What should I know before getting a puppy?

My girlfriend and I have long toyed with the idea of getting a small dog of some sort. Recently we moved into a town-home that allows pets. Now I’ll admit I don’t know much about raising a dog in an urban environment. Growing up I had a beagle/cockier spaniel mix, but this was in a rural environment where we could just let it roam the yard at will and I was too young at the time to remember when/how we trained it.

I basically have a fairly large one-bedroom apartment the dog could have free reign of during the day, as well as a full basement. It is a nice walkable neighborhood so walking it in the mornings and maybe at night won’t be a problem. It will have to be left alone during the day and some evenings while my girlfriend and I are at work. I also plan on taking the first week of having the dog off from work so I can bond with it fairly early.

We’re looking at several breeds such as Westies or Pomeranians, but are open to suggestion if another small breed makes a better apartment dog. I would prefer something small, white, and fluffy so I can name it Fluffles Von Wigglesworth III (Mr. Wiggles for short). A breed that isn’t apt to bark constantly is also definitely a must.

So what do I need to know before I undertake this endeavor? Any good books for training? Any stories, anecdotes, or words of warning?

I’d suggest an adult dog, so you can tell what its adult personality is and it’ll already be housebroken. Just my opinion.

There’s a huge difference between a Westie and a Pomeranian. A Westie is a terrier - a dog that’s bred for a job. They’re independent and strong-willed. A Pomeranian is a degree of magnitude more tiny, and it’s a toy breed, bred to be a lapdog. Just because they’re both “apartment-sized” doesn’t at all make them the same kind of dog. (I had Westies for years and would never, ever own a fluffball like a Pomeranian, but a lot of people would say the exact opposite.)

Don’t confuse “small” with “low energy”, either - a Jack Russell is small but a powerhouse, and a greyhound is a perfect apartment dog - takes up space on the couch but is content to just lay there all day.

If you’re set on a purebred and a puppy, I’d suggest doing a lot of research into the breeds you’re looking at - not just looks, but temperament. Then once you get it, train it from the start.

I wanted to edit to add:
This is Captain. He weighs 70 pounds, but he would make a MUCH better apartment dog than Haplo, a Westie. (An uncommonly stubborn Westie.)

What Zsofia said bears repeating. A dog’s size has nothing to do with suitability for apartment living. We had a lab mix who was a big baby lap dog, and my mom had a cockerpoo who had twice his energy (and ten times the grooming and vet bills). My neighbors have a lab and a yorkie – guess who’s the most work.

Animal Planet has a series called Dogs 101. You’re shown several breeds interacting with their people, and you get info from the experts on grooming needs, health issues, temperament, etc. It’s entertaining as well as educational, worth looking at before making a decision.

Puppies of any breed are a lot like babies. They need a lot of patience and attention, and they’re puppies for a long time.

As above, plus, take any estimate on how much time you need to spend exercising and training your dog, especially in the first six months, and double or triple it.

Also remember that exercised dogs are happy, obedient dogs. They need to be tired out on a regular basis, ideally daily.

If you have a poorly behaved dog, it’s YOUR fault, not the dogs fault.

Pomeranians require a lot of grooming, eh? Brushing and bathing, or all that fur can become a mess.

I have heard many times that retired greyhounds make splendid apartment pets, but you must not let them off-leash without being in a confined area, in case the “chase prey and run” instinct kicks in. They’re also gorgeous animals.

We have a small dog (7.5 pounds) who’s happy, as much as I can tell, being a companion animal, seems content with walks around the block and vigorous playtime (fetch and such that gets her running). She’s also up for good, long walks as well, and will cheerfully join me in tramping through the woods just as if she were a ‘big dog’.

House training seemed to take longer than the books said it should.

As for what you should know before getting a puppy? I assume that she will be with us for a good 12-14 years, and she is our responsibility for every single moment of that time. If we ever need to move, we will need to find a place that will take the dog or buy a house, because it’s a lifetime committment for us.

Echoing: a tired dog is a happy dog.

Also, you will never leave the house again without a plastic bag (and maybe a flashlight) in your pocket. Picking up poop should become something you don’t even think about.

I’ve been a dog owner pretty much straight through for the past 30 years.

Most of my dogs through that period have been mixed breeds.

My current dog is a purebred golden retriever, and I am stunned at how much better she behaves with nearly no training required. She automatically knew about training pads, but now we don’t use them anymore. She waits by the door to go out.

Goldens are a large breed (50-100lb) but they are the most gentle and timid dogs you can get. As a puppy, she had some issues, but on nearly the day they turn 2 years old, they mature almost overnight.

My advice is to get a purebred dog with the features you want. The money you pay in the beginning more than makes up for problems later.

Housebreaking is a lot more work than you think it will be and will take twice as long.

I promise.

Do NOT set your heart on a breed or type until after you’ve done the following:

First, honestly asses your lifestyle and training skills. Will you be home a lot? Will you be inclined to do a lot of exercise? Do you know how to house-train a dog? Can you get your dog all the way through passing the Canine Good Citizen test?

Next, honestly asses what it is you want from your dog. Do you want a joker, a trickster, a dog that will keep you on your mental toes all the time? Do you want an ambulatory petting toy? Do you want a dog that thinks faster than you do? One that will do tricks? One you can go running with? One that will ‘veg out’ with you and watch Monday Night Football, but has no higher ambitions? Be painfully honest - I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen a Border Collie come through our rescue farm because it’s previous owner(s) thought they wanted a smart & active dog, when what they really wanted was a charming, alert dog. There is no shame in picking a fairly dim couch potato dog, if that’s what suits you best. There are no bonus points for taking on a dog that is a strain on your abilities and lifestyle.

Last, consider things like how much money you have available for food, how much money there is available for trainers, how much medical support you can afford for breeds prone to chronic medical conditions.

Once you’ve got all that sorted out, then go and research breeds and types. Talks to breeders, talk to rescue groups, talk to your vet (you do have one picked out already, don’t you?), talk to ‘dog people.’ Pick the dog that gives you what you want and need - That is the dog that will get the most back from you.

~ Tranq,
BC Rescue Volunteer

You should know that puppies are babies, and they don’t have complete control over their bladders and bowels yet. I suggest an adult dog.

My brother and his ex used to own retired greyhounds, which are very laidback dogs, and they’re used to being confined for hours. Once they’ve been rehabbed, they love being a pet. They are happy to lounge for hours, but they do need their walkies, and many of them love to run for a bit every day.

Get a cat instead.

Ack! Don’t get a puppy. A week off work is in no way long enough to settle a puppy in and get it into a routine. I would also suggest you think long and hard about getting an adult dog either if you can’t guarantee that you’ll be able to take it out at least twice a day. It really isn’t fair to have a dog cooped up all day inside a small apartment and then not even take it out when you get home from work.

Honestly, if you want a white fluffball, get a cat or two.

FWIW, to all those people suggesting a retired greyhound, I’m not sure that’s even a good idea. I would love to get a retired greyhound, but with me and my husband working all day (even with flexible hours), we wouldn’t be allowed to get one as we couldn’t guarantee it wouldn’t be left for more than 4 hours. Maybe rescues are different in the States, but in the UK, that’s a deal-breaker.

I have to second an adult dog, particularly if you both will be gone most of the day. A grown dog needs a lot less attention than a puppy. Grown dogs can quite often be given the run of the house. They often spend a lot of time napping, and will not chew or destroy the furniture out of boredom. Make sure it has had a chance to thoroughly empty its bladder and bowels before you leave and give it some toys with which to amuse itself, and you should have a happy camper when you return.

A puppy, on the other hand, should be trained to go into a crate when you leave the house. If you can make it feel like a safe and secure den, and not make it as a punishment (in other words, when you are home to watch the dog, leave the crate open and allow the puppy to go in and out of it, and explore it on its own) this will save you from finding little piles of poop and puddles of pee, and keep the puppy from chewing anything valuable. Give the puppy some toys it can chew on in the crate, because puppies grow in adult teeth just as human beings do, and they will have a need to teethe.

Also, a puppy should be ideally fed three small meals a day, as they don’t have the stomach capacity to get all their needs in one big meal. An adult dog you can taper off to one or two meals a day, depending on its size. Fewer meals a day can also result in fewer trips outdoors, so you may want to consider how much individual time you can spare for a puppy as compared to a grown dog. This isn’t to mean you can neglect a grown dog, they do need as much social interaction with their masters as puppies do, but an adult dog is usually not as high maintenance.

I think this is some of the best advice I’ve read. When I got my first dog, I went round rescues looking for something small, cute and fluffy. I came home with a Staffordshire bull terrier called Poppy. I’m a lazy, indoorsy sort of person, who likes nice things - once I got Poppy, I spent most of my time when not at work trying to wear her out so she wouldn’t destroy everything I owned by chewing it to pieces whenever I went out.

We got there in the end - she’s a great dog, and now I couldn’t imagine having the fluff bundle I’d thought I wanted. But the first 18 months were bloody hard, and if I wasn’t the sort of deeply stubborn person who never gives up on a project (especially one everyone had said I was mad to take on and would never suceed at), she would have got taken back to the rescue centre.

I recommend thisbook: The Right Dog for You by Daniel F. Tortora. Check your library before buying it. Also go to dog shows and look at breed rescue groups. They will give you straight information – they don’t want one of their dogs going to the wrong home.

If you’re getting a puppy, you’ll want to take more than a week off.

If you’re going to be at work all day, I’d also recommend against getting a single puppy and leaving it. Our dogs are home all day, but they have each other and the cat for company, and if they started showing signs of stress, we’d hire a dog walker. You’ll definitely need a dog walker with a puppy, as they just can’t go 8 hours without urinating and because they need to be well socialized.
Dogs are a bigger lifestyle change than you might think, if you haven’t had one. You can never go on an outing longer than 6-8 hours, ever, unless you take the dog or make arrangements. If you take the dog, you can’t leave it in the car on a warm day for much longer than it takes to pump a tank of gas. You have to be exceedingly conscientious about housebreaking, or it won’t take. You have to be prepared for a dog that has accidents, is sometimes destructive, may not like other dogs, and (if you get a terrier) has high energy and a psychotic prey drive. Unless you really have a goal for what you’re going to do together with your dog, it’s going to want a lot more attention from you than you want to give it, especially as a puppy. The vet bills can be insane if your dog has a health problem, or eats the wrong thing. Even just puppy shots, neutering and checkups add up during that first year.
In a one bedroom apartment, gone all day and in the evenings sometimes? I’d just get a cat.

Another word about housebreaking. The smaller the dog, the smaller the bladder. The little guys simply cannot hold it as long, especially in puppyhood. For several weeks (unless you have a very smart learner and are planning on using puppypads) he or she is going to need to go out every couple hours…all day, all night. You will be sleep deprived, and there will be accidents. You will need more than a week. But, if you do it right (that is, consistently) the first time, you won’t wind up having problems later on. Really consider adopting an adult…there are thousands of them, mix breeds and purebreds too, on petfinder.com. and at local rescue orgs. You may have accidents at first anyway, because of the stress of the move, etc. Dogs go to the bathroom in the same area over and over, so, regardless of the age, I’d buy some Nature’s Miracle in advance (it has an enzyme that destroys the pee smell, so the dog won’t go to the bathroom again in that spot should you have an accident in the house). They also make “pee posts,” a stake that attracts the dog to go to the bathroom in the lawn near where you plant it.

Also, don’t assume that just because the dog is small, it doesn’t need to be socialized. This is critical for dogs of all sizes. Enroll in a puppy class (Petsmart has a great 8 week/8 class program for $109 that’s guaranteed) and do some reading about positive reinforcement-based obedience. Do not use punishment-based methods.

I’ve worked as a dog bather for a year, and I cannot tell you the number of small dogs that had never been socialized to a) be around other dogs b) be around people other than the owner and c) be comfortable with the whole grooming process. Even if you plan on doing all the grooming at home (which I do not recommend with the breeds you listed and no prior experience), the dog still should be socialized for all of these situations because you will need to take her to the vet, possibly board her, and you’ll want her to behave when meeting new people/dogs.

If you are considering either a westie or a pom, those grooming needs will be medium to high, and probably higher than you are anticipating. Brushing every few days layer by layer, (not just over the top with a slicker brush, which will miss any matts) plus haircuts/baths; this is not just to make the dog “pretty.” Inadequate grooming can lead to matted fur, which can lead to hotspots, which can lead to infections, nasty smells and tons of discomfort for the dog. Professional grooming is not cheap (nor should it be–hair cut, bath, blowdry, nails done, anals expressed…all with the risk of being bitten, pooped on, barked at incessantly [I <3 my job]). And be sure to tip your groomer/bather :).

As far as the grooming stuff goes, start early (before 4 months) even if the pup doesn’t need it yet. Handle its paws–A LOT. Otherwise, you’re going to have to go through hell when you have to have her nails done the first time. Get the little one used to having shiny things (like a spoon) around its face so that clippers/shears aren’t as scary. Expose him or her to loud noises (like your blowdryer). Also, ask you the dog groomers if they offer special puppy packages (they often do) which will slowly ease the puppy into the process, but not have you shell out extra money for a full service groom the pup doesn’t need yet.

You might also need to know that poms (and a lot of other small breeds: pugs, English toy spaniels, yorkies, toy/mini poodles, shih tzus, etc.) should not be muzzled with anything other than a basket muzzle (the kind that look like the thing Hannibal Lecter wears in Silence of the Lambs) because they are prone to breathing problems and can die if their ability to pant is even slightly restricted.

That no matter how well you train it or how old it gets it will never be smarter than a dog.

It’s NOT FAIR to have a staffybull picture that I can’t see without creating a Facebook account! Please don’t deprive me of Poppy! :slight_smile:

And even when you have done all that, understand that a dog is an individual and you might not end up with what you wanted, even after careful selection, even if you get an adult dog.

We have a dog that should be a woods romping frisbee catching with our eleven year old sort of dog. But the dog (we got him as a puppy as a rescue) has bad hips. So for his breed (which we THINK is German Shepard and Lab and probably some other stuff), he’s a pretty quiet dog (he’d like to be more active, but strain on those hips isn’t in his best interest). Which works pretty good for our house anyway (otherwise I have to hire a dogwalker to get an active dog through a Minnesota winter with a house that has two people with full time jobs in in).

Puppies are a LOT of work. For somewhere between two months and two years (depending on the dog and how much of your time you spend fixing issues) you have a toddler - who will eat your shoes if you don’t watch him, poop on your floor if you don’t watch him, and shark food from anywhere he can get it. Training will - in time - with the vast majority of dogs - overcome these issues - but it takes time - both just calendar time in puppy maturity and lots and lots of your time.