Adult dogs make great pets, and there's certainly no shortage of them. Purebreds or mixed, dogs beyond the puppy stages can fit more easily into your household with less time and training than a youngster, and bond just as tightly.
That said, you do need to shop carefully and find out everything you can about any dog you're considering -- you are talking about a lifetime commitment, after all. While expecting to work on some glitches as your new dog gets used to you is reasonable, you want to avoid those animals who have problems you can't handle.
Here are some questions to ask that will help you decide:
-- What do you know of this dog's history? You may be dealing with a shelter, a rescue volunteer, the dog's original owner or breeder, or a nice person who found a stray. If you discover the dog is well-bred and his parents have been certified free of congenital defects, more's the better. If you find out nothing about him because he was a stray, though, don't count him out. If he's healthy and friendly and otherwise fits your size, coat and activity criteria, he can still be a contender.
-- Why is this dog available for adoption? Dogs become available for lots of reasons, some as frivolous as a change in decor. "Losing our home," "divorce" and "death" are some of the better reasons as far as adopting is concerned; "bit our daughter" obviously is not (even if you don't have children). Listen, too, for what isn't said: "He needs more exercise than we can give him" may mean "and he eats furniture when he doesn't get it."
-- What behavior problems does this dog have? Many things are fixable and worth considering if you honestly believe you'll take the time to work with the dog. "Pulls on the leash" is fixable. "A little aggressive" is not, at least not by the average pet owner's standard, and probably not to the extent that you should take a chance on a biting dog. Remember, too, that some problems are the owner's fault, not the dog's. "Won't stay in the yard," for example, may be easily cured by a decent fence and neutering.
-- How is he with children? Other dogs? Cats? Even if you don't have children, you're going to run into some from time to time. The same is true with other dogs. You can successfully avoid cats if you don't have them - providing you keep your pet leashed -- but make certain your prospective pet at least tolerates them well if you do.
If you're getting an animal from a shelter, the organization should have asked the former owner to fill out a card on such things as problems with children or other animals. If you're adopting from a foster home, ask if the family has other animals and children. If there's no way to determine the dog's attitude toward children and other animals but he seems friendly, he may be OK.
If you have doubts, hold out for an animal you're sure will fit with your family. Take your time and keep your heart in check, and you'll find some winners out there -- second-chance dogs who deserve a family, perfect for pampering the rest of their lives. I know. I have two of them.
PETS ON THE WEB
I can't imagine there's a lot of competition for being "The Chinniest Site on Earth," so I'm going to go along with their chutzpah and recommend ChinNet (www.chin.buffnet.net) to anyone who has or is thinking of getting one of these furry critters for a pet. This comprehensive Web site on chinchillas offers care information in several languages, lots of pictures and cartoons, links to dozens of related Web sites and listserves, as well as places to discuss these pets with others who fancy them. You can find a breeder, supplies or a Chin-friendly veterinarian here, too. A good mix of the lighthearted and the serious, ChinNet is both entertaining and educational.
Almost without fail people use one word too much and incorrectly when raising a puppy. The word? "No." Some puppies hear it so often they think it's part of their name: "JoeNO!" "MeganNO!" Used constantly and especially if used in a whiny, pleading manner, "no" loses its value as a training tool.
"No" should be delivered firmly and sharply, as guttural as a low, barky growl -- comparable, in other words to how a puppy's mother expresses her displeasure. Don't whine at your dog: "No, no, no, no. Mommy's fluffums is bad, bad, bad!" Instead, throw the word at the pup.
Because of the overuse of the word, some trainers suggest using another sound especially for correction, something that lends itself more naturally to sounding like a growl, like "arrrggghhh."
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: I have a long-haired Chihuahua, and her breath is absolutely horrible. I have tried dog biscuits and a few other "remedies," and none seem to work. Is there anything that you know of that may help Chloe? -- D.B., via the Internet
A: You need to visit your veterinarian. The causes for bad breath in dogs and cats can range from periodontal disease to diabetes to broken teeth to eating something vile, and nothing will help until the underlying cause is accurately diagnosed and treated.
Chances are, though, it's your pet's teeth that need the attention. Small dogs in particular have problems with plaque buildup that can in time undermine the very foundation of the teeth and put a drain on the general health of the animal.
Have your veterinarian check Chloe's mouth, teeth and gums -- and perform a complete dentistry under anesthesia, if warranted. The procedure takes 45 minutes to an hour, and involves not only cleaning and polishing the teeth, but also checking for and treating broken or rotting teeth, cavities, abscesses and periodontal disease.
After the problems are treated, at-home care can keep things in good shape and extend the time between veterinary cleanings. The biggest component of a home regimen: Brushing or wiping the teeth a couple of times a week.
Use a toothpaste made for pets. It tastes better to your pet and can be safely swallowed. Pet pastes contain enzymes that dissolve buildup and don't need to be rinsed away. This is important, because pets can't gargle, rinse or spit!
As for a toothbrush, you can use one made just for pets, or choose a soft one made for children. Another option: a brush that fits over the fingertip, or a simple piece of gauze wrapped around your index finger.
Make brushing part of your petting routine when you're watching TV. Let your pet sniff and taste the paste, then gentle introduce brushing, followed by lots of praise.
Dry foods, biscuits and chew toys can help keep teeth clean, but they cannot substitute for a regimen of proper care -- as you've discovered. Choose toys that have some "give" to them; hard chews such as hooves have been known to break teeth.
Q: I was wondering how much a black Lab/greyhound mix should weigh. She is 6 years old. -- G.N., via the Internet
A: Instead of worrying about pounds, put your hands on her and feel how fit she is. You should be able to feel her ribs beneath a thin layer of protective fat and move her skin across them easily. When you step back and look at her, you should be able to see a tuck-up behind her ribs; she ought to have a visible waist.
Obesity is a common health problem in our pets -- not only in dogs and cats, but also in birds and such pets as rabbits and guinea pigs. The reasons are the same in pets as in people: too much food and not enough activity.
Talk to your veterinarian about your pet's weight if you're concerned. It's a good idea to start any weight-change plan with a checkup and food recommendation. Don't do anything drastic. A sudden change in the amount of food or exercise your pet gets could be dangerous.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies" and "Cats for Dummies," and is the editorial director of the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or e-mail to Write2Gina(at)aol.com.
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