You dream of having a dog as loyal as Lassie or as smart as Rin Tin Tin. Maybe you picture going on runs together or snuggling on the couch each evening. But will your heart be broken if you bring the dog home and he doesn’t fulfill your expectations?
“There are lots of things to keep in mind when you’re deciding to add a dog to your home,” says Gina DiNardo, vice president of the American Kennel Club (AKC). Here are some tips on how to find the perfect canine best friend.
Look for an energy match
“Don’t go for the looks,” advises Amanda Laskoe, animal care supervisor at the Massachusetts Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Boston Animal Care & Adoption Center. “Choose a dog that matches your lifestyle,” or you might end up driving the dog and yourself crazy.
If you’re a runner: Very active and love the outdoors? A leaner, medium-sized dog may be for you, says Laskoe. If you’re a runner, DiNardo says Border collies, Labradors, hounds and terriers can generally go long distances. “But you can’t just expect to take the dog for a run only on weekends. Your dog will need it every day,” says Erin Stelmach, adoption counselor and special events coordinator at Buddy Dog Humane Society in Sudbury, Massachusetts. Small dogs probably won’t be able to keep up.
If you’re a walker or fan of agility training: If you love hiking and long walks, Laskoe suggests staying away from dogs with very short legs, like basset hounds, and short noses, like pugs. If you enjoy agility training, dancing and tricks, almost any dog will keep up and love it, says Stelmach. Border collies, Australian shepherds, terriers and poodles will perform very well.
If you’re a couch potato: If you’re rather lay low with Fido, consider a French bulldog or a pug, advises DiNardo. “These are great companion dogs, love to play but require less exercise.” An older animal, says Stelmach, would also probably fit right in. “Pit bulls and large dogs are great couch potatoes.” Stay away from puppies and terriers.
If you’re a social butterfly: If you enjoy traveling and visiting friends, “pick a dog who adjusted to the shelter very quickly,” suggests Laskoe. That’s indicative of an easy-going pooch.
Big or small? Young or old?
Generally, smaller and younger dogs have more energy, Laskoe says, while bigger and older dogs tend to be more laid back. Big dogs may not require much exercise and might be content in an apartment with a leisurely daily walk. But they are stronger. So think if you’ll be able to control the dog on walks, or help her if she ever needs to be carried, says Stelmach.
“Being too small may also be an issue,” she adds. “People with vision or balance issues may trip over the dog and get hurt.”
Consider the health of the dog you are planning on adopting, advises Jan Johnson, CPA, treasurer at Phinney’s Friends, a nonprofit that helps low-income people keep their pets. If the dog is older or has health problems, have a plan on how to pay for the extra health care and medications that will be necessary.
Shedding and grooming
A dog’s grooming needs can affect your daily routine considerably, cautions DiNardo. Double-coated breeds like Akitas and Saint Bernards need weekly brushing. Dogs with a long, heavy coat like Shetland sheepdogs need constant grooming to prevent mats and tangles. “Mats can be painful” and may cause serious health problems if not addressed, says Stelmach.
With lots of fur also comes lots of shedding. If allergies are an issue, says DiNardo, “consider a dog that has a predictable, non-shedding coat that produces less dander, like a Bedlington terrier or Bichon frise.”
Purebred versus mutt
If you want a specific breed, says Laskoe, learn as much as you can about its temperament and decide if you would be compatible. The AKC divides dog breeds into groups. For instance, dogs in the sporting group require regular, invigorating exercise. Herding dogs respond beautifully to training. And breeds in the toy group are portable and generally terrific lap warmers.
There are, however, dogs that are not true to the breed, says Stelmach. So, whether purebred or mutt, get to know well the dog you are considering before taking him home, she advises.
Breeder or shelter?
If you decide for a purebred puppy, make sure you’re supporting a responsible breeder. “Visit the place several times, check all areas, meet the parents and grandparents of the dog,” recommends Laskoe. Check if all dogs are social and treated humanely, if the kennels are clean and the premises aren’t overcrowded with dogs.
Laskoe strongly encourages people to consider the pound. She recommends visiting shelters and rescues and hanging out with several dogs. “Don’t spend time only with animals you think you want. Listen to adoption counselors and keep an open mind.”
It’s OK if you don’t find the dog the first time around, Laskoe says. “Don’t rush into anything. Take your time, visit again and go to other shelters until you find your dog.”