SELECTING A PET
Guidelines for dogs & cats
|Many behavior and health problems in pets can be prevented by seeking
guidance before obtaining a new pet. Not only will such advice help you
to select the best pet for the household, but it will also provide information
on how to prepare in advance for the new arrival. The species, breed, age,
and sex of the pet all need to be carefully considered and it is important
to make an informed decision about where to obtain the pet. Issues to consider
when preparing the home will include housing, bedding, feeding, training,
exercise, and health care requirements for your new pet.
What breed is best for my home and family?
The first decision is whether to obtain a purebred or a mixed breed. By selecting
a mixed breed from a rescue shelter, an abandoned animal will be re-homed. Some
of the genetic problems associated with inbreeding can be avoided and the initial
cost to acquire the pet will be considerably lower than when purchasing a pedigree
puppy. On the other hand, obtaining a purebred from known parentage gives the
best opportunity to predict the behavioral and physical attributes of an adult
dog or cat. This is important when you wish to take on a young puppy since unless
the parents are known it is extremely difficult to predict the size, health,
or behavior that is likely to emerge as the dog grows up. Of course selecting
an adult allows assessment of the physical characteristics, health and behavior
of the animal and may be another option to consider.
If a purebred is chosen, it should be a breed whose physical and behavioral
characteristics best suit the family. Behavioral considerations may be difficult
to assess due to the vast numbers of breeds available and the wide variation
of behavior types within breeds. Physical characteristics will be more predictable
and you will want to select a breed whose physical appearance, including coat
type, size and shape not only appeals to you but also fits in with your lifestyle
and circumstances. It is also important to consider the expected life span of
your chosen breed, since there is great variation between breeds with the giant
breeds of dogs living considerably shorter lives than the smaller breeds.
Before going to your veterinary practice for advice about pet selection it
is sensible to do some background reading and investigation of your own. There
are a variety of books (and now CD-ROM's) that can help guide you through the
selection process. Some books concentrate on the physical characteristics and
history of the breed, while others consider health concerns and others cover
breed behavioral characteristics. Books are also available which give advice
on how to select individuals from a breeder, shelter, or litter and how to assess
the suitability of the source. Behavioral factors to consider as you try to
decide upon a breed of dog include, activity level, exercise requirements and
any reported behavior problems of the breed. It is also important to find out
about the origin of the breed as the function that the breed was originally
developed for will strongly influence its behavior Once you have narrowed the
selection down to a few breeds, your veterinary surgeon can guide you as to
the physical and behavioral problems that you need to be aware of for each breed
and help you to make your final decision.
At what age should I obtain a pet?
The most important period of development for puppies in terms of their social
behavior is between approximately 4 and 14 weeks of age and in order for a puppy
to grow up as a successful and acceptable member of society it needs to take
full advantage of this period. In order to develop healthy social relationships
with other dogs and learn to successfully communicate with other members of
its own species a puppy needs to be socialized with other members of its own
species and this process begins with the dam and litter mates. Spending time
with the litter is therefore important but the puppy also needs to grow up in
a human world and learn to relate to humans, other domestic pets, such as cats,
and the environment. In order to do this successfully socialization to people
and other pets and habituation to the environment need to be carried out within
the sensitive period of socialization i.e. before 14 weeks of age. Reaching
a compromise between these two equally important aspects of a puppy's behavioral
development has resulted in the generally accepted view that the ideal time
to select and obtain a new puppy is between 6 and 8 weeks of age. This allows
adequate time for the puppy to be in its new home, and bond to its new family,
before its primary socialization period ends, but it is important to remember
that the puppy also needs to be learning about people and animals outside of
its own social group as well as the environment in which it is going to live.
The first few weeks in the new home are therefore critical to the puppy's development
and socializing and habituating your puppy at this stage must be a priority.
|Since the most receptive period for kitten socialization is 2 to 7 weeks
of age, a kitten should ideally be obtained by 7 weeks of age, but where
this is not possible, for example in the case of pedigree cats, you should
question the breeder carefully to ensure that the kitten has had adequate
and appropriate human contact prior to 7 weeks of age. As with puppies it
is important that kittens have adequate social contact with their mothers
and litter mates during their socialization period in order to learn how
to successfully communicate with their own species. It is therefore not
advisable to obtain a kitten much earlier than 6 weeks of age especially
if it is entering an otherwise cat free household.
Acquiring an adult dog or cat can avoid some of the problems of bringing a
new puppy or kitten into the home. This is especially true for dogs where the
time and commitment required to train a puppy are considerable. Fulfilling the
play, feeding, elimination, and exercise needs of a puppy or kitten may be impractical
for a family who spends much of the day away from home and an adult may seem
like the perfect solution. However, an adult dog or cat that has had insufficient
or inappropriate training or insufficient socialization may have behavior problems
that are difficult to resolve. For owners who are ready and able to meet the
demands of a growing puppy or kitten, obtaining a pet during its primary socialization
period is strongly recommended.
Should I consider a male or female pet?
In many respects the choice of sex of your new pet is down to personal preference,
but there are some factors that you may wish to consider. In dogs, males tend
to be slightly larger in stature than females of the same breed and somewhat
more assertive within the social group. There are certain undesirable behaviours
which are known to be more commonly displayed by male dogs such as mounting,
roaming, urine marking, and aggression directed toward other male dogs and castration
is known to reduce the incidence of these behaviours. Similarly castration in
cats will reduce behaviours which are more highly represented in the male of
the species such as roaming, fighting, and urine marking.
Where should I obtain my pet?
Perhaps the most important reason to obtain a pet from a breeder or private
home is to observe the physical characteristics, health and behavior of the
parents. Choose a breeder who is open and willing to answer questions, and who
will allow you to tour the kennel and meet the parents. When a puppy or kitten
is obtained from a breeder or private home you are also able to observe the
early environment and assess the exposure to people that the pet has had. A
personal relationship with the breeder may be helpful should later problems
arise. Dogs or cats acquired through pet stores, puppy farms, or rescue centers,
may have received insufficient early socialization and habituation and be at
higher risk of developing behavioral disorders. They may also carry a higher
risk of contracting disease. It is highly unlikely that the parents can be observed
and a lack of information about the genetic input limits the opportunity to
predict future behavior
How do I decide which pet to choose?
The value and effectiveness of performing assessment tests on young puppies
and kittens is highly debatable since many behavior and health problems do not
emerge until the pet matures. Perhaps, the best approach is a simple, common
sense evaluation. Dogs can be observed and handled to determine which ones are
the most sociable, playful, or affectionate. Those with undesirable traits such
as shyness, or uncontrollable biting may be less suitable. Different puppy temperament
tests have been detailed in the literature, but there is no good available evidence
that they are predictive of future behavior What puppy testing can do is identify
problem areas that may need attention from an early age.
For cats, three personality types have been described: (a) sociable (b) timid
and unfriendly or (c) active and aggressive. Because the socialization period
for litters ends earlier than in dogs, early handling is extremely important.
Kitten assessment tests can be a valuable tool in determining the effects
of genetics, socialization and early handling. If the cat tolerates handling,
lifting and petting with little or no fear or resistance it is likely
to make a good family pet. Fearful, timid, hard to restrain or aggressive
cats should be avoided.
If you are obtaining an older puppy or kitten, or an adult pet, assessment
tests are likely to be more accurate and therefore more valuable. You
will be evaluating the effects of previous socialization and habituation,
previous training, previous experiences and some degree of maturation
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