In the July/Aug 1978 issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS, Kansas veterinarian Randy Kidd wrote an article about how to restrain a farm animal. Little did we (or Randy) know that the one piece would lead to many more . . . in fact very few issues since then haven't carried a feature by Dr. Kidd on some facet of livestock care.
Well, "MOM's medicine man" has now decided to share some of his "vet's-eye-view"on pets, the very special creatures that we humans for centuries have welcomed into our homes and hearts. We hope that our readers will find Dr. Kidd's columns on this subject to be as informative and enlightening as have been his commonsense articles on livestock. -MOTHER
Picking The Perfect Pup
Making friends with a new puppy is a lot like beginning an association with a person you've just met: First impressions are crucial and often long-lasting. And it's during those initial moments when would be owner meets potential pet that the stage is set for a lasting bonding between master and canine. To best pave the way for an enduring and happy relationship with an animal, though, you have to plan ahead . . . which means you need to know, first of all, what to look for in a good pet and where to find such a critter. Then you need to figure out what to do for your young canine when you bring it home for that getting-to-know-you period.
How to Find a Puppy
Barring those rare times when the perfect pooch just appears on your back steps, you have to go out and shop for the ideal pup. In general, there are three types of marketplaces where you can find such an animal: pet stores, backyard breeders, and professional kennels. Each source has its advantages and its disadvantages.
A large commercial pet store will no doubt have the widest variety of dog breeds to choose from, but it usually doesn't have the puppies' parents around for you to examine. That's a definite drawback, since youngsters tend to grow up to be like their folks. I feel it's extremely important to take a good look at the older generation before you buy any offspring.
Backyard breeders, on the other hand, generally have one or both of the dogs' parents around for you to inspect . . . but the selection of puppies is often limited to only one or two litters. However, most animals bred in small supply on a homestead are probably accustomed to a lot of human attention and affection. As a result, these puppies — like their pet-shop counterparts — are usually well socialized by the time you meet them. (Socialization is that important stage in a young animal's development, from about six to eight weeks of age, when it becomes attached to — and, in turn, anxious to please — its human family.)
The third canine showcase, the professional kennel, often has several fitters of one particular breed to choose from, as well as the mothers and fathers of all their charges. If you venture to one of these places, though, be aware that the proprietor may naturally consider his or her breed of dog to be the only type worth considering. Keep in mind that it may not be the one best suited to you and your family!
Selecting Your Puppy
One way to go about finding the perfect dog is to keep your senses alert at all times. In other words, your ears should be open, your eyes peeled, and your fingertips tingling.
The reputation of dog dealers gets around quickly by word of mouth. Follow up leads, and when you see a canine you admire, just ask the owner where he or she got it. It could be that the animal came from a nearby kennel or pet shop that you haven't checked out. If so, read the want ads in your local newspaper and the Yellow Pages in the phone book to see what other places are close enough to explore. Above all, shop around: Don't limit your search to the first nine breeder you hear or read about. Make a list of all the possible sources you might visit, and explore every one before you make a purchase.
When you arrive at each marketplace you've made a note of, don't merely look at the pen full of cute puppies that's been specially put there to catch your eye. Poke around out back to see if there are any other cages filled with not-so-adorable or -healthy critters. Judge the conditions in which they've been living. Smell the air around the pens. Is there any malodor? If you don't like what you see or smell, drive on to the next stop on your list. In short, don't take a chance by buying a pup from an unsanitary home, regardless of how cute the little waif is or how sorry you feel for it.
Look for Good Puppy Traits
Once you've located a well-maintained operation with fit, yelping youngsters, take your hands out of your pockets and put them to work. When you've found a litter you like, carefully pat and stroke each pup in the bunch. You'd be surprised how much you can tell about the general condition and health of an animal simply by touching it. Is its coat full and clean? Does the puppy seem well fed? While you've got a dog in hand, check its eyes, to make sure they're clear and bright . . . its nose, to see that the nostrils are clean and cold . . . and its ears, to make certain they're free of infection. Also, feel the pup's body for any abnormal swellings or bumps.
Finally, after examining every member of the litter, stand back for a few minutes to watch how the puppies naturally interact with one another. The pooch who's bold and playful with its mates will probably be the easiest to train later on. Avoid both the constantly aggressive bully and the timid crybaby. The one that loves to tussle and can take its lumps without whimpering or mounting a major counter offensive is the one you want.
When you've watched for a while and think you've sighted that "rugged individual with the heart of gold", sit in a spot where all the tailwaggers can get to you . . . and call them. The first little yapper to come bounding toward you is nearly always the best dog in the litter. Occasionally, the best of the bunch will take a detour to explore the turf, so keep an eye out for the inquisitive one, too. To be sure not to select a youngster who slinks into a corner and refuses to be petted . . . no matter how droopy.
Puppy Vet Visit
After you've chosen the pick of the litter, take your new charge to the vet right away for a physical examination (plus booster shots and a worming program), to make sure your puppy's as sound as you think it is. Don't give yourself a chance to get attached to a potential problem . . . one that could wind up costing you a fortune in recurring medical expenses. As a vet who has examined many newly bought (and apparently fit) canines that were actually sick or deformed, I advise you to take your pet to a doctor the very day you buy it! Defects such as retained testicles, teeth that don't meet, or knees that aren't formed correctly will eventually become serious problems . . . ones that the dog's owner will have to live with for years.
If your dog does turn out to be unsuitable, return it immediately to its original owner and exchange it for a healthier sibling. Harsh as this may sound, it's better than getting stuck with a future full of unnecessary heartbreak. And before you've spent a night with the pup and grown truly fond of it, that's not too painful a thing to do. Besides, any reputable breeder will be glad to take back an animal that has an obvious defect. (I assume that you and the seller agreed upon an exchange and/or refund policy at the time of sale.)
It's a good idea to lay out your puppy's bed and turf and to decide on its routine before you get it home. Predetermining which areas of the house and yard are off limits and what time the dog's dinner is to be served each day will give your new housemate the opportunity to get used to its daily routine from Day One . . . and will cut down on a lot of possible confusion for both you and the pup.
No matter what precautions you take, those first few days and nights are likely to be a mite tearful for Pup, but you can help ease its homesickness by placing a hot-water bottle (wrapped in several thicknesses of towels) or a loudly ticking alarm clock in its bed. And after those initial whimperings subside, you'll be amazed at how quickly and cheerfully your little fella will adopt you and your family as its own lickin' kin!