What dog should I get is a question for the ages. People choose different breeds of dogs for many reasons ranging from how much they shed to what kind of image the breed will give their owner. Today we’ve put together an exhaustive list of resources on choosing the right dog for you.
One important part of asking yourself “What dog should I get?” is to realize that among dog breeds there are many variations of temperament based on the breeder or place that you get your dog from. This is why I recommend purchasing a dog from a reputable breeder, a rescue group or the shelter. A reputable breeder can tell you if her puppy or dog’s temperament will work with the lifestyle you live. Someone selling their pups from their backyard has no idea what puppy you should pick from the group. A rescue group will have the dogs in foster homes and the foster homes will have an idea of temperament as well. The shelter has less of an idea how the dog will act in a home setting, but they generally only allow dogs with soft temperaments to be adopted and will hopefully know of certain problem behaviors at least.
Believe it or not, if you get a border collie from the right place, it can be a docile, relaxed dog (my brother has one) instead of the hyper, busy dog you picture it as being. Hopefully you’ve seen people with children living in harmony with their sweet pit bull dogs (my sisters both have pit bulls that play sweetly with their kids) – they aren’t all the savage, ill-bred and ill-trained dogs the media makes them out to be. Just because you get a dog of a certain breed is no guarantee that the dog will be the type of dog that the breed standard says it will be. Even among the puppies of a litter there is great variation in temperament, which is a good reason to have a reputable breeder there helping you pick a puppy out and to answer future questions.
So here are some great resources for answering your question of “What dog should I get?”
What Dog Breed Should I Get?
Breed can determine certain characteristics of a dog, but (and this is especially true with dogs that come from a breeder that doesn’t know what they’re doing) it is not always accurate. There is much variation within a breed as far as energy level, drive, guarding, standoffishness, though many individuals do fall near breed averages.
Many American dogs, for example, have a much more relaxed temperament (especially in guarding breeds, like Mastiffs and German Shepherds) than they used to and still do in other countries. This trend is because of the lawsuit happy country we live in; people don’t want to risk getting sued for their dog biting someone. My German Shepherd that I own now is low energy and low drive with low guarding instinct, but I’ve had one that was extremely high drive and high energy and high guarding instinct. It really depends on their breeder, their lines and the way they were raised.
However, dog breeds (from a good breeder) are quite predictable as far as what type of hair they have, how much they shed, how big they are and likely how much exercise they’ll need. An experienced breeder can also tell you what temperaments their dogs have (kid friendly, cat friendly, guarding, and so on.)
A nice thorough questionnaire that will help direct you to a breed that is more likely to fit your size, grooming and exercise requirements.
This Kindle or Print book can give you a really good look into the different breeds, their characteristics and also has beautiful pictures. You might be able to find this book at the library as well, as it’s very popular for people trying to figure out what dog to get.
Look up a specific breed and find out what the official AKC standard is for the dog.
This can also give you a starting point for finding a good breeder, if you’re going that route, though not all breeders on the listing are by default “good”. You can also see (at the bottom of the listing) the national club for your breed to find more information on rescues and breeders for that breed.
And don’t forget mixed breeds! Mixed breeds can be great dogs too, though don’t expect them to be consistent in form or personality with any of the breeds they may be crossed with.
Don’t listen to all the hype around “designer” breeds though (aka two breeds mashed together, like the pom-a-poo or puggle.) Mixed breeds are not predictable as far as size, hair and exercise requirements go and “designer” dogs are no different. There is (99% of the time) no such thing as a valuable mixed breed, no matter how cool their name sounds and how many hundreds of dollars the breeder puts on the dog they “created”. How the puppy will look or act or how their health will be is completely unpredictable. Even Labradoodles, one of the older designer breeds, are not predictable as to how their fur will come out… not all of them are hypoallergenic, and they can range in size and exercise requirements. Even the original creator of Labradoodles hates that he ever came up with the gimmick to making a mixed breed sound like a valuable dog. Though I will make the caveat that there are occasionally good Labradoodle breeders.
Male or Female?
Males and female dogs have very subtle differences in the way they act. Males that are unneutered are more prone to wandering than a female (hopefully you have a good fence.) A female can get pregnant if unspayed and goes into heat a few times a year, which involves not-so-fun bleeding. (As a side note, please spay and neuter your pets!! Wait until they’ve reached full growth if you can.) A male will often have marking behaviors that can be annoying. Dogs of the same gender can sometimes have a hard time getting along with each other, but more often 2+ females (I have experienced this) than 2+ males or mixed genders have problems. Males cost less than females to get fixed.
This article from pedigreedatabase talks a bit more about some of the perceived differences in temperament, but remember that they aren’t always true, anymore than human gender stereotypes are. Really, get whatever you feel comfortable with. I love both genders.
Adult or puppy?
When you consider whether you should get an adult or puppy, the choice may seem like it’s obvious. Who doesn’t want a squirmy, cute little puppy running around? They’re just so adorable with their big eyes and soft fur. It’s easy to romanticize getting a puppy, but really, raising a puppy takes a ton of time, commitment and patience. Read this article: Why you shouldn’t get a puppy for a more in-depth coverage of this topic.
Puppies can be great choices for the right family, however. You have to really be prepared to stick with the puppy. Especially when it goes through its “toddler” period, as I like to call it, where the puppy starts doing awful things that you thought it had already learned not to do. You have to have a plan in place for training and the time and a schedule for socializing. You have to be ready to have an adult dog that doesn’t quite conform to your expectations, simple because you may not know what you’re doing when you’re picking your puppy. You need to realize that you will just have to make things work, because dropping a dog off at the shelter or selling it because you weren’t willing to work things out makes you a jerk of a person.
The following article should help with picking out a puppy, but realize it isn’t a guarantee. Dogs are individuals, just like people, and they can grow up to be different than their puppy selves.
This is an easily understood article on checking puppy temperaments before you pick one. It can save you a lot of trouble in the future if you’re honest with yourself about what you’re looking for (for instance, how much time do you really have during the day for the next ten years to keep the adorable, mischievous and active puppy busy?) I really strongly recommend that if you must buy a puppy, buy from a breeder that participates in dog events and has an actual reason and purpose for breeding the two dogs they put together other than they happened to have a dog and a bitch of the same breed. If they’re a good breeder, they’ll be there to help you out in the future and be ready to take back any unwanted puppy so it doesn’t end up in a shelter. Here’s a great checklist by the humane society on what to look for in a good breeder.
To help, here are the Humane Society’s Top 5 Tips on Buying a Puppy
As far as adult dogs go, an adult dog or older puppy from a rescue or shelter (or even a breeder that has taken back an older dog) can be a wonderful thing. Especially if you get an adult from a rescue organization with foster homes, you know the dog is already potty trained, you know its temperament and personality, whether it’s good with kids, cats, etc. You know if it has crazy lots of energy or if it’s relaxed. You don’t have to deal with chewing or any of the other puppy growing pains. They’re generally already vaccinated and spayed, and they eat a lot less than a puppy too.
Be very careful when buying an older dog from a random person on the classifieds. Most people selling an older dog are not going to tell you they are selling it because it’s been peeing on their carpet for 3 years. It can be hard to get an accurate picture of the dog from some guy you don’t know.
Downsides to buying an older dog can be that there may be behavior problems that you don’t know about and health issues if you don’t know parentage, but this can happen with puppies as well.
I personally prefer to get older puppies/dogs because it’s hard dealing with the chewing and the attention that puppies require. They are stinking cute, but since I have three small kids to watch too, I just can’t do the puppy thing at this point in my life. Both my dogs I have now were acquired when they were older and it was way easier than the puppies I’ve had over the years.
So What Dog Should I Get When At a Shelter?
If you choose to adopt from a shelter, good for you! Way to help the world be a better place. 🙂 Here are some great resources for evaluating shelter dogs.
This great article by Petfinder will help you find your perfect dog match at a shelter. If I could recommend one thing, it would be to look at a shelter first and if you don’t have grooming specifications, try to be breed blind and look for a dog with the qualities mentioned in this article. There are so many great dogs out there looking for homes.
Although I normally don’t agree with him, in this article Cesar has some great points to consider when looking at shelter dogs.
I hope all this information helps you figure out how to answer your question of ‘what dog should I get’! Good luck with your search in choosing a dog to join your family.
What type of dog did you decide you’d like to look for?