Choosing a New Puppy

So, your mom (spouse) finally allowed you to get a dog! It's so exciting! How will you choose just one when they’re all so cute?

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The first consideration in choosing a puppy is to take a look at your own lifestyle.

Consider your lifestyle

The first consideration in choosing a puppy is to take a look at your own lifestyle. If you choose a dog known for characteristics in direct opposition to yours, you will both be miserable. No matter how cute the dog is as a puppy, if your lifestyles don’t mesh well, you will both come to resent each other.

Do you plan to take your dog with you everywhere you go? You might want a smaller dog, or at least one who isn’t aggressive.

Are you a neat freak who won’t put up with shedding? You’ll want a dog like a Portuguese Water Dog or a Poodle, known for their low shedding.

Are you away from home for long periods during the day? You might want to consider an older dog who is already potty trained.

Are you a couch potato, a world-class athlete or somewhere in between? You’ll want a dog whose energy and exercise needs match your activity level.

Size matters

After you have sorted out the lifestyle considerations, you’ll want to look at the size of dog that most interests you. Obviously, this is important for apartment dwellers who may not be able to cope with a Great Dane in less than 400 square feet, but there are other things to think about as well.

Look at your budget. Large dogs are much more expensive to feed and care for than small dogs are. Vet bills can be higher for large dogs, and cleaning bills can be impacted just due to the sheer amount of fur that will come off a giant dog as opposed to what will be shed from a Chihuahua. And don’t even get me started on the size of the urine stains you might find on your living room carpet if you don’t get home in time to let the dog out.

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Large dogs are much more expensive to feed and care for than small dogs.

Think about your goals for having a dog. Do you want a little princess who will ride in your handbag and sit on your lap? Or are you interested in a medium-sized dog to take out jogging with you? Or maybe you want a large dog for protection. Try though he might, the typical Yorkie just doesn’t bark in a way that would scare off an intruder.

The old wives’ tale about looking at foot size really isn’t all that outlandish. It only takes about a year for a dog to grow into his feet, so if you are looking for a dog to play with your kids, for example, keep in mind that the dog will grow much more quickly than they will.

Activities

If your only planned activity with your dog is the occasional walk in the park, it really doesn’t matter what type of dog you get. However, if you want to use your dog for hunting, herding, guarding, or even in athletic competitions like lure coursing or dock diving, you will need to focus on dogs who were bred for a specific purpose.

For example, dogs in the herding group are excellent at keeping livestock in line, but they probably won’t have much interest in flushing out quail or chasing a fox down a hole in the ground. Hunting dogs may be excellent at finding game, but they might not be so competent at protecting hearth and home. Take the time to explore our breed guides to find out the original use of the breeds you are considering so that you don’t spend the dog’s whole life trying to force him or her to go against natural instincts.

In general, dogs can be classified into breed groups that give you some clue as to their historical origins. You can read about the various breed groups at these links:

  • Dogs for Kids - Kids will be kids, will the breed you choose be tollerant of that?

  • Hypoallergenic - While choosing a dog that doesn’t shed much can help with allergies, it will not totally eliminate the problem. See what else can help.

  • Guard Dogs - If you are looking for protection, you will want an intensely loyal, smart, and obedient breed. In addition, you must be absolutely sure your dog will obey every command from you.

  • Friendly Dogs - He is just as likely to follow strangers who happen past your yard as he was to follow you home in the beginning.

  • Apartment Dogs - Although many apartment managers restrict dogs based solely on size, there are many other considerations which are of at least equal importance.

  • Watch Dogs - The ideal watch dog is smart, loyal, and vocal. Because you are not relying on a watch dog to chase down or attack strangers, the size of the dog is irrelevant.

Pedigree or Mutt-i-gree

There are positive and negative cases to be made for both purebred dogs and those whose gene pool hasn’t been infected by an AKC specimen in many generations. For those who want to enter their dogs into conformance shows, purebreds are a must. If you are a breeder, obviously, you will choose only purebreds to use as breeding stock. However, for a family pet, there really isn’t a mandate to get a pedigreed dog. In fact, many purebreds still come from puppy mills, which means they can have a host of problems related to their prenatal care and early lives.

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There are positive and negative cases to be made for both purebred dogs and for mixed breeds.

Mixed breed dogs, on the other hand, may have developed diseases due to a hard life on the street before being rescued, and they may have some ingrained habits that will be hard for you to break. In addition, you don’t always know what you are getting when you get a mixed breed dog. For purebred dogs, you can be fairly certain that with proper socialization and training, a Golden Retriever will always act like a Golden, and a Pit Bull will always act like a Pit. In a mixed breed, you may get the best characteristics from each of the diluted breeds or the worst.

Whether you want a pedigree or a mixed breed, please don’t forget to check with your local shelters and rescue organizations before buying from a breeder. As many as 25% of shelter dogs are purebreds who, through no fault of their own, ended up in a facility rather than with a family.

Shelters in the United States are literally overrun with dogs who have been abandoned, neglected, and / or abused. In tough economic times, many people have to give up their dogs because they can no longer afford to care for them or because they have to move into an pet-free apartment when they lose their homes.

Search your local shelter for dogs available for adoption here.

Temperament Tests

Once you have narrowed down your choices to a few breeds or have decided to go with a mutt, you should plan on spending some time finding the best dog within the group you have selected. Just as you would normally test drive several models of cars even after you have settled on a manufacturer, you will need to check out several dogs before you choose such an important companion who will likely be by your side for the next 8 – 15 years.

When you go to check out a group of dogs, take a toy such as a tennis ball and a pocketful of really tiny treats. Take one dog for a short walk and see how he or she reacts. Does the dog focus on you (which is what you want) or on the hundred other things going on around you like butterflies, children, other dogs barking, lawn mowers, invisible air particles, etc. If the dog is unable to focus on you, chances are you will fight this tendency the whole time you have the dog. Test each of the dogs at that shelter or from that breeder to see which one quickly develops the strongest bond with you.

Set down a few treats in front of the puppy, then when he goes to snack on them, take some of them away. Does the dog accept this or are you now missing a finger? A dog who is overly protective of his or her food may be too aggressive in a household with children or other small animals. Try the experiment again with a toy. Play with the dog for awhile, then let him or her have the toy for a short time, then take it away. Still have your fingers? If so, you have found a dog who is not operating under the toddler’s rule of “It’s MINE!”

You shouldn’t expect to adopt a puppy from the first place you visit. Take the time to look over several puppies from several different sources, if possible, until you find one that you are totally enamored with. You owe it to both yourself and the dog to only get a puppy you are absolutely in love with.

If you are buying from a breeder with a waiting list, it may be worth it to wait for the next litter so you can have first choice, rather than taking whatever is left from the current litter. Although the last dog chosen may be perfect for you, it’s always nice to have a choice from all of the dogs from a desirable breeding pair.

Find local breeders near you fast and free here.

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