your dog with different games and puzzles so they aren’t just physically tired but mentally tired as well. This means doing all you can do to protect your dog, including microchipping them just in case the worst were to happen and they got out.

If you got a purebred this means registering with the proper clubs and organizations, such as the AKC.

You could participate in companion events where your dog doesn’t need to be intact, such as agility and herding, not only to challenge them, but to challenge yourself and also meet new people.

You should also continue reading and learning what you can!

Informed and responsible ownership can make a difference and I believe it will.

Great Resources to learn more:


American Veterinary Medical Association:

Dog time:

Inspired by Twitter Conversation with @Peta

Inspired by Twitter Conversation with @Peta

As some of you know I have a twitter, @yourpositivedog which is tied to this blog. Tonight Peta made a comment against the Westminster Dog Show and purebred dogs using the #WKCDogShow tag and this started a bit of a back and forth between myself and them.

They used this pro-shelter article in a post against me.

Now I am not against pet360, they share a lot of wonderful information and share both sides of many topics. In looking at this article though, I saw a lot of very biased or downright incorrect information. Here’s a breakdown of some things I noticed in this article.

1)You’ll save a life.

This is true for the majority of shelters. Shelters usually run on a system where after a certain period of time if a dog is not adopted they will be humanely killed. I say killed and not euthanized here because they are killed. I reserve euthanization as a term to be used only in situations where everything possible has been done for the dog and it is a quality of life and health decision, not a convenience.

This however is becoming less and less the norm as “No-Kill” shelters exist. These shelters will keep an animal as long as it takes to get them adopted. These are no Kill, not no euthanize as they do euthanize dogs whose quality of life has deteriorated to the point where it would be inhumane to keep them alive.

The downside of this is that in areas of high populations, an animal may be turned away from a shelter because they are at capacity.

Let it be known, though Peta may use the term “euthanize” very freely, they do not use it in the way that No-Kill shelters or I do. Peta’s VA shelter is NOT a No-Kill shelter.

2.) Wide variety of choices.

This will vary depending on time of year, your location, and various other factors. An example of this is that in my hometown, Cleveland, most dogs you find in any shelter in the area is a Pit-Mix. Also, most of the dogs in our shelters are either between 2 and 4 yrs or upwards of 9.

3.) Basic Health Care Provided.

If you decide to get a shelter dog please be sure that they follow this rule! This is what most No-Kill shelters do. This simply means that if a dog is ill or injured when they receive it, the shelter will do all within their ability to save the animal. Their first reaction will not be to kill the animal. The shelter might even raise funds to help pay for a costly procedure rather than write a dog off. This also means that the day-to-day upkeep of a dog is done to keep the dog in healthy form.

Peta, as we have learned, does not offer this to their animals.

4.) Adoption saves money.

This is true, adoption usually doesn’t even 100% cover the cost of upkeep for a dog. This lower cost makes dog ownership more available to people.

Before adopting a person should still be sure they are financially, physically, and mentally prepared for a dog as the cost of ownership is the same regardless of what the cost to get the dog was. Adoption is also usually faster than getting a dog from a responsible purebred breeder and so it should be known that dog ownership should not be a spur of the moment decision. Talk with your family and assess your situation before even visiting a shelter.

5.) It’s a gift that keeps on giving.

This would seem to be true but as I mentioned above, the adoption fee usually doesn’t cover the full cost of the day-to-day upkeep for a dog in a shelter, especially if they had been there for a while. Rather, what “keeps on giving” and keeps shelters running are donations.

It is not unreasonable to look into where different donations, adoption fees, and other money going into a shelter are put towards and it is not rude to ask!

6.) You won’t be supporting puppy mills.

One would wish this were the case but in some situations it is not. The problem with shelter dogs is you do not ever know all of the answers. The beautiful 2 yr old you’re looking at through a gate could have been a puppy mill dog. In adopting a shelter dog you aren’t directly supporting a puppy mill, but you might be second hand as the first owner of that dog could have gotten him from one. The only way to know that you aren’t supporting a puppy mill is by getting a dog from a responsible breeder.

7.) You can pick a house trained dog.

This is usually the case, but did you know dogs sometimes urinate because of stress or in submission. Your new dog also could never have been inside before, or they could have been improperly trained, or not trained at all. Again, you might not know.

8.) Rescue Dog Bond

One would hope that a dog will see this, that you are the person coming in to save them from their past. This isn’t always the case though. If that dog was abused by men, or even if they didn’t interact with men during the critical socialization period, that dog might always be wary of the men in your life. This is for anything the dog either was taught not to trust or not properly socialized with. Also, if the dog was improperly trained they could appear aggressive and uncontrollable because you as the new owner don’t know the dogs triggers.

I am not against shelter or rescue dogs. The first two dogs in my life were rescues. I am against spreading incorrect information and in using fear or emotional tactics. Please, please, please, do your homework before even thinking of getting a dog. Learn the facts and do not make rush decisions.

Dogs are forever.

Not until the dog gets old.

Not until you have a kid.

Not until you get married.

Not until you move and find it hard to get an apartment with a 40 lb dog.

If you adopt, through a shelter, rescue, or breeder, please do so knowing that you are bringing that animal into your life for all of its life.

Dog Obsession

Dog Obsession

Now that you’ve been able to take a look at some of the things I’m passionate about in the dog world, proper training methods and understanding the truth of dog shows and purebreds, I feel it’s a good time to look at why I’m so passionate about these and nearly anything to do with Dogs.

Dogs have always been important to me. I have always been a “dog person” though I as an individual have not been in a position where I have owned my own dog. More on this later.

When I was younger, my family had an English Shepherd mix, and then a rescue Golden Retriever when I was in High School. I recognized the differences between each and slowly tried to learn as much as I could about what made them so different.

In addition to being different dogs, the number one reason why they had different personalities and temperaments, these two dogs had very different lives. We had the Shepherd all of her life, adopting her from a shelter when she was just a couple months old. The Retriever was already almost two years old when we got him. The Shepherd was trained and taught everything she needed early on, she experienced new things as much as possible as soon as possible. The Retriever however didn’t appear to have much training and made us believe that he had never been inside of a house before because of his fear of stairs and changes in floor type. The other thing which made the two very different is that the Shepherd never had any serious health problems until very late in life when she passed because of a tumor in her abdomen, actually passing the night before she was scheduled for surgery to remove that exact tumor. The Retriever had mental problems in addition to a thyroid issue and the combination made him hard to read. He was a fiercely protective dog and his mental disconnect caused him to be an unpredictable dog who would either be leash reactive, or the kindest dog. His triggers were seemingly random and it is because of this that after three or four years my parents decided that he was too much for us.

Looking back on everything with what I know now, It’s hard to accept that this all happened with our Retriever as I don’t believe any dog is beyond help.

I feel the experiences with these two dogs, particularly what happened with our Retriever, caused my now constant interest in dogs, training, and animal behavior or psychology.

For the past four or five years, from when I started college to now, I have had a lot of interests but one of the constants was dogs. I have always loved reading about dogs and learning new things about dog behavior. I took psychology classes to learn about behavior in general. I listened to friends in biology classes and took in their comments on what they were learning. I read philosophy and sociology studies to see how people in history and in different cultures would look at interactions with animals.

I also read breed standards and about the arguments for and against breeding and purebred dogs. I watched as many dog shows as I could and would watch the same best in group showings over and over until I recognized why one dog might fit the standard of their breed more than the others.

In the past year in particular I have been very interested in dog behavior and newer “Dog-Friendly” forms of training, such as the “Positively” method brought on by Victoria Stilwell. I’m beginning to entertain the possibility of using this information to become a dog trainer.

One of my favorite people, Kevin Smith, said once that he became a filmmaker not by saying “I want to be a filmmaker” but by saying “I am a filmmaker” and then doing what he needed to make that statement true. So I’m going to stop saying “I want to be a dog trainer” and instead do what I can to make saying “I am a dog trainer” truth. It might take a while, but this blog is going to be my foundation.

Thank you-Alexandra