Question:

We are ready to get a new dog. We have heard it’s better to start from scratch with a puppy so there are no behavior issues to deal with. What do you think?

The Trainer Answers:

I have heard the argument that bringing home a puppy lets you “start from scratch” but that’s really not true. While it is true that a puppy has not had the time to develop bad habits, you are never starting from scratch when it comes to dogs.

No matter what age a dog is when you bring him/her home, you always have genetics in place. While a dog’s environment and experiences (nurture) play a very important role in how a dog turns out, genetics (nature) will always play a role as well. The genetics of a dog will give you the “tendencies” of your dog, so even if you bring home a puppy at eight weeks or so of age, there is no such thing as a blank slate. In addition to genetics, you have whatever learning has taken place in the puppy’s first eight weeks of life with the mother and litter mates.

When you bring home an older dog, it is true that you might have some issues to address. In some cases, these issues are quite easy to resolve. In other cases, there might be a lot of work to do to change bad habits. However, the upside is that you can get a better feel for the dog’s true personality and hopefully get a pretty good idea of the issues you will need to address. With a puppy, even if you do everything “right” you can still have issues develop.

If someone tells you it’s easier to get a puppy, think again. While puppies can be a lot of fun, they are also a lot of work. Even if you have some minor issues to address with an older dog, it will often be easier than dealing with all of the normal puppy issues of housetraining, chewing, nipping, teething, lack of impulse control, etc. Also keep in mind that puppies need to develop bladder control over time, so you need to take them out frequently. If you are gone all day, a puppy might not be the right choice.

For each family, it is a personal decision as to whether a puppy or an adult dog is the right choice. Weigh the pros and cons according to your lifestyle and what you are looking for in a dog. However, don’t be fooled into thinking that a puppy will be easier.