People often are enamored and proud of the close relationship they share with their pet. The video below features interviews with pet owners and shows the close bond humans have with various animals.
However, pet ownership comes with responsibility and people should thoughtfully consider their options before getting a pet. B4UGETAPET, created by the University of Guelph, encourages people to do research before acquiring a cat or dog to find a best fit.
Initial questions important for people to consider if they are thinking about acquiring a new pet are below.
1. What kind of pet is best for your family?
2. If a dog, what kind?
3. Why that kind of dog?
4. What is the best source for that kind of dog?
During this project I have been amazed at the breadth of resources available to help people find the best dog for their lifestyle. The goal of this post is to organize these resources so veterinarians, veterinary students, and breeders have additional tools to advise people looking for a new dog. Promoting informed decision-making regarding acquisition of a dog may lead to better matching, retained ownership, and a closer human-dog bond.
In addition to B4UGETAPET, there are numerous other resources to assist with dog acquisition. While they start with a general introduction, most resources have a slant towards re-homed dogs or breed-specific acquisition.
The RSPCA’s Smart Puppy and Dog Buyer’s Guide helps you to be prepared, introduces different types of dogs, describes where to get your dog, and includes caring for your dog post acquisition. This source advises adopting from a local shelter and if you can’t find a dog there, breeders may be acceptable if they are not puppy farms. Similar is Finding Fido, a program by the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies. It includes inspiring stories of dog rescue, multiple pages on caring for a fido, choosing a puppy or adult, etc. The site strongly opposes puppy mills but provides some resources for finding a reputable breeder, such as Essential questions to ask a breeder. Other programs, such as ASPCA’s Meet Your Match, provides resources for shelters and rescue organizations so they can better match adoptable dogs and families in the hopes of decreasing return rates.
Many other resources focus on matching a dog’s breed to an owner’s lifestyle. The American Kennel Club’s Find a Match program asks progressive questions about housing type, children, other animals in the house, and activity level of prospective owner. It then suggests breeds that match the answers provided. The Kennel Club (UK) also has a Puppy Buying Guide App that can help you select a dog including choosing a breed, what to ask a breeder, links to local breed clubs, etc. Purina’s Dog Breed Selector has fill-in-the blank questions to figure out what breed is best for a prospective owner.
There are also interactive materials for people to use post-acquisition of a dog to maintain quality care. One example, is the Dog Log Book, an app that tracks your dog’s behavior and and suggests ways to better meet you dog’s needs.
All of these resources seem to have the same goal in mind—improving the fit between dogs and their owners. However, in spite of these resources it seems that owner-dog mismatch is still an important contributing cause of relinquishment of dogs to shelters. As written in “Characteristics of Shelter-Relinquished Animals” some factors might include:
- Physical and behavioral characteristics of the animal
- Characteristics, knowledge, experience, and expectations of the owner
- Extenuating circumstances (e.g. income, owner health issues, housing changes)
In the study they found that dogs that were younger, owned for a shorter time, intact, mixed-breed, obtained from a friend, pet store, or shelter, had behavioral issues (house soiling, destructive, fearful, or bit someone) were relinquished more often.
A study supported by the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy stated that the number one reason for dog relinquishment was behavior problems. A 2012 American Humane Association study on retention of pets adopted from shelters, stated dogs who had seen a veterinarian, had a 93% chance of retention six-months post adoption. For dogs that had not seen a veterinarian, only 53% were retained. While the study does caution that the data may be attributed to the fact that if someone is unsure they will keep an animal, they may not have taken it to a veterinarian before deciding. However, if this data could be validated in another study, this could show the importance of veterinary intervention in early human-dog connections.
As a veterinary student we are educated on many resources that can help our clients, but questions still remain.
- Will our clients use the resources provided to them to inform their decisions?
- How many clients are coming to veterinarians before they purchase a dog?
- How do we find more effective ways to communicate with prospective puppy owners before they have the dog and become bonded?
These questions point to a need for greater understanding of where people are getting their dogs. Good breeders carefully screen potential buyers to try to insure a good match. Those selling dogs from other sources – commercial breeders, questionable online sources, etc – may not be so careful.
For a further look at some of the complex issues related to acquisition of a purebred dog, see the module “How Can You Promote Informed Decision-Making in Acquiring a Purebred Dog?”