Written by Lisa Smithers, Affordable Dog Training
Frequently I encounter owners with dogs that are inappropriate for them and/or their situation. It is great for my dog training business, but I would rather owners avoid making an uninformed decision to prevent the dog from ending up at a shelter or stuck in the backyard and ignored. There are a variety of details to think about when choosing the right dog for you and your family.
Your first consideration is your own situation and these are the questions you should ask yourself. Do you live in an apartment, townhouse or a standalone house? If it is an apartment, is it several floors up or on the ground floor? Do you have plenty of green space to walk the dog or are you in a city? What regulations does your apartment or townhouse complex have regarding dogs i.e. size, breed and/or number of dogs. Many apartment complexes now ban Pit Bulls. How thin are your walls? Can you hear your neighbor’s music? How long will the dog be alone in the apartment every day? Some breeds tend to bark a lot more such as a Pomeranian or Dachshund.
If it is a house, do you own or rent? If you rent, does the landlord allow dogs? Do you have a secure fenced in yard or will you have to walk the dog on a leash to “do his business” several times a day in rain or shine? I know from personal experience that Border Terriers are driven to get out of even the most secure fence. Some dogs will even climb fences. What rules does your homeowners insurance have regarding dogs and how could that affect your premium?
Another important factor is your family situation. Do you have children and if so how young are they? Or do your grandchildren visit frequently? Toddlers will often get knocked down by bigger dogs and puppies can be nippy with them. If that is the case it would be best to wait a few years before adding a dog to your family. Many dogs are given up due to surprise allergies in the family. It can be a good idea to offer to take care of a friend’s dog for two days or more to see if someone develops symptoms.
Here in the Lowcountry, climate is an important factor to choosing the right breed. For example, dogs with pushed in faces are called Brachiocephalic. Due to the face shape, they have a much more difficult time dissipating heat and struggle to breathe in high temperatures and humidity. Dogs such as Pugs, French Bulldogs and English Bulldogs fall into this category. I have a friend who uses a stroller for her Pug during the hot summer months.
How much time can you spend with your dog? High energy dogs that don’t get enough exercise can be destructive and can develop a habit of incessant barking out of frustration. I don’t believe it is fair to the dog to stay in a crate for ten hours, which also brings us to think about the cost of owning a dog. The Charleston area has many excellent dog walking companies that can come to your house in the middle of the day to take your dog for a walk. There is also the annual/semi- annual cost of veterinary care, monthly flea and heartworm control and the possibility of emergency visits if all the veterinarians’ offices are closed. And how much will a high quality dog food cost to keep your dog healthy and at a good weight? Last but not least is getting help training your dog. Look for a trainer who has had many years of experience training all types of dogs. Ask your friends who have dogs or have attended a class for recommendations as well as asking your local independent pet supply store. Often attending an AKC Canine Good Citizen class and earning the certificate will give you a discount on your insurance.
Now let’s take a look at you, the potential owner. Just because you grew up with Great Danes doesn’t mean it is the best choice now. Consider your age and how old you will be in ten to twelve years. Are you healthy enough to give the dog a daily walk or do you have such bad knees that you worry about the dog pulling you over? How active are you? Would you rather go for a walk on the beach or sit on your couch and watch TV? Some dogs are really couch potatoes such as the English Bulldog, Lhasa Apso or Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. Are you a neat freak or can you tolerate some dog hair? Is your life really chaotic so the dog will likely be ignored and becomes just another job to do? It is never a good idea to get a dog just to teach your kid’s responsibility. Ultimately the adult has to supervise and pick up the slack so the dog is consistently treated well.
Finally we have to consider the dog and the many variables that come with that decision. Should you get a puppy or an adult dog? An adult dog could make a great companion and you avoid the house training and destructive chewing. Many lovely dogs can be found at shelters and rescue groups. If that is where you choose to get your dog, ask why the dog was given up and how many homes has the dog had? Is he good with children, other pets and friendly to people? Are there any health problems? Senior dogs are the newest residents to be dropped off at shelters. They can be a perfect fit for the less active person.
If you get a puppy, you will have more control over his learning experiences and socialization. It is more work to house train a puppy and overall will require more attention. There are many nice mixed breeds in the shelters and rescue groups as well as the occasional purebred. If you do choose a purebred, do your homework and visit AKC.org. This site has a wealth of information on all the breeds and has lists of Breeders of Merit. There are also many breed specific rescues which you can find by Google and petfinder.com. Many breeders are happy to help you learn about their breed as well as local owners.
What size dog do you think is right for you that you can easily handle and transport in your car? It is probably not a good idea to get a Saint Bernard if your only car is a Mazda Miata! What is the energy level of the dog? This is where I see people make the most mistakes. A hunting dog is bred to have enough energy all day in the field and may require at least one to two hours of exercise every single day. A dog such as a Vizla or Brittany Spaniel is not for the less active person.
How much grooming do you want to do or do you want to pay a groomer to do that for you? And along those same lines how much do you like to vacuum? There are dogs that shed continually, some that shed very little, and non-shedding dogs. And yes they don’t have to be a doodle! Some examples of non shedding breeds would be a Schnauzer, Coton de Tulear, Airedale, Havanese, Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier and many more. Breeds that will wear out your vacuum cleaner would be the German Sheppard, Labrador Retriever and the Golden Retriever.
Temperament is critical for the right fit. Is the dog or breed protective or easy going and friendly? Is the dog intense and always needs a job such as a Border Collie or a Belgian Malinois? By the way, those two breeds are not for the first time dog owner. Is the dog playful or independent? A Shiba Inu is much more like a cat than a dog.
Your choice of gender depends on whether you are a first time owner or have owned dogs before. Males tend to have more behavior problems such as being protective and marking (urinating) where they shouldn’t, like on your couch. A first time owner should consider a female.
Be sure to be aware of certain breeds that have tendencies towards health problems. For example, hip dysplasia in German Shepards and larger dogs in general, back problems in Dachshunds or the cancer rate in Golden Retrievers. Any dog can have health problems regardless of breeding but most live long and healthy lives.
There are many details to take into account when choosing a dog for yourself and your family. Make a list of exactly what you want in a dog and how that would fit in with your lifestyle. Don’t choose a dog just because you like the way it looks. I hope this article will encourage you to do your homework and ask yourself questions. The friendship and joy you receive from your dog totally outweighs any amount of work and effort it takes to care for your dog’s needs. There is nothing better than coming home to a wagging tail and an exuberant greeting.