Picking the right dog for you

What’s your lifestyle?

If you live alone in a small, third-floor apartment, for instance, adopting a large, active retriever-mix might not be the best choice … but then, if you’re a runner and want a partner for your jogs, or you have a large family of kids who will play with the dog all the time, it could be fine! A dog’s size, exercise requirements, friendliness, assertiveness and compatibility with children should all figure into your decision. Remember, you’re not just getting a dog; your new dog is getting a family!

Purebred or mixed breed?

How do you find out which dogs have the qualities you’re looking for? Information is the key: learn about the personalities of various breeds, visit with animals at a breeder, the shelter or a rescue group and speak with the breeder, an adoption counselor or volunteer for guidance.

Dogs fall into one of two categories: purebreds or mixed breeds. Most animal shelters and rescues have plenty of both. The only significant difference between the two is that purebreds, because their parents and other ancestors are all members of the same breed, are similar to a specific “breed standard.” This doesn’t always tell you much about a dog’s good health or how they behave, but it will help give you an idea of how big they are likely to get and whether their ears will be droopy or sharp and perky (and other such physical traits). With mixes, you’ll get a unique blending of traits.

Of course, the size, appearance and temperament of most mixed breed dogs can be predicted as well. After all, mixed breeds are simply combinations of different breeds. So if you know the ancestry of a particular mixed-breed puppy or can identify what type of dog he is (e.g., terrier mix), you have a good chance of knowing how he’ll turn out, too. Mixed breeds are also more likely to be free of genetic defects common to certain purebred dogs because of overbreeding. This is an advantage in mixed breeds known as hybrid vigor.

If you have your heart set on a purebred dog, talk with owners of the breed and people familiar with the breed. They have a wealth of information that can help you decide if the breed would be a good fit for you and your family. The AKC is another great resource for information about a variety of registered breeds. In most instances, you will be getting a puppy so make sure that you know what you are getting into and the needs of your dog as they grow from a puppy to adulthood.

Now if you don’t want a puppy or if adopting a pet in need appeals to you, you may want to consider local shelters and rescue organizations.

Visit with shelter and/or rescue animals

While you’re at the shelter, keep in mind that the animals there will be stressed out; quite often, a dog’s true colors won’t show until he’s away from other animals and the shelter environment. So even if you walk past a kennel with a dog who isn’t vying for your attention, don’t count him out. He may just be a little scared or lonely.

Most adoption counselors can help you select canines who will match your lifestyle. When you spend time with each animal, consider the following questions:

How old is the dog? You may be thinking about getting a puppy, but young dogs usually require much more training and supervision. If you lack the time or patience to housetrain your pup or to correct problems like chewing and jumping, an adult dog may be a better choice.

How shy or assertive is the dog? Although an active, bouncy dog might catch your eye, a quieter pooch might be a better match if you just want a TV and hanging-out buddy.

Is the animal good with kids? Ask questions of the adoptions counselors, but remember, not all dogs will have a known history. In general, a friendly dog who likes to be touched and is not sensitive to handling and noise is a dog who will probably thrive in a house full of kids. If you get a puppy for your kids, remember that baby animals can be fragile and that, regardless of the dog’s age or breed, you’ll want to supervise his interactions with kids.

Choose a pal for life

Shelter and rescue animals deserve lifelong homes. If you’re looking for your perfect pal, check out local shelter and rescue groups websites, which can help you with your search. After all, you’re choosing a pal likely to be with you 10 to 15 years—or even longer. There’s a dog out there who will love being part of your family!