Choosing a dog breed is a decision you should take a great deal of care over. If you’re lucky, your dog will be with you for the next fifteen years or more. And your best chance of making those years as fulfilling as they should be is to choose the best dog breed for you.
Some factors you should consider when choosing a dog breed are:
- Your lifestyle.
- Your personality.
- Your energy levels.
- Your budget.
- Your time availability.
Choosing a dog breed
Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to help you in choosing a dog breed that best matches your situation:
What is your level of experience with dogs?
Some dog breeds are more domineering than others. These breeds need the firm hand of an experienced dog owner. If you’ve never owned a dog before then you’re better off avoiding these breeds. This may be true even if you’ve been a dog owner before. For example, if you don’t feel you’re up to taking on the pack leadership role with a domineering dog.
Do you prefer a large or a small dog?
Size does matter! Ask yourself whether you have the experience to handle a large and powerful breed. You’ll also need the strength to handle the larger breeds too. And remember that bigger dogs are more expensive to keep. They eat more, use more supplies like flea treatments and shampoos, and cost more in vet’s fees.
What is the size of your property?
A large property is not essential for owning a dog (even a large one). But you wouldn’t want to keep one of the giant breeds, or a hyper-active one like a Border Collie, in too small a space.
Whatever the size of your property it’s important that it’s secure. You should also take your dog outside for a good hour of two of exercise daily.
Will you keep your dog indoors or outdoors?
Other dogs, such as the independent Husky and Akita breeds, adapt well to living outside. Some dogs may even prefer it.
Are you able to match your dog’s level of energy?
It’s important that you share a similar energy level to your dog. Certain breeds are high energy and always up for a game or walk. This is true in particular of those in the herding and working groups and some gun dogs. Other breeds are real couch potatoes and neither need nor want a lot of exercise.
Think about where you fit in on that scale and try choosing a dog breed with energy levels to match your own.
How much exercise are you prepared to give your dog daily?
All dogs need exercise, although some breeds need much more than others. And you have to give your dog the exercise it needs. If you’re not prepared to do this then you should maybe consider whether dog ownership is for you after all.
At the least, your dog should be getting a walk every day. Half an hour should be okay for most toy breeds or for more laid back breeds like Bulldogs. But if you own a Lab, a German Shepherd or a Sheltie then you need at least an hour – longer if possible.
Besides walking, most dogs enjoy a game of fetch, tag or tug-a-war too. And some dogs can’t get enough of running and chasing.
An under-exercised dog will channel its energy in other, more destructive ways. This includes things like digging up your garden or chewing on your slippers/furniture. A bored dog will also do the same. So when choosing a dog breed, it’s important to consider how much time you’ll be able to give it.
What was the breed bred for?
Many breeds still have the strong drives and instincts they were first bred for.
So if you’re a keen gardener you’ll want to avoid getting a Dachshund, for example. This is because the Dachshund was bred for digging small prey out of burrows and so likes digging.
And if you’re a bit of a coach potato, but keen on a Dalmatian or Border Collie, you may want to think again. Do you have the energy to handle a dog bred for running alongside horses or for herding sheep 8 hours a day.
Do you want a dog that is easy to train?
If you don’t have a lot of the time to spend training your dog, you’re best choosing a dog breed that’s easy to train. This is also true if you’re impatient and get frustrated too. You can spare yourself a lot of hassle by choosing an easy to train breed.
All breeds are trainable but some learn faster than others. They pick up commands after less exposures, and respond more often on the first command. They also remember commands even if they aren’t practised often.
Many of these “easy-to-train” dogs are in the Herding and Gun dog groups. On the flip side, stubborn and independent Hounds can be a challenge.
Do you need a guard dog?
Like wolves, it’s in a dog’s nature to be territorial. They’ll raise the alarm when they feel threatened. There are two basic options:
- A watchdog, which “sounds the alarm”.
- A guard dog which is big and powerful enough to scare off intruders.
Small dogs tend to be more alert, so they make excellent watch dogs. But a guard dog must be able to follow up his threat with action if the need arises and so needs to be bigger.
Do you have children?
This is an important consideration when choosing a dog breed. Dog aggression towards children is almost always caused by the child. But it’s always the dog that gets the blame.
Most dogs get along well with children if they’re raised with them. But some breeds may show aggression around meal times. Or they may be aggressive towards children they don’t know.
These dominant breeds are not suitable for households with small children. And even placid dogs may snap if provoked enough. Some dogs will tolerate having their ears and tails pulled. Some will even put up with a child poking them in the eye. Others won’t though and they may bite back in self-defence.
You can avoid any potential problems by choosing a breed that gets on well with children. You should also teach your children from an early age to respect animals. At any rate, you should never leave small children unsupervised with any dog.
Dog breeds that are generally good with children include:
- The Boxer.
- The Golden Retriever.
- The Labrador Retriever.
- The Poodle.
- The Pug.
Do you already have dogs or other pets?
Some breeds are more tolerant of other animals than others. There are, though, other important factors to consider. For example, putting two un-neutered, dominant male dogs together is not a good idea. This is regardless of their breed.
Some dog breeds have a strong prey instinct. It’s not a good idea to bring one of these into a home where there are other small animals like cats or rabbits.
Having said that, many dogs love company and will be happy to co-exist with other animals.
Will you be leaving your dog home alone for long periods?
Many breeds suffer from separation anxiety if left alone for long periods. So if your career or lifestyle means you spend a lot of time away from home you need to take care over your choice of breed. You may even want to re-consider if dog ownership is suitable for you.
Can your dog tolerate heat or cold?
All animals are best suited to their native climate and dogs are no different. So a Chihuahua may suffer in a cold climate while a Samoyed will not do well in a climate that’s too warm.
Of course this is less of an issue if you’re going to be keeping your dog indoors.
Does the breed suffer from any specific health problems?
Selective breeding has resulted in a prevalence of inherited disorders in purebred dogs. Many breeds have common genetic disorders. The most common health issues are:
Any health issues can result in veterinary expenses running into thousands of dollars. So you must consider any breed-specific health problems when choosing a dog breed.
Have you considered the cost of dog ownership?
Purebred dogs, in particular pedigree dogs, are expensive. And that’s just the start. It’s not just the initial price of the dog but also feeding, grooming and health care. And keep in mind that large dogs are more expensive to keep than small dogs. And as mentioned above, some breeds are prone to health issues that are expensive to treat.
You can adopt them from a shelter at little or no cost and they’re less prone to genetic disorders. And you’re giving a home to a dog that’s in need. Not only that but you’re getting a unique dog, just as loving, loyal, and intelligent as any pure breed.
Can you handle a dog that sheds a lot?
All dogs shed but some shed more than others. Are you house-proud and don’t like even the smallest amount of dog hair on your carpets and furniture? If so, then maybe dog ownership isn’t for you. Get a goldfish or something instead!
If you go for a high shedding breed you’ll find hair everywhere. And you’ll spend a large amount of time vacuuming, even if you take all possible steps to minimize the shedding.
Some breeds will also need a lot more grooming than others too.
Do you suffer from any dog related allergies?
It’s not dog hair that causes allergies but dander. This is dead skin flakes, which dogs shed from their bodies all the time. This dander becomes airborne and triggers an allergic reaction. This can result in itchy eyes, a runny nose, sneezing and wheezing.
If you’re allergic to dander there are some low-shedding breeds for you to consider.
Breeds such as the Poodle, the Maltese, and the Chinese Crested are hypoallergenic. They are less likely to cause allergic reactions.
It’s still advisable to spend some time with your chosen breed before buying a dog. That way you can check your allergic response first.
How likely is it that your lifestyle will change?
Choosing a dog breed is an important decision which will impact on the next 12-15 years of your life and beyond.
You owe it to yourself, and to the dog, to do a bit of forward thinking. Make an honest assessment of your future plans and commitments.
Do you see your lifestyle changing much during that time? Perhaps to such an extent that keeping a pet dog is no longer an option?
You need to think this through before taking the plunge.
Work through the above questions, giving an honest answer to each one. Then you’re guaranteed to make an informed decision when choosing a dog breed.