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Jan 2024

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Pick of the pups – how to find the pet that’s right for you

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Dr. Jo Gale

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Global Science Communications Director, Mars Petcare

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Dr Jo Gale BVetMed CertLAS MRCVS, is a vet and works in the communications team at Mars Petcare. Below she shares her tips on how to work out the right pet for you, your family and your circumstances.

I’m writing this with my two black Labradors sleeping at my feet. Maggie is approaching 15 years old, and Dorothy is a lively four-year-old.

My relationship with working Labradors started over 20 years ago. I got my first Labrador in 2003, a called Nemo. He was my first pet dog of my own after leaving home, and it felt so exciting to be able to find the exact dog that I wanted.

I’d qualified as a vet a year earlier and although, I was desperate to get a dog straight away, I waited a year until I had settled into the demands of my new career. I knew I wanted a working Lab, as my first year spent as a vet had given me a good grounding in the personalities of the different types and breeds of dogs.

I looked for litters of pups from dogs whose appearance and temperament I liked, then scrutinized their health test results and inbreeding coefficients on the UK Kennel Club website. I visited a number of Labrador litters – all full of gorgeous, bouncy, shiny pups. I knew exactly the dog I was looking for, and I was focused in my search.

Eventually, I found a litter of fabulous pups, born to parents with great health test results and raised in the home of their owner. I visited the pups’ father and chatted with his owner too.

The pups were five weeks old, and we visited weekly until we were able to bring Nemo home at 8 weeks of age. Once home, the process of socializing and training began in earnest.

As an adult – and with the advantage of being a vet – when choosing my own dog, I knew what to look out for. I was especially determined to get it right as I’d had the experience of “getting it wrong” when I was younger.

As a child, I was desperate for a dog, and after years of saying no, my parents announced they had found a puppy. He was from a single-pup litter that was from an accidental (father unknown!). Our puppy, Toby, had been raised in a stable outdoors, with very little socialization with humans and no littermates to play with. He was 12 weeks old when we got him; past the “socialization window” which is so critical for puppies to become used to different experiences in a positive way. I was so excited to finally get a dog, and as a child I had no idea of the alarm bells which should have been ringing. My parents were not experienced dog owners and weren’t able to spot the red flags.

Toby wasn’t from a “puppy farm” and the person who owned his mother was a well-meaning animal lover, but – through their lack of understanding of what it takes to raise a sociable, well-adjusted puppy - Toby was starting life with the odds stacked against him. As he grew up, he was, at times, loving and playful, but he became nervous about new people, aggressive towards other dogs, and liable to bite when stressed. It wasn’t the happy dog-owning experience I’d longed for and, whilst we didn’t re-home Toby, I could understand why this struggle with behavior could end with such dogs looking for a new home. The State of Pet Homelessness Project has revealed that 25% of pet owners have rehomed a pet in the past, and 36% of those listed behavioral issues as a reason.

So as someone who has experienced both sides of the different ways to find a pet, these are my top tips.

  • Understand the traits of different breeds or types of dog or cat to see which ones might suit your personality and lifestyle.

    • The most common way which people in the SoPHP survey said they got their pet was from a friend or family member, which could mean it was opportunistic and less research was done beforehand.

  • Talk to people who own those types of dogs or cats to get first-hand insights into what they’ve learned along the way.

  • Educate yourself on natural dog or cat behaviour and how to meet your pet’s emotional as well as physical needs.

  • Talk to your vet about potential health issues and how to recognize a responsible breeder.   

  • If you’re looking for a loving pet, think about a mixed breed dog or cat which can bring traits of multiple breeds together in one pet, for even more joy!

  • Investigate whether your future pet is already waiting in a shelter for a loving home – adopting them will transform their life at the same time as yours.

    • Only around a third of people in the project survey who said they were considering getting a pet in the next 12 months said they would adopt it from a shelter, suggesting that this option for finding a new pet isn’t utilised nearly as much as it could be.

  • Invest plenty of time and energy into the early weeks and months of pet ownership – good socialisation and training at the beginning of your pet’s life will pay off for the rest of your time together. Take a look at some useful resources below:

  • If you struggle once you have a pet, don’t hesitate to seek help, advice and support. Local animal welfare groups can offer advice, or your vet can help with pet health issues or advise on appropriate behavioural therapy. If you need practical help, friends, family or neighbours may be able to help with walking or feeding pets. Many problems can be solved with the right help and expertise, but if you do find yourself having to rehome your pet it’s important to get some good advice from these same experts on the right way to do it.

    • According to the project survey almost 1 in 10 people who rehomed their pet either abandoned it on the street or left it behind when they moved house, leaving the pet without care and putting them in danger of ill health and injury.

Sharing your life with a pet can be a wonderful, enriching experience that can even bring you health benefits. Follow the tips above and both you and your pet will be set up for success.

Blog: Summary

How do you find the ideal pet for your lifestyle and preferences? Dr. Jo Gale, Global Science Communications Director, Mars Petcare, shares tips and insights on choosing the right pet to enrich your life.