Why does a website on dog training have a section on choosing a dog? Because your choice of dog will affect your dog training processes for years to come, not to mention your general happiness. (And the dog’s!) It’s well worth your time and effort to think carefully before choosing a dog.
In picking out dogs,I don’t think that there are simple “right answers” that apply to everyone. For example, choosing a large dog may work out well for one person but someone else shouldn’t even consider it. It’s a matter of knowing yourself and finding a good balance between your heart and your mind.
Why do you want a dog?
For affection, protection, to enjoy outdoor activities with, for your children?
Are you interested in breeding dogs, showing dogs of a particular breed, competing in obedience, or competing in agility?
Did you have a dog who died a while ago, and you’re looking around for another?
Whatever your reasons, think about them for a while. In those reasons will likely lie some clues to your ideal dog.
If you’ve never had a dog before, I’d suggest choosing a breed or mixture of breeds that are known to be relatively easy to train.
What kind of dog do you want?
Lots of questions here…
Do you have a particular breed in mind, or if not a breed, do you have a general idea of what size dog you want? (Hint: larger is not always more active or demanding than smaller!)
Do you care if you get a purebred dog or a mixed-breed?
Do you prefer a particular gender? If you already have one dog, the rule of thumb is that it will get along better with a dog of the opposite gender.
Do you prefer a puppy just leaving its mother at the optimum time (8 weeks), or might you prefer a young adult or a mature dog?
Do you or anyone in your family have allergies? If so, the internet may help you find the breeds likely to cause the fewest problems.
Is this a good time in your life to get a dog?
Choosing a dog should be a two-way street. What do you have to offer a dog?
Can you look ahead some 10 years and think that you will likely be able to take a dog with your through whatever changes might happen?
Nobody knows the future, of course, but take a good look at your present situation and future dreams. If you are dreaming of traveling around the world or about to start a grueling program such as medical school, better postpone your dog ideas — unless there are compelling reasons.
If you are elderly or otherwise in poor health and believe that a dog might outlive you, I personally think it can still work out fine with a dog IF you do some planning ahead for the dog’s welfare. I hope to have a dog or two until I take my last breath!
Do you own a home or do you rent? It’s quite a challenge in many areas to find rentals that will take dogs, especially larger ones.
I know that many people get dogs impulsively, saying that “it will work out,” but if it doesn’t later work out, the dog suffers. I don’t think you need 100% certainty, because life doesn’t offer that! But some reasoned reflection beforehand is valuable.
Can you afford a dog?
Dogs do cost money… first, you are likely to pay something and maybe quite a lot for the dog. Then there are veterinary visits, dog supplies, costs of dog training, dog food, and so on. Add pet sitters or kennel bills if you will vacation or travel without the dog, though sometimes you can swap pet care with friends or neighbors.
Don’t think you are necessarily saving money in the long run if you get a free or cheap dog. It could cost more in veterinary bills down the road than a carefully bred dog who came from a healthy mother and had a good start in life.
Large dogs do eat more than small ones, though activity levels also are a factor.
When you think about affording a dog, it isn’t just whether you can afford these things… it’s also whether you want a dog enough to know that’s where a noticeable chunk of your money will be going, rather than being available for other things.
Where might you get a dog?
Choosing a dog may lead you in many directions…
You may want a particular breed, and in that case you will most likely be talking with breeders or perhaps exploring rescue dogs of that breed… some breeds have many available, some breeds don’t. (Do a Google search on the word rescue and the name of the breed.)
You may go to a dog shelter, seeing what’s there.
You may know someone whose unspayed bitch had a littler, a stray may find you, a friend may need to give up a dog, you may see an ad in the paper, etc.
A great website for rescue dogs is Petfinder.com — we got our Sheltie-Papillion cross there, from a Collie and Sheltie rescue group. Highly recommended as a good starting point for rescue dogs.
Each of these paths has its own particular pluses and minuses. But if you wander by a pet store that sells dogs, I strongly suggest that you not be tempted. The conditions under which those puppies were born and raised are very frequently bad. You have too high a chance of getting a malnourished animal who missed out on the essential bonding with humans in early weeks and will not be able to give you the love that a properly raised puppy can.
How we chose our dogs — and how it worked out
Kelly and I have had eight dogs together. Soon after we were married, Martha came into our lives because her owners, friends of ours, had gotten divorced. She was an eight-year-old German Shepherd-Malamute cross, very loving and not very trained. We enjoyed her tremendous love till she died at 15, but we didn’t train her.
After a few years with Martha, we started a llama ranch. It seemed like the perfect time for a puppy. We did a lot of homework, went to dog shows, talked to breeders, and ended up selecting Cider, an 8-week-old Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy. We paid full price for her from the breeder. We had this dog for all of her 12 years, on the ranch and through two moves after it. I’ve got to say that Cider was the one of the best dogs we had.
When Cider was three, Martha died, and a little later I saw a sign at the local feed store announcing Australian Shepherd puppies for sale. After reading a little about the breed, I went out to see the puppies at a nearby ranch… and came home with an adorable bundle of fur that we named Teddy Bear. He had been placed in another home and it hadn’t worked out. Teddy’s breeder could tell from talking to me that we would provide a good home for him, and she wanted him to go to us and offered him to me for free. He was full of wild energy till he was about three, then became a steady, gentle soul who lived with us till his death at 13. He was probably Kelly’s least favorite dog as he was our only one-person dog, and I was that person. Teddy had an underlying sadness in his personality that I was never able to really change.
While we had the ranch, I heard from other llama breeders about the Komondor, a large livestock-guarding breed. I did a lot of reading and we ended up with three-year-old Dorrie, from a nearby Komondor breeder, paying several hundred dollars. Dorrie guarded the llamas and lived with them, and when we later sold our llamas and the ranch, we found her a good home as an only dog at a nearby goat farm. She became more of an indoor dog there, and was really happier than she had been with us. We learned from having Dorrie that for us, two dogs is better than three. In retrospect, it was a bit of a mistake to get her. She terrorized Teddy and argued with Cider over dominance.
Sunbeam, our Basenji, came along about half a year after Cider died. I had been researching all sorts of breeds at the time, but nothing struck Kelly just right till there was an ad in the paper for some Basenji pups. We were having dinner out when we saw the ad, and I went next door to a used book shop, where the only book on dogs was a Basenji breed book! We read it and talked with the breeder, and we were curious enough to go some distance to see them. We went home with Sunbeam, in exchange for an old laptop computer. She was more a delight as an adult than when she was a wild little puppy. Basenjis are NOT for everyone! Sunbeam died of cancer at 10, quite abruptly while we were in Mexico and someone else was caring for her back in Colorado. That left us with just LarryDog, and we stayed at one dog for a couple of years.
LarryDog was a mixture of Chow, Australian Cattle Dog, and probably a touch of German Shepherd. We got him some months after Teddy Bear died. He came from a family that needed to give him away, and he was free. He was about two years old then, and neither Kelly nor I wanted to deal with puppyhood at that particular time in our lives. Larry was a very interesting character. If I had read up more on Chows and Australian Cattle Dogs, we might not have gotten him, so I am glad I didn’t. He was the logo dog for this site. he lived to the ripe old age of 16 and a half.
We added Lola after I made the logo for this site. She’s a Rottweiler rescue, and a wonderful dog, lazy when I am at the computer, lively when it’s playtime! I had absolutely no idea what good dogs Rotties could be till we got her.
Our most recent dog is Nicky, a Sheltie-Papillion cross we got from a rescue group. He is a love, with some challenges. A puppy mill-pet store start in life was hard on him. Here he is: