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I was asked this question recently by someone who is thinking of getting a new puppy in the next few weeks. I am happy to announce that they are already well aware that “a dog is for life, not just Christmas” (that advertising campaign in the UK by the Dog’s Trust 35 years ago was so effective that that saying is now part of our language).
My answer was simple; if you're going to get anything, get a rescue dog. People who know me know that I refer to them as a “breed” sometimes because – just like other breeds of dog – there are a lot of false assumptions made about them. I heard that a very well-known vet in Australia claimed that rescue dogs are very problematic and should be avoided. Coincidentally (not), he is sponsored by a dog breeders’ organisation… Any dog can be a delight or a disaster, regardless of the size, shape, breed or age. I recently met a couple with three dogs; the only one that was well-behaved had come from a rescue group!
How much is that doggie in the window? It may be a lot dearer than you think...
Some people will choose a dog with practicality in mind; the rise of the Oodles originally came about because a blind man who was supposedly allergic to dog hair wanted a guide that wouldn’t shed its hair everywhere (incidentally, he was actually allergic to dog saliva, so it wouldn’t have mattered).
N.B. Instead of crossing a Labrador with a poodle, they could have trained the poodle – another case of being breed specific.
N.B.N.B. Obviously, a Standard Poodle would have the physical presence of a Labrador; a Toy Poodle would find the job a lot more demanding…
That being said, the popular notion that short-haired dogs will create fewer shedding problems is not necessarily true. A dog groomer once told me that the worst breed for shed hair is the Dalmatian. Those short, white hairs get into everything and are a nightmare to remove. When it comes to dogs in the home, size doesn’t necessarily matter either. Big dogs can actually be excellent in smaller dwellings as long as you don’t mind them taking up a fair amount of space. My encounter with an 80kg Great Dane in a one-bedroom apartment in Germany showed me that. His behaviour problems had nothing to do with being kept in a small space, rather it was all about his belief that he had to protect his family from all the dangers outside. Once we relieved him of that responsibility, he could get back to his favourite hobby of sleeping.
Basically, my advice was to take the family on a visit to any number of local dog rescue kennels around them. It can all be part of the excitement of getting a new dog. It might only take one look from either human or dog to spark the connection. Many rescue kennels also let the potential new family interact with one of their charges at first to see if everyone gets on. Inevitably, one family member will bond immediately with the lucky pooch. They may even come up with a name right there and then. Who doesn’t prefer that as a storyline to one where a puppy gets bought from an advert?
It is my firm belief too that sometimes it is the dog that chooses the family, rather than the other way around. The personality of the dog will correspond with the people in a way that size, shape and breed does not. Moreover, once they have found a dog that they want to give a home to, in most cases the added expenses of desexing, microchipping, vaccinating and the like will already have been taken care of. Not only are they giving a dog a second chance, they are getting a bargain. Compare that to those people who select a “designer dog” from an advert online or in the paper, only to risk receiving a dog from a puppy farm that could be so inbred that the future will be full of vet bills and heartache. Of course there are responsible dog breeders out there, but not everyone will take the time to do the research.
Just as people in the UK are used to the idea that a dog isn’t just for Christmas, it is entirely possible that through consistent campaigning and education, everyone will also start to automatically think that “the best dogs are rescued dogs”. Now THAT is a Christmas message worth sharing!