Many people feel it’s best to start with a “clean slate” when adopting a dog so only consider adding a puppy to their family. While you can have a lot of influence on your dog’s personality at this early stage, it’s important to realize there will be genetic influences you will NOT be able to control. Not to mention the responsibilities to taking on a young pup. So is it better to adopt an adult, a dog who “is what he is?” Here are a few things to consider when determining what age and developmental stage might be most compatible for your family and lifestyle.
Puppies (through 20 weeks)
Puppies have begun to show their true temperaments. Socialization and exposure is critical. You should be committed to exposing young dogs to as many sociable and friendly dogs and people as possible. Also crucial is to have your pup experience new places, smells and things. These are all opportunities to help your puppy learn about and feel comfortable in the world around him or her. This stage requires a tremendous amount of time and patience on your part, a good sense of humor will also be helpful. If you have another dog at home, don’t let your other dog “raise” the pup — you should be the most relevant in your puppy’s life.
Juveniles (5 months-18 months)
Dogs this age can be left home alone longer than young puppies. This can be a challenging age, however, testing limits and authority like a rebellious teenager. Exercise and training are a daily requirement. Behaviors that were “cute” as a puppy can emerge overnight as unruly — jumping, barking, biting, etc. It is important to continue socializing and training your dog of this age, reinforcing polite manners and providing clear expectations for how he/she is to behave.
Adult (1 1/2-5 years)
Adult dogs should be done with any destructive chewing and should be easy to housetrain if he/she isn’t already there. Most dogs have reached maturity by age 3. You can appreciate and enjoy your dog’s energy and enthusiasm to play and learn new things without the challenges of having an adolescent dog. These dogs are generally well-mannered, friendly and calmer companions.
Older adult (5-plus years)
These dogs can make wonderful companions, are almost always house trained, and well-mannered. Mature dogs generally come with few behavioral surprises and usually require very little training. A lot of fun and love comes with dogs that are fully mature. And, speaking from experience, having a perfect dog for even a short time is absolutely worth it.
In order to set both you and your new dog up for success, carefully consider the developmental age of any dog you want to share your home with. These stages do overlap with a fairly smooth progression. And remember that adequate socialization, enrichment and training should continue throughout your dog’s lifetime.
• Sam Kabbel, CPDT-KA, is owner and president of Valley-based Pet Behavior Solutions, serving the Phoenix area. For more information, visit www.petbehaviorsolutions.com.