Before you bring a puppy home, know your needs and the dog's


June 19, 1993|By Gina Spadafori | Gina Spadafori,McClatchy News Service

Many of the problems dog owners have could have been prevented if someone had taken the time to think before bringing a puppy home.

With all dogs, it is important to consider the extra responsibility. Where will the puppy sleep? What will it do while you're gone? Who will train it? Feed it? Clean up after it? What about vet bills? These are questions that ought to be answered long before, "What shall we name it?"

With purebreds, there are even more questions. While there is a person perfect for every one of the American Kennel Club's 136 recognized breeds, many breeds are far from perfect for most people. Woe to the fastidious folk who adopt one of the unstoppable shedders or droolers, or the quiet-loving person who brings home an adorably foxy, but undeniably yappy, Finnish spitz or Shetland sheep dog. And while fear is a reasonable response to the crime rate, it seems the most timid and least forceful among us are drawn to a dog like the Rottweiler, a guarding breed that demands a firm, experienced owner.

The trick is to go beyond looks or popularity and be sure not to be surprised by the personality traits of the pet you choose.

Don't take home a terrier expecting it to be a quiet, gentle and low-key companion, and don't expect slavish affection from a chow. Some dogs were born to dig; others were born to howl. You can adjust them a bit through persistent training, but their basic attributes are pretty much preset.

The American Kennel Club's "Complete Dog Book" is a good place to start your research, although the breed descriptions tend to overlook the negatives because they are each written by those who can't imagine living without their chosen dog, no matter how impossible it may be for most to live with. For a more balanced evaluation, I prefer Michele Lowell's "Your Purebred Puppy: A Buyer's Guide" (Henry Holt), which rates the breeds -- AKC- and UKC-registered as well as many rare breeds -- on factors more relevant to the average family, like activity level and tolerance for children. With health and temperament problems widespread, her section on how to find a reputable breeder may save you money and grief.

If you're open to the charms of a mixed-breed dog, arm yourself with Carol Lea Benjamin's "The Chosen Puppy: How To Select and Raise a Great Puppy From an Animal Shelter" (Howell Book House) and head for the humane society. Ms. Benjamin's book is also a good primer on temperament-testing a litter and getting any pup -- purebred or mixed -- off to a good start.

With the summer solstice at hand, now's a good time to remember that heat claims many dogs every year.

Most people know a car is no place to leave a dog on a hot day, but few realize even balmy weather can be deadly. On an 80-degree day, the temperature in a car -- even if the windows are open a crack -- can easily reach 120 degrees within minutes.

Panting is the only way a dog has of cooling itself; it is an inefficient system that cannot help an animal inside a hot car. Brain damage starts at 107 degrees, and a painful death soon follows. The bottom line: It's never a good idea to leave a dog in a car. If the heat doesn't get him, there's always a chance a thief might.

If you leave your dog in your yard for any length of time, have you checked to make sure shade's available at every hour of the day? A glorious big tree doesn't help much if the shade falls on the other side of the fence in the hottest part of the afternoon. A constant supply of cool, clean water is a must, too.

Exercise is another problem area, especially since many dogs will try to keep up with a runner no matter the level of discomfort. Take your dog out in early morning or evening, and be alert to his condition as you go.

No matter what the circumstances, if your dog starts excessive salivation, rapid or shallow panting or develops a wild, glassy-eyed stare, call your veterinarian and begin treatment for heat stress: Slowly immerse the dog in water, soak him with the hose or apply ice packs to his head, stomach and groin.

Ms. Spadafori is a newspaper reporter and an animal obedience trainer in Sacramento, Calif. Questions about pets may be sent to her c/o Saturday, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278.

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