What to Consider Before You Get a Dog

Is a canine companion a good idea? Here are some issues to consider.


+ enlarge image Do you have room for me?

Does the way you live have room for a dog? Consider these factors:

Do you work late or travel often? Puppies eat four or more times a day and urinate or defecate at least that often. Adult dogs left alone may get bored or develop separation anxiety, resulting in excessive barking or destructive behavior. If you travel, can you take your pet with you, at least some of the time?

Can you provide a comfortable environment? Descendants of den dwellers, some dogs take comfort in confined quarters. Others, bred to herd or hunt, prefer open spaces. All need shelter from hot sun, excessive heat, cold, wind, and precipitation.

Where do you live? Know and observe contract agreements regarding pets. Apartments, condominium units, and cities have restrictions concerning the size and number of dogs allowed.

Do you have time to train your pet? Obedience training benefits stay-at-home dogs as well as field-event dogs. Well-trained animals stay healthier and are fun to be with.

Do you have time to groom a dog or to arrange professional grooming? Heavy coats require more care than thin coats. Some dogs are difficult and time-consuming to groom.

Do you have the financial ability to provide necessary food, medications, and regular veterinary care? The larger the dog, the more he will eat. Routine vet visits for checkups and immunizations are essential to good health.

Here's a look at the most common reasons people acquire a furry friend. Knowing why you want a dog will help you choose the right one for you.

Companionship: Children learn responsibility and receive unconditional love -- but make sure your expectations for their help with the dog are age-appropriate. Adults gain exercise partners. Elderly people gain friendship.

Assistance: Guide or service dogs are trained to work with people with physical disabilities; potential owners must apply for dogs and attend training.

Security: Guard dogs with proper training are alert, protective, and sociable family members.

Sport: Field-event dogs run obstacle courses and retrieve objects with ease, whether for competition or fun.

+ enlarge image Chinese shar-peis tend to have health problems, but they're loyal and loving companions.

Think about what kind of personality and activity level you want in a dog. Do you want a dog you can carry, or one who can keep up with the kids? Do you want to play Frisbee or snuggle more? Do you want a dog who investigates every visitor or one who isn't fazed by lots of comings and goings?

You probably won't find a dog who lives up to your every wish, but you'll be closer if you go into the match knowing what you want.

Breeding

The origins of a pure breed influence personality traits. Learn about the dog's origins; mixed breeds often carry the best of their lineage and make delightful pets. "Puppy mill" animals, overbred in response to market trends, often are sickly or unstable.

Dogs inbred to achieve show traits may be emotionally unstable or have genetic health problems. Responsible breeders screen for genetic factors before mating animals. Large breeds, such as golden retrievers, may develop hip dysplasia. Dachshunds tend to have spinal problems; giant dogs tend to have short life spans; toy breeds may suffer from slipping kneecaps; dalmatians often are genetically deaf and prone to kidney disease; pug-faced animals tend to have respiratory problems.

Research carefully, know your breed, and purchase from reliable, responsible breeders. Check with a veterinarian for specific health concerns.

Size

Consider a dog's adult weight, build, and height. A small, hefty breed won't necessarily be a good lap dog. A large dog may not be the best choice for an apartment dweller.

Disposition and Personality

Breeds have common characteristics that determine which are more aggressive, passive, active, or restrained, yet each dog has his or her own personality. Determine which traits best suit your needs; if possible, spend time with the dog before making a decision.

Energy and Exercise

Size and breed traits both determine how much exercise dogs need.

  • High-energy breeds include Jack Russell terriers, dalmatians, Border collies, and retrievers, which need walking several times each day plus plenty of outdoor play time.
  • Medium-energy breeds include large spaniels, boxers, Great Danes, Akitas, and German shepherds. They need daily moderate-distance walks and a weekly chance to romp outdoors.
  • Low-energy breeds include small spaniels, basset hounds, beagles, dachshunds, and bulldogs. Short daily walks, play time and toys, and careful diet keep them fit and happy.

How to Choose the Right Dog Breed for You
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