I have no credentials as an animal expert, except that through photography, I’ve met more than my fair share dogs and other animals. I volunteer regularly at the East Bay SPCA, and at Muttville, and I photographed the 2017 calendar for the Humane Society Silicon Valley. That said, I think there are only two things you need to think about when choosing a puppy.
The first thing to consider when choosing a puppy is: Do you really want a puppy? Yes, puppies are cute and I understand the desire to have a dog through the whole arc of its life. I also understand wanting to know a dog’s provenance, and wanting to help shape its character and behavior. All I would say is that I fall in love with dogs that aren't puppies all the time.
When you get a slightly older dog you have a better chance of knowing its character before you take him home; a puppy’s character is perhaps a little less knowable. Puppies are also a lot of work. They need a lot of time and care and attention.
My brother adopted an adult dog, and when I asked him why, he said, “Older dogs need a home, too.” Coco is a fabulous, smart dog, and my brother and she are totally devoted to each other.
My own personal experience with our dog Nemo is that I get closer to him as he gets older. He’s 14 now, and the wheels are starting to fall off. He suffers from arthritis, and doesn’t get around very well. But my relationship with him is more poignant for it. I’m reminded of the preciousness of life, and how valuable my time with him is.
The only other thing to consider when you choose a puppy is: What do you want in a dog? The answer to this question is probably: you’ll know it when you see it. Which is why you need to spend enough time with a variety of puppies to know what really speaks to you. Don’t pick the first one, and don’t be like guys picking women and go for the cutest one! I once photographed two puppies who were siblings. One just wanted to chase toys and was a fiend. The other sat there, looking up at me. I instantly felt a connection, and I know which one I wanted to take home.
One of the things I like most about Nemo is that he’s aloof. He keeps to himself a lot and doesn’t need a lot of attention. He’s low maintenance. I also like that he’s very intelligent. I have two tests for a dog. Firstly, when you are walking on the leash, does he or she go the wrong side of a lamppost? Second, do they step in their own pee, or step over it? Seriously, Nemo is extremely intuitive and knows exactly what you’re asking him to do, without us having to shout commands. People often ask us how we trained him, and the truth is, we never trained him formally, but we did spend a lot of time with him. So he just gets it. He won’t, however, play fetch. He’s just not interested. I’m not sure I would have said these were my requirements of a dog until Nemo showed me.
What I like in a dog won’t be what you like, so spend time with several until one dog really stands out and grabs you. With this in mind, try to avoid the shelters on weekends when lots of people are there and you feel pressure to grab a dog before someone else does. Try to make time during the week when it’s quieter, and make several trips so you find the dog that really speaks to you. You’ll know she is the one.