Spring is here. School is almost out and conversations about adopting a pet might be running through your household. This tendency increases when boxes of puppies and kittens appear in front of local stores.
This is the time for a family discussion. After dinner some night, keep everyone at the table, one with paper and pen. Talk about a new pet and write down what everyone says: Small dog, watchdog, trick dog, lap dog, hiking companion, a kitten or full grown cat. Discuss why you want a pet and what you have to offer: fenced yard, kennel area, time to train, time to spend with a pet. List the goals for this new pet: What will be his place in your family? Who will feed, brush, walk and clean up after him? Who will take him to obedience classes? Where will he be during the day? Can he sleep with the kids?
Then it's decision time. Is this family ready for a dog or cat? There is nothing worse than bringing a new pet into a family and then evicting him due to lack of interest. That is not fair. A soft, cuddly stuffed plush cat or dog for each member of the family might work just fine. Don't expect the dog to teach children responsibility. Don't expect that the children will always be willing to take care of and clean up after the dog. The novelty will wear off, but this dog still needs love, attention, food and time.
Start analyzing the gathered information. Does the family want a large dog or small, adult or puppy, cuddly or independent? Do certain breed types come to mind? Remember that even mixed breed dogs carry the traits of the breeds from which they have come. Are these breed characteristics compatible with your goals for a dog?
After all of this, if the family still wants a new pet and you have determined that you can provide a good home, begin talking, reading and looking around. The library and internet are wonderful resources for information about choosing a pet. By the time you go searching for this new pet, you should know what you are looking for. Stick to your plan. Do not fall in love with the first pup you see and discover that it gets huge, digs holes and is an escape artist. These are breed specific traits.
An article in the Feb. 2004 issue of Dog Fancy magazine has advice for choosing a "forever match," particularly one from the pound.
Here are eight simple tests to help ensure that the potential adoptee fits your list and your household:
1. Approach the kennel where the dog is penned. Look at him for 5 seconds without speaking. Remain neutral in expression. Then sit or kneel and talk pleasantly in a friendly voice. If the dog wags his tail and seems friendly, those are good signs that he is socialized and likes people. If he growls, turns away or stares, move on.
2. Place your hand flat against the outside of the kennel, fingers outside. Social dogs seek out people and want contact. They will respond quickly by coming to you, trying to lick your hand and rubbing their bodies against it.
Steps 3 through 7 should be done with the dog on a loose leash in a quiet area without distractions.
3. Stand still without talking. Remain neutral. Observe the dog for 60 seconds. He should make several attempts to get your attention by nuzzling, licking or nudging. This is another test of social behavior.
4. Standing beside the dog, allow him to smell your hand and then run your hand slowly and deliberately, but gently, from his neck to the base of his tail. Repeat three times. This shows how the dog responds to handling. He should move closer and try to lick or nudge your hand.
5. Sit in a chair and don't say anything for a minute. Even an outside dog recognizes the opportunity for affection and attention from a person sitting down. A social dog would approach immediately and work to get your attention.
Remain sitting for 20 seconds while talking and petting the dog. Do not restrain him. He should stay with you, nuzzle you and maybe even attempt to climb into your lap.
6. Test listening skills by allowing him to check out the area around the room. Clap your hands once and say in a pleasant voice, "hey" or some short word. He should stop what he is doing and come to you.
7. Take the dog for a walk. See how he responds to sounds, traffic, other dogs and people. Does he act shy, confident or aggressive?
8. If he seems like a good candidate, introduce him to the children. When meeting children, he should wag his tail and attempt to lick and kiss them.
These tests help determine if a dog is social and friendly. If he wins on all counts, this dog should make a great new member of the family. These traits indicate a dog who needs to be part of the family, one that would be miserable alone in the back yard. dog who comes up a little short on these social tests could be a great family dog, but it will take extra effort. Refer to your list of needs and wants. Aggressive behavior could be a danger sign.
Ask questions of the people at the shelter. They have had time with this dog. Ask why he was given up. If you have any doubts, ask the shelter to hold the dog and spend a night talking about it and then sleep on it. Remember, a pet is a life-long commitment.
Christy Wrather is a columnist for the Payson Roundup. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by snail mail at HC1 Box 210, Strawberry, AZ 85544.