After work one summer afternoon, I returned home to hear squeals from the house next door. Soon enough, the lady of the house walked out with a bundle in her arms, blackface with black inquisitive eyes, a puppy! And a German shepherd purebred, at that. I had always loved dogs, but staying in a middle-sized apartment at the time, with erratic working hours, had always to sigh at the pet shop windows, and move on. The neighbors were happy with their new pet, who made all the right faces and was small and cuddly; the kids loved him.
By the time the dog was one year old, he was huge, the lady had picked up a demanding job, and the kids were busy at school. Left alone, Phoenix would make short work of the newspapers, and tear up rugs. So, he was chained up all day outside the house with his bowls of food and water and more often than not when I came back from work I would be greeted by piteous howls. The dog was hungry, lonely and sad, and looked it.
Feeling quite guilty about the plight of their pet, the neighbors decided to give Phoenix away, since none of them had the time and energy to take care of such a big and active dog. He needed a lot of exercise, tended to be rough with the kids, and aggressive. He also shed on his owner’s carpets when taken inside and had become more trouble to the household than it was worth.
The story of Phoenix and his owners is not uncommon. In varying degrees, all dog owners suffer the consequences of a hasty decision made while choosing the dog they want to keep. When choosing your dog, not only is it important for you to be moved by its soulful puppy eyes or for the dog to project the right image, it is also vital that you and the dog are going to be happy with each other in the long run. If you want a dog because you think it’ll look great in that new SUV you just bought at 15% interest, think how much fun it will be when it shreds up the leather seating so thoroughly that even the maintenance guy is impressed.
Dogs are like children and need almost as much care. But the good news is that you can choose the dog that’s perfect for your needs: the temperament, need for exercise, need for living space, the food expenses, the time and energy needed for grooming, how friendly it is going to be, or how good at giving you protection. Your decision will depend on three simple factors: your personality, lifestyle, and living space.
A dog needs to complement your personality, or you would end up not getting along with your pet.
- If you usually tend to be a high contact person, where you would rather hug people than shake hands, you are better off with friendlier dogs. They are always very happy to see you, and like to spend all their time lying next to your feet or getting petted and stroked; like Golden or Labrador retrievers, or Brittany Spaniels.
- If you do not like to be too active, you might prefer dogs like Dachshunds or toy breeds like Chihuahua or Pekingese that do not need too much exercise. In case you still prefer bigger dogs, you might need to cater for their exercising needs by getting them dog walkers.
- Active dogs like Dalmatians, Jack Russells, Border Collies, will not stay on their best behavior if not exercised almost to the point of exhaustion. They need regular play times and walks and consistent training, and the owners need a degree of courage, a good sense of humor, and immense willpower to survive puppy hood and adolescence of these breeds. The good part is that with training and attention, these dogs can become happy and cherished companions.
- If you value peace and tranquility in your life above all else, but seek canine companionship, you are probably better off with dogs that do not bark too much, or shed too much. Quiet dogs like Basenji, Borzoi, or the Whippet are your dogs if you do not want frayed nerves.
- If you have regular work hours, or someone is always there in the house in your absence, you have less to worry about. On the other hand, if the dog is going to be on its own most of the time, you need to think in terms of a more independent dog, because breeds that need more attention tend to get lonely, frustrated and depressed if left to themselves. Self-contained breeds like Pugs, Basenjis or Bulldogs might be a good idea.
- Your family must get along with the dog as well, and in most cases, they are the reason you have decided to have a pet. If you have children, have kids visiting or staying over often or plan on having them yourself some time in the future, you might want to pick dogs that are good with kids: Pugs, English Cocker Spaniels, Beagles or Basset Hounds, to name a few.
- Sociability measures a dog’s ability to bond with people. Some dogs will bond with their owner or a few very close people and mostly ignore others. Highly social dogs will wag their tail and be happy to see anyone, including those of your friends who don’t like dogs! If you live alone and seldom have visitors, you may be happy with a one-person dog, but if you live in a neighborhood with lots of children and people, or have frequent visitors you would want your dog to welcome, you will want a more social dog. Brittany Spaniel, Bichon Frise, Old English Sheepdog, Bearded Collie, are some of the breeds you might want to look at.
- If you stay alone, or in an isolated area and are buying a dog for the protection it offers, you are looking at buying guard dogs or watchdogs. Watchdog behavior is the ability to alert the household when a possible intruder or other danger is imminent. Keep in mind that such dogs are also more prone to bark at acquaintances and the deliverymen. Miniature Snauzers, Shih Tzus, Scottish terriers, will bark vigorously at the presence of an intruder, or in most situations that do not fit into their daily routine.
- Guard dog behavior is the same thing as territoriality, which refers to a dog’s propensity and ability to mark and defend a territory. Note that a watchdog will bark, while a guard dog will attack.
- Very small dogs are not good guard dogs even if they attack, because they are too small to be of any use in deterring an intruder. On the other hand, big dogs eat a lot, and are thus generally more expensive to maintain.
- Guard dogs are not really friendly, and would often obey only one person and not other people. They can be aggressive and may not be suitable for children when not closely monitored and specially trained to socialize. Examples of suitable guard dogs include the Pit Bull Terrier, German Shepherd, American Bulldog, Boxer, Bullmastiff, Doberman Pinscher, or Rottweiler, among others.
- If you place much importance on looks, and long curly coats, Yorkshire terriers, Maltese, Bichon Frise, Cocker Spaniels or Lhasa Apsos are the dogs for you. Some people are allergic to dog fur, and need to choose their dogs with care. Also, if you hate vacuuming and brushing the furniture, you will be happier with a dog that does not shed a lot. Dogs to avoid in these cases include Retrievers, Dalmatians, and German Shepherds.
Dogs that have hair and not fur include West Highland White Terriers and Cairn Terriers. Dogs that don’t shed much are Schnauzers, West Highland White Terriers, Poodles, Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers, and Bichons. Many allergic people have had a lot of success living with these dogs.
Your living space
- The amount of living space you have and can offer the dog is important. How much space do you have for a dog? Do you have a fenced yard? No matter how well your personality fits a particular breed, you have to make sure that your living arrangements match it too. It would be unethical to keep a big dog locked up all day in a tiny apartment, not to mention impossible, after a while. Dogs come in a wide range of sizes: the smallest dogs, such as Chihuahuas, weigh less than ten pounds; while a big dog like a Saint Bernard could weigh well over 150 pounds. Small dogs can sit in your lap for you to cuddle, while big ones can push you over. Sometimes, big dogs will live comfortably in an apartment, but then they need their share of exercise, sun and fresh air: they would need a really rigorous routine of exercise and walking outdoors.
- The amount of living space in which a dog would be content is a function of how big the dog is, its need for exercise, and the reason why it was bred in the first place. Big dogs with plenty of outdoor exercise will live happily in an apartment, but not otherwise. Dogs like Irish wolfhounds, Mastiffs, Great Danes, Newfoundlands or Weimaraners would love to have the run of the outdoors, probably a big lawn or garden to play around in.
- Some dogs, like Border Collies, that were bred to herd and shepherd, will be very restless if restricted to a small area, while for others, life in an apartment is easy. If you live in an apartment and are looking to add a dog to your life, consider dogs like Scottish Terriers, Cocker Spaniels, Italian Greyhounds or Boxers.
Purebreds or Mutts?
- All these factors interweave into a complex list of desirables, for example, you might want a dog with a great coat, a good guard dog and a dog that is good with the children, all at the same time. Choices can be difficult and the only sure answer lies in intensive research. All of the breeds we talked about above are purebreds. This means that they are the product of parents of the same breed. To get a true purebred worthy of being in a dog show, you often have to pay thousands of dollars.
- But not too many people want show dogs. You might simply want the companionship of a dog that will happily live with you in your circumstances. Most people get mixes of some sort, because rumor has it that purebred dogs can have personality problems because of inbreeding or because the original gene pool is too small. As a result, many people choose to go with a mutt, a mixture of different breeds. Mutts can combine the best of two or more breeds, and actually be a truly one-of-a-kind dog.
However, you would probably be better off putting yourself first through a lot of quizzes, visiting dog shops, dog shows, and talking to breeders and friends who own dogs. You need to possibly spend as much time researching on your dog as you would on your car, perhaps more, because a dog is preferably to stay with you till its natural lifetime, which might be twelve to fifteen years. A good phase match between your needs and the dog’s attributes is no mere coincidence; it needs to be earned.
So the next time you go to a pet shop and fall for the appeal of a cute and cuddly puppy, go back home and take your time doing research; you will definitely not regret it. A good decision remains a good decision even on the next day and never is it truer than when you set off to make a canine addition to your family.