Choosing to add a dog to your family is such an important decision and can be very exciting. But it can also be ill-advised if your lifestyle is not consistent with meeting the needs of your new pet.
As a trainer here in Wilmington, Delaware, I’m often asked by friends and others what breed of dog would be best for their family. There’re so many things to consider and the decision can be tough. But there’re a few basic questions you can ask yourself before heading off to the shelter or breeder.
Is your lifestyle really conducive to having a dog? If you frequently work late or long hours and can’t have someone else take your dog out for potty breaks, then having a pooch may be something to put off until a better time. You need to be available or able to pay someone else to be available to be sure your dog gets outside, gets proper exercise, and gets proper socialization. If you’re immobile or not healthy enough to meet your dog’s needs, another pet may be appropriate.
Are you a high-energy person looking for a high-energy dog? Or would you rather have a lap-dog? If you want high energy, a Standard Poodle or Border Collie may work for you. But if you want to chill out with your pup snuggled up to you 24/7, a Bulldog or many of the toy breeds would be best. Research the different breeds and be sure to settle on something that is a great match to your energy level. One resource I’ve found is a site called Dogtime. You fill out a form and you can get matched up with the best breed for your lifestyle.
Do you want a puppy? Raising puppies is great fun, but boy is it hard work. If you meet the puppy’s parents and find a reputable breeder, you can get a good sense of what the temperament and disposition may be for your new puppy. But be prepared to spend as much time with your new puppy early on as you would raising a human toddler. If you find a puppy at a shelter, be sure to ask when the puppy was separated from its mother and see if you can meet other pups in the litter if they’re still at the shelter. Check on the health history and get as much information as you can. In the shelter, you’re more likely to find a mixed-breed puppy then a pure-bred one, but don’t let that turn you off. Mixed breeds can be wonderful pets.
Do you want an adult dog? You can certainly find an adult dog at almost any shelter. But breeders sometimes have adults available that they no longer wish to use for breeding. As someone who has adopted both a puppy and adult dog, I can’t tell you how much I’ve loved having my adult Pitbull. I went to the shelter with all intentions of getting another puppy, but I met a few of the adult dogs and fell in love. If they are owner-surrendered, the dogs typical are house trained, have been raised with a family, and know most of their basic commands. They can transition easily into another family. If the shelter doesn’t know the dog’s background, you’re going to have to spend as much time with the dog as the shelter will allow. Be sure the dog’s temperament has been tested, ask if the dog gets along with kids and other pets, and go with your gut. And whether you’re adopting an adult dog from a shelter or breeder, make sure that the pup is cleared by a vet and not already developing any age-related issues that you will immediately be paying for.
Do you want a shelter dog or a pup from a breeder? When you adopt through a reputable breeder, you will have access to a wealth of information about the dog and the dog’s lineage, its health, the environment in which it was raised, and much more. This may be ideal for someone who has their heart set on a particular breed or someone who wants a service dog or therapy dog. There’s no shame in adopting through a breeder as you’re still giving a home to a dog that needs one.
If you choose to adopt from a shelter, unless the dog is an owner-surrendered dog, you won’t have all the information that you’d get from a breeder. My own shelter dog, Maggie, was found emaciated wandering the streets. I had no information except for that and the opinions of the shelter staff about her disposition. I spent about an hour playing with her at the shelter and decided that she was a sweetheart that needed to come home with me. I wasn’t a trainer at the time but knew that professionally training her would be an investment I would have to make (which should be the case with all dogs).
There are many other considerations when deciding to add a pooch to your family, but being educated is the most important thing you can do. Having to return a dog to the breeder or shelter because you chose one that wasn’t a good fit for your family can be devastating for both you and the dog. Do your homework so you can make the best decision for you, your family, and your new furry friend.