The joys of dog ownership are varied and plentiful. Not only are dogs the most widely-owned pet in the US, but they are also the number one pet worldwide, at an estimated 470 million pet dogs in 2018 (source: Statista.com). Also, the American Kennel Club recognizes 197 different dog breeds.
That’s a LOT of dogs to choose from.
So, how do you choose the right dog for you or your family? In this post, I will cover:
- Dog Temperament
- Dog Care
- The Hairy Details
- Deciding Between Purebred, Mixed-Breed, or Rescue/Stray Dogs
DOGS HAVE GENERAL TEMPERAMENTS ACCORDING TO THEIR BREEDS
It is important to think about what you are looking for in terms of a dog’s temperament. This is true for anyone, but it’s especially true if you have children, elderly parents living in your home, other pets, or anyone with special needs.
Children, especially young ones, need a pet dog who is tolerant of their (often) tight grasp, rough handling, and heightened noise or activity level.
Neither a nervous dog nor one prone to aggression will be a good fit for your small child.
Elderly individuals might need a dog that is not constantly underfoot or scratching delicate skin (think hyperactive).
If you own other pets, it is wise to consider what their temperaments are like and what will be necessary for a new dog’s smooth transition into your home.
Any person(s) living under your roof with special needs? There are great dog breeds to choose from that will be a potentially perfect fit. Be choosy!
Of course, there are other considerations. Do you live alone and need a guard dog? A German Shepherd will be a better choice than a Golden Retriever. On the other hand, if you just want a companion, retrievers are one of many great choices.
What about going to the park with your dog? You will likely need a friendly pet who plays well with others and is easy to leash train.
The bottom line: Brainstorm what your needs are, then do your research.
Dog care may not seem like an important issue, but stick with me! Dogs have needs, and I know you’ll want to do your best to meet those needs. Examples include: vet care, grooming, exercise, and daily food requirements.
So, how does dog breed/type have anything to do with vet care? Certain breeds are prone to eye, ear, skin, teeth, hip and other health problems, including cancer; while others require little other than flea control, heartworm prevention and yearly vaccinations.
Understanding this will help you narrow down what you can afford.
Grooming requirements can vary dramatically, from the occasional bath to daily brushing, teeth cleaning and bi-weekly trips to the groomer. Our Chiweenie, Charlie Brown, is short-haired and never needs to be trimmed at the groomer–but he sure does get stinky! Regular bathing is a must, or his smell (think rotten Fritos) will drive people away.
Do you have the time (or yard) available to meet the exercise requirements for that dog you’re looking at? Or do you prefer a pet who will be content inside, snuggling with you on the couch?
An energetic dog will go crazy (and drive you crazy) if he is never provided with the opportunity to run wild and free, or at least be walked on a leash.
On the other hand, if you are looking for a dog to join you on your daily 5-mile run, don’t get a Pug. Please! You’ll kill the poor guy.
The last consideration I’m going to mention for dog care is his daily food requirement.
In short, fully-grown Great Danes and Chihuahuas do not eat the same amount of food. And some dogs have special needs (think high-priced foods) due to skin or digestive issues, while others can eat basically anything.
You don’t want to stress over the fact that you don’t have the money to feed both your dog and your toddler (or teenager). As my husband likes to tell our kids–make good choices! Plan ahead.
THE HAIRY DETAILS
This topic will be short but sweet.
Dog’s have hair—hair that gets in and on stuff like your food, your mouth, your furniture, or your AC unit as it floats through the air, searching for places to land.
We have five kids. When they were all young, say eight years and under, we owned a Golden Retriever, one of the absolute best dog choices for temperament if you have small children.
But Golden Retrievers are heavy shedders. Trying to keep up with (and homeschool) five young children and still have time to keep our home free of dog hair was an impossible task for me. We had mostly tile and hardwood flooring, so there was always dog hair floating across the floor and throughout the air. It was a mess.
Do you have five older kids with enough time and discipline to help stay on top of brushing the dog, sweeping and vacuuming? No problem!
Just think through your current needs. Dog coats range from no-shed to heavy-shed, so pay close attention to the type coat he has before bringing him home. If you or your child has asthma/allergies, a no-shed dog could make all the difference in your overall health.
And, as mentioned above, different coats require varying degrees of grooming. A Poodle may not shed, but he needs regular clipping of his coat. Many breeds do.
You’ve heard it before. It’s all in the details, baby!
DECIDING BETWEEN PUREBRED, MIXED-BREED AND STRAY OR RESCUE DOGS
Finding a rescue dog or taking in a stray is a noble and humane option when it comes to choosing your family’s pet. So many dogs need good homes. And with the Internet, finding such a dog does not pose a problem—there are many great sites to choose from.
Plus, rescue dogs will likely come spayed or neutered and with a full set of shots. You can’t beat that!
Rescues and strays do come with less knowledge of breed, temperament, etc., so there’s risk involved. But hey, all of these decisions are risky. There are no guarantees.
Approaching a breeder to purchase a purebred dog can lead to a better understanding of what you’re getting yourself into breed-wise, although this choice can be quite expensive. One of my best friends breeds Golden Retrievers that sell for $2000 a pop. That’s a lot of cheeseburgers!
One of the unfortunate truths about purebred dogs is that they can have many more health problems due to both careless and overbreeding habits (see below).
Backyard breeders who do not carefully vet their stock often breed dogs with a messy genetic history. It pays to do your homework and find a dog breeder who properly vets her breeding stock. If not, you could be paying out the nose for a dog with a bunch of health issues. Be picky, and don’t be afraid to ask your breeder questions.
An option not yet mentioned is the mixed-breed dog. Buying a mixed-breed has its benefits.
Some of those benefits, according to the ASPCA, are fewer health, temperament and intelligence issues.
Because purebred dogs have a limited gene pool, genetic disorders that arise continue from generation to generation… Mixed breed dogs have a much more diverse genetic pool, so even if one dog has a health issue, chances are it will disappear even within the next generation. (Source: https://www.aspcapetinsurance.com/resources/mixed-breed-dog/ )
As a side note, today’s “designer dogs” are an example of dog breeders taking advantage of these facts about mixed breeds. It’s no secret that purposely mixing dog breeds to yield pups with the best traits from each has become the new trend over the past couple decades. Although many purists find this practice distasteful, it has its benefits.
However, once again, intentional breeding of these designer dogs year after year will logically lead to genetic disorders springing from a limited gene pool.
CHOOSING YOUR FAMILY DOG: FINAL THOUGHTS
Don’t fear being picky! I cannot stress this enough.
Choosing the right dog for your family may seem overwhelming or make you feel like you’re being too particular, but you’re likely going to live with this decision for a long time. The average lifespan of a dog is 10-13 years, but some can live to be 18-years-old and beyond. I have a good friend whose dog lived 25 years. WOW!
Don’t let the process intimidate you.
Sit down with your family and make a list of the things you would all like in a dog. Narrow that list down to the essentials, and then do your research.
You’ll be glad you did.