How to Choose a Dog Breed

Choosing a Dog Breed. This article provides practical advice on choosing a dog breed that is right for you

Choosing a dog is not a decision to be taken lightly. Your dog will probably be with you for the next 15 years or more. Your best chance of making those years happy and fulfilling ones (for both you and the dog) is choosing a dog breed that suits your lifestyle, personality, energy levels, budget, and time availability.

How to Choose a Dog Breed

How to Choose a Dog Breed

This series of questions and answers to guide you towards choosing a dog breed that is right for you.

Choosing a Dog Breed: What is your level of experience with dogs?

Some dog breeds are particularly domineering and require the firm hand of an experienced dog owner. If you have never owned a dog before, or even if you have but feel you are not up to taking on the pack leadership role with a domineering dog, then these breeds are best avoided.

Choosing a Dog Breed: 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. Remember also that larger dogs are more expensive to keep, they eat more, use more supplies like flea treatments and shampoos, and cost more on vet’s fees. But a small dog may not suit your needs if you’re looking particularly for a guard dog.

Choosing a Dog Breed: What is the size of your property?

A large property is not essential for owning a dog (even a large one), although you wouldn’t want to keep one of the giant breeds, or a hyperactive one like a Border Collie, in too small a space. Whatever the size of your property it is important that it is secure and that you take your dog outside for a good hour of two of exercise daily.

Choosing a Dog Breed: Will your dog be kept indoors or outdoors?

Some breeds, in particular, toy or companion dogs, are simply not suited to outdoor living. They suffer separation anxiety and have problems with extremes of temperature. Other dogs, like the independent Husky and Akita, adapt well to living outside, and may even prefer it.

Choosing a Dog Breed: Are you able to match your dog’s level of energy?

It is important that you share a similar energy level to your dog. Certain breeds, in particular, those in the herding and working groups and some gundogs, are high energy and always up for a game or walk. Others are real couch potatoes. Think about where you fit in on that scale and try choosing a dog breed with energy levels to match your own.

Choosing a Dog Breed: How much exercise are you prepared to give your dog daily?

If you are not prepared to properly exercise your dog then you should perhaps consider whether dog ownership is for you at all. All dogs need exercise, although some need much more than others. At the very 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, preferably longer.

In addition to walking, most dogs enjoy a game of fetch, tag or tug-a-war, and some never get enough of running and chasing. Be warned! An under-exercised dog channels its energy in other, more destructive ways, like digging up your prized rose garden or chewing on your Armani slippers.

Choosing a Dog Breed: What was the breed originally bred for?

Many breeds retain the strong drives and instincts that they were originally bred for. So if you’re a keen gardener you’ll want to avoid getting a Dachshund which was bred for digging small prey out of burrows. And if you’re a bit of a coach potato, but keen on a Dalmatian or Border Collie, you may want to ask yourself whether you have the energy to handle a dog bred for running alongside horses or for herding sheep 8 hours a day.

Choosing a Dog Breed: 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, or you are impatient and easily frustrated, you can spare yourself a lot of hassle by choosing a breed that is easy to train. All breeds are trainable but some learn faster than others, pick up commands after fewer exposures, and respond more often to the first command. They also remember commands even if they aren’t practiced often. Many of these “easy-to-train” dogs are in the Herding and Gundog groups, while the stubborn and independent Hounds can be a challenge.

Choosing a Dog Breed: Do you need a guard dog?

Like wolves, dogs are naturally territorial and will raise the alarm when they feel threatened. The choice comes down to whether you want a watchdog, which “sounds the alarm” or 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, whereas a guard dog must be able to follow up his threat with action if the need arises. A Jack Russell / Rottweiler team may be the perfect solution!

Choosing a Dog Breed: Do You Have Children?

This is a very important consideration as dog aggression towards children is almost always initiated by the child, but it is always the dog that bears the consequences. Most dogs get along well with children if they are raised with them, but some breeds may show aggression around meal times or may be aggressive towards unfamiliar children.

These dominant breeds are not suitable for households with small children, but even placid dogs may snap if provoked enough. Some dogs will tolerate having their ears and tails pulled, or even being poked in the eye, while others will not and may bite back in self-defense. Avoid potential problems by choosing a breed that does well with children, and by teaching children from an early age to respect animals. At any rate, small children should never be left unsupervised with any dog. Dogs that are generally good with children include the Boxer, Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, Poodle, and Pug.

Choosing a Dog Breed: Do you already have dogs or other pets?

Some breeds are more tolerant of other animals than others but there are other important factors at play. For example, putting two, un-neutered, dominant male dogs together, no matter what their breed, is probably not a good idea. It is also not a good idea to bring breeds with a strong prey instinct, Huskies for example, into a home where there are other small animals like cats or rabbits. Having said that, many dogs love the company and will happily co-exist with other animals.

Choosing a Dog Breed: Will your dog be left home alone for long periods?

Many breeds suffer badly from separation anxiety if left alone for long periods. So if your career or lifestyle demands a lot of time away from home you’ll need to consider your choice of the breed very carefully. You may even want to consider if dog ownership is suitable for you.

Choosing a Dog Breed: Can your dog tolerate heat or cold?

All animals are adapted 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 an excessively warm one. Of course, this is less of an issue if dogs are kept indoors.

Choosing a Dog Breed: Does the breed suffer from any specific health problems?

The downside to selective breeding has been the prevalence of inherited disorders in purebred dogs. Many breeds have common genetic disorders, most often hip dysplasia, eye problems, respiratory disorders and skin conditions. This is a serious consideration when evaluating the monetary cost of dog ownership since veterinary expenses can run into thousands of dollars.

Choosing a Dog Breed: Have you considered the cost of dog ownership?

Purebred dogs, in particular, pedigreed dogs, are expensive. And that’s just the start. It’s not just the initial purchase price but also feeding, grooming and health care. And keep in mind that large dogs are more expensive to keep than small dogs, while some breeds are prone to health issues that are expensive to treat.

If affordability is an issue you might want to consider a mixed breed dog. They can generally be adopted from a shelter at little or no cost and are less prone to genetic disorders. Plus you are giving a home to a dog in need and getting a truly unique dog, just as loving, loyal, and intelligent as any pure breed.

Choosing a Dog Breed: Can you handle a dog that sheds heavily?

All dogs shed but some shed more than others. If you are particularly house proud and averse to even the smallest amount of dog hair on your carpets and furniture then dog ownership is not for you. Get a goldfish instead!

If you fall somewhere in the middle ground then there are breeds that shed minimally, especially if you are prepared to allocate some time to daily dog grooming. On the other hand, if you opt for a high shedding breed you will find hair everywhere and will spend a large percentage of your time vacuuming.

Choosing a Dog Breed: Do you suffer from any dog related allergies?

It isn’t dogged hair that causes allergies but dander, or dead skin flakes, which dogs shed constantly from their bodies. This dander becomes airborne and triggers an allergic reaction which can include itchy eyes, a runny nose, sneezing and wheezing. The good news is that if you are allergic to dander, but want a pet dog anyway, there are several low-shedding breeds for you to consider.

Breeds like the Poodle, Maltese, and Chinese Crested are considered hypoallergenic and are less likely to cause allergic reactions. It might still be a good idea to spend some time with your chosen breed and check your allergic response before buying one.

Choosing a Dog Breed: How likely is it that your lifestyle will change?

Choosing a dog an important decision which will impact in the next 12-15 years of your life and beyond. You owe it do you, and to the dog, to do a bit of forwarding thinking and make an honest assessment of your future plans and commitments.

Do you see your lifestyle changing significantly 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 these questions carefully, giving an honest answer to each one and you’re guaranteed to make an informed decision when choosing a dog breed.