No Starter Dogs

There’s No Such Thing As A Starter Dog


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Posted on November 5, 2012 by Ruthie Bently

I become disheartened when I hear about someone giving up a dog. Why did they get the dog in the first place if they were only going to give it up? Too many dogs (and cats, birds, reptiles, etc.) are ending up in shelters these days because people give them up. I can understand someone’s financial situation changing, or someone passing away and leaving their beloved dog behind. I applaud adoption and stand firmly behind it, but taking a dog that has known only family and loved ones to a shelter is an upheaval of major proportions. There is no such thing as a “starter” dog.

Recently my mother-in-law adopted a Miniature Boxer from someone who works with my sister-in-law’s husband. Why did they give him up you ask? They were moving out of state and could not take him with them. He was very lucky, my extended family never turns away an animal in need. At least not in the 31 years I’ve known them.

In my personal opinion, moving is not an excuse for giving up a dog and saying you couldn’t find anywhere that would let you move in because you have a dog means you didn’t try hard enough. I have moved four times since I left my mom’s house and I have found somewhere to go every time. The first time I moved with one dog and two cats; the second time same thing; the third time I moved with two dogs and seven cats; and the last time I moved with two dogs, seven cats, six geese and a flock of about thirty chickens.

Before getting a dog (whether adopting or from a reputable breeder) do your homework. Get all the members of the family involved. Ask yourself some questions and be honest about the answers.

What kind of dog do you want? Do your research, that cute puppy will grow up. Even a small dog can be a bundle of energy if you aren’t prepared for it. It can be like adopting another child. Different dogs (mixed or purebred) have different traits, energy levels and care needs.  There are many breeds that have congenital health issues, do your homework. Don’t get a dog just because you like the way it looks or because your friend has one, it may not be the right fit for you. Properly done this dog will grow old with your family and the fit needs to be right at the beginning.

Can you live where you are with the dog you want? There are many cities, towns and states now that have dog specific laws and do not allow certain breeds to live within their confines. Many insurance companies will not insure you for liability or will restrict your liability on your homeowners policy because of the dog breed you own. Some places even require dog owners of specific breeds to muzzle their dogs when walking them in public. I have owned American Staffordshire Terriers since 1981 and have watched the laws change. People look at them and cringe in fear, not because of the dog itself but because of the stories of all the bad owners that have not trained their dogs properly or used them for something illegal. They have automatically become a “bad breed”.

What size dog do you want? Too small and the dog can be stepped on or tripped over if it gets underfoot, too large and it can step on you or your children, clean off tables with the swipe of a tail or clean off kitchen counters or the stove with its mouth because it is tall enough to reach them. Your family could sustain injuries by a well-meaning dog that only wants to play. That Great Dane will want to be on the couch with you, is your couch big enough?

Is anyone in the family allergic to dogs? Do you know? You need to find out before you bring home that bundle of joy. Find a friend or family member with a dog and go for a visit with the whole family. Check with the local vet or shelter and see if you can visit one day and explain the situation. Have them introduce you to several different breeds, get up close and personal. Rub your hands through their fur, and rub your nose; do you start to sneeze? All animals create dander and it is the reaction of your body to this dander that causes an allergic reaction. There are wipes and washes that claim to help the situation, and allergy shots, though I think this is only a temporary solution.

Who is the dog for? Who really wants the dog and why do they want them? Do you want a babysitter for the kids? From personal experience growing up with dogs, we got into plenty of scrapes that the dog didn’t keep us from and one that involved a “Cressite” rubber ball, a game of “Keep Away” and a thermopane window that got us all grounded, except for Duchess (our Boxer). Do you want a dog for protection? You don’t need a big dog or one that you think looks fierce. I had a client who had to have a Rottweiler because she thought they were cool. Max ended up being more than she could handle and she had to give him up when she found he was too much for her to handle. It is a statistical fact that many burglars won’t go into a home if they know there is a dog there, but the dog does not have to be large enough to look him in the eye through the window. Don’t get a dog because you want it to have a litter of puppies and teach the kids the facts of life. Most breeders do not get back the time, energy and expense they put into raising a litter; they do it for the love of the breed. Puppies need to be fed, they need to be wormed, they need shots, teething toys, etc., and every puppy in the litter is adding another financial mouth to your budget.

Who will care for the dog? Don’t give in to promises from the kids that they will take care of the dog when it gets home, in my experience it doesn’t usually work this way. Explain everything the dog is going to need on a daily basis: feeding, grooming, exercise, quiet time; and lay down ground rules. You are bringing home a new family member and need to consider them in this light. The new dog should not become another chore or burden to any one family member. You shouldn’t be getting a dog if this is the case.

Where will the dog be housed? Will you use a crate or leave them loose in the house to chew who knows what? Puppies have been known to eat whatever they can lay their mouths on. I have personal experience with clients’ dogs eating wall paper, sheet rock or plaster board, cell phones, batteries, power cords, rugs, TV remotes, blankets, toilet paper, glasses and plastic. Puppies chew because they are teething or bored. Older dogs chew out of boredom, separation anxiety and anger. Yes, dogs get angry. Dogs should not spend 24 hours a day outside, in my opinion that is a recipe for disaster.

Is your yard fenced? If you get a dog, you should consider at least partially fencing an area for the dog large enough to exercise and relieve themselves in. It should be safe from stray dogs, cats and predators and should have a shaded area to protect them from the sun and somewhere for them to go on a rainy or snowy day. The fence should be high enough to keep your dog in; a six foot height is a good start. Too high you think? No so, any dog worth their salt can even go over a six foot fence if they have enough motivation. Case in point: My AmStaff Katie. Katie was only about 18 inches at the withers and I watched her take a six foot wooden stockade fence from a standing start, balance on the top and then go over an adjacent six foot chain link fence in quest of a squirrel. If you are interested in an Arctic breed, be advised they dig and can dig their way out, so burying the fence at least a foot underground is a good idea.

Do the zoning laws in your town allow fencing? Some communities don’t. A tie out stake with a chain or tie out line can kill a dog. They can get tangled and break a leg. If the stake is too close to a fence they can leap over after something they see and strangle. While invisible fence systems are very popular, not every dog will stay inside the perimeter. I had clients that used one with two dog that were constantly running through the barrier, no matter how much they increased the electric shock the dogs received. Once through they wouldn’t come back and ran through the neighborhood terrorizing other dogs, neighbors and tradespeople. They finally got a fence, problem solved.

Is the dog trained? Every dog needs to know basic obedience commands: sit, stay, down, come, drop it, out. Knowing basic commands can save your dog’s life. I know a man who hunts with his Labs and he taught them to sit at a curb. They are always on a leash when they leave the yard, why would they need it? One day a service person left the back gate open and his female shot out the gate after seeing a rabbit. The rabbit bounded across a busy street and got hit. The dog true to her training, promptly sat when she got to the curb and survived.

If not, who will train the dog? The whole family should be involved in this (unless the kids are very small) and learn the proper way to correct the dog. Don’t just buy a book and try to do it yourself, get a reputable breeder or enroll in a class. There are many places you can get a dog obedience training these days and there is NO excuse not to. The archaic methods that were accepted 50 years ago are no longer any good. Swatting with a newspaper only makes them afraid of the newspaper. Rubbing their nose in their accident only gives them a dirty nose. Yelling at them will only make them afraid of you. I know a wonderful dog that would rather die than come when called. His previous owners would yell at him to “Come” and when he did they would hit him. Would you come if you thought every time you did you’d get cuffed?

Who is going to exercise the dog? They need exercise too you know. A dog the size of a Labrador or Golden Retriever need the equivalent of a six mile walk daily. The person walking the dog needs to be able to control them. You should not send a six year old child out with a dog that is not obedience trained and even then you should supervise the walk. If the dog shoots across the street with child in tow, you could end up losing not only the dog but your child.

What dog will fit your lifestyle? What is your energy level? Are you a jogger or a couch potato? Some breeds would love to go jogging with you, and others would love hanging out on the couch. Make sure you pick a dog that will match your stamina level. If you like jogging, then you don’t want to go running with an English Bulldog, they wouldn’t be able to go the distance. If you are laid back and just want to hang out then a Dalmatian is probably not the dog for you.

Can you afford to take on a financial responsibility that will last the life of the dog? Dogs can live up to and over 20 years. My American Staffordshire Terrier Smokey Bear lived to the ripe old age of 19 years and 7 months. There are yearly checkups at the vet, which include an exam, inoculations / boosters, parasite tests, medication to prevent parasites. They should eat at least 2 meals a day and as well as dog food there are treats, toys, bedding, outdoor clothing and boots for inclement weather.

If something happens to you, where will the dog go? You should have provisions in your will for your family dog. If you don’t have a will, you should have written instructions for the dog’s welfare and keep them up to date. It should be kept in a safe place like a home safe or your safety deposit box at the bank. Is there an extended family member or very good friend that knows the dog and would be willing to take them? The chances of a dog in a shelter getting adopted lessen as they age.

Can you set up a fund to take care of the dog if something happens to you? Many people leave monies to their family pets for their care and upkeep for the remainder of their lives if they predecease them. You should figure out how long your dog might live and the upkeep needed for their care and feeding, then factor in inflation.

Can you afford the financial burden if the dog becomes ill? Dogs can get cancer, autoimmune diseases, renal failure, cataracts, glaucoma and other diseases as they age. My first dog died of cancer after an illness of eight months. I could have put him down when the cancer was diagnosed, but neither Nimber or I was ready for him to leave me. The cancer could not be removed from where it was (around the artery at the base of his heart). Chemotherapy for dogs was in its infancy and I couldn’t put him through that. I chose not to put Nimber down and we had another glorious eight months together. But it was an expensive eight months: Nimber took two medications daily and every day I dropped Nimber off at the vet’s on my way to work and he had to have the fluid drained from his chest cavity, to keep it from building up more and either stopping his lungs or heart from working. Renal (kidney) failure was what killed him in the end. It was a side effect of the medications he had to take daily.

This brings up another question: will you be ready to say goodbye when the time comes? Saying goodbye to Nimber was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. I alone had to make the decision to euthanize my beloved four-legged child. I made the appointment and that day Nimber rallied so much that I made the vet do another blood test to make sure he was as ill as I was being told. The test results came out the same and I knew I was grabbing at false hope. I absolutely hate needles with all the being of my soul, but I had to be there to support Nimber as he made the transition from earthly being to four-legged spirit angel. I am happy to say that I have never had to make that decision since, all of my animals since have died peacefully in their sleep.

Maybe the most important question is: Do you have the emotional stamina to own a dog? You will run the gamut of every human emotion known to man. It takes not only financial ability but patience, fortitude, laughter, tears, anger (sometimes), joy, fear, sorrow, loss and most of all an unabiding love to allow a dog into your life. They will put you through the emotional wringer, but they give back so much more than they take  and don’t ask for anything in return. I can’t make that decision for you, you need to make it, and you should not make it lightly.

I have been a dog owner for 31 years of my adult life and lived through raising two puppies, two life threatening accidents, a severe case of dog aggression, wild animal attacks, two bouts of cancer, one case of renal failure, loss three times and an ongoing case of idiopathic juvenile seizures with the four dogs I have been privileged to live with. Knowing what I know now would I go back and do it again? You betcha.

I am not being a gloom and doomer because I don’t want your family to have a dog. I am being practical and trying to open your eyes to all the ramifications getting a dog (or any pet for that matter) that should be considered before you make that decision. So the next time you see a dog and your child, children or spouse suggests you get a dog, please, please, please think long and hard about the decision you are considering, because there’s no such thing as a starter dog.

Contact Ruthie Bently at

This article was originally posted and shared by Lucy’s Barkery