A Match Made in Heaven - How to Find the Perfect Doggy Partner
You’ve done it. You’ve made the decision to add a furry four-legged love into your family. An adorable furball with a wet nose and wagging tail, who will bring you so much joy and be there for you when you get home from work. To live with, and to love, ‘til death do you part. But before selecting your new best friend, you have some research to do. Don’t worry, it’s not a daunting task, but it’s critically important to your success as a dog parent. The most important thing to consider is… WHAT KIND of new friend is the right fit for you?
According to the ASPCA, approximately 3.9 million dogs end up in shelters or rescues every year because people acquire a puppy when he’s cute and innocent, but then don’t like the dog he has become once the allure has worn off and he’s showing who he really is. “He’s bigger than I thought he was going to be.” “He’s way too active for me.” “His coat is too long and he sheds all over the house – I can’t stand it!” Rather than cause you both heartache, it’s really important to do your research about various dog breeds to determine which breeds would be a good fit for your personality and lifestyle before heading to the shelter or breeder. It’s like really getting to know a guy before you agree to marry him. If what you want is household harmony, it’s necessary to have this sorted out before the entrancing gaze of a puppy in need of a home pulls at your heartstrings.
Here are some things to ask yourself to determine what you are looking for in your new friend:
- What kind of living situation do I have? Do I live in an apartment with roommates, or a house of my own in a quiet neighborhood with a fenced yard? Is it just me in the house, or do I have my spouse and children to consider? Where children are involved you will want to do careful research before bringing a new dog into your home. Is the dog familiar with children and does he like them? Which breeds tend to be better and more gentle/forgiving with children than others? Then within those breeds, which other personality traits match what you are looking for in your furry companion?
- Do I have other pets? Another dog, a guinea pig, a cat that lives in the house? Or horses and goats in a barn out back? Dogs with a high prey drive, like a Rhodesian Ridgeback or one of the many sighthound breeds, may be relentless at chasing smaller animals that scurry or dart – anything that moves quickly gets their attention and the thrill of the chase is an extremely rewarding action that plays to their instinctive nature. While it is possible to counter-condition your dog to commit a more controlled reaction to muscle memory, the innate desire to chase doesn’t ever go completely away and can end up being a very big nuisance (and safety hazard) to your smaller pets (and to you). Some breeds of dogs do much better in a farm-type environment with a lot of space to roam, which gives them the ability to get out some of their energy, and even enjoy having a job to do (like herding). Australian Shepherds and Border Collies, for example, usually make fantastic farm dogs and can co-exist with larger pet breeds such as horses, cows, and even goats.
- What is my ideal size limit? Do I want a small 10-pound dog that can sit on my lap while I'm working at my computer, or a 80-pound oaf that loves to give kisses with his equally large tongue? A Yorkshire Terrier may be “pocket-sized” and easily transportable, but very tiny dogs also require an extra eye to ensure they do not get stepped on or taken over by other animals or children in the household. They tend to be more fragile though extremely loving, as they were bred mostly to be companion dogs. Some larger breeds – such as Newfoundlands and Great Danes – may not fully know their own size or strength so require an extra eye around babies and small children. I’ve also known many dogs over 70 pounds that would like to consider themselves “lapdogs.”
- How do I handle barking? Some breeds (like many terriers and hounds) are more vocal than others. They feel it’s their job to alert you to every moving object outside your home, whether it’s a blowing leaf or a burglar. Or they just have big personalities and big opinions to go with it so they have a lot to say. While other dogs are perfectly content hardly letting out a peep. Now, while barking is a natural tendency for the species, it can generally be redirected - although this is harder to do with a breed where being vocal is strongly ingrained in its DNA. If barking is on your “will not tolerate” list of pet peeves, it’s generally not a good idea to indulge in a Beagle or Chihuahua.
- What is my energy level like and how much time am I willing to give to exercising my dog? Do I need a dog that is OK with one short walk each day before I go to my full-time job? Or can I handle a lean machine that needs a good hike several days a week to satiate his energy? Am I planning on letting my dog out into our fenced yard by himself for his energy outlet, or am I willing to be involved in frequent play and other energy-relieving activities? Some breeds are well-known for having a lower baseline energy level, which means they don’t need regular rigorous activity to satisfy their needs. Bassett Hounds, English Bulldogs and Bull Mastiffs typically tend to be happy with a short walk daily. Then you have the other side of the spectrum – dogs that have a high baseline energy and don’t know how to sit still for very long. They really like being busy and need to be taught to settle (it doesn’t come naturally). These dogs are your Pointers, Jack Russell Terriers and Siberian Huskies, to name a few. They thrive on having a job to do!
- Can I handle a headstrong dog that has a mind of his own, even if that means I will have to provide strong leadership to ensure he doesn't become unruly? Or do I need a dog that is easily obedient and will do anything I ask just to please me? There are some breeds that are known for being independent-minded and like to do things their way, such as the Dachshund, Akita, and Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever. These breeds need consistent training from the beginning and a strong leader, as they can be stubborn and will easily try to rule the roost. They basically will think, “what’s in it for me?” when asked to do something - and if they don’t want to do it, many times they won’t (which is why early training and establishing strong leadership is essential to creating harmony). On the other hand, some breeds are known for being loyal people-pleasers, such as Labradors, Golden Retrievers, and Bichon Frises. They just like to see you happy and will do whatever it takes
- What kind of common health concerns am I willing to deal with and can I afford to take on? Can I only handle the occasional ear infection or skin rash? Or am I willing to give my unconditional love to a dog that may be at risk for other health concerns down the line, like hip dysplasia, seizures, or intestinal issues? Many health concerns are universal among dog breeds, but there are some health risks that are more common in specific breeds. For example, Pugs and English Bulldogs are susceptible to respiratory problems due to their shortened muzzles and “squished” noses. Doberman Pinschers may be predisposed to heart problems such as dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) and might require annual screenings. Boxers tend to have a higher risk of cancer than other breeds. Breeds with long backs, such as Dachshunds, can have spinal disk problems. Just about every breed has at least one, so it’s important to know what you might be getting into before getting your new pup.
- What are my requirements for grooming upkeep? Do I need a dog with a finer coat that doesn't shed as much but may get easily matted? Or can I regularly brush a dog with a thicker undercoat that leaves a furball in his wake everywhere he goes? Or am I not willing to deal with any hair and should therefore consider a goldfish? Grooming requirements are certainly different for every breed. And it isn’t always dependent on the length of the hair – some Pit Bulls shed as much as Collies. While their hair is shorter, the amount that comes off regularly may be the same. Some breeds such as German Shepherds, Corgis, and Alaskan Malamutes all have a thick undercoat of fur which requires regular de-shedding. Finer-coated breeds like Poodles, Airedale Terriers and Cairn Terriers require regular clipping or scissoring to ensure their hair doesn’t get matted (mats can be painful but can also be a spot for dirt and critters, like ticks, to fester). Maintaining regular grooming practices is important for the health of your dog. Don’t like any hair? There are a few hairless breeds, such as the Xoloitzcuintli (Mexican Hairless) and Chinese Crested Dog, which offer minimal plumage of any kind.
Keep in mind: Selecting a breed because the dogs make absolutely adorable puppies or are extremely smart is not a good enough reason to settle on a breed and could cause you serious problems later on. Before choosing a breed, you must consider the size, average life span, grooming requirements, temperament traits, energy level, ideal living situation, and common health risks for each breed you are considering. Many breed resources like the American Kennel Club and the Animal Planet “Dogs 101” series are great about listing all of these specifics for each breed, as well as general descriptions and plenty of pictures.
It’s also important to remember that even within the same breed, all dogs are individuals. While understanding the traits of the breeds you are considering will give you a better chance at selecting a dog that will fit with your lifestyle, it’s not a guarantee that your Cavalier King Charles Spaniel will be like all the other Cavs you’ve seen. While most English Bulldogs have a lower energy level, there are some out there that really love a good romp with their favorite tennis ball. And while many Pomeranians are extremely vocal, you might get one that barely lets out a yip. This speaks to how important it is to get to know your puppy options before selecting one, and scheduling a visit to meet the pups prior to adopting will give you a chance to get to know them all a bit and make the wisest decision.
If you’re not sure about which breed might be the right fit for you, ask a trainer or behavior consultant. Some might even be willing to visit the shelter or breeder with you to help you pick the best pup for you. I would! I never turn down the chance to experience a pile of pups to get to know their personalities – and plenty of puppy kisses as well!
For help in selecting a dog that fits your lifestyle and the qualities you desire in a canine companion, please contact me at (845) 549-0896 or firstname.lastname@example.org . I can help you find your new best friend!
Written by Maria Huntoon, Maria G. Huntoon Canine Consulting Services