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Finding a Dog That Fits Your Family

Finding a Dog That Fits Your Family

Don't Make a Spur-of-the-Moment Decision to Own a Dog


One of life's great mistakes is taking your children into a pet store if you aren't serious about bringing home a pet. You can be sure that in a matter of minutes, your children will connect with the cutest little puppy.


You say no, then they hand the puppy to you and you're face to face with pleading brown puppy eyes and crying children. So, between the children's begging and memories of the family dog from your youth, you're paying for a shopping cart full of dog stuff - plus the puppy.


There's no greater buyer's remorse than that felt after buying a dog on impulse. As the days go by, you discover that the dog's personality doesn't mix well with your family. You begin to resent taking the dog for walks or rushing home between appointments for feedings.


It's like having another child that you didn't plan. Those little puppy accidents, chewed furniture, nightly barking and other normal dog behaviors become more and more irritating. That's the point where some insensitive dog owners punish the dog to the point of abuse or neglect.


Sadly, many of the dogs in shelters are there because they were the impulse buy of a family or an adult who failed to consider what dog ownership involves. The owner chooses based on adorable puppy features without learning about the dog's full-grown size or its breed characteristics.


In a matter of months, the conflict begins. Many dogs in shelters are actually good dogs with great potential as pets if they go home with the right family. The dog's only "crime" was being chosen by people who were not prepared to include them into their family.


Some breeds of dogs are more demanding than others. They need several hours of daily interaction or fun. If you don't provide it, they find it on their own - and it usually involves chewing or barking.


Other dog breeds need daily room to run and play. These dogs may be great companions for children. Even dogs that play well with older children may not have the patience for young children or toddlers. You simply need to know what breed of dog is the best match for your home, family and available time.


Slow down as you visit dog breeders or pet stores and spend time visiting the dogs. Yes, it's hard to leave those big brown eyes and excited bark, but you want to make certain that when your dog comes home, this really becomes home for the dog, and not just another place to pass through.  You may want to leave the children home when you go back to visit the dog and get more information about the dog's history, behaviors and needs. 



Should You Start with a Puppy?


Oh, the feel of soft puppy fur, sloppy wet licks and warm cuddling! A puppy melts the hearts and softens the wallets as adults who swear they don't need a dog end up with a puppy before they can say, "What just happened here?"


There's something magical about bringing home a little fur ball that needs you as much as an infant does. It's an opportunity to train the dog from an early age to fit your environment and lifestyle.


If you have children, you can show them how to be gentle in caring for the puppy. They will have wonderful memories of growing up with the puppy.  Beyond these lovely images are the other realities of bringing home a puppy - such as paper training, walking on a leash, chewing toys instead of designer shoes and other typical puppy behaviors that drive owners to the brink of insanity.


Yes, a puppy is precious, but also very needy. You'll spend far more time with that puppy in the early months that you would with an older dog.  The shelters are crowded with dogs - many just a few months out of puppy phase.


Due to the breed or the dog's history, the seller or adoption facility will advise you which dogs are best for families with children and which dogs need to be around adults. You'll know immediately what the dog's full size is and whether that fits your living space.


You can visit the dog and take him for a walk before making up your mind. When you're evaluating a litter of puppies from a breeder, make sure you get to "meet" mom and dad.  You want to know what your puppy will grow up to be like when it's older.


A puppy is going to adjust to your home better than an older dog, but that doesn't mean the older dog won't love your home, too.  Puppies and older dogs each have their own specific requirements.


A puppy has to be trained from square one. An older dog might already be trained, but could have more vet bills if it's not a completely healthy older dog.  Or, it might be an old dog who doesn't enjoy being around children anymore.


Depending on your reasons for getting a new dog, you might be able to provide a loving home to a shelter dog who's a bit older than paying a lot of money for a purebred puppy.  But if showing or breeding is your goal, a puppy with papers might suit your needs more.



Understanding the Different Dog Breeds


Not all dogs are created equal. The differences in temperament and personality among dog breeds can be as varied as the differences in people. Finding the right match between the dog breed and the owner or family is the key to success in bringing a dog into your home.


Dogs come in many varieties that are naturally introduced to the dog world as well as those created specifically by cross-breeding, such as a Labradoodle (a cross between a Labrador Retriever and a Poodle).


The obvious question to ask yourself is, what size dog can your home handle? A home with a large yard out in the suburbs can offer enough room for a large dog to run and play.


Do you want a dog that is sturdy, yet cuddly and plays well with children?  Are you hoping to get a guard dog for your home or business? Do you want to develop a show dog to enter competitions?


Or do you just want a loyal companion, small enough to be comfortable in an apartment and calm enough to sit with his head on your lap in the evening? These are practical considerations to think about as you search for the right dog breed.


How many humans live in your home? A single person who works long hours needs to choose a dog breed that can manage with lots of alone time indoors - perhaps a dog that enjoys toys and entertains himself.


A family with small children needs a medium to large-size dog that is gentle by nature and patient with children. For small children, a dog is like a toy - they don't understand it's a living, breathing being that can get hurt by roughhousing.


Some breeds would not tolerate the antics of small children, but would be great with older children. A dog for older adults needs to be low maintenance, calm and undemanding.


Dogs can also be divided into two important categories - those that shed and those that don't. Shedding is a huge complaint of dog owners. Dog hair clings to furniture, clothing and guests who sit anywhere in the house. Short haired dogs may look easier but they can shed, too. Shedding can be divided into barely sheds, seasonal only shedding or constant shedding.


Size of the breed is both a height and weight issue. Smaller dogs weigh under 10 pounds, medium dogs weigh 11-25 pounds, large dogs weigh 26-50 pounds and extra-large dogs weight 51-80 pounds. Extremely large dogs, like Mastiffs and St. Bernards, can tip the scale at 100-180 pounds.


Can your furniture stand that much dog? In choosing a breed, don't decide on the dog as it appears a puppy - make your choice based on the size the dog will grow to as an adult. Big dogs are big eaters. If you bring home a Mastiff, you may need a second job just to pay for the dog food and care.


Care requirements are another important consideration. Some dog breeds require more grooming and care than others. Dogs that have fancy trim, like poodles or show dogs may spend more time in the spa than you do.


Even ordinary family dogs may need weekly (or even daily) grooming to keep their coats from tangles and to maintain good physical health.  Take time to research the dog breed, size, temperament and grooming requirements before you make a choice. It's only fair to the dog you choose that you be prepared to care for basic needs, plus provide the love and attention that only you can give.



Which Dog Breed Is Right for Your Family?


Choosing the right dog for your family is a bigger decision than you may initially think. There are about 330 pure breeds and almost another 80 that were developed by breeders by mixing different combinations of pure breeds. 


Some breeds were mixed in ways that kept the characteristics, yet caused the dogs to be larger or smaller than the original breed.  With so many choices, you have to think of each dog breed as having specific characteristics, temperament, size, function and abilities.


Each dog within that breed will share some common elements. For example, some dogs who were hunting dogs in times past have been bred differently to reduce the hunting instinct and make the dog more suitable as the pet for a family whose only "hunting" is stopping at grocery store or fast food to bring home dinner.


Major categories of dog breeds include: toys, companions, guards, working, spaniels, terriers, sighthound, scent hounds, spitz and herding. This doesn't include the famous "Heinz 57" - or pound mutt, whose exact heritage is unknown.


Each of the breeds is known for its ability to perform certain jobs. Historically, all dogs were working dogs - helping with sheep herding, cattle tending, fetching game, guarding property or tracking escapees.


House pets were not common as they are today. Each dog breed still carries the genetic code for its original type of work. You need to know how that dog is genetically programmed before you bring him home.


The dog that's naturally a watchdog won't be the cuddly playmate for your small children. The greyhound, particularly the rescued greyhound, is gentle and quiet, but they must have plenty of outdoor time to run. As a dog that can gain speeds of up to 45 mph, the greyhound is not a dog for couch potatoes.


If you want a medium to large dog that will be easily trained and protective over your children, then choose a pastoral or herding dog like the Old English sheepdog, Collie or Welsh Corgi. The instincts they have for keeping sheep in the pasture adapt to keeping your children inside the backyard while keeping intruders outside.


When having a dog means a smaller pet that's purely for amusement with little expectation, then look at the toy dog breed. Among this group, you find Chihuahua, Poodle, Manchester Terrier, Pug, Pekingese, Shih Tzu and King Charles Spaniel. Don't expect any work from this group. Toy dogs are masterful at finding ways for you to work for them.


The hunting breed has a proud tradition as the faithful companion and partner to hunters. These dogs include the Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, English Springer Spaniel, English Setter, Irish Setter and Cocker Spaniel. Even if you don't hunt, give these dogs the kind of open field exercise that makes them feel useful in the way that's part of their heritage.


Some breeds require space, while others need primping for show that rivals what you see among fashion models. Perhaps the easiest breed to bring home and love is the "pound mutt." In all shapes and sizes, these dogs have endured hardships that landed them in the shelter, when all they want is a family to love. Bring one home and you'll have a friend for life.



When It Comes to Your Dog, Size Matters


You may like to supersize your coffee and get extra toppings on your pizza, but when it comes to choosing a dog, bigger doesn't always mean better. Dog breeds differ by heritage in what they require.


Some breeds, like hunters, are genetically programmed to crave the open spaces and outdoor exercise. Other breeds (like toy dogs) make ideal "lap dogs," enjoying the casual lifestyle without needing much space or time to run and play outdoors.


The size of your dog has to match the size of your living space.  A German Shepherd is a wonderful watch dog for your city apartment, but you must give that dog time in the park to run and be active every day.


If you're too tired or lazy to give this beautiful dog the exercise it needs, then buy an alarm system, not a guard dog. A toy dog like a poodle or Chihuahua is content in your apartment and requires less outdoor time.


If you have a secured balcony with solid, high railing, that may be enough outdoor time for a small dog, supplemented with at least one daily outdoor walk.  Don't let the dog's appearance or temperament fool you.


A greyhound is a gentle dog that's also very quiet, which is good for attached living spaces. But that gentle greyhound must have daily exercise in enough area to run and play. Greyhounds can run up to 45 mph, so you don't want them turning your family room into a track for running. Neither you nor the dog will be pleased with the result.


Size has everything to do with dog maintenance. That cute, furry puppy that you fell in love with at the pet store that barely nibbles puppy chow, grows up to be a 120-pound St Bernard that will eat you out of house and home.


To keep him in 8-10 scoops of high-quality dog food daily, you'll be spending the price of a daily steak dinner - only you don't get to eat the steak. Your huge dog also pushes around furniture like feathers. When there's nothing to do and you're running late, the large dog may decide to deconstruct the living room just for fun.


On the flip side, plenty of toy dogs take up their own closet in little designer costumes, knit sweaters and clever playthings. They also have chic beds, including those that are canopied or French provincial. The doggie stuff can take up far more space in your home than the dog does.


If you have more than one dog, regardless of breed, you need to provide sleeping space for each dog. Don't expect them to crowd together. They need space just like you do. They also need personal territory for sleeping, relaxing and hiding their toys or bones.


Dogs that remain outdoors need their own doghouses to protect them while sleeping or in bad weather. You aren't sharing your bedroom with the neighbors, so why would you expect your dog to share his doghouse with the new dog? Consider the space and care needs of each dog when you bring a second or third dog into the family.



Don't Get a Dog with a Poor Disposition


Each dog breed is known for certain basic characteristics - including temperament. As a result, you can rely on this information to help you choose a dog whose attitude and disposition match your own.


Some smaller dogs are known to be feisty and noisy, while some larger dogs are quiet and tranquil. One thing you need to know up front is that you're not going to get a dog to go contrary to his inherent instincts. So if you like the look of a certain breed, be prepared to live with the temperament of that breed once you take it home.


What kind of dog has an awful disposition? Answer? None if you're well matched to the dog. Behaviors that are irritating to one dog owner are no big deal to another. A person who's hyperactive won't mind a nippy miniature Poodle or Chihuahua that's just as hyperactive as they are.  A quiet, studious person needs to have a calm, patient dog like the good natured, faithful Basset Hound.


Some dogs are considered by breeders to be difficult to train - such as the Lhasa Apso, Pekingese, Dalmatian, Irish Setter and Bull Terrier. Not all dogs are man's best friends. Some are fiercely independent and care little about their owners.


These unsociable dog breeds can include Bull Terrier, Bull Mastiff, Doberman, Irish Terrier, Wire Haired Fox Terrier and Rottweiler. The unsociable dogs can be alert, independent, aggressive and good as watchdogs, but they're sometimes not optimal for training.


In other cases, the dog breed may have potential for training but the personality of the individual dog is more reluctant. Or that dog may have had a bad experience at the pet store from unkind or unskilled caregivers.


The dog is reacting tough to mask his fear of being harmed or neglected based on old memories. If that's your dog's experience, then you have to take more time to reassure him that you're trustworthy and will never harm him as a means of punishment during training.


Withholding a dog treat when the dog walks poorly on a leash is reasonable. Taking away his dinner is cruel and only teaches the dog to resent you and defy you as the only means of expression he has toward maltreatment.


Other times, there's no apparent reason for the dog's odd behavior. Becoming a dog owner doesn't come with guarantees. Sometimes you have a dog that is difficult to engage and you must either care for that dog or see that he has a proper home.

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