Seeking to Adopt a Young Puppy

From time to time I get inquiries from prospective adopters seeking to adopt a puppy 6 months or younger from Rescue. Often their desire for a puppy this age is preferable is based on assumptions and beliefs that are mistaken, just plain WRONG. I deal with these fables in this article.
Additionally , some who would prefer a puppy are really not in a position to have one due to the schedule requirements for housebreaking, a topic I mention only briefly. Finally for those intent on getting a puppy, since we so seldom get puppies taken into Rescue, I briefly warn about the need to find a genuinely responsible breeder rather than an irresponsible one or worst of all from a pet store.

Seeking to Adopt a Young Puppy from Rescue

Dear prospective adopter,

You have asked about the possibility of adopting a puppy aged 6 months or less from Bouvier Rescue. The short answer is that such puppies are not often available through Rescue and that a puppy this age may not be the best adoptive choice for you anyway.

Ages ranges of dogs available in Rescue

In Rescue, we rarely get in baby puppies -- and when we do it is usually some kind of back-yard breeder or puppy mill type of situation. In such cases there may or may not be problems with health or with socialization and temperament. If you are really intent on getting a puppy, please see the later paragraphs in this post. But first please consider the paragraphs dealing with the mistaken reasons people think they must get a puppy rather than a more mature dog.

Generally what we get a lot of are adolescent or "teenager" Bouvs, aged 9 months to 18 months, who usually are somewhat untrained and therefore unmannerly and usually also un-groomed. About 2/3 of these are un-neutered males. Now these dogs are usually great dogs after some remedial education and of course grooming and neutering. They are usually very hungry for love, ie very affectionate , and will bond to an adopter very readily. Because these dogs usually lacked a good human packleader in their former home, it is especially important that the adopter have good leadership skills or "alphatude."

We also get a lot of young adult (aged 2 to 5) and mid-life dogs (aged 6 to 9) . Some of these have been very neglected and some have been well cared for. They usually respond well to remedial education. They too will bond well with an adopter, though some of them do so quickly and some take a little bit more time. The young ones about 3 years old are often just at that stage of entering "social maturity" during which a dog may consider "promoting himself" in the pack's social order if there is not already a resepcatable and trustworthy packleader present. For such dogs the adopter's leadership skills and attitude can be quite important. The mid-life dogs are more varied in regard to whether or not a less experienced person or one with less "alphatude" would be a suitable packleader for them.

We also get some senior dogs (age 9 and up) . These are mostly dogs who have been very well cared for and very much loved , but whose owners have been unfortunate enough to have suffered a personal catastrophe such as financially ruinous divorce or an incapacitating health catastrophe (including in a few cases, death). These dogs are generally very well behaved and they will bond to an adopter very very well (some more quickly and some more slowly). they are usually very mellow dogs, due partly to having lived so securely and partly to being older. I consider the middle aged and senior dogs to be the "hidden treasures" of Rescue, as they are often the most satisfying dogs to adopt and to live with.

The hesitation that adopters express about adopting a senior dog is that the dog's remaining life expectancy is less than that of a young dog. Well that's true in the statistical sense. But individual life span is unpredictable. Some young dogs will die young. And some older dogs will live to extreme age. (This is the equivalent of saying some dogs are like Sergei Grinkov and some like George Burns.)
The other side of the coin is that adopters need to consider their own age and life expectancy. Again the individual fate is unpredictable. But for a senior person, adopting a middle aged or senior dog makes sense in that there is much less risk that the owner might pre-ddecease the dog, leaving the dog "orphaned" and without another adopter already waiting.. I tend to discuss this aspect of "who will take the dog if the dog outlives you ?" with my older adopters, but really I should do it with all my adopters.

Three common WRONG reasons for wanting a young puppy

So if your reason for wanting a 6 month or younger puppy was that you are under the belief that only a puppy will bond to your family and come to love you, please revise that thought because it is simply WRONG. Older dogs will come to love you as much or more, though the bonding process may or may not be more gradual.

(The one caveat is that the dog must have received some socialization , ie good exposure to humans , during the "primary socialization period" which is 5 weeks to 16 weeks. This would also apply to any puppy 3 months or older. This lack of primary socialization can occur with puppy mill puppies and some irresponsible back-yard puppies who have lived entirely in kennel runs. you can liekwise expect problems with any pet store puppy. Any experienced Rescue foster home can recognize this problem if it has occurred.)

If your reason for wanting a puppy under 6 months is that you believe that an older dog cannot be trained , the infamous "you can't teach an old dog new tricks", then again please be prepared to revise your thinking because it is also WRONG. A dog of any age who is neurologically normal can learn -- just as adult humans can still learn new things !

It is true that the ages from 5 weeks to several months are something of a "golden time" for a knowledgeable dog-person to teach a puppy many many things easily and in ways that give a foundation for later more sophisticated training, but it is NOT true that the older dog cannot learn. The pup past 4 or 5 months is a bit more independent (self-reliant) and so it won't give you the illusion that it already knows to Come and to stick close to you, which the baby pup does out of dependency, so you have to be prepared to really teach come and to use a leash or long line. By the same reason, the older pup or dog is more ready to learn those things that require some self-reliance, such as herding livestock. And of course the more mature dog is so much easier to housebreak and so much less likely to chew up everything that is left in its reach. It is also easier to accurately evaulate the temperment, personality, and specific behavioral talents (eg for herding) in the more mature dog.

The one caveat to an older dog is that it can be a bit more difficult "UNteach an old dog old tricks" , ie it can take some work to change the things a dog already knows that you wish he'd never learned -- again just as an adult human has to work harder to change or give up an old bad habit than to acquire a good habit in the first place. So if the dog already has learned that it is enjoyable to sleep on the couch, it might take some effort to convince him to refrain from doing so. If a dog has learned to "counter surf" ie to look for food left out on the kitchen table or side counter, it can be harder to teach him to refrain from doing so. But most of the "bad habits" that our rescued Bouvs come to us already knowing are not seriously bad things. And a responsible foster parent will tell you about any pre-existing behaviors that might be regarded as undesirable, and often the foster person can tell you how to remedy such behaviors or how to avoid giving oppertunity for such behaviors to be a problem. And as I've already mentioned, some of the mature Rescue dogs come to us with some very good habits already in place, and it is easier to maintain a good habit than to create one from scratch.

Finally if your reason for wanting a baby puppy is that you have a very young child in your home and you "want them to grow up together" , again please be prepared to revise your thinking because it is based on a misconception and can lead you into great trouble, and is just plain WRONG. In reality to have a baby dog and a baby human in the same home creates an enormous burden on the parents to manage both babies. It's almost as hard as having human twin infants. In addition to the care needed for the human baby and the care needed for the dog baby, there is the added care needed to supervise their interactions so that neither of them excessively annoys or actually injures the other. Young children have very little experience, very little judgement, and very little self-control physically and emotionally. Young children act impulsively and are clumsy in movements. With a young child and any dog, but three times as much so with a young dog, you as parent MUST either vigilantly supervise the interaction or you must separate the dog and child with an appropriate barrier (such as a stretch gate or crib / crate or playpen / exercise pen) to avoid potentially serious trouble. Most adult fully mature (age 3 and up) Bouvier are remarkably tolerant with children and will be very gentle with them.

For all these reasons , my own general rule is that where the parents are dog-experienced and in a position to supervise much of the time, the age of the youngest child in years plus the age of the dog in years should equal or exceed 5. Thus if the youngest child is under 1 year old, the dog should be at least 5 years old -- and used to young children of course. Were the parents are not so dog-experienced or where much of the supervision is going to be delegated to others during the day , my rule would be age of youngest child plus age of dog should equal 7 or more -- and I would want even more to evaluate the dog's previous experience with and behavior towards children of the ages present in the prospective home.

Update : I am very hesitant to place any dog in a home with a resident child under age 5 , even when the dog is quite mellow, though I do judge this on a case-by-case basis. With very dog-smart parents and a child already very used to dogs and well trained to behave gently towards dogs, and with a parent or grandparent home much of the time that the child is home, then yes. When the parents are not very dog-wise or won't be supervising adequately, the youngest child must be considerably older. And it is the age of the youngest child that is critical. So I will ask "is your family complete ?" , ie ask whether any more children will be added. I have not yet asked whether the couple is using reliable contraception nor whether an accidental pregnancy would be aborted. I have seen too many dogs get discarded because an additional baby came along in a home where the parents, especially the mom, already had "too much on their plate" so the additional responsibility was just too damn much and the dog became the victim.
Supervision by a nanny or house-keeper is not equivalent to supervision by a parent or grandparent. Nannies and house-keepers are not hired on basis of dog-knowledge and they may leave at any time
Visiting children, usually grandchildren or nieces / nephews, are much less of an issue than resident children. If a child is visiting for only a few hours, there's always the option of separating child and dog with stretch gate or by confining the dog to crate or closed bedroom. Or the adults may use this visit as oppertunity to begin the child's education about understanding dogs and respecting them. A child who is present most of the day for several days a week or a child visiting all summer would be the same situation as a resident child. Really the critical issue is the knowledge and resposibility of the adults.

If you still want a young puppy

I hope all of the foregoing has been helpful to you in thinking through your priorities in seeking to adopt a dog or in considering obtaining a puppy from a responsible breeder.


If you do decide to get a baby puppy, please be aware that there are some very responsible breeders out there and some totally irresponsible ones. The responsible ones will question you extensively about your family and your lifestyle and will go to great effort to explain things to you, and if they accept you for a puppy they will have a very long detailed contract. In short, you will have the feeling that it might be easier to adopt a human baby. The irresponsible breeders will have only one question : "are you paying with credit card, check, or cash ?" and for that reason I sometime refer to them as "paper or plastic?" breeders. Likewise please be aware that any puppy you would see for sale at a pet shop is a puppy bred in the worst sort of puppy mill (puppy factory) and will have suffered serious neglect in health care and socialization. However sorry you may feel for that puppy in the window, remind yourself firmly that he is your very worst bet for a satisfying family companion. And while you are at it also remind yourself that if you buy this pup, the pet store will put in an order for three more, ie you will be supporting an horrendously inhumane and immoral industry that causes unspeakable suffering to the parent dogs and produces puppies that often will suffer themselves and bring suffering to their human families.

(One important distinction to be made : there are some wise and humane pet stores that have a deal with local shelters and rescue groups to bring some of their adoptable dogs and cats to the store on some particular day to be displayed for adoption. Amoung these dogs will be some puppies. This is a safer method of adopting a dog from a shelter than going direct to the shelter because these dogs have been evaluated by their foster homes.) I very much admire these stores. It's an "everybody wins" situation, as the pets get an increased oppertunity for adoption, the shelter or rescue gets that improved adoption rate, and the store gets to sell food and supplies to the new adopters,

Also if you plan to get a baby puppy, first carefully evaluate your lifestyle to see if your schedule allows you to be home to take the puppy out for his potty break every two hours the first month and every three hours the second month : the "hold it" period for a puppy in hours equals his age in months. Also be prepared to totally "puppy proof" part or all of your house and to supervise a baby puppy as carefully as you would a crawler or toddler child. The good news is the puppy will go through all these stages a lot faster than the child will.

Probably the best single book on puppy raising that is currently in print is "How to Teach A New Dog Old Tricks" by Dr Ian Dunbar DVM. (Don't confuse this with a different book "How to Teach Your Old Oog New Tricks" by Ted Baer, which is about trick training.) I encourage you to read this book before getting a puppy. It's also worth reading if you are considering an adult dog, because many of the same lessons can be applied, sometimes in a modified form.

Update : another book, "My Smart Puppy" by Brian Kilcommons and Sarah Wilson , is also essential reading and should be read before acquiring a puppy or older dog. It's equally applicable to older dogs. The two books complement each other. Get both of them.


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site author Pam Green copyright 2003
created 5/25/03 revised 9/16/2015
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