by: Jodi Andersen-Spen
While countless studies have shown that living with a dog can significantly reduce the stress in your life, living with the wrong dog can have quite the opposite effect - begging the question; How, exactly, does one pick the right dog?
After years of vetoing my husband and kids about getting a dog, I fear I am dangerously close to caving in. My husband is a "big dog" guy and my kids (who are almost college bound) want a dog that is high-energy but cuddly. The property we live on is about one half of an acre and is mostly open space. Any words of advice about how to choose the right dog would be appreciated. I would prefer something that doesn't shed or drool.
Dear … Doesn't Shed or Drool,
I so get where you're coming from! Understanding your family (and their preferences) is the first step to finding the best dog for your clan and - if the fit is right - living with that dog can often be more rewarding than living with your kids. (In case my kids are reading this … just kidding).
Since finding the right dog can be a bit like finding the right mate (not easy), consider the following:
SIZE: When contemplating size - and yes, it really does matter - physical size is only part of the equation. Many small dogs have enormous personalities and goliath-like courage, while some large dogs are happy sitting in your lap. What really matters is the size of the character. I've known many a Jack Russell who thinks he's an Irish wolfhound and even a few Great Danes who act like Chihuahuas. Moreover, because a dog shares the commonality of size, it does not necessarily mean they share the same temperament. Consequently, a (naturally protective) Rottweiler wouldn't dream of allowing someone to slip uninvited in your backdoor, while a (social butterfly) golden retriever will happily check that stranger's pockets for a tennis ball.
PERSONALITY: Because the apple really doesn't fall far, genetic predisposition really weighs in on what drives a dog's overall behavior. This is why checking out the proverbial family tree beforehand really pays off.
Log onto Dogbreedinfo.com and take their "What Dog Is Right For My Family?" quiz. Also, the American Kennel Club has a wealth of information about individual breeds as well as breed clubs that will help recommend reputable breeders, once you've made your breed choice. With more than 150 breed-specific descriptions, here's just a bit of what AKC.org has to offer:
- Terriers (Yorkie, Jack Russell, cairn) are eager, feisty and tireless.
- Sporting dogs (golden retriever, springer spaniel, Irish setter) are likeable, well-rounded and energetic.
- Herding dogs (border collie, Australian shepherd, German shepherd, bearded collie, corgi) are athletic, agile and extremely loyal.
- Toy breeds (Chihuahua, papillon, Maltese, Pomeranian) are charming, temperamental and vocal.
- Working breeds (Saint Bernard, Siberian husky, Portuguese water dog, Samoyed) are intelligent, solid companions.
- Non-sporting dogs (bichon frise, French bulldog, Boston terrier) are sturdy and diverse and make great lap dogs.
- Hounds (dachshund, greyhound, basset hound, beagle) are known for their acute senses of smell or sight and adaptability to town and country.
LIFESTYLE: While all dogs need exercise, training and social companionship, some prefer and/or require more than others. If you typically start your day with a five-mile, power walk, springer spaniels, boxers, Airedales and Labrador retrievers would be thrilled to match your stride. Herding dogs live to chase and catch, so (while they might not be the best fit for a family with small, active children) if Frisbee throwing turns you on, border collies, Australian shepherds and cattle dogs would be a match made in heaven. If, on the other hand, snuggling up with a good book and a cuddly dog is more your mantra, pugs, bichon frise, shih tzus and cockapoos make great bedfellows. So, while it might stand to reason that where you live plays the leading role in which dog to pick, the truth is - whether urban or suburban - it's more the match of lifestyles that increases the odds for happily ever after.
MEETING PLACES: There are shelters, breeders, pet shops and the occasional "Have I got a dog for you." Shelters are my favorite. Every dog I've ever rescued has ultimately rescued me. If you choose this route, your local town shelter is a great place to start. Ask about your canine candidate's past, as it can be helpful going forward. Breeders, on the other hand, can offer you the advantage of meeting parents of puppies as well as information on lineage and temperament. Then there's the pet shop. Because (in my opinion) we will probably never put these mill-perpetuating storefronts out of business and because every dog deserves to be loved, I consider this purchase nothing less than an expensive rescue.
APPEARANCE: Despite the importance of understanding the individual personality of a prospective housemate, I daresay even I have been guilty of falling for a pretty face. Still, I offer this: Be careful not to fall in love with appearances only. Like a book by its cover, a dog should not be judged by coat alone. As for the drooling and shedding: If the dog loses some hair or drools every now and then, to that, I say: It happens to the best of us.
In closing: While many seem to know their dream dog the moment their eyes meet, more of us could benefit from a little matchmaking. After reading this, if you're still not sure which paws to consider, let me know and I'll see if I can steer you even closer to doggie-Harmony.
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[Photo Credit: Shutterstock]