So you want to get a dog. You want a furry pal for yourself and your kids, and perhaps to add a little security to your home. And who can blame you? Dogs are a fantastic addition to any family. But how do you know what kind of dog is right for your family?
There are a lot of decisions to make before you bring any pet into your home. The first, and most important, is, do you have the time and resources to care for an animal? Dogs require time and energy, a financial commitment, and an understanding that adopting a dog is something you just dabble in – you’re agreeing to be there for them for life.
Puppy or Dog
The first decision most would-be-dog-parents make is often what aged dog they want. There is a big difference in the age ranges of dogs in terms of what they’re going to need when you bring them home.
Puppy. A puppy is any dog under the age of 1 year old. However, some puppies mature faster and outgrow puppy-hood around 6 months, other take a little longer and remain puppy-like until around 18 months. They often need to be housebroken, given basic training, and possibly be taken to the vet for shots, spaying/neutering, etc. Most puppies need someone to be available at least every 4 hours to be taken out, they need to be fed 3 times a day, socialized, and exercised regularly.
Young. Starting whenever a pup outgrows puppy-hood, a young dog can be a bit unpredictable. Many people think that, if they’ve made it through the puppy stage, the hard part is over. Young dogs, however, aren’t done figuring things out. It helps to think of young dogs like teenagers. They become more interested in the world around them, they are very demanding and self-centered, and they like to push boundaries. Sadly, this is the age when most dogs are surrendered to shelters because owners weren’t prepared for the challenges of doggy adolescence.
Adult. If you’re looking for a dog who is a bit more mellow and defined in his personality, an adult dog is a good choice. Adult dogs tend to be more of a companion and less of a child, and the bond between dog and master is solidified. These dogs aren’t as demanding, and may show signs of slowing down, but they still want as much attention and affection as you can give.
Senior. Older pups can be a great addition to a home. Depending on the pup, breed, and health of the dog, the senior stage can begin as early as 6 years. For families with a less active lifestyle, a senior dog can be a great option. They tend to be more mellow, less demanding, and a bit more set in their ways. Senior dogs may need a little extra care to deal with some of the health issues that crop up around this time. Maintaining a healthy weight and proper oral hygiene are essential to keeping your senior pet happy and healthy.
Another big consideration is the size of the dog that you want. This is where you may have to put the needs of the dog over your own wants. If you want a big dog, but live in a 400 sq ft apartment, consider how such a small space will affect your dog (also keep in mind that a big dog that doesn’t have enough space to run and play will likely become destructive).
If you’re a frequent traveler, consider whether or not you want to bring your dog, and how you want them to travel. A smaller pup is easier to bring on trains and planes, while sometimes being a distraction while driving – I see many drivers allowing their small dogs climb all over them while driving, which is not safe.
Another important factor about size that many fail to consider is, how shall I say this… bladder/ bowel size. Larger dogs are more likely to go longer without needing to be taken out.
There’s a lot to be said about specific dog breeds, though I’ll be totally up front and say I’m a big fan of mutts. There are lots of websites available to help you understand the difference between the breeds, my favorite being the American Kennel Clubs. Their find-a-match system asks 4-5 questions to determine what breed fits into the lifestyle you lead.
Keep in mind that dogs, like people, don’t always fit the mold of their given breed. Have an open mind and consider some pups that may not match your “ideal breed.”
A big consideration for any pet you bring into your home is their naturally given energy level. A dog with a high energy level needs LOTS of exercise and training. Dogs that don’t get adequate exercise can become aggressive and develop major discipline problems. On the other hand, if you’re an avid runner, biker, outdoorsy-type person, you want a dog that can keep up with you.
Adopt or Shop
I highly recommend adopting a pet. There are thousands of dogs in shelters across the country that are looking for loving homes. They’re often mixed-breeds, which can be advantageous because mutts tend to have fewer health problems and live longer than pure-bred dogs. There are also many breed-specific rescues throughout the US, especially for popular breeds like labs and golden retrievers. You can adopt retired race dogs from a Greyhound rescue, or German shepherds that retire from military or police work. And sometimes you find a pure-bred dog in a random shelter, like our new puppy, Toby, who’s German shepherd.
If you do choose to shop, please do your research, know who you’re dealing with, and buy from a reputable breeder, not a puppy mill. If possible, go see the home in which the dogs are housed before purchasing.
Dogs can be a wonderful addition to a family of any size. If you do your homework, think carefully and honestly about your lifestyle and what you’re willing to do for your new furry friend, you’ll find a beautiful companion to share your life and home with!