Ask Yourself, ‘Do I Really Want A Dog?'

FOCUS ON PETS

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Several reminders have come my way recently of the need for more careful consideration before adopting a dog. The first questions to ask yourself are: Do you really want a dog? Why do you want a dog? Do you want a companion to share your life and your home? Are you willing to provide daily walks and exercise? Are you willing to stoop to pick up? Are you committed to providing a good quality pet food, health care and regular vet visits? Are you willing to make the commitment to training so that the dog becomes a permanent member of your household? Do you realize that a dog is a longtime commitment -- 14 to 16 years?

After deciding that you really do want to accept the responsibility and companionship of a dog, the next step is to honestly look at yourself, your lifestyle and your activities. This will help determine the kind of dog that will fit into your life. Too many people pick a dog based on what he looks like. Puppies are cute. But puppies grow up and become what they were bred to be and do. Working dogs were bred to work and they very likely will get into trouble if they do not have something constructive to do. No dog is happy sitting around all day with nothing to think about or do. Just like children, they become bored.

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Dogs come in many sizes, shapes and colors but their needs and behavior are determined by their breed or combination of breeds and their life stories.

Cesar Milan, the Dog Whisperer, said that you should choose a dog with an energy level just below your own. That is wonderful advice. My two dogs get two good walks a day, a ride in the car most days and normally, a challenging training session. Still, when I am working at the computer, they are watching me, waiting for me to get up and head for the door. They are always ready for the next activity.

I feel guilty. I have a huge yard and if a diesel vehicle or the garbage truck drives by, they love to run along the fence, barking. That is their fun. Otherwise, when they are outside, they sleep in the sun. It is great to have a big fenced yard, but we cannot expect the dogs to exercise themselves.

A recent article in Family Dog Magazine, by Jodi Anderson, titled "Mind Games: If you can't exercise your dog's body, exercise his mind," gives ideas for games to play with your dog. Clicker training is great mental exercise and there is no end to the things they will do just to hear the click and get a treat. They love it.

Anderson suggests playing hide and seek. Start by tossing the dog's toy a short distance and telling him to find it. Praise him when he brings it back. Constantly, increase the distance and when the dog has figured out the game, put the toy where he cannot see it and tell him to find it. Dogs love this game. You can also lay out a trail with small dog kibble. They will follow it -- and at the end, find something wonderful, like their favorite toy. There are lots of ways to have fun with your dog in the house.

Jane Burleson rescues Australian shepherds. She said, this year, they have been overrun with dogs that were turned into the shelters or just dumped. Primarily, it is because people do not take the time to consider the needs and natural attributes of the dog. Aussies are just one of the breeds that can go crazy without work. Jane said, "People need to check out the breed and know what it was bred to do and it's activity level." She also reminds us, "If the dog is not working out, get some help with training instead of just dumping him. So many issues are easily worked out if you know how to handle the dog in the right way. It makes a world of difference."

So, give it some thought. When choosing a dog, think about your activity level. Are you gone a lot?

Do you like to sit in front of the TV when you are home? Do you go hiking, travel or enjoy dog sports? These are the questions that should determine the kind and age of dog that you adopt. Also, consider the dog's age in relation to your own age.

All dogs need exercise. All dogs need to get out of the house and the yard. All dogs need mental stimulation. All dogs need to be with people and be part of the family. Remember these things when you are thinking that it would be fun to have a dog.

Incidentally, I owe an apology and correction to the American Humane Association. In the Feb. 16 Focus on Pets column, I talked a bit about the Westminster Dog show. I mentioned that this organization, in cooperation with Pedigree Pet Food Company, raised over a million dollars for shelter dogs.

In the article, I referred to this organization as the American Humane Society. It is the American Humane Association and they "have been protecting children and animals from cruelty, neglect and abuse since 1877," according to their Web page. Some of these funds will be provided as grants to humane societies for special needs. They also monitor the treatment of animals used in movies.

Go to their Web site, http:// www.americanhumane.org and see all that they do.

-- Christy Powers can be reached by e-mail at cpwrather@earthlink.net or by snail mail at HC1Box 210, Strawberry, AZ 85544.

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