Choosing a Dog Part Two: Puppy or Adult?

Sleeping Puppy

Last week I wrote about making the decision to either adopt a rescue or purchase a dog from a breeder. The next decision is whether or not to get a puppy. (It’s possible to get a purebred adult dog from several places, so choosing one does not preclude the other.)

Why get a puppy?

One of the most common reasons people have for getting a puppy is that they want a dog with a known history and no behavior problems. They want the opportunity to “mold” the puppy into the perfect dog. The problem is, starting out right is only half of the game.

While a puppy with effectively no history obviously doesn’t have any unknown history, she is not quite a blank slate. Genetics play a tremendous role in a dog’s temperament. With proper socialization, training, and health care, a puppy is off to a great start (that every puppy should have!), but as a I said last week, knowing that both parents had solid temperaments is certainly an advantage but not a guarantee.

There are other advantages to getting a puppy though. Puppies are certainly a lot of fun, and raising them well can be a tremendously rewarding experience. It’s a phenomenal learning experience that many older children can benefit from.

It’s also an incredible amount of work and I have seen many families struggle with the work generated by puppies and younger children in the same household. Great for photos and TV movies, not so much fun most of time in real life. House-training alone probably means some time off from work if both adults have away-from-home jobs, and combining that with children has lead to many calls from people at the end of their rope to the DSF phone line.

Adopting an Adult

The closest thing you will find to a known quantity in terms of behavior and temperament is an adult dog. A dog’s behavior may change after moving into a new home, but when you are looking at a dog that’s around 3 years old or older, you have a good idea of his or her general demeanor.

The adage that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks is of course, not true. The only mammal I am aware that stops learning upon reaching maturity is the human, and thankfully that’s only true of most of us. An adult dog can be integrated into a new household more quickly and with considerably less work than a new puppy.

Puppies also become adolescents, an affliction that’s funny in novels and movies, but leads to far too many dogs being surrendered to shelters. I love adolescent dogs, and they are my favorite clients! But of course, at the end of the day I get to go home to my adult dogs. An adult dog has already gone through adolescence, and is more likely to be able to settle down and exhibit some self-control. (Again, more likely.)

Puppy or Adult Dog

If you have small children, I really think that taking the time to find a kid-friendly adult rescue is the way to go. If you have a stable, quiet home with older (say 10 or older?) children, a puppy can be a tremendously rewarding experience.

If you do have your heart set on a specific breed and are fortunate enough to know a good breeder, than a puppy probably is your best bet.

Here again, it’s a personal decision, and I would only urge you to make an informed one that suits your lifestyle.

Next week: Does Size Matter?

Photo credit: Beverly & Pack

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