Whether you are a prospective, first-time pet parent, or a life-long dog aficionado, there are many considerations to account for prior to bringing home a new dog. That’s why the question “What is the best dog for me?” is such a common one. Every dog is unique and should be approached and cared for according to individual needs and temperament, some of which may not be covered in general dog breed profiles. Dog ownership is a major commitment, and having a good life together means taking the responsibility seriously.
I’ve put together a short list of broad factors to think about as you take steps toward adopting a dog. They are not based only on research, but also drawn from my own personal experiences. I adopted my dog, Baby, a Bluetick Coonhound mix, in April of 2014, less than two weeks after having my previous dog of nine years put to sleep. Don’t get me wrong, I love my dog, but each of the factors in the list that follows are ones I wish I had put far more thought into before bringing her into my life.
First of all, there is no one “right,” “perfect,” or “ideal” dog breed or type of dog. For instance, I have historically had the best luck with female hound-type dogs, so when I found that Baby was available, I pounced at the opportunity. I’ve had Baby for over two years now, and I still have moments when I doubt our chemistry and whether I’m the right owner for a dog of her seemingly limitless energy. Building a relationship with a dog involves a colossal amount of work, time, and patience. Instead of relying on your instinct and history with dogs, give substantial thought to:
How long does a dog live? Depending on the typical lifespan of the breed or mix, if you adopt a baby puppy, for instance, you are looking at caring and providing for them for a total of 8-15 years, or longer. This doesn’t account for the time- and effort-intensive processes of socializing, training, and house-training a dog on a day-to-day basis, especially during early life.
Costs include the financial investments you will make in your dog, such as spaying/neutering, vaccinations, boosters, food, grooming, supplies, bedding, toys, and so forth. Look beyond the purely fiscal, and include the toll a disruptive or destructive dog can have on your anxiety and stress levels. Many people find that the first few months of dog ownership are peppered with worrying about how their dog is doing while they are at school, work, or simply on a run to the grocery store.
You will share the physical space of your home with your dog; is it sufficient to meet not only your needs, but theirs as well? Large and medium breed dogs might be able to live comfortably and contentedly in studio apartments, but will there be enough space for them to stretch their legs or expend their energy? Confinement, either in a crate, or a smaller apartment, can lead high-energy breeds to engage in destructive behaviors. Are there spaces nearby, like dog parks and greenways, where your dog can get the exercise she needs?
Given time, training, and distractions, dogs of any size can adjust to almost any physical space. However, some dogs, even small ones, can be higher maintenance, or require more from their living space than your current home can accommodate. Think also about space in terms of noise: barking, howling, or a shrill bark can wreak havoc on your relationship with neighbors, especially late at nights.
For my own part, I live in the woods, but the intensity of my dog’s bark has frequently woken me in the middle of the night, and though she has a fenced-in yard to run and play in, her size, energy, and need to run all make me wish I had a much larger space to satisfy her. These factors also make it difficult, if not impossible, for me to take her with me when I go to dog-friendly places.
Size matters, not only in terms of a dog’s physical needs. Everyone loves and coos over baby puppies, but, as noted above, there are substantial commitments that must be made in terms of time and training. Small dog breeds may be portable, but they also can be vocal and combative.
The factors I’ve invoked so far have been highly generalized, and that’s with good reason. There are common characteristics that you can find when you do research on a particular dog breed, but they are neither universal nor immutable. No two Pugs are exactly alike, and no two Shiba Inus, even from the same litter, will grow and develop in precisely the same ways.
This is one area where general breed characteristics can be useful. I’ve always had hound-type dogs, but never a Bluetick Coonhound. Baby has consistently surprised me with her physicality, strength, and stubbornness. She is enthusiastic to meet new people, but, as a treeing hound, that usually manifests itself in a tendency to jump on them. On the other hand, she is curious, but always shy when we encounter new dogs.
Even after two years of daily walks with her, I find that if I’m not watching her constantly, her ability to take off at full speed can knock me over. Whether she’s interacting with my young niece or my father, in her joy to see people, my dog can easily injure people she sees everyday without meaning to.
When you are researching a dog breed or mix, pay special attention to how their behavior, temperament, and energy levels manifest over time. Some breeds may retain their puppy energy for several years before they become emotionally mature and physically calmer. For my own part, the nearly constant soreness of my elbows, shoulders, and knees are a daily reminder that perhaps an older dog or a smaller breed might have been a more optimal choice for me at this particular phase of my dog-owning life.
Before you take on the commitments to adopting a dog — any dog — there are shorter-term ways of determining which dog will be the best fit for you. There are rescue organizations and shelters everywhere; inquire at one in your area as to whether there are volunteer opportunities. Spending time with a variety of dogs, even if it’s just taking them for walks a couple of times a week, can give you a sense of how you get along with them. You may start out wanting a large dog and find that a smaller dog fits you better, or vice versa.
Fostering a dog involves a bit more commitment, but is another short-term alternative to adoption that will allow you to get a better idea of the needs and requirements of a particular dog. Check with local rescues or shelters about the time commitments involved with taking home a foster dog. Whether you’re a first-time pet parent, or lifelong dog lover, fostering a dog will provide real-world experience for how a particular dog will interact with you, your family, other pets, and your living space.