Not too long ago, I made the big decision to move out of my parent’s house. I was, of course, excited beyond measure. However, after about the first week, I realized living on your own could get kind of lonely. My roommate’s work schedule meant she was usually gone, and there wasn’t always someone available to get coffee with me. So, I made the decision to buy a dog.

Two months and four vet bills later, I’ve learned a lot about what having a dog really entails. I knew that my puppy wouldn’t be just a lovable ball of fluff that did no wrong; however I didn’t fully grasp how much attention (and money) this dog would eat up. Therefore, for the good of potential dog owners everywhere, this blog will once a week highlight what I feel is essential knowledge about owning and raising a puppy.

To aid me on this effort, I will be accompanied by my 4 month old collie, Strider. Don’t let appearances fool you. Strider messes on the floor, chews on the table, and cries his lungs out if left alone for more than thirty seconds. However, he is a surprisingly sweet and loving little guy. He goes with me everywhere possible, and sleeps at the end of my bed. He is the perfect dog for me, but finding him wasn’t an accident. It took many hours of research and consideration before I finally decided to get a dog, much less figured out what breed I wanted.

The very first step you take when deciding to buy a dog is asking yourself if you really, really want one. Did you decide this on a whim? Did you just run into a guy selling puppies on the street and fall in love with the floppy ears and wagging tail? If that’s the case, reconsider. You have to realize that that puppy is a baby (I hate it when people compare animals to children, but in this sense, it’s true.) It uses the bathroom, it cries and it needs to learn English.

If you expect your new puppy to grow into the loyal, well behaved dog you’ve always dreamed of, be prepared to spend a large amount of your time taking care of it. I spend on average about seven to fourteen hours around my puppy (not training, just in the same house as him.) Please don’t get a puppy and leave him alone all day. He’ll grow up to be antisocial and weird. That’s the best way I know to describe it. Your puppy will most likely develop bad habits and become high strung. If you want a companion dog, you’re going to have to spend your precious time nurturing one.

Also, consider what you want in a dog. Do you want an athletic dog that will run a marathon with you or a couch potato that will watch Food Network with you? I chose a collie because I spend a lot of time on the computer or sitting around talking with friends (in other words, I’m lazy.) I didn’t need a high-strung dog. I also didn’t want a large, aggressive dog. When Strider grows up he’ll be about 65 pounds, but I won’t have to worry about him eating the neighbor kids. Look at your lifestyle and choose a breed that fits you and your family. Different breeds have different intelligence rates, too. A cow dog is in the top ten most intelligent dogs, which is why it’s so useful in cattle work. Afghan Hounds, however, are one of the most unintelligent dogs you can find, only learning a command after 80 or so repetitions. The website, is a fantastic resource where you can find a long list of recognized breeds with descriptions of their needs, intelligence, and personalities.

Don’t forget about money. Overestimate how much you will spend on your puppy, because, chances are, it’ll end up costing you even more than that. Strider’s vet bills were supposed to be fifty dollars. The last two have been over eighty. You also will want to buy him treats and bones and other things to keep him occupied, not to mention a crate and food, which will eat up your puppy fund pretty quick. Will you adopt a dog or invest the money to get the guarantees of a pedigree? Most times dogs from the pound have health issues that first time checkups don’t catch.

I’ll give you a rundown on the decision process of buying Strider. I wanted a pretty, long haired dog that would be intelligent, very loyal and easy to train. He needed to be protective enough to scare away burglars but sweet enough to endure the love of little kids, and have a long enough life span that I wouldn’t be brokenhearted before I was out of college. Tah-dah! That’s the exact description of a collie. Strider meets most of those standards…except, sometimes I doubt the intelligence factor…

In next week’s segment, I’ll discuss the difficult process of finding a breeder, and include the nightmare that led to a two-day-last-minute road trip.

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