This resource offers information on how to choose a dog for you, your family and lifestyle. Should you get a puppy or adult, purebred or hybrid and where can you adopt?
Part 1: How to Choose the Right Dog
There are several questions to ask yourself and your family or house mates before choosing a dog. You’ll also want to consider what is involved in caring for a dog: basic care, medical needs, training and behavior. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Do I have the time to give a dog the love and attention she deserves?
- Can I offer her adequate exercise and socialization with people and/or dogs (if she is dog-friendly)?
- Am I prepared for the costs associated with having a dog, including routine vet care?
- Are my emotional expectations realistic? (A dog is not a furry little person.)
Should I get a puppy?
One of the first questions that people ask themselves is whether to get a puppy. Do you have the time or the inclination to raise a puppy? Puppies require lots of time and attention. You will most likely need to work on house-training a puppy and socializing her to people, dogs and other animals. If you're gone for long periods of time, are you willing to pay for daycare or a sitter? All puppies and dogs need help learning how to be well-behaved family members.
To grow into emotionally balanced and safe dogs, puppies must be socialized and introduced to various things they’ll experience in their lives, including riding in a car, being handled for medical procedures, having their nails trimmed and being brushed. You’ll want to make sure that your puppy develops positive associations with all these things.
Other considerations when getting a puppy: Think about how big he'll be and how active he'll be when he grows up. If you live in an apartment in a city, you’ll want to make sure you have a space where you can exercise your dog if you choose one with a high energy level. If you're a couch potato, you may want an older or more sedentary dog.
Should I get a purebred dog?
The next question people usually ask is whether they should get a purebred dog. If you decide that you want a purebred, please investigate the different breeds carefully before choosing a dog.
Recent studies suggest that today’s purebred dogs may not have all the behavior traits that they were once bred for. If you are looking for a purebred dog to perform a specific task, consider finding a reputable breeder. Ask lots of questions about how the dogs are housed, what veterinary care the breeders provide and how often they breed the female dogs. It’s also important to visit the breeders’ home to see where the mom and puppies are being kept.
Where can I adopt a dog?
There are many wonderful dogs (including purebreds) at your local shelter and rescue groups. When you choose one of these dogs, you often get the added bonus of knowing that you have saved a life. Petfinder.com is a good place to start looking for a dog to adopt.
Getting a dog from a breed rescue group is another option to consider if you have decided upon a particular breed. These groups rescue purebred dogs that have been given up, for one reason or another, and find new homes for them. Some breeders also do rescue for their breed. To find a rescue group for the breed you're interested in, do a search on the Internet (for example, search for "dachshund rescue").
We don't recommend that you buy a dog from a pet store. Most pet stores are supplied by puppy mills, which are essentially “factory farms” for dogs where profit takes priority over the health, comfort and welfare of the animals. Learn more about puppy mills.
As an organization committed to reaching a day when every pet will have a loving home, it goes without saying that Best Friends encourages everyone who is looking to bring a pet into the family to choose adoption over purchase. Although we recognize that there are caring and reputable private breeders who breed responsibly and ethically, it's difficult for us to endorse any kind of breeding while so many animals are dying in shelters.
If you feel that you are ready for a lifetime commitment to a dog, do your homework and ask lots of questions. If you ever have problems with your dog's health, training or behavior, get professional help from a veterinarian, trainer or behaviorist.
Part 2: A Good Fit
So, you've decided that you're going to get a dog. How do you choose a dog who will be a good fit for you and your lifestyle? Consider the following:
- Activity level of the household: Do you want an exercise partner or a couch potato?
- Free time: If you work long hours away from home, it doesn’t mean you can't have a pet, but you might want to consider getting a cat who’s independent or an older dog who is comfortable being home and relaxing all day.
- Housing: If you live in an apartment, neighbors may complain about pet noises.
- Age of the pet: Many people want to get a puppy to start with a “clean slate,” but an older pet already has an established personality and behaviors, which means it can be easier to find the perfect fit. An adult dog may already be house-trained and may not have a puppy’s destructive behaviors.
- Medical needs: You’ll need to keep up with basic vaccines and checkups at the vet. Does the pet have other medical concerns that must be addressed?
When you contact the shelter or rescue group from which you’re considering adopting, ask plenty of questions and give details about what type of dog you are looking for. Most rescue groups are foster-based, which means their pets have been living in homes, providing an opportunity for you to ask questions about how the dog has fared in a home setting.
Before going to meet a potential canine candidate, read Dog Body Language to help you recognize the dog's comfort level. When you go to meet the dog, take some high-value treats to start the dog’s positive association with you.
If you have children or other people you live with, it’s a good idea to bring them to the shelter or rescue group when you’re meeting the dog. You want to see how the dog reacts to everyone (introduce one person at a time) and whether everyone is comfortable with the dog.
Keep in mind that the shelter is a stressful place, and even if the dog has been in foster care, not all dogs acclimate quickly to a new home environment, new people and new routines. It is not uncommon for a dog to settle into a new home and exhibit previously unknown behaviors. If any of the behaviors are concerning, please seek assistance from a trainer.
In fact, socialization is a lifelong process. All dogs should be socialized throughout their lifetimes to become and stay relaxed and comfortable in different situations. Even if you are not a very social person, you should help your dog to trust some other people, since the more social the dog is, the safer the dog will be in our human world. Most bites happen when a dog is fearful.
Having a great relationship with your dog is based on building a foundation of trust. If you read through the rest of the resources in this library, you can help to set a dog up for great success as a member of your family for life. Remember, you will be responsible for this dog's behavior wherever he goes and with whoever he meets. Keep him happy, healthy and safe.