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How to Choose the Best Dog for Your Family

My advice: Don't focus on looks. Adorable dog does not equal cute dog. Get a dog with a great personality and you'll think he's adorable, even if he's not the new cover model for Iams.

 |  Sep 5th 2013  |   3 Contributions


If you have a kid (or kids) and you’ve decided to add a furry, four-legged sibling to the family, there are some steps you can take to make sure you pick out the right dog. You want to add companionship, love and cuteness to your family, not chaos, destruction, and annoyance. Too many families adopt dogs and then drop them off at the shelter six months later, realizing that having both kids and pets is too much for them to deal with. However, if you’ve carefully weighed the pros and cons and decided you definitely want a dog, here's how to find the perfect pooch for your family. 

There are plenty of websites that will tell you which breeds are the best for kids, from Newfoundlands, to Beagles, to Golden Retrievers (I grew up with a Golden and we were besties for sure). But if you want my personal advice (which you’re welcome to take or leave), I say go to your local shelter and pick out an adult mixed breed dog. Yes, a dog’s behaviors are influenced by his breed, but each dog has a distinct personality (just compare the pups in the same litter to one another). 

I’m partial to mutts for a number of reasons, but when it comes to finding the best dog for your family, it makes so much sense to me to be able to visit a wide variety at once in a shelter, to find your perfect match. I also advise against getting a puppy. Yes, they’re super cute and it’s fun for the kids (at first). But, puppies are SO much work. For at least six months, it’s like having a baby in the house. A very destructive baby.  

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Golden Retriever Puppy by Shutterstock.

Charlie, the Golden Retriever puppy my family adopted when I was 11, was super adorable. But he managed to destroy everything that was dear to me, including my childhood diary and my oh-so-valuable Nintendo controller. Not cool.

Also, it’s hard to know what personality puppies will have when they grow up. Sure, you can raise them to follow your commands and have your same values. But, sooner or later, they become their own dog. Much like children. When you choose an adult dog, you’ll have a much stronger sense of who they already are.

My last piece of advice: Don't focus on looks. Adorable dog does not equal cute dog. Get a dog with a great personality and you'll think he's adorable, even if he's not the new cover model for Iams. 

Before my husband and I went to Family Dog Rescue to pick out Rusty, we checked a few books out of the library. My favorite was a book by Cesar Millan, TV’s famed “Dog Whisperer,” which highlighted what to consider when choosing a dog. Factors to consider are energy level, lifestyle, grooming and care, affordability and temperament. See a detailed list here

After one shelter visit, we ended up with truly the best dog for us by following Cesar’s tips. I never even knew I liked Schnauzers, but I was in for a surprise. Here’s what we did:

1. First, we observed all the dogs to get a sense of their energy levels

Many of them were barking in the cages and hurling themselves at the bars. The dog who later became Rusty was sitting quietly toward the back. We thought he might have brain damage, but my husband held his hand out toward him, Rusty came over, gave it a few sniffs and then licked it. 

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Rusty did the same thing to my nephew when they met.

2. We asked the staff lots of questions about Rusty

How he got along with kids, how he related to other dogs, and if he ever showed any aggressive behavior, etc. Many rescue dogs are in or have been through foster care, so you can ask the foster families all kinds of details about the dog’s personality in a house setting. 

3. We spent time with Rusty in the visitation room

Where he promptly jumped up on the couch, curled up with his head in Wes’s lap and fell asleep. Don’t be afraid to spend plenty of time with the dog before you take him home. Many shelters have a visitation room, where you can play with the dog away from other dogs, outside the cage.

4. We took Rusty for a walk

According to Cesar, you’ll get a better understanding of a dog’s underlying temperament once you’ve drained away the frustration and pent-up energy he has from being in his cage. We observed that Rusty likes to pee on everything in sight. Two years later, this is still the case. 

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Rusty loves his walks.

5. We took Rusty home for a trial period

This is the last step to make sure you have the right dog. All responsible shelters would prefer that you decide upfront whether or not this is the right dog for your family, rather than dropping him off at a pound six months later.

I like to tell people that we lucked out with Rusty, but in actually, luck was not involved. We put in the work and made a careful decision. Having a sweet, well-trained dog from the beginning saved us loads of work. And all the plants near our house are so well peed on. We are confident that (with proper training and introductions), Rusty will have no problems getting along with our quickly approaching child. 

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Rusty is extremely tolerant with other people's kids.

How did you pick out your dog? Share your experience in the comments.

Read more by Audrey Khuner:

About the author: Audrey is a contradictory mix of cynicism and sentimentality – thinks wedding vows are cheesy, yet cries at almost every episode of This American Life. Enjoys telling jokes with her 100-year-old grandma, drinking bourbon cocktails, and cuddling with her husband (Wes) and Schnauzer-mutt (Rusty). Creator of Hot Guys and Baby Animals and writer at Dogster.

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