How do I chose the right dog for us?
Realising you are ready to get a dog is a very exciting time – it’s a big decision and we all have a picture in our heads of our perfect lives with our future furry friend. Sadly, one of the most common reasons why this may go awry is down to choosing a dog who simply doesn’t fit into our lifestyle or enjoy the things we want to do with them. It is therefore vital, both for ourselves and our future pups, that we do some research and make sure we are offering a home that they will be well-suited to. Taking this time will save everyone from potential stress and heartache down the road. Fortunately, there are literally hundred of different dog breeds out there and all of them have been bred to suit a wide variety of different lifestyles and jobs – so there’s bound to be one for you. So, what are some of the biggest factors to consider when choosing a dog?
This is probably one of the most obvious. What size home and garden do you have? We have to consider that our pet will spend a big chunk of their life in our home, so we need to make sure there is a comfortable amount of space for everyone to coexist. That’s not to say larger breeds can’t do well in smaller homes – how this affects our choice will vary depending on all of our individual circumstances, but it’s a big one to consider to begin with and will filter out a lot of breeds. It’s also worth considering our own fitness when weighing this one up, too – all the training in the world won’t guarantee our dogs never run into a situation that is overwhelming for them, and even medium-sized breeds will be getting stronger more quickly than they can develop their impulse control! If you’re not confident you could hang onto a full-grown version of your little puppy, it might not be the breed for you!
How much grooming do you want to be doing? Proper, daily coat maintenance is absolutely essential for some breeds. This isn’t an exercise in vanity – not grooming your cockapoo every day could result in painful mats that can make it uncomfortable for them to move properly and can even pull on their skin and cause injuries. They also need you to get them used to handling and grooming so they are able to feel confident and relaxed at the groomers. There are lots of coat types out there which don’t require nearly as much time or effort to keep our dogs looking smart, clean and comfortable.
Read the breed Wikipedia, Kennel Club website page and Breed Association/Society website to learn what the breed’s general exercise needs are. Some dogs, for example many sighthounds, are relative couch potatoes and will be satisfied with a reasonably short sprint and a mooch on lead before happily curling up under a blanket for the afternoon. Other dogs will need to go on a hike to feel happy. Think about what the breed was bred for originally and how physically demanding this job would have been – herding dogs, for example, were bred to have incredibly stamina and be on the go, outside, all day. Many gundog breeds will also have the drive to stay busy for a big chunk of the day. Energy levels will also be affected by a dog’s age – while bringing a puppy into our lives is very appealing in theory, a puppy isn’t right for everyone. Puppies are a LOT of work, and young dogs of ANY breed will need more exercise than their older, calmer and perhaps slightly slower counterparts! If you want a companion with less demanding exercise requirements, considering adopting an older dog can be incredibly rewarded for everyone involved.
The websites mentioned above should also give you an idea of the breed’s temperament. Are they sociable, confident dogs or are they more inclined the be wary of strangers? Are they vocal? Independent? Do they tend to be laidback or are they prone to anxiousness? It’s important we choose a dog with a temperament that suits us, our lifestyle and our aspirations for them. For example, German Shepherds are a popular pet but they are also a guarding breed – they probably won’t enjoy spending their days at doggy day care and they may find a busy park or beach stressful. On the other hand, many Labradors love everyone and are very sociable dogs. Of course, every dog is an individual and there are always exceptions to the rule – we can never guarantee that a dog will grow up to love or hate one thing or another; but it’s still worthwhile being realistic, as it’s unfair to bring a dog into our lives and insist they behave in a way they are genetically predisposed against.
Along the same lines as “temperament,” looking at breed traits is where we start to get a little more specific. This is directly related to what our dogs were bred to do – retrievers were bred to carry game gently and are generally very “soft-mouthed” dogs who like to bring a toy or a pillow to greet their humans. Spaniels were bred to flush game, so there’s a good chance they will be VERY tempted to chase wildlife if given the opportunity. Terriers were bred to kill small furry things – so they’re probably not going to view the family bunny rabbit as a friend and they’re going to need an appropriate outlet for their strong desire to bite things if we want to save our clothes, shoes, arms, etc.! Hounds and huskies are bred to work out in front of their humans, fairly independently – they can absolutely learn to recall reliably, but it will probably take a LOT more time and effort to teach and maintain this than it would with a spaniel or many other gundog breeds, who were bred to work closely with their handler. Certain breeds, such as collies, are very intelligent and biddable; this trainability may make them seem like an “easier” choice, but a dog who is good at learning can quickly learn both good lessons and bad ones, so it’s important we start them off on the right foot to avoid them learning bad habits that they will not soon forget.
Apart from simple convenience for us, it’s vital for our dogs’ welfare that we are aware of their breed traits. Many of these are deeply ingrained in our dogs, and not giving them an appropriate outlet for these behaviours will create a stressed out, unhappy dog who can become destructive and develop serious behavioural issues, anxieties etc.
As we touched on earlier, adopting an older dog is often the best choice for many dog owners. Puppies need at least a year or more of structured training and socialisation to teach them how to behave appropriately and to support them through adolescence. Puppies can be impulsive, bouncy, energetic and strong. They will be hormonal until 18+ months. You will need to instil good training from puppyhood, and then revisit many of those skills as their brains rewire themselves during adolescence. You probably won’t see the mature dog you’re going to end up with until they are at least two, if not three years of age. Puppies need to be taught not to jump up, not to bite, etc. We also never know who our puppy will turn into – genetics and training go a LONG way in helping us to have a good guess at this, but we can’t control every experience our dog has no matter how hard we try and every dog is an individual. Adopting an older dog can bypass these exhausting life stages – and a good rescue organisation will have assessed your dog, given them a clean bill of health and will be able to tell you whether they are good around other dogs, cats and even children.
Cost and Time
Aside from chosing the right breed for you. Cost and time is a massive consideration when getting a dog as its not just the everday costs to feed them, be prepared to invest in veterinary care, long term training, grooming and even complimentary therapies.
Also have you got the time for a dog. Dogs love their humans being around, so the ability to give them companionship is key.