Dogs can be amazing family members and greatly enrich our lives! Adding a dog to the family is also a serious commitment, and research before choosing a dog will help set the family and the dog up for success. This handout goes over some factors to consider when selecting a dog.
What size of dog is right for you and your home?
Size does matter when it comes to dogs. Your new pooch has to be a good “fit” for your family. How big is your house? Will a large dog have enough room to roam around during the day and bed down at night, or do you live in a tiny space where your own bed barely fits? If square footage is a precious commodity in your home, maybe a small or medium-sized dog is better.
Consider green space. Do you have a big fenced-in yard or a postage-stamp patch of grass? Do you live in a high-rise with no grass at all? Some breeds are very active, so big yards are a plus, while others are content with an occasional visit outdoors. Regardless, all dogs need to relieve themselves, so you will want a convenient green space to walk and exercise your dog.
Do you want a young puppy or a mature dog?
Activity levels and behavior are both age-dependent. Do you want a spunky pup, a mature adult, or a sedate senior? Consider the time it takes to work through the “puppy phase”. Most dogs reach social maturity around two years of age. Puppies will go through many stages of development as they grow. From babies who need to learn house training and basic manners to adolescent dogs with a lot of energy and desire to explore the world, to adulthood.
"Puppies will go through many stages of development as they grow."
Dogs are constantly learning. Every interaction they have with a person, another animal, or the environment teaches them something. Be ready to provide gentle, positive, and consistent guidance for your dog of any age, but younger dogs need more guidance. Planning to sign up for family manners classes is a good idea for every puppy or new dog.
Keep in mind that older dogs may also have existing health issues that affect longevity. No one has a crystal ball that predicts life expectancy, but you could reasonably expect a pup to outlive a 10-year-old dog. Will your family be able to deal with the loss of a pet so soon?
Are you prepared for the financial cost?
Dogs aren’t free! Whether you buy or adopt, there’s a price to pay. Even if you are “given” a dog, he will cost you money to maintain. Consider the cost of dog ownership. The cost initially paid for a dog, whether from a breeder, rescue, shelter, or classified ad is generally very small compared to the cost of maintaining a dog through his lifetime.
Medical expenses for immunizations, parasite control, neutering/spaying, and dental care are predictable, but prepare for unexpected health issues, too.
The cost of feeding a dog will vary with the size, age, and health status. If your dog thrives on regular pet food, great! But there is always the possibility he may develop a need for a special, more expensive diet due to food allergies or health issues, such as heart or kidney disease.
Plus, you should account for the added expense of training, boarding, and grooming should these services be needed. Grooming for dogs needing haircuts (any dogs with a continuously growing coat such as the Poodle, Havanese, Maltese, and many more) will need to be done every three to six weeks and should be included in the budget.
Is everyone in the household ready for a dog?
Before adding to your family, survey the current family members. Is every single person in the household agreeable to the idea of getting a dog? Do you live alone? Do you have an adult partner, children, or elderly people residing with you? If you have adults or older children in your home to share the pet care responsibilities, this may impact your decision. Maybe you will have help with the chores and exercise schedule!
If you have young children or would like to be a parent or grandparent within the next 15 years, consider selecting a dog known to be very patient and calm with children. With elderly people in the home, consider the activity level of the dog. An energetic Terrier may accidentally “trip” a person with mobility issues. A calmer dog may then be a better choice.
"If you have young children or would like to be a parent or grandparent within the next 15 years, consider selecting a dog known to be very patient and calm with children."
What do you want your dog to look like?
Looks aren’t everything, but that doesn’t discount the need to consider a dog’s appearance before you acquire one. Do you like fluffy fur balls or sleek, muscular dogs? Do you want a long-haired or short-haired dog? Do you want perky ears or floppy ears? Dogs come in all varieties and, especially when you add mixed breed dogs to the “mix”, your choices are endless. Just make your choice after considering how appearance affects upkeep and health.
Long-haired dogs need more maintenance. Regular brushing keeps the coat healthy by decreasing mats and distributing natural oils. All dogs shed, but long-haired dogs tend to shed less. Brushing reduces the amount of hair falling out around the house, which is a plus for allergic humans. Short-haired dogs also need to be brushed to remove excess hair and distribute oils. They just don’t get as many tangles. Dogs with a thick double coat designed for cold weather like Huskies, Malamutes, or Samoyeds may struggle in hot climates, while dogs with very little fur, or even hairless dogs, need extra help in the cold.
Floppy-eared dogs like Bassett Hounds may be more prone to ear infections than perky-eared ones. Dogs with lots of skin folds, like Shar Peis, have more skin problems. Short-nosed canines like Pugs, Boston Terriers, French Bulldogs, and English Bulldogs often suffer from narrow nostrils and airways, requiring surgery to be able to breathe well, and needing good climate control to avoid overheating. They also often need lots of extra dental care. And dogs with protruding eyes like Shih Tzus and Boxers have more eye problems.
Take time to research the specific physical attributes of your prospective family member.
How will your dog fit in with your lifestyle?
You should match your dog’s activity level with your own. Do you want your dog to jog five miles with you and play endless games of fetch, or be content to lie on the sofa as you read a book? Do you want a sturdy dog to accompany you on hikes or a calm pooch that will sit at your feet at a sidewalk café? Consider the physical abilities of your prospective dog while being honest about your own physical limitations. Are you physically able to exercise an energetic dog? Do you get tired after one walk around the block? Do you want your dog to play a rowdy game of fetch or simply fetch the newspaper?
"Consider the physical abilities of your prospective dog while being honest about your own physical limitations."
Many breeds have been selected over the years for specific tasks like herding other animals, guarding people or property, or spending long days hunting or running races. These genetics also influence the dog’s behavior in the home. Research what the breed or mix is/was intended to do. Working breeds, in general, tend to be high-energy and need a lot more exercise. Herding breeds may tend to chase things that move. Guarding breeds may patrol fences or doorways and see visitors or neighbors as intruders. Hunting breeds may tend to follow their noses, including over and under fences. Racing breeds need a lot of chances to run fast in safe areas. Consider how the dog’s genetic task program might mesh or conflict with the needs and desires of your family.
Before choosing a pet, consider initial and recurring costs, home environment, size, temperament, and physical characteristics of the dog. Consider his training, exercising, and grooming needs. Consider your lifestyle. Then consider yourself lucky to have the right dog for your family!