Adult Dog vs. Puppy

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Adopt a puppy or an adult dog?

Feb 2011

we plan to add a dog or puppy to our family in the next 1-2 years. clearly i am planning ahead! i want to make an informed decision before we make this huge committment. my kids (currently 4 & 9,) partner & i are looking forward to this addition. we both work FT and one parent is a teacher so has more time off. we will definitely adopt from a rescue, but we are unsure whether a puppy or a dog is the better choice. we do have experience with dogs, but not puppies. i know a puppy's needs are high and the time & work required is immense. another thing to consider is how long can a puppy be alone? we both work near home (less than 10 min) and i could come home for lunch as well as 1 short break. this would mean the puppy would be crated for 3-5 hours. is this realistic? if not, at what age is it doable? what do people who work do? do they just not adopt puppies? there have to be families out there that work and still have puppies? the concern about an adult dog adoption are the possible issues due to lack of training, socialization, neglect, etc. it seems that 'fixing' an adult dog with issues would be harder than raising a puppy. am i wrong? it seems a dog could behave well at a rescue group, but then the real issues crop up when you bring him home. it's possible that the dog may just need to be housetrained, but on the other hand, what if it ends up with severe anxiety? i'm not saying that dogs with issues are bad, but i want to be realsitic about what i can handle and do right by the dog. finally, if you have recommendations for rescues, advice about adopting or personal stories to share that would be great, too. reallyexcitedaboutit

Having just adopted a rescue dog four months ago, I wanted to lend our experience. We also did lots of book research and talking with dog owner friends about our choices, and although I am a stay-at-home mom with three kids ranging from 8 to 13 (in other words, fairly independent and self sufficient ages) I did opt for a young adult dog about 1-2 years old. We decided against a puppy since housetraining issue seemed like it would be very intensive, and even without a job outside the home I didn't think I could manage it with all the activities we have going on.

Pros of getting our young adult dog: since she spent 6 weeks at a foster home, we had a very good idea of her personality and behavior. Therefore I do recommend using foster home rescues as opposed to trying to evaluate any dog at a chaotic shelter. Fosters can give you great feedback on potential separation anxiety, ability to get along with other dogs, cats or children, etc. (We used Petfinder to narrow our search, and found our dog through HALO in Antioch.) She was completely housebroken, crate trained, gentle, easygoing, and has great house manners. Her basic personality and energy level were very well described for us, and there are no surprises in her adult size. You can find a great dog from rescue organizations, but patience is key, waiting for the traits that you find very important to you. You should be very careful that the foster screens for issues such as resource guarding since you have young children. With a puppy it seemed so hard to commit to the training and then also have a question mark about its adult energy level and personality. Cons: her unknown history makes it hard to understand her few quirks that we are training her out of, and we don't have cute puppy pictures! We are very happy with her, and as long as you carefully consider your preferences and abilities, you should be able to find a gem in whatever stage of life you decide on. Feeling Fortunate

I can tell you will be a great dog owner as you seem to care a lot and put forethought into decisions.

Puppies certainly are more rambunctious, but within breeds there is a lot of variety, some are more melo and some can be more crazy. Puppies also do need alot of sleep, so hours in a crate is not as mean as it may seem when you get home and they run around like mad. But adopting an older dog is also great and can certainly be a good way of avoiding the crazy running around, chewing and housebreaking phase, many older shelter/nonprofit dogs are absolute sweethearts and the people who work at such places are usually extremely paranoid about not adopting out a dog to a family when the dog is not good with kids.

We adopted from the Berkeley Shelter on 4th street and I thought they were great in informing us about what we were getting into and what we needed to do. We happened to adopt a pointer-mix puppy which is known for their need to run, so in the adoption process we discussed taking the dog for runs which worked out for me. But I also saw them work with other people who don't run and they seemed to give them good advise about other types of dogs for that situation. Once I adopted my dog, there was an unexpected 8 month period when I became very busy and during that time I hired a dog walker who was great, helped train our dog and our dog learned to socialize well with other dogs. If you can afford it, a dog walker can be very good for a new dog, especially a puppy.

I have also known many people to adopt from Milo which seems to be a very good foundation. The volunteers who foster dogs truly want to find a good match since they usually are very attached to the dogs that get fostered, so talking with the persons who are doing the fostering will probably give you a good idea what will work for a particular dog.

You will probably get a lot of responses of people who had terrible rescue dog experiences as well as people with great experiences like mine. My opinion is that its impossible to truly know when adopting what your going to get, all dogs have their own personalities and set of experiences, even pure- breeds, so there is always a certain amount of risk and luck with what ever you adopt. The fact that they are all so unique makes the relationship with a dog them rich and real, even if at some stages its challenging. Good luck! anon

i weigh in on adult. you can get the vibe of how a dog will be better from an adult than a puppy. adults are harder to find homes for. the animal rescue group would know if the adult can be crated/how nervous it is. get it pretty young still and make sure you do training and that it can handle kids... . training is the KEY

We have done both-adopted twice (dogs ages 4 and 5 from two different rescue groups (Milo foundation, San Martin Animal Shelter) and we have purchased twice-full breed puppies. The puppies were harder by far. The potty training alone drove me completely crazy but I also was a single parent so I had no one to share the responsibilities with (kids say they will help but they rarely do) The fun of puppies is hard to replicate. People do it all the time but I am certain that crating time should be limited (get a puppy book or read on line about it) Adopting a mature dog has its pros and cons. Both of our older dogs were already potty trained and had NO behavioral issues at all. (one was given to the shelter as the owner had passed away and had no family) The only bummer about the older dogs is that both estimated ages were very off-meaning they told us the dog was about 3-5 yrs old and in reality (we found out later) they were older. They both died after about 3 yrs with us and that was hard. (and had cancer and we tried to treat it) I think the breed is more important than the age- there are breeds that are known to be more social and better with families ( labs, retrievers, poodles) and breeds that are higher need/energy (some breeds need tons of exercise and stimulation....blanking on breed names now) If you want more info I am happy to share. Moderator can give you my info..... Good luck! good luck! dog lover

Given that you are both working I would not opt for a puppy. It is a TON of work like having a new born including crying at night and taking them potty during the night - sorry there are no diapers invented for puppies :-(

I highly recommend a rescue organization. I am personally involved with Golden Gate Lab Retriever Rescue ( We have dogs of all ages who are thoroughly assessed by the foster families as well as fosters do a lot of training. When people adopt from us you have a 2 week trial period to ensure that it is the right fit for the dog AND the new family. Plus we are here to help you transition, find training, give you tips etc.

Our family just recently adopted one of the dogs we fostered - she is 5-6 years old and has NO behavioral problems whatsoever - she was fully house trained. So not all ''older'' dogs have issues - as a matter of fact you or the foster can often identify any issues with an older dog whereas with a puppy who will have no idea what it will turn into. Email me if you need additional info. Check out our website Lots of available dogs with descriptions so you can see what is available. Stefanie

Think of a puppy as a ''baby'' dog and that will give you a good sense of what they need - a lot!

They are up in the middle of the night for at least the first few weeks depending on how easily they train, sometimes for the first few months, and they need a lot of day-time attention in order to socialize with the family.

You are much better off adopting a rescue dog from a reputable organization that temperament tests. I have adopted two dogs from Hopalong and they do a great job of matching the animal to your family personality and needs. Maggie Harmon

Having gone both routes, I would opt for not getting a puppy. There two things to consider: 1) No matter what age, size of dog you get, training is really important to helping your dog be successful. So getting a puppy doesn't guarantee anything 2) Not all adult dogs come to rescue with issues. Dogs may be in rescue for other reasons too (owner deployment, this housing/economic mess, wandered off and owner never picked up from shelter, etc.).There are often very young dogs too.

I definitely understand your fears about getting a dog with major issues - those are important, real considerations- but once you start meeting potential candidates, you'll get a better sense of who they are. Reputable rescue groups will do a temperament testing of the dog to help provide more info about the dog (key word is help, not guarantee). Rescue dogs don't necessarily do better in rescue and then let their true colors show once they get a new home, it's just that the rescue group may not yet know every detail about the dog...or sometimes that transition period may be very stressful for them (just as it would stress any reasonable human in that position). Either way you are going want to train your dog to adjust to the rules of your house and your world. I have found it easier to train an adult dog (including the many great foster dogs I had) because they seemed to catch on quicker (and that includes adult housebreaking). is the best place to learn about dog behavior and training (created by dog gurus Ian and Kelly Dunbar) and is a great place to start researching dogs and rescue groups. I think you will be able to find what you're looking for when you're ready to start looking. BPN abounds with resources for good trainers as well. anon

Hi, I think the two most important things to do before getting a dog is research and scheduling transition time. We adopted a lovely 6 year old lab from a shelter 3 years ago. She has become a huge part of our family and we love her dearly. I think her adoption has been successful because we took our time deciding which dog was right for us and then set aside time to be with her. I read about different breeds and problem behaviors. I looked online at available dogs and read their descriptions. As a parent of two young kids I did not want a chewy, hyper, noisy animal. So I decided on a larger, older dog. I steered clear of dogs that had descriptions like ''needs an active family'' or ''best for children over the age of 10''. I read up on separation anxiety because, of course, an adult animal is going to be traumatized on some level. I also made sure that I had some time off work so I could deal with any problems. It took me 8 months to find the dog that I thought matched our family. Then I spent 4 weeks at home with her gradually getting her used to the idea that it was OK for her to be home alone. I didn't hire a trainer, I just did what makes sense. I would put on my shoes, get my keys, go outside the front door, lock the door, stand there silent for 2 minutes and then come back inside. An hour later I would do the same thing. The next day I increased the time. The next week I would drive around the block. By the last week I would go out for an hour or two. I never made a fuss about leaving and when I returned I ignored her. I also fed her right before I walked out the door so my leaving meant something good. You are going to have challenges no matter what dog or puppy you get. The key is giving the dog enough time to adjust. You mentioned that one of you is a teacher so maybe you can wait until summer or winter break. After I went back to work my husband started coming home every lunch hour to let our dog outside. I also walked our dog before work every morning for about a month so she would be exhausted when I left. I now do that twice a week. A dog door is another possibility. I think crating is the only option for puppies and because they are alone and bored for so many hours they need a lot of attention and exercise when you are home. So I think our experience has been so positive because we were prepared and I think it is great that you are gathering information ahead of time. Good luck with your search! lovemydog

dog-waaay easier! furry household

Puppies are a lot of work, especially for a family with young kids and two working parents. It sounds like your schedule makes it manageable -- but barely. A house with young kids is not the ideal place to train a puppy, both because of the overall chaos and because the needs of the kids can eclipse the time/effort the puppy needs.

We have had puppies in the past, but opted not to get a puppy when our old dog died in 1999. Our kids were 7 and 4. Instead, we got a ''career change'' dog from Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael. You need a fenced yard (they check), and the wait can be long (though ours wasn't). You may get a young dog who flunked out early, or one with a medical issue (often minor), or an older (16-18 months) dog who got almost all the way through training. Ours was the latter. He is now an old guy, and he has been a dream dog for over ten years.

When our Guide Dog flunkie got too old to run with me a couple of years ago, we got a second dog, also older, this time through Golden Retriever Rescue. He was 6 years old when we got him, and despite a rap sheet (all kids of destructiveness and escape) in his past, he fit right into our family and has been a great dog too. Good luck. Rafael and Riley's Adoptive Mom

We just adopted a puppy - a shepherd/malamute mix - in October. Here is my advice about a puppy: it is like having an infant. Without diapers. But with sharp teeth. And an appetite for cute shoes, new shoes, semi-cute shoes, newly refurbished shoes, kids' shoes, and guests' shoes. Oh, and wooden things - coffee tables, chair legs, decks. We ADORE our puppy - he's been an amazing addition to our family and to my kids' lives. But it's a huge time commitment in the first year, at least. And I work from home most of the time. I don't recommend crating for more than an hour or two as a puppy, particularly when he/she will be left alone. The first six to twelve months of a puppy's life are crucial in developing the discipline, training, and routine that will help contribute to a happy home for everyone. And that kind of training and discipline can't really be achieved if you're out of the house most of the time. If you aren't going to take some kind of ''maternity leave'' after getting a puppy, and still would really like to get one, I would highly suggest hiring a reliable dog walker who can come to your house several times a day to make sure the puppy is getting plenty of exercise and attention while you're away. Please feel free to email me; happy to talk further about our experience with a new puppy. Tatiana

We were lucky enough to find a 6 mo old dog as a rescue, sort of puppy, sort of grown. We wanted one who would bond with us but without the hassle of the house breaking, whining stage. She is perfect: short haired, smaller for our small space, energetic, fun, not a big barker, pees outdoors, socializes with other dogs nicely. This after about a month of being unnaturally chill. We had to teach her that we were safe, would not hurt her, and how to play. She won't go into our bathroom (too much like the vet/kennel?), hates anyone looming over her, barks at certain men and hairstyles, but is getting better. My point: figure out what would work for you, then pursue that. You can find it. We waited and looked for about a year til she came up on our local listserv.

It's so fun to have excited dog energy in your life! That said, I believe it really isn't fair to the animal to be alone all day. They are pack animals and NEED company. Can you consider a doggy day care arrangement? We were told to walk her twice a day for 1/2 hour, but that doesn't put a dent in her energy level. It's more like an hour twice a day. She ends up alone some of the time, but my husband is around with a flexible schedule, and takes her with him, stops by the dog park if he knows he's going nearby. The set up you describe seems to me a recipe for an unhappy dog, one who will act out with problem behavior. If their needs are met, they are mellow and happy. Good for you for thinking about it in advance.

You could do the puppy thing. It's work for the first year, but it's fun. And if it's a good match, (which doesn't necessarily mean easy!) there will be a whole lot of love in your house! Elisa

Thinking about adopting an older dog

June 2002

Our beloved dog died in October and we are now contemplating adopting another mixed bread dog. I have my eye on one at the Milo Foundation, a medium-sized border collie-pointer mix. Currently, he is with a foster person, who will let him stay at her home until he is adopted. He is a sweet, intelligent 1-year-old who needs a fair amount of training. He was given up by a previous owner and his background is shrouded in mystery. Although we have made inqueries, it is not clear that he is house broken. And we are concerned that he requires a lot of stimulation, even after a good morning walk. We have an 8-year-old child who loves animals, although I doubt she will routinely participate in his care. Has anyone had experience with such a mix? If so, do you think he would make a good family dog, and is it difficult to train what appears to be an undisciplined, year-old animal to sit, stay, come, lie down, etc.? I'm asking because I just can't get this little guy out of my head. Thanks! Dog lover

Since you have a dog, you know what kinds of demand a dog places on the family for its care and attention. We adopted a 1 1/2 yeard old cattle dog/ terrier mix breed dog from Milo about a year ago. He's been a great addition to the family and we are very happy to have adopted him. Both Hopalong and Milo are great organizations and care about the dogs alot. Before we got the dog we have now, we tried another dog from Hopalong and found that the dog was too much for us and sadly sent him back. But it was the right thing to do. I would suggest if you think you really want him, that you should foster care the dog for a week or a weekend and find out first hand that this dog is the one for you. You will know quickly.

Sirrius also offers dog/trainer lessons for older dogs at the Berkeley Humane Society. We attended and that was helpful for us. ALso, over the first 3 months we found by accident that our dog did know some useful word commands - ''OK'' and ''Let's go'' that he associated with good things from his owner and we capitalized on those. (For example, sitting on the couch talking to people and saying ''OK, let's go'' ...the dog perks up and runs up to me. OK is a good one to get his attention.) Also over 6 months, the dog learned our routine and learned where and how he fit into our family and we learned how we want him to be a part of our family (things like on the couch or off the couch? crate or no crate?, etc.) We kept him on leash alot at first, especially compared to now and I always keep him on leash when we walk down the street. Of course, every dog is a little different. Comparing his behavior now to his behavior when we first got him, he was a bit anxious in his new setting, ''tested'' his limits, and consoled himself with chewing - some OK, some not OK. Now: we are totally a part of his pack, he would never leave us, he is our dog and we still train him. Hope this helps. Good luck! Hope you find the adult dog that is just right for you! Lissa

Both Border Collies and Pointers require a great deal of exercise. My guess would be that many discipline problems could be related to a lack of needed exercise. If you know that you're able to provide regular opportunities for vigorous R.L.

As an owner of a border collie mix (mine is mixed with Lab), I can tell you that border collies are very smart but also that they need a lot of exercise and attention. I don't know pointers well enough to tell you about their behavior. I think 8 is a very good age for a child to participate in a dog's care. You're right that ultimately you will be responsible for the dog, though.

If the dog is living with a foster family now, I would be very surprised if he's not housebroken. But if he's not, housebreaking is not a difficult thing to do. The bigger issue is really what effect the dog's mysterious background has had on his behavior. For example, our dog was rescued at 7 months after her owners dumped her outside a veterinary clinic with a very bad case of mange. She's a sweet dog, but she has tremendous fear aggression with other dogs that, despite several obedience courses and a lot of work and attention, has lessened very little in her 10 years with us. I've always suspected that it is caused by trauma in her early life.

Yes, a dog can be trained ... particularly a border collie. One of the reasons border collies are known as ''smart'' dogs is that they do very well in obedience and can problem-solve. Our border collie loved to learn (still does, in fact). I remember teaching her to ''go to bed,'' and after the second time around, I barely raised my arm in the command and she was off and running to her bed, wagging her tail and clearly happy to show off how well she understood the game.

If you try to housebreak the dog and find he's just having accidents, there may also be medical causes and treatments. As a fellow dog lover, I would encourage you to give this guy a chance. But I would make sure beforehand, that you and the rest of your family recognize how much time and attention you'll need. You should walk him at least once a day. Our dogs get two 30-minute walks a day. You should spend at least two 15-minute periods of play with your dog. And you should make sure people are going to be home significant amounts of time with the dog. Then there's feeding and grooming and scooping up poop and vet bills.

Plan on enrolling him in obedience class. There are decent ones run by city recreation departments and humane societies and shelters and good ones (a bit more expensive) offered at the major pet store chains. They're all very similar, and a lot of the results depend on your being consistent in your training. It is my belief that 90 percent of obedience training is training the humans and 10 percent is training the dog. Good luck. Gwynne

You can train the dog when you get him. Border collies need lots of exercise. They run and herd for fun, and they run fast. If you can regularly get to some wide open spaces (dogs love running at Point Isabel) that would be great for you and the pup. You sound like you really love the dog, so if you get him you guys will have a great time. Bay