Acquiring a New Dog or Puppy
So, we have a new dog! I’m soooo happy! And while it’s been really time-consuming to properly integrate a new dog into our household, it’s also been incredibly rewarding, interesting . . . and inspiring! Inspiring to have a fresh opportunity to experience many of the things we talk about in Whole Dog Journal – with a sense of urgency and immediacy I haven’t had for quite some time!
Just in our first few days I was thinking hard about things like potty training, how to deal with dogs who are not food-motivated, finding a good vet, vaccination, parasite control (fleas, ticks, heartworm), introducing dogs to cats, barking, leash manners, the best food, itchy skin, digging (as you’ll see on page 18), no-slip collars, dogs who are uncomfortable indoors, quiet clickers, and much more.
I’m lucky: I have all 11 years of Whole Dog Journal’s archives at my disposal, so I’ve been able to quickly look up and review an article on every single thing I’ve had questions about. Nevertheless, there is a difference between intellectually “knowing” something and really, really knowing it. I’m finding myself “learning” quite a few things that I already “knew,” if that makes any sense at all. This has been a terrific reminder that no matter how much you know, you forget some important things.
At risk of talking about our new dog too much, I thought for a few months that I could share with you some of the problems or challenges I’ve had with Otto (that’s his name), how I have solved them, and what resources I’ve used to make my decisions – including articles from our back issues. It’s my sincere hope that this will be helpful to any of you who are thinking about getting a new dog, or recently got a new dog.
First issue: Selection
This time around, I really needed to have my husband Brian “buy into” the concept of getting a dog. I already had a dog, my heart- and soulmate, Rupert, when Brian and I met 12 years ago. Brian embraced Rupie and all his Border Collie eccentricities because he had to; Rupert and I were a package deal. But Brian got kind of duped into going along with the next two dogs that spent a lot of time with us: Mokie, a long-haired Chihuahua I ended up keeping after I dog-sat him one summer; and Cooper, Brian’s dad’s dog, who stayed with us for a month while my in-laws took a cruise, and ended up living with us for months in what turned out to be hospice care. Brian tolerated each dog, but didn’t get very attached to either one. (I, of course, get attached to every one.)
After Cooper died, I promised Brian that our next dog would be a dog picked out with him in mind – a dog with as many of the traits he liked as we could find. And I would let him determine when the time was right.
Last month, right after I shipped the last issue to the printer, Brian said the magic words: “We need another dog.” Yippee! The catch: It had to be a dog he liked. And the dog had to come with a list of attributes that he wanted in a dog.
Some words about my husband: Brian is not what I’d call a dog person. He likes dogs okay (and dogs always seem to like him), but he admits he’s not the kind of guy who is ever going to hug or kiss a dog – so a clingy, needy dog or a lap dog is never going to be fully embraced. He likes dogs when they are attentive but not pushy; quiet but alert; ready to take your leftovers but not begging for them; interested in going for walks but not difficult to walk . . . In other words, he likes grown-up, self-contained, well-trained, outdoor kinds of dogs. Preferably medium-sized and non-shedding!
Oh, and Brian was also hoping we could find a dog who would chase stray cats (and the occasional skunk) off our property – but one who would never chase our older cat.
In April 1999, we published an article by Whole Dog Journal’s Training Editor Pat Miller on things to keep in mind when looking for a new dog at your local shelter (hmm; it looks like we’re overdue to publish an updated version!). “Second-Hand Friends” advised prospective adopters to develop a list of traits that they “must have,” “would like to have,” and “won’t have.” “When you go to visit adoption prospects,” Miller wrote, “take your list with you, and make sure you don’t compromise anything that the family has agreed is a ‘must have’ or a ‘won’t have.’”
The night Brian gave me the go-ahead, I jumped right on to the Internet to look at the dogs currently available for adoption at our local shelter, the Northwest SPCA in Oroville, California. I was looking for medium-sized adult dogs who looked like they might be friendly, uncomplicated, mellow, and not clingy. About four or five dogs caught my eye, but my favorite was a big terrier-mix, about seven or eight months old. I can’t say why.
The next day I was down at the shelter. I took a half-dozen dogs out for long walks, but my absolute favorite was still the terrier. He seemed very friendly, but not frantic to jump up or get in my lap. Every time he offered a sit, I doled out a treat – and he turned into a sitting machine within a minute. He’d sit, and if I didn’t deliver a treat fast enough, he’d quickly stand and then sit again, harder. Smart! I liked that. As motivated as he seemed to be for the treats, however, he took them gently and calmly from my hand, and I liked that, too.
There was just one red flag: The dog’s cage card indicated that he had a rap sheet: “Kills chickens,” it said. That could mean he was predatory – or it could mean he was just an ordinary young dog on the loose with time on his paws and a chicken coop in his neighborhood. With the permission of the shelter staffers, I took the dog on leash into a room full of caged cats, to see if he turned into a hunting, chasing machine. He was interested, but his tail wagged furiously, and he readily turned away from the cats, back toward me, when I patted my leg and offered him a treat.
I called Brian from the shelter. “Would you come down and meet the final candidates?” I asked. “Tell me about the dogs you’re considering,” he countered. After he listened to me tell him about the dogs I was considering – but mostly about the terrier – he laughed. “It seems like the terrier has everything on your list that we wanted, as far as we can tell. Why don’t you bring him home and we can give him a shot?” he asked. I’m pretty sure he knew full well that any dog that left the shelter with me was going to live with us for the rest of the dog’s life!
Bringing him home
I was filled with excitement as I filled out the adoption forms at the shelter. I practically danced out the front door with the dog’s leash in hand – and the dog was dancing, too. “Yay! Out of the shelter! . . . But wait! You want me to get in that CAR?!” When I opened the car door, the dog suddenly looked aghast and dug his heels into the ground; he also quickly ducked his head in the manner of a dog who is very experienced at slipping his collar. Oops! I slacked the leash, to prevent him from slipping free, and we retreated back into the shelter to tighten his collar. Lesson one: Assume nothing about your new dog! And make sure his collar fits!
On our second attempt, I had a shelter staffer help me with the doors, and this time, I simply picked the dog up, carried him to the car, and put him on the back seat. He immediately slithered onto the floor, looking like a deflated balloon. I’m glad that “must love riding with me in the car” was not on my list of selection criteria!
Fortunately, he instantly regained his buoyancy the moment I opened the car door and grabbed for his leash. He bounced out of the car and through the gate into our fenced yard as if he had lived there forever; he was practically whistling (and I know I was grinning). We went up on the front porch, I opened the front door, and oops! He hit the brakes again. “I’m not going in there!” Hmm! Okay, let’s go around to the backyard, then!
I brought the dog around the side of the house into the back and Brian came out to look. “He’s sort of cute,” he waffled. “He doesn’t want to go in the house,” I said.
“That’s my dog!” Brian exclaimed.
Don’t worry, he goes in the house now. Although, to Brian’s delight, he does seem a lot happier sleeping outside than indoors.
Home to stay
A lot has happened since that first night, and I’ll catch you up in upcoming issues. For now, suffice to say that within a day, despite some little hitches and adjustments, both Brian and I were certain that we really liked the dog, and he was going to fit well into our family. On day two, we were already discussing what to name the dog.
I didn’t take my husband’s last name (Maddock) when we married; we both had children from previous relationships who share our own last names and we didn’t want to confuse matters. But Brian had a list of names he had always kidded about wanting to name his children – although his first wife wouldn’t agree (thank goodness). He always wanted a girl named Prag Maddock, he joked, or perhaps Dram Maddock. And he always wanted a boy named Otto Maddock. I knew when Brian said, “How about we name him Otto?” that the dog was home for good.