Owning a dog is one of the most rewarding experiences you can have as a family, as well as being a great way to teach kids about responsibility. Deciding which dog is right for you, however, can be a bit of a challenge. Doing some research into the different breeds, sizes, ages, and ways to adopt can help make the adoption process easier and insure a good fit. Here are some things you need to consider.
1. Your Home
The layout of your home is definitely something that requires consideration when choosing a dog. Is your home multistory? An older dog may have trouble navigating the stairs. Do you have hardwood floors? A dog with hip issues or arthritis may find it difficult to keep his footing. Wall-to-wall carpeting? A puppy that needs house-training might not be the best idea. And while fenced yards are great for making sure your new friend gets lots of exercise, they’re not escape proof. Make sure if adopting an older dog you know he isn’t a digger or a climber, and that younger dogs are supervised outside so they don’t develop these bad habits.
2. Your Family and Lifestyle
Active families who like to spend a lot of time outdoors or on the go aren’t going to be a good match with a dog who’s a couch potato, just like an active dog won’t be very happy with laid-back, stay at home owners. Do some research on the different activity levels of each of the breeds, but be forewarned: these are only guidelines, and don’t hold true for every dog. Factors like age and temperament (more on those later) are going to play a huge role in determining your dog’s activity level. For some of the more active breeds, particularly dogs whose roles have traditionally been either as sled or gun dogs, getting them the required amount of exercise is going to be crucial not only for insuring the dog’s sanity, but that your home and possessions aren’t completely destroyed by a frustrated dog trying to burn off energy. Breeds like Brittany spaniels, viszlas, Welsh springers, huskies, akitas, malamutes, and samoyeds require at least an hour of intense exercise every day in to stay calm and happy.
Bringing dogs into a home with kids can be a wonderful experience. There are breeds that traditionally do very well with kids, these include St. Bernards, mastiffs, retrievers, bulldogs, beagles, collies, and Newfoundlands. There can be exceptions to every rule, though, so it’s a good idea to spend some time getting to know a dog with your whole family present before you decide on permanent adoption. Also know what your kids are capable of. If you have loud, rowdy, active children, be aware that this can frighten some skittish dogs and create behavior problems, or even aggression. Take the time to teach kids the right and wrong ways to treat dogs, and never leave small children with dogs unattended.
3. Adult or Puppy?
Puppies are undeniably cute, but a lot of people aren’t prepared for the amount of work they require. Having a puppy isn’t dissimilar from having a baby. They will need to be tended to every couple of hours for the first couple of months they’re in your care, either to relieve themselves or to be mentally stimulated or exercised. House-training a puppy can be quite a bit of work, and the whole family has to participate so the reward for going outside is consistent and the training is successful. Puppies need to be provided with toys appropriate for chewing so they don’t destroy things like shoes and pillows. They also need socialization, with people and especially other dogs. This will eliminate a lot of behavioral issues from coming up later in life, as will time spent working on basic training skills. You really can’t overestimate the amount of care a puppy requires, so be ready for a lot of work if you decide one is right for your family.
Adult dogs will require some work on your part, too. While plenty of dogs available from shelters or rescues have some rudimentary training and know commands like “sit” and “stay”, they might also have bad habits that need to be corrected. This is done by positive reinforcement of the desired behavior, never with physical punishment for unwanted habits. Even older dogs can unlearn these bad behaviors with time and effort on the part of the owner, so don’t discount owning an older dog just because he may need some extra training.
It’s difficult to know what kind of temperament a dog will have before you’ve been able to spend a significant amount of time with him. But different breeds generally have different “doginalities” (instead of personalities), and a little time researching the mentality of the kind of dog you’re interested in can give you some idea of what to expect. These guidelines aren’t set in stone, however, and things like previous experiences with owners or other dogs will certainly have an affect on the temperament of any animal. Most rescue groups and shelters will be able to give you some idea of whether or not a dog is good with other dogs, children, or cats. Puppies have the advantage of not having that kind of prior influence, but they can still be predisposed to being more energetic, more skittish, or more laid back than their litter-mates. It’s a good idea to let the breeder know what sort of traits you’re looking for, as he’s had the opportunity to watch the puppy interact with his litter-mates, his mother, and his environment. And try not to judge your dog’s overall temperament until he’s been at your home for a few weeks. A new environment and new people can take some time to get used to, and his behavior when you first bring him home might not reflect his true “doginality”.
5. Breeder, Rescue, or Shelter?
There are advantages and drawbacks to all three options, and given all the available info about them, deciding which is right for your family can seem daunting. First, know that not every dog that’s surrendered to a shelter or a rescue is there because of behavioral or health issues. A good rescue/shelter will be able to give you at least some information on a dog’s past, and should be able to let you know if he has any underlying health issues. They will also test the dog around other dogs and cats to find out if they need to be in a “one animal home” or not. Most rescues, and some shelters, also have the option to foster. Fostering a dog is a trial run, so to speak, and allows you to bring the dog home for a number of days or weeks to find out of he’s a good fit. If he is, then the adoption is finalized, or, if it doesn’t work out, you can foster a different dog to see if he’s right for your family.
Adopting from a breeder has its own positives and negatives. In exchange for getting a purebred dog, you’re also probably getting one with more health issues. Many reputable breeders will offer a limited health guarantee, stipulating that if the dog develops serious health issues within the first few years of his life, that you will be reimbursed for the cost of the animal. That’s not a small issue, considering some puppies can cost upwards of $1500 if AKC registered. Many states, and some breed organizations, have registries that breeders join after pledging not to breed animals with known genetic diseases like hip dysplasia, so looking for a breeder on one of these registries can help ensure the overall health of the breed. Also look for one who has the mother on site and available for you to meet. This makes it less likely that the puppy actually came from a puppy mill.
Adopting a dog is a big step, and one that comes with a lot of responsibility. It’s also one of the most fun and rewarding experiences your family will ever have. So take time to do the homework about all the different kinds of dogs available, and increase the likelihood of finding your family’s true forever friend.