Choosing the right dog:

The first step in choosing a dog is to take a serious inventory of one’s own lifestyle. Are you gone most of the day? Are you physically fit and active, or not so much. Are you a clean freak? Are you an experienced dog owner or is this your first dog? Do you have children or other pets? All these questions and so many more should be considered before even looking at dogs or puppies. In my opinion, the most important question one should ask before getting a dog is what will the purpose of the dog be. Is it protection? Is it companionship? Answers to this question can vary wildly, but whatever the reason, selecting the right dog for it’s purpose is critical to a successful and beneficial relationship between family and dog.

Once a serious lifestyle inventory has been made, potential dog owners should visit the American Kennel Club website. The AKC website has a wealth of information on most breeds. Written by experts on each breed; the information found on the AKC website should be taken seriously. In my experience, the breed information has been highly accurate. It is certainly possible that certain traits can be lessened or intensified through breeding but, the basic traits of each breed remain consistent. For instance, a dog of the hound group will typically want to follow it’s nose. A dog that always has it’s nose to the ground can be difficult to walk. This is especially true for larger hounds like the Bloodhound that can weigh as much as some adults.

While I am certainly not advocating someone necessarily get a purebred dog, but even those looking at adopting a mixed dog or puppy can find breed traits for the dog that they are considering. As an owner of 2 rescued dogs, I am a firm believer in adopting for most owners. The only time that I don’t recommend rescuing a dog is when a dog is needed for a specific job and even then; often a rescued dog can do the job.

As a professional dog trainer, I am often tasked with helping owners who for whatever reason; have a breed of dog that is not conducive to their way of life.  For instance, I’ve had  a client with Australian Shepherds but was gone most of the time and spend very little time outdoors. This is obviously not a good fit, as the Australian Shepherd is very high energy and bred to herd livestock in the Midwest. As in many cases, the owner didn’t do the research on the breed and found out quickly that a dog’s natural instincts can become problematic without proper outlets. The dog in this scenario became aggressive and destroyed the owner’s home. I educated the owner on the dog’s drives and created an obedience training program and eventually helped the client train for agility competitions. The owner though, will always have to manage her dog’s drives and herding instincts. Especially around children and other dogs.

While training can do a lot to improve the situation, it is not a silver bullet. Each breed has it’s own characteristics, genetic predispositions and innate drives. As a trainer, I cannot change these traits, no trainer can. What I can do is, harness these attributes to create a training program that better stimulates the dog hence, building stronger obedience. That being said though, owners should take every step possible to make sure the breed of dog they choose is the right fit for their home. It is much easier to choose a dog that realistically fits into an owners lifestyle than to address breed characteristics through training.

Once a breed has been selected, the age of dog needs to be considered. While all puppies are cute, they require more time, dedication and socialization. Older dogs often have less time requirements. Puppies need to be housebroken while many older dogs may already be housebroken and have hopefully been socialized. Keep in mind, that a puppy can only hold urine for an hour for every month they are old. as a result, a 4 month old puppy must be let out at least every 4 hours. For more information on housetraining see my article here . With puppies there is also a higher likelihood of accidents. So, if an owner isn’t willing to clean often, a puppy may not be a good choice. Also puppies haven’t necessarily adopted their personalities yet, so it may be more difficult to know what type of personality the dog will develop. Often with older dogs, what you see it what you get. There are many great resources for every breed. A quick internet search will most likely result in a rescue nearby. The Humane Society is an excellent resource for anyone searching for a mixed breed dog. The Humane Society cares for many dogs in need of a forever home. Like the AKC, the humane society offers a tremendous amount of excellent information about animal care and in many cities offers training resources.

An owner’s experience level with dog ownership is also very important. There are some breeds that require an experienced owner. Many of the dogs in the working and herding groups in particular need an experienced handler. Many dogs in these groups have been made popular by the media. Dogs like the Belgian Malinois, Border Colie, Mastiffs, Akita, German Shepherd and Siberian Husky all do best with an experienced owner. There are many other breeds that require experience from an owner. Owners should be honest with themselves, if they don’t have experience with dogs, then they should avoid dogs that require experience.

When searching for a dog, grooming should be taken into account. While all dogs shed and need to be brushed, some dogs require extensive grooming daily. Take for instance, the Afghan Hound. The Afghan is a sight hound with Fabio like locks. Long haired is an understatement when describing this dog. Requiring extensive grooming daily of up to an hour in between regular visits to the groomer, the Afghan definitely requires a lot of attention on top of training and socialization. Also one must remember, that short haired dogs can shed exorbitant amounts too  and also require some grooming.

I think size and appearance should be the last thing to consider when selecting a dog. Many people feel that a big dog needs more space. This isn’t necessarily true. The Great Dane is a giant breed, but isn’t super active and would do well in an apartment with regular walks. Whereas a dog like a Jack Russell Terrier requires a tremendous amount of exercise.

To recap, future dog owners should select the breed of dog carefully by researching the breed and insuring the breed characteristics fit in with the nature of the household. The breed traits will not change regardless of training or how much the dog is loved. A Labrador will never be a bulldog, and bulldog will never be a lab. Remember the exercise and grooming requirements of any breed. Think of the age of a dog, puppies take up more time. Above all, go get a dog and love it.

Good Luck,

John Holland