It’s the perfect time to add a puppy into your life. You’ve told all your family and friends how badly you want a puppy and can’t wait to do fun activities with your furry friend by your side. You’ve already researched the breed of dog you want and are choosing so because its temperament and energy level are well suited for your lifestyle. After finding a breeder that looks family oriented and is definitely not a puppy mill, you are shocked by the price tag. Puppies can be $600, $800, or even higher for one with a fine pedigree, not to mention that the price doesn’t include the last round of shots. A new puppy will need supplies, vet visits, and eventually need to be spayed or neutered.
If you’re like me and looking for a companion and life buddy, there are other options for getting a puppy. A new dog is expensive no matter what, but if you are not purchasing one for a specific purpose (allergies, hunting, herding, show dog, etc.), you have the option of choosing a mixed breed dog at a very low cost from a shelter.
You can adopt a shelter puppy that ends up being healthier and better behaved than a purebred dog. Yes, that’s not a lie. A lot of it will depend on the dog and even more will depend on you. Here’s the catch: There are certain things you need to know and do when choosing a shelter pup. How do I know this stuff? I got a puppy from a city shelter in 2002 that ended up being an awesome dog with few health problems during her 12 year life. My other puppy, Bear was adopted in 2014 from a city shelter. All the pictures included are of Bear, who I paid $80 for at the shelter.
Here are 5 truths that nobody tells you when getting a shelter puppy.
Another one of Bear’s baby pics, about 6 weeks old.
1. Shelter dogs are not always labeled the right breed.
Many puppies that are brought to shelters have been found as strays and their actual breed is unknown. The shelter staff will look at them and guess a breed to list them as. Sometimes an owner will surrender puppies and will actually know the breeds of the parents (or one parent) but often the listed breed is based off assumptions. My shelter puppy was said to be lab mix, but I did not believe it and confirmed my suspicions later through a DNA test (will discuss in an upcoming post).
Recommendations: Take your time and check the shelter websites often till you see a puppy that interests you. Talk to the shelter staff to get any information possible on the puppy’s parents. I didn’t ask for a backstory and I regret it! Whatever details I received wouldn’t have affected my decision to adopt Bear, but it would have been interesting to know more. Research average weight and growth patterns for various breeds so you can choose a puppy that will fall into the adult weight range you are looking for. I really like this weight calculator on puppyweights.com. Here is a puppy growth chart from wearethecure.org.
2. Most shelters will not hold a dog for you.
It is likely that if you see a puppy you want, you will need to go to the shelter that day to get the dog. City shelters are overcrowded and need to get the dogs adopted out right away to open up space. For this reason, many shelters operate on a first come, first serve basis. When I went to get Bear, the shelter practically handed me a puppy because they were so desperate to adopt dogs out. You can call ahead and ask to place a hold, but if they say no don’t get discouraged. It’s just a rule that’s in place because too many holds ended up not working out and interested adopters were told the dog wasn’t available due to the hold. Just pack your carrier and supplies and go to the shelter when you can.
Recommendations: If you call and are unable to place a hold, ask if you will need to complete an adoption application in advance or if it can be filled out when you are purchasing the dog. My experience is that you can adopt quickly at a city shelter, while specialty rescue groups can have a much longer process that includes an online application and home visits.
Growing fast! about 4 months old.
3. Many shelter puppies are sick.
Too often, the tiny puppies that are rescued as a litter are not in great shape. It is imperative that you take your new puppy to the vet asap to have a health assessment. My shelter offered a free checkup through a designated list of vets provided that I got the health check performed within 72 hours of purchasing the dog. This is sad, but going through with the health check allows you to get another puppy at no cost if yours dies due to health issues during it’s first weeks at home. This policy just goes to show how often dogs are sick. The shelter had dewormed my dog, but he had to be dewormed again and needed meds for a runny nose. There was concern that the runny nose was a sign of distemper, which is deadly, but it ended up just being a small cold and was cured with antibiotics. Poor baby Bear was so bloated, I could tell he didn’t feel well.
Recommendations: Get the health check and be prepared to spend money on medications that may be needed. Ask the vet to look at the stitches where the puppy was fixed to see that they are healing correctly. Watch your puppy closely during the first weeks at home and call the vet if anything is cause for alarm, even if it seems minor.
4. Your puppy will need time to socialize.
Any puppy will need to get used to his or her home, but a shelter puppy may need some extra time to adjust to people. A breeder will often expose puppies to children from the beginning, but your shelter puppy may have never been near a child. My dog was so young that he wanted to be held all the time and would cry if he was left alone. He cried so much that I ended up putting him in bed with me, which I know you’re not really supposed to do. Now I’m stuck with a dog that likes to sleep in bed, but I don’t mind too much.
Recommendations: start holding, petting, and handling your puppy right away and often to break them of any aggression that could be in their system. Puppies aren’t supposed to go to dog parks until they have completed all their rounds of puppy shots, but you can expose your pup to family and friends. I don’t have small children, so when my puppy saw kids for the first time it scared him. Skateboards and bikes were also very scary. I recommend letting your puppy see children playing from far away at first, so they can get used to kids quick movements.
That one time my dog tore up his entire dog bed.
5. You will get to learn with your puppy.
A shelter puppy tends to be a mixed breed dog. Learning about their behaviors can be fun and exciting. Some view this as a disadvantage, but I’ve loved getting to know my dog through his first year in our family. He likes to run, but isn’t fast. He likes water from a sprinkler, but hates swimming. He likes all other dogs and wants to show off his tricks. Some other things I’ve learned are that I have a dog with a strong prey drive and a desire to guard the house. There are more risks in not knowing the natural temperament of the dog, but if you start training early you can have an obedient buddy.
Recommendations: Be rehearsed in the time and energy required to care for a puppy. Young dogs in general will nap a lot but also will be energetic and need playtime. Make sure your puppy has enough toys and things to teethe on so that they can stay occupied. Teach basic commands right away and begin walking the puppy on a leash each evening. I actually ended up losing weight after getting a puppy because I was so busy trying to potty train and work in all the other kinds of training needed.
Bear at 1 year old.
What Everyone Tells You.
And then there’s the part that everyone does tell you about adopting a shelter dog. You’re doing a great thing by rescuing your puppy and giving them the loving family they deserve. This is true! There are so many successful adoption stories. With too many dogs and not enough homes, it’s possible that had you not adopted your pet, they could have been euthanized. You rescued them from a lonely (and probably short) life confined to a small kennel. You helped them learn to play, love people, and be a part of a family. Adoption can be greatly rewarding. You may have to put in a little more work with a shelter dog, but your efforts will pay off.
And now, a few pictures of Bear and his story. Ironice because I am adding these on the exact date that we adopted him 2 years ago.