You’ve decided to take the plunge. You’re going to expand your family to include a dog. But choosing the right dog for your family takes some work. You must be honest about your family’s situation and you can’t be swayed by big, bright eyes. So, what do you need to consider?
- Think about your family and your living situation. Do you have small children? Other pets? Do all the adults in your household work full-time? Where do you live? On a sprawling estate in the country or a one-bedroom apartment in a city high-rise?
If you have small children, you will need to make sure you find a dog who will tolerate being sat on, having his ears and tail pulled, and being chased around the house. If you have other pets, you will need to make sure your new dog isn’t inclined to try to hunt or terrorize them.
For families who are gone for most of the day, a puppy who needs lots of training and supervision may not be the best fit — an older dog may make a better family member instead.
If you live in a small apartment in a big city, you might want to choose a small dog who doesn’t need a lot of exercise over a large breed who requires lots of space to run.
Other lifestyle issues you should consider include:
a. Your budget for vet bills. Many types of dogs are predisposed to certain health issues that can be very expensive. Short-nosed dogs, such as bulldogs and pugs, can have breathing problems. German shepherds, Rottweilers and retrievers are among the breeds that are prone to hip dysplasia. Short dogs with long backs — think dachshunds and basset hounds — frequently have spinal problems.
Even dogs who don’t have serious health problems still must visit the vet regularly for checkups and vaccinations, so that must be considered in your pet budget.
b. How much time you can invest in training and exercise. Getting the right dog depending on your ability, interest, and budget for training. Different dogs need different amounts of training. Different breeds require more training and exercise because they become annoying or destructive, but some need the training because otherwise they may become aggressive. Certain breeds such as German Shepherds, Pitbulls and Rottweilers especially need consistent socialization to avoid undesirable behaviors. Doggy Daycare can be a great way to help reinforce training while your dog is also getting socialization and exercise.
c. Your tolerance for grooming. All dogs need some grooming. And some dogs need a lot of grooming, which can take a lot of time if you do it yourself, or money if you visit a groomer’s. Be honest about how much time you are willing to spend brushing, bathing and trimming or how much money you’re willing to spend on keeping your pooch’s coat in tip-top shape. If you’re looking for a low-maintenance dog, steer clear of those with long hair and double coats (Lhasa Apsos and huskies, respectively) or those with lots of skin wrinkles (Chinese shar peis).
d. Your budget for dog food. Big dogs eat more food than little dogs. Some dogs need special diets. Be sure to think about what you’re willing to spend, in time and money, on what your dog will eat.
- Purebred or mixed-breed? There is no universal right or wrong answer to the question of whether to get a purebred or mixed-breed dog. Both have pros and cons. For example, buying or adopting a purebred dog can be more expensive and some breeds can be hard to find. On the other hand, it can be hard to determine the eventual size and adult temperament of mixed-breed puppies. It’s up to you to decide what’s right for you and your family.
For those who prefer a mixed-breed dog, the American Kennel Club and the United Kennel Club have a wealth of information about the different dog breeds, so if you find, say, a collie-beagle mix, you can research what traits that dog might have.
- Breeder, rescue group, or shelter? How ever you decide to proceed with your dog search, you’ll need to figure out where you want to get your dog. The AKC and UKC have breeder guides (here and here) if you’re looking for a purebred dog. If you want to find a rescue group, the AKC has information about that here. If you’re interested in visiting a local shelter, the Humane Society of America has a list here.
- Getting a new dog for the holidays. If you plan on getting a new dog as a holiday present for your family, you have a few considerations to make. You’ll need to think about how much you’ll be home during the holiday season — your newest family member will need to spend time with you to bond and adjust to her new home. If you plan on traveling a lot between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, you might want to put off finding a dog until January.
That same advice applies if you plan on having a house full of people and lots of holiday parties all season long. A busy house is hardly the ideal environment for getting a new dog acclimated to your family, so it would be better to wait until you have the time and energy to devote to a new dog.
However, if you plan on spending your holidays at home, without many interruptions, then the extra days off from work could be ideal for welcoming a new pooch into your home.
The goal of your search for a new dog is to find a pet who will be a great friend and family member for you. With some research and planning, you should be able to find a pooch who’s a perfect fit!