I want a dog! Now what?
Each year, millions of pets wind up in shelters across the USA. I strongly believe this could be avoided if owners spent more time researching the pet that would be the best fit for their home, lifestyle, and goals as well dedicating more time to training after they bring their pet home.
How do we make sure that your new dog is a good fit? I'll be honest with you, a simple "Find the Best Breed for You" quiz will often steer you wrong. You'll need to invest time, thought, and careful consideration into this process!
First, you’ll need to take a close look at your lifestyle so you can choose a dog that will enjoy living with you and complement the needs of you and your family.
Human Family: While we may call our pets our “fur kids”, our human family’s safety and comfort absolutely must come first. If you have children at home, you’ll need to look for a kid-friendly dog. More importantly, you’ll need to start teaching your children the proper way to behave around dogs now. You’ll also need to understand that you are still ultimately responsible for the dog’s care and training, whether the dog is for the kids or not. Do your elderly parents live with you? A big, high energy dog may bruise them or otherwise injure them without extensive training. No kids or other adults at home? You may still need to take your family (or friends) into consideration! If you spend a lot of time with your extended family, you may still need a dog that can do well with your nieces and nephews or be gentle with your elderly parents.
Fur Family: If you already own a dog, cat, or other pet, you’ll need to put your current pet’s needs first. If you have an elderly pet, they will likely need a lower energy dog or they honestly may do best without another pet at home at all. Cats that haven’t been around dogs before will likely do best with a dog with a low prey drive. If you have a playful dog at home, you’ll want to make sure your new dog complements their play style well. [Worried about introducing your new pet to your current one? Follow this Guide to Introducing Pets to help things go smoothly.]
Work & Travel: Do you work long hours or travel often for business or pleasure? If you spend long hours away from home each day, you may need to think about choosing an older dog or finding someone that can let your puppy out while you away. If you travel option, would you be able to bring your new dog with you or will you need to make arrangements for someone to care for your pet while you are away? If you plan to bring home a dog that needs lots of exercise and training, you'll need to be able to set aside enough time to dedicate to that!
Activity Level: Speaking of exercise, how much exercise do you get in on a daily basis? Would you prefer a slow, leisurely walk each day or do you already run/jog regularly? Different dogs need different amounts of exercise! You'll want a dog that matches your activity level. As much as we might want to think that getting a dog will encourage us to be healthier and exercise more, it's generally best to pick a dog that fits the lifestyle you already have.
Space: Do you have a big house with giant fenced in yard or a tiny studio in the city? The space you have at home affects what dog you should bring home in two different ways. Consider how your future dog's size and energy level will fit into your space. First, you simply need enough room for your dog! If you live in a tiny house with narrow spaces, a big dog like a Great Dane simply may not fit as they won't have room to turn around. Second, how much room will your new dog need for exercise? Jack Russells are tiny dogs, but packed full of energy! If you bring a high energy dog to a small home, you'll need to dedicate time for extra walks and/or heading to space where they can get in more exercise.
Help: It takes a village to raise a child, and you'll also need extra help with your fur child! When you do travel without your dog, you'll need nearby family, a pet sitter, or a boarding kennel to help care for your dog. If you get held up at work, you may need a friend or dog walker to give your dog a potty break before you are home. Don't expect your family and friends to care for your pet without making sure they are on board first! Additionally, you will likely need a professional trainer to help you and your new dog lead a long, happy life together. Finding a trainer before you bring your new dog home will help set your dog up for lifelong success and help you avoid waiting until behavioral issues have become entrenched.
Cost: You'll also need to consider if you can afford a dog. This doesn't simply mean the cost of purchasing or adopting a puppy, but also the cost of food, veterinary services, care while you are away, etc. Estimates vary greatly, but your dog will likely cost you at least $1000 a year (1, 2, 3). Adopting a puppy from a reputable shelter often costs $500 or more while you'll be paying closer to $2000 to get a puppy from a reputable breeder. Make sure when you are checking your budget that you are considering both the up front costs and lifetime costs of caring for your dog!
Next, you'll want to think about what you prefer in a dog. Obviously, if you are bringing a dog home you'll want to bring home a dog that you actually like and meets your expectations.
Job: What job do you want your dog to have? If you want your dog to hunt or herd farm animals, you'll need to make sure that your dog has those skills and they will likely need to be genetic on some level! Are you looking for a service dog or ESA to mitigate your disability? You'll need a bright, even-tempered pup! [Not sure of the difference between service dogs, ESAs, and therapy dogs? Make sure you figure that out before choosing a dog. Read about those differences in my Common Working Animals blog post.] You'll also need to prepare for the chance that even a dog chosen specifically for service work may wind up not being fit for that work and washing out. In fact, even large programs that selectively breed and train for service dogs often have a 70% washout rate. Therapy dogs will need to be friendly and social, but you'll also need to be able to train them to be calm when greeting a stranger. [Check out the Living Creatures Ministry Temperament test to get an idea of what to look for when choosing a dog for therapy work.] If your dog will compete in dog sports, you'll want to make sure you bring home a healthy, structurally sound pet than can handle that level of activity. Do you simply want your dog to be a well-mannered pet? That's a job too! If you don't intend do a lot of activities with your dog, you'll want to bring home a dog with lower drives.
Physical Maintenance: Coat maintenance is imperative. Poodles, doodles, and other dogs with a single coat may seem like a great choice for someone with allergies (Remember: Hypoallergenic doesn't necessarily mean someone with allergies won't react to a dog! It just means they'll be less likely to react.) or someone that doesn't want to spend a lifetime vacuuming up pet hair, but their coats are very high maintenance and will require daily brushing as well as professional grooming. Neglecting your dog's coat can result in painful matting and other skin issues. Dogs with a thick double coat will likely blow their coat in spring and fall, but they will also shed throughout the year. Regular brushing and a good bath with a forced air dry will be the easiest way to maintain their coat and keep them comfortable. A short-haired dog may not require the intense coat maintenance of long-haired or thick double-coated dogs, but you'll certainly need to spend time vacuuming and cleaning up all that hair that your dog sheds! Weekly brushing may be all they require.
Size: Do you mind if your dog is big enough to accidentally knock you over or shift the furniture when playing? Have you always dreamed of owning a small lap dog that you can easily carry around? Is your significant other afraid of large dogs? When it comes to dogs, size does matter! Remember, if you are choosing a rescue puppy you likely won't know what size that puppy will be as an adult so you will need to be prepared for a variety of sizes. If you simply can't decide what size dog would be best for you, perhaps choosing a medium dog will be best!
Finally, let’s talk about breed! Did you notice that this section is way down here at the end? That’s on purpose! One of the most common mistakes made when looking for a dog is settling on a breed first before considering everything that we just talked about. Each and every breed of dog is adorable and wonderful in its own way, but not every breed will be a good fit for you. If you have a particular breed in mind, go through the lists above to see if that breed will actually fit into your life. If the breed you had your heart set on doesn't check off most of the items above, don't force it! Keep researching and you will likely find a similar dog that will actually be the dog of your dreams!
Feeling a little overwhelmed? Still not sure what dog will be best for you? No worries! King's Creatures can help you find the best dog for you. Purchase a Perfect Puppy Placement Package and I will help you find the perfect dog for you AND start you off with the training you need to lead happy lives together!
Do you have a better idea of what dog you want? Now it's time to start looking! Tune in for the next post in this series to learn how to choose a quality shelter/rescue or a reputable breeder.
(1) The True Costs of Owning a Pet, Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/2011/05/24/true-costs-owning-pet.html#78dc7e0d48d9 (2) The Annual Cost of Pet Ownership: Can You Afford a Furry Friend, Money Under 30: https://www.moneyunder30.com/the-true-cost-of-pet-ownership
(3) We Did the Math: Here's How Much Your Dog Costs You Over its Lifetime, Money: https://money.com/we-did-the-math-heres-how-much-your-dog-costs-you-over-its-lifetime/