10 Things To Consider When Choosing a Dog
Are you thinking about adding a canine companion to your life but you're not really sure what factors should guide your decision? Maybe you've never owned a dog before and you don't know where to start. Perhaps you want to add another dog to your household and you want to make sure your choice is well informed.
More often than not, when owners contact me for help, it's not because their dogs are well-behaved and perfectly suited for their lifestyle. Instead, they find their adorable, rambunctious puppy has matured into a dog that has needs and temperament traits they did not expect or plan for. They find themselves overwhelmed, frustrated, and seeking professional help to do damage control and fix behavior problems instead of enjoying companionship with a balanced dog. In many cases, these difficulties can be reduced or avoided by thoroughly and honestly considering some factors that will help you determine if you're ready for a dog (or another dog) and what dog will best suit your goals and lifestyle.
Before I talk about selecting a new dog or puppy, I want to discuss how to assess your lifestyle and goals to identify what traits you should be looking for when considering different breeds or individual dogs. An honest evaluation of your own preparedness and willingness to accommodate your dog's needs will help guide your decision when choosing the right dog for you.
Things to Consider About Your Readiness as a Dog Owner
1 – Housing Situation
Do you own your own home or do you rent? How big is your home? If you rent, does your lease include any pet or breed restrictions? Does your renter's or home owner's insurance include any pet or breed restrictions? Do you have a securely fenced yard? If no, can you prevent your dog from wandering and other animals from coming onto your property? Do you intend to stay in your current home for the life of your dog? If no, are you going to ensure that wherever you go, your dog will be allowed to accompany you? Do you have neighbors nearby and how well do you get along with them?
These may seem like very basic and obvious considerations, but I've learned many dog owners will make an impulsive decision to bring a dog home only to realize later on there are issues they did not anticipate. Each of the questions I posed above comes with many additional considerations, but this should give you at least a general idea of the factors you need to keep in mind that relate to your current housing arrangements.
2 – Other People in the Home
Are you single, married, or living with a significant other, family member, friend, or roommate? Do you have or intend to have children? Is everyone else in the home comfortable around dogs? Does anyone have pet allergies? If you were not home, would you trust your housemate(s) to interact with your dog safely and appropriately? If you expect to have children in the future or expect the human household dynamic to change, will you be able to invest time, effort, and money into helping your dog through the transition?
3 – Other Pets in the Home
Do you already have dogs, cats, or any other furry, feathered, or scaly pets? How do you plan to introduce them to your new addition and are you prepared for the possibility that everyone may not get along as well as you hope? Owners often tell me that they want to get another dog to keep their current dog(s) company. They expect the dogs to help entertain and exercise each other. Unfortunately, things don't always go as planned and the owners wind up managing resource guarding, breaking up dog fights, and seeking help for unforeseen behavioral issues stemming from an unhealthy dynamic between dogs.
If you have non-canine companions in your household that are not accustomed to living with dogs, it's likely they will not appreciate the new addition. If you decide on a breed with strong prey drive that's been bred to hunt and kill small animals, you may be putting your other animals at risk. Learning as much as you can about the different breeds that interest you and then taking the time to properly introduce your new dog to your existing pets will help ensure the process goes smoothly and without incident.
4 – Finances
Let me be honest, RESPONSIBLE dog ownership is not cheap. I emphasize responsible because my goal in writing this blog post is to help educate owners and encourage good decisions and practices. That said, there are many expected investments and some unexpected expenses to consider when buying or adopting a dog. The initial investment to adopt a dog from a shelter or rescue or buy a puppy from a reputable breeder can range from a small adoption fee of around $100 to $2500 or more to purchase a health tested, pedigreed puppy of a specific breed. After this initial investment, you'll need to account for routine vet visits, high quality food, crates, toys, treats, leashes, collars, grooming, and pet care services. Of course, one of the most important investments you'll make is finding a reputable trainer or training class to attend. With good decision making and some luck, your new dog will be healthy and well-behaved and the costs will taper off after the first 6 months to a year. However, we must always be prepared and should have enough money set aside to cover any unexpected or emergency expenses.
5 – Your personality
Are you an active person who wants an energetic canine companion to accompany you on adventures or are you more of a homebody that wants a lazy snuggle buddy? Are you high strung and anxious or calm and composed? Do you see yourself enjoying a dog that will require lots of training and interaction or would you prefer a dog that is less demanding of your time and attention?
I'll discuss different temperaments and breed traits in a bit, but the key to selecting the best dog for you is to be honest about your own traits and tendencies. It's unlikely that you're going to get a dog and completely change your personality to suit the dog's needs. What's more likely is that you'll wind up feeling frustrated with a dog that doesn't suit you and you'll seek out professional help in an attempt to change your dog's temperament. And 100% of the time, you will realize it requires more work to mold a dog to suit your needs than to select a dog with the characteristics you want to begin with.
Now that you know how to evaluate your current lifestyle and future plans to decide if you're ready for a new dog, how do you go about choosing the right dog for you? All dogs are not created equal. There are hundreds of different breeds, each with very unique physical and behavioral characteristics. Even if you decide upon a mix, the combination of breeds in your dog's lineage will influence its looks and temperament. A dog's genetic makeup, however, is not the only thing that affects how a dog behaves. The experiences your dog or puppy has prior to entering your life have a significant impact on how they behave as well. Learning as much as you can about the breeds you are interested in while also knowing how to evaluate an individual dog or puppy will give you the best chance of choosing a suitable companion.
Things to Consider About Breeds or Individual Dogs of Interest
6 – Age
Do you want a baby puppy, an adolescent or young adult, or an older, more mature dog? Puppies are A LOT of work. Are you prepared to sacrifice sleep to wake up and stand outside in the rain and cold for middle-of-the-night potty breaks to make sure good housebreaking habits are established? Will you keep your puppy from chewing on or ingesting dangerous items? Can you dedicate time throughout the day to training and exercising your new puppy? Even if you decide to get an older dog, there's no guarantee your new dog will already have good habits instilled. If you're lucky or willing to pay for a dog that's been raised and trained by a knowledgable professional, the transition may be seamless. Finding an older dog that has a solid foundation and positive experiences will certainly make your job easier. However, still plan to spend time each day training and bonding with your new dog.
7 – Physical Characteristics
Are you looking for a small, large, or medium sized dog? Each breed has height and weight standards and, while some dogs may fall outside of the range, you'll at least have a pretty good idea of what to expect. Any reputable breeder will be able to provide you with better insight into the size of the parents and how large they expect the offspring to be. If you decide to adopt a mixed breed puppy, a veterinarian or knowledgable trainer should be able to look at the dog and estimate its size at maturity.
In addition to size, be sure to look into the grooming and maintenance needs of your breed or individual dog of interest. Some dogs must be brushed regularly (think daily or every other day) to avoid becoming matted. Doodles are notorious for requiring extensive grooming and doodle owners often fail to realize how vital regular brushing is until their groomer informs them their dog must be shaved in order to relieve discomfort from matting. Floppy-eared dogs are more prone to ear infections so their ears must be cleaned consistently as well. Being aware of what sort of special considerations your dog may require will allow you to determine if you'll be committed to doing the grooming yourself or if you will be able to afford to pay a groomer on a regular basis.
8 – Health and Longevity
Dogs, unfortunately, do not live forever though some breeds do live longer and enjoy better health than others. Most giant breed dogs have a shorter lifespan than small or toy breed dogs. Certain breeds are known for having prevalent health issues. Many of the brachycephalic (smush-faced) breeds suffer from respiratory issues and other genetic health problems. Knowing the most common health issues in your breeds of interest and then ensuring your puppy or its parents have been properly health tested will improve your chances of receiving a healthy puppy. If you choose to adopt, ensure each dog you're interested in has been screened by a vet so you're at least aware of any current or potential health problems. Educating yourself about the health and longevity of different breeds will allow you to make an informed decision and not be blindsided by exorbitant vet bills or the premature death of a beloved companion.
9 – Energy Level and Training Requirement
Do you want a triathlete, a weekend warrior, or a couch potato? Are you prepared for the challenge of owning a canine Einstein or would you prefer a dog that doesn't have quite as much going on upstairs? While these traits are very much breed dependent (I'll get to that next), within each breed, there are huge variations. For example, some lines of retrievers are “field bred” meaning they are selectively bred to have more energy, more drive, and more intensity making them suitable to work alongside a hunter in the field all day long. Other lines are molded to excel in the conformation show ring and are considerably more mellow and better suited for a life lying at your feet. If you're purchasing a puppy, the breeder should be happy to tell you about the activity level and trainability of their lines and should help you select a puppy that suits your goals. If you plan to adopt, seek the help of a knowledgeable professional who can help you evaluate potential dogs to find one that's appropriate for your lifestyle.
10 – Temperament and Behavior
I'm going to say something that may be displeasing to some owners and breed advocates: It's NOT all in how you raise them. Both genetics and experience influence a dog's behavior and the interaction between the two is what produces the dog you will live with. If you fail to educate yourself about the genetic temperament traits of the breeds you're interested in, you're doing yourself a huge and dangerous disservice. There is a reason why collies excel at herding, retrievers excel at fetching ducks, hounds excel at tracking game, and terriers excel at hunting and catching prey. Dogs have been selectively bred for hundreds of years to produce a variety of breeds that perform various tasks. Before you get a Jack Russell because you saw one on television and thought it was cute, ask yourself if you fancy a yard full of holes. If you want a husky because you love their blue eyes and wolf-like appearance, ask yourself if you have the time to tire out a dog that's been bred to run non-stop for hours.
Aside from knowing the traits typical of your breed(s) of interest, if you're getting an older puppy or adult dog, you should also learn as much as you can about that dog's previous experiences. Has that dog interacted with other dogs, animals, adults, or children? Were the experiences positive? How does the dog react to loud noises, storms, unfamiliar people, being left alone? Does the dog have any prior training? Does the dog have any history of aggression, fearfulness, anxiety, obsessions, or other problem behaviors? As you start asking questions about the dog's past, you may gain insight into how the dog will behave in your home and around your family. If you can, take an experienced trainer or canine professional with you to evaluate the dog to give you an objective assessment.
While choosing a new companion to add to your home and your life is a personal decision that must also come from the heart, I hope this list has given you some practical, objective insight into factors that can inform your choices and help you find a dog that's your perfect fit. Doing some research and assessing your own personality and lifestyle before looking for a dog, then asking the right questions and getting the advice of an unbiased professional when it's time to evaluate potential canine companions can help you make a wise and educated decision that will bring you years of friendship, joy, entertainment, and unconditional love.