Getting a New Dog How to Choose the Right Dog for You

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By Jenna Stregowski, RVT, About.com Guide

Are you thinking of getting a dog? Choosing to bring a new dog into your life is a major decision. Be sure you are ready for a dog before you start the process. It is also essential that you understand the cost of dog ownership. If you have decided that the time is right, congratulations! Now it is time to figure out what type of dog is right for you. There are several factors to consider before choosing a dog. Most importantly, examine your current lifestyle and consider what adjustments you are willing to make for a dog. Look at the needs of your family – especially if you have children or other pets. Think about the ideal size, energy level and age of your new dog. Then, determine where to get your new dog. Just remember that getting a dog requires a firm commitment to responsible dog ownership. Here are some tips to help you choose the best dog for you and your family.

Size
You may already know you want a little lap dog that you can carry around. Or, you might have your heart set on a large or giant dog breed. If you cannot decide, then perhaps a medium sized dog is a good choice.

Remember that small dogs tend to be delicate and vulnerable. Being stepped on or mishandled can cause serious injury. Also, little dogs can be much more sensitive to colder temperatures, so be ready to help keep them warm. Don’t forget that small dogs need obedience training too! Some little dogs can develop “tough dog” attitudes, seemingly to compensate for their small size. Be sure you are prepared for this possibility.

Very large dogs need a bit more space to move around. Big, happy dogs with long, whip-like tails need “wagging space” to avoid tail injury or damage to household objects. Another consideration is expense: the larger the dog, the more expensive things like dog food, dog supplies and medical treatments become. Training is also a key factor here. If you get a large or giant breed puppy that is allowed to act like a lap dog when young, he will grow up to walk all over you – literally!

Activity Level
You probably already know that some dogs have more energy than others. A dog’s activity level is often determined by breed, but it does not mean you can rely on breed alone to determine how energetic your dog could become. Every dog needs routine exercise, regardless of breed or size, so make sure you can to provide this. If you know you can not commit to more than one or two casual walks per day, then you will probably be better off with a lower energy dog, such as a Basset Hound. If you are looking for a dog that can be a jogging partner, agility competitor or “disc dog,” consider a breed like the Border Collie.
Be willing to adjust the amount of exercise and attention you give your dog if necessary. A dog that is barking constantly, digging up your yard, destroying your home, or acting out in some other way is most likely in need of extra activities. Many behavior problems are the result of excess energy. Unfortunately, many dogs are given up or even euthanized because of a behavior problem that could have easily been avoided with the proper amount of exercise and attention.

Physical Maintenance
Your dog’s appearance has a lot to do with his maintenance needs. All dogs need basic grooming, but certain types need more based on the type of hair coat. If you get a dog with hair that keeps growing, then advanced routine grooming is essential. Most short haired, smooth-coated dogs are major shedders, so be prepared to do some extra cleaning up. Some grooming tools can help reduce shedding. Be aware that dogs with long, floppy ears are more prone to ear infections and require frequent thorough ear cleanings. In addition, certain types of dogs can do a lot of drooling. Many owners of Mastiffs, Bloodhounds and similar dogs actually carry a “slobber cloth” with them to wipe the drool. If they shake their heads – watch out!

Age
Puppies require the greatest amount of training and attention, especially over the first six months. Be prepared to dedicate much of your time to housebreaking and raising your new puppy. You dog will likely have plenty of accidents in the house and will probably chew your furniture and personal belongings. These problems will gradually resolve with dedicated training, but patience is a must. You should also be aware that your puppy might grow up to be different then you expected, especially if you adopt a mixed-breed dog. This is not necessarily a bad thing, just something to keep in mind.

Adult dogs can be an excellent choice. An adult might be a better choice if you want to have a better idea of the true energy level, attitude, and temperament of your new dog. However, just because the dog is an adult does not mean he is trained, so you should still expect some degree of dedicated training at first. Fortunately, many adult dogs have been trained and socialized to some degree and can easily adjust to their new lives in their forever homes.

Senior dogs should not be forgotten! Welcoming a senior dog into your home can be a wonderful way to bring joy to the golden years of a dog. Unfortunately, senior dogs are less likely to be adopted and often end up living out their lives in shelters or being euthanized. A senior dog can make a wonderful companion if you are looking for a lower energy dog. However, it is important to know that your senior dog needs special attention, more frequent veterinary check-ups and is more likely to develop heath problems that cost time and money to address. Unlike a puppy or adult dog, you must know that you will not have as many years with your senior dog. If you are willing to accept the responsibilities, consider adopting a senior dog. It can be one of the most compassionate things you can do for these precious creatures.

Purebred or Mixed-Breed Dog?

Purebred dogs are undeniably popular. Many people are attracted to a specific dog breed for various reasons. Perhaps you were raised around the breed or have spent a lot of time with the breed in your life. Maybe you really love the way a certain breed looks and acts. Or, you might feel the breed is right for you based upon what you have read or heard about the breed. If you want a purebred dog, be sure you thoroughly research the breed. Determine if you are willing to take on potential challenges with temperament, grooming needs and health problems. Make sure the breed will fit in with your family and lifestyle – including other dogs.

Mixed breed dogs can become wonderful additions to your world. The combination of two or more dog breeds can often balance out their personalities and physical characteristics. Just be sure to expect the unexpected, especially if you adopt a “pound puppy.” There is no way of knowing exactly how your puppy will look when grown up, and you cannot really predict health problems. However, many experts believe that mixed-breed dogs end up with fewer health problems than purebred dogs. Overall they tend to be good-natured and intelligent. Plus, adopting a mixed-breed dog usually means you are saving that dog from euthanasia or a lonely shelter life!

Where to Find Your New Dog
Once you have narrowed down your options, it is time to start looking for your new dog. There are many options out there, but some are better than others. Research the organization or person from whom you will get your new dog to determine if they are reputable. Then, go see the location where the dogs are kept to make sure your new dog comes from a healthy environment. Here are some sources to help get you started.
Animal Shelters: These can be great places to look for a new dog. Though lots of dogs in shelters are mixed-breed dogs, many times you can even find a purebred dog! Shelter dogs often have previous training and socialization, though others may unfortunately come from troubled backgrounds. Talk to the shelter staff members and volunteers about each dog you are considering to get an idea of background and personality. You can also try searching online adoption sites like Petfinder.com.

Rescue Organizations: Rescue groups are dedicated to finding the best families for homeless dogs, some are even devoted to specific dog breeds. Most rescue organizations keep their dogs in foster homes until they can find forever homes for them. These foster parents have usually forged a bond with the dogs and can tell you a lot about their history and personalities. Rescue organizations are typically very selective because they care so much about getting their dogs into the right homes, so be prepared to answer a lot of questions.

Reputable Breeders: If you choose to purchase a purebred dog, be certain you find a knowledgeable, experienced breeder with a good reputation – not a backyard breeder or puppy mill. Ask your vet and other dog owners for referrals, or get a referral from a rescue organization recommended by a national kennel club, such as the AKC Breeder Referral Contacts. A responsible breeder should be willing to show you the premises and tell you about the parents’ histories. Be certain that the breeder’s home or kennel is clean and odor-free. The adult dogs and puppies should appear healthy and lively. If you are not comfortable with the breeder, do not purchase a puppy.

Precautionary Notes
Please, do not purchase your dog from a pet store. Tragically, these dogs are often from puppy mills. Though you might be “saving” the dog from poor conditions, you are supporting a terrible industry that should be put to an end.

Be careful about getting your dog through newspaper ads and signs with statements like “free to a good home.” Unfortunately, these dogs might come from poor conditions and irresponsible dog owners. Not only might you end up with an unhealthy dog, you may also be encouraging inconsiderate people who do not spay and neuter their pets.

Please, do not purchase your dog from a pet store. Tragically, these dogs are often from puppy mills. Though you might be “saving” the dog from poor conditions, you are supporting a terrible industry that should be put to an end.

Be careful about getting your dog through newspaper ads and signs with statements like “free to a good home.” Unfortunately, these dogs might come from poor conditions and irresponsible dog owners. Not only might you end up with an unhealthy dog, you may also be encouraging inconsiderate people who do not spay and neuter their pets.

Making Your Final Decision
Once you think you have found the right dog, make sure he appears healthy. He should be bright eyed and lively with a shiny coat and good appetite. If the puppy or dog has special needs of some kind (usually due to physical or temperament issues), make sure you are prepared to handle them. Be aware that dogs or puppies that show signs of aggression, fear or other behavior problems will likely need extra training and attention from you. It does not mean that the dog is any less worthy of a good home, but it is best that you know what you are getting into. It is certainly not good for anyone if you have to return your new dog or puppy to the breeder, shelter or rescue group.
Before bringing your new dog home, you should obtain a new dog/puppy packet from the breeder or adoption group that contains general information about caring for your new dog. Make sure your home is prepared for a new dog. In addition, be sure to bring your new dog to a vet for a general examination right away.