Adding a dog to your family is one of the most important decisions of your life, as a dog will require many years of devotion (7-15 years is typical depending on breed). It will also mean that there will be a financial commitment for food, medical care, toys, daycare or sitters when out of town, etc. I had my last Beagle from the time he was a few months old until he died at 14 years-old. He had cancer twice, which meant radiation, surgery, chemo. I estimated that during those 14 years, I probably spent somewhere around $75,000 for all of my dog’s needs. Your financial commitment could likely be less or even more if you have a special needs dog.
There are many factors that go into deciding the type of dog that will best fit into your family. By doing some research, you will increase your chances of integrating your new family member smoothly and providing joy for years to come. It will also help reduce the chances that the dog will be re-homed, which is heartbreaking for all involved.
Dogs come in all shapes and sizes, and not all breeds are the same. Some dogs need more exercise than others, and some breeds may be predisposed to living at home with a family vs. preferring to be a working dog. If living indoors, some dogs are great for apartments, and some need a little more space to feel at home.
When reviewing a breed’s overall characteristics, keep in mind that this doesn’t apply to 100% of the dogs of that breed. The characteristics just give you a good idea if that is the right path you would like to go down for further research.
The main things you should first ask yourself about the dog you would like include:
- Activity level – You always want to match your energy level with that of the dog’s energy level (and be honest). Although a Border Collie may look beautiful to you, if you only go for a short walk once a day, then this is going to cause both you and the dog frustration, as the dog will act out in other ways if they don’t get the required level of exercise and mental activity. If you’re more of a couch potato, a Basset Hound, or believe it or not, a Great Dane might make a great pair.
- Grooming needs (short hair vs. long hair) – Depending on the breed will depend on how much time and money you will spend grooming your dog. For some dogs, grooming is a mandatory necessity that will take literally hours to separate cords after a bath. Depending on where you live, the cost of regular, professional grooming can go anywhere from $10 for a nail trim to $125 for a grooming package. This can add up quickly if your dog requires grooming every 2-3 weeks.
- Size – This is not just a personal preference, but also a physical requirement needed to properly handle a dog. For example, a Great Dane can be between 100 – 200 pounds and a Mastiff can be up to 220 pounds. If you only weigh about 115 pounds, this may not be the dog for you because if there is ever a need to break up a fight or if the dog is injured at the park, and no one is around, you won’t have a way to carry the dog to help. On the opposite side of the spectrum would be a dog like a Chihuahua which only weighs 6 pounds. Although it is tempting to pick up and carry a little dog the majority of the time, you will want to remember that it is still a dog, and still needs the same rules and structures as a large dog. Otherwise, you could find yourself with a dog who constantly jumps up, is anxious due to co-dependency, or fearful of being alone because they don’t get to spend as much time on the ground just being a dog.
- Barking level – This is fairly self-explanatory. You will want to consider your environment to determine the breed’s general barking behavior. For instance, if you live in an apartment, you may think getting a Pomeranian would be a good fit because of its size. However, Pomeranians have one of the loudest, and highest pitched barks, and they like to bark a lot. Your neighbor may complain to the point of asking the landlord to have you removed. I find that typically larger dogs tend to bark less than smaller dogs.
- Temperament towards children or existing pets in your home – There are definitely breeds that don’t do well with children, especially small children. Sometimes, this is just because if you have a large dog, its tail alone could topple a toddler. Other times, it could be that the breed has more of a guarding behavior, and if it has picked a favorite person in the family, the dog may get jealous to the point where your child may be in danger.
- Cleaning preferences – Do you prefer a house that is fur free? You might want to consider a Portuguese water dog who only has a single coat and does not shed, which also is beneficial for people with allergies. Want to forget the original color of your carpet? A double-coated dog like a Siberian Husky will keep you and your vacuum cleaner on your toes.
In addition to the research on the breed, you should also research the avenues from which to obtain your dog:
- Breeders – If you don’t mind spending a little extra money and having to travel (sometimes across the country), this is ideal. Reputable breeders usually come with AKC papers, and have had the puppies thoroughly checked out by a vet. They can also provide you with more information on the breed to help you make the final decision that this is the dog for you. Also, reputable breeders will offer to take the puppy back in case of any problems.
- Craigslist (or other online advertisement) – This is a hit or miss situation. Sometimes dogs are on Craigslist because the dog needs to be re-homed due to owner illness or military deployment, and they are looking for an easy way to find a potential new owner. Puppy mills have also been known to use Craigslist. Puppy mills are to be avoided at all cost. Dogs from puppy mills are not as healthy as other dogs, and usually have behavioral issues due to the conditions they were raised in. You should treat this like you would if you were buying a used car, meaning, have a third party expert (preferably a veterinarian) exam the dog to help ensure you won’t have expensive medical issues that come up.
- Shelters – This is the avenue that every dog lover wants, and should, use as their first place when looking for a dog. The shelter workers will have had the dogs checked out by the vet, and will normally have some background information about what the dog’s behavior and personality is like. There are also quite a few pure bred dogs if that is what interests you. This is because some come from pet stores who don’t sell them while they are still puppies. The cost of adopting a dog from a shelter is usually the least expensive method. By adopting from a shelter, you will also get one of the greatest gifts, and that is the knowledge that you saved a life.
- Pet stores – Most pet stores get their puppies from puppy mills. Buying dogs through pet stores should be avoided. They are often not veterinarian checked, and can often have chronic medical issues. Puppies that aren’t sold before they grow out of the puppy stage, have this to look forward to: euthanasia, placed in shelters, put in foster homes, or returned to the puppy mill. This is why so many people refuse to support such cruelty that pet stores promote.
For a quick and dirty quiz to help you find the right breed, please try online tools like:
The results from these quizzes are general suggestions and should not be used as a definitive answer to the best breed for you. You should view the results as a starting point for further research.
There are many resources on the internet, breeders, and veterinarians you could spend time researching to find the perfect dog for you. After all, this will be a member of your family for years, and you will want to make the right choice the first time!