I want a puppy: picking a dog that’s right for you

The conversation usually goes like this: I want a beagle.What makes you want a beagle? I don’t know. They’re so cute.

Boober is a gentle blue heeler husky cross. She likes long walks with occasional bursts of energy, sheds a bit, doesn’t drool much, and is pretty low-maintenance.

Dogs come in all shapes, sizes, colours and dispositions – along with a variety of lifestyle needs, yet so many people pick their puppy solely based on size or looks. While size and looks are great criteria when buying a new pair of shoes, they’re not the most important factors when picking a dog who lives with you for the next 10 to 15 years. I catch myself doing it too. I see a cute little puppy on the humane society web site and momentarily think, “awe – I want that dog,” and easily rationalize it. But I quickly snap out of it. It would be selfish for me to get another dog right now – especially when that dog would be better off living with someone else.

The best time to think about what you want in a dog is long before you’re spontaneously reacting to one. Here are some things to think about long before taking the puppy plunge.

YOUR READINESS

A most important factor to think about is what makes you want a new puppy or dog.

Are you looking for a companion, an exercise partner, a gift for your child, a guard dog or something else? I always worry when people say they want a guard dog and have no experience with them. What that usually means is they know nothing about dogs, they naïvely believe that throwing a dog in the back-yard means they have a guard dog, and what they end up with is an under-socialized, aggressive animal.

Who lives with you or visits often?

Different dogs are better for different family types. You should end up with a different dog if you live alone, with others, with young children, or are planning a family in the near future. If you already live with animals, determine how you’ll introduce the new one to your pack. Also think about what you’ll do if all of your pets don’t get along.

How much time and effort will you realistically spend with this animal?

Puppies are a

LOT

of work – they need to be socialized, house-trained, obedience trained and exercised. Think about your lifestyle. Do you spend several hours a day at work, belong to different sports teams, and socialize a lot? Are you prepared to give some of that up to spend time with your dog? How much exercise do you want to do with your dog? Are you a walk around the neighbourhood kind of person, marathon runner, or are you into elite dog sports like agility? Be realistic about this – if you’re a couch potato today, you’re not likely to spend two hours a day vigorously exercising your future dog and spending time at the dog park.

Have you been successful with pets before?

A commitment to a pet is for life. By being successful, I mean as an adult have you already cared for a pet for its entire life? If you’ve had one or more false starts where you’ve had a pet, then for some reason gave it up – especially more than once - think long and hard about whether you deserve a dog in your life. What’s best for the dog over the long-term?

YOUR MATCH

What size of dog fits your lifestyle and home?

The type of home you live in, or are likely to live in soon is important. Do you live in an apartment, condo with neighbours, or house with a small or large yard in a city, town or out in the country? Are you moving into a seniors’ complex soon? Are you likely to move back in with your parents? Are they likely to move in with you? We see a lot of empty nester parents who end up looking after their 20ish year-old kids’ dogs, so it’s really important to think this through – possibly even involving other family members in your decision. (If you’re uncertain about your future living arrangements, think about fostering animals with your local shelter or rescue group instead of taking one on for life, or think about adopting a senior dog. That way you’ll get short-term companionship without long-term commitment.)

What kind of attitude and energy are you looking for?

You may think you want a lab puppy, but are you really ready for that? Here’s your guarantee – all puppies are cute, and all puppies are a LOT of work. High-energy adolescent dogs between two and four years old need a lot of exercise to burn off pent-up energy. Adult and senior dogs may be slightly set in some ways, but often have life figured out and are simply more laid back. And when it comes to breed-specific temperaments, some dogs are better when handled by experienced dog people. (Please don’t take on more dog than you can handle.) Before committing to a specific breed, talk with experienced dog people about the pros and cons of each breed.

What’s your gross-out factor?

Dogs shed, drool, and bark. They pee and poop daily, vomit occasionally and have eye boogers. Some dogs do more or less of all of these things. I have a high tolerance to hair, but excessive drool grosses me out. A lot of really small dogs never completely figure out the house-training thing. Know your limits and select a dog that has characteristics you can live with.

How much time and money will you spend on grooming?

All dogs need some amount of grooming including brushing, bathing and clipping, along with nail trimming, dental care, and expressing anal glands (ew!). Those with quick-growing coats likely need professional care, others with long hair need regular brushing and often need supplementary sanitary trims and butt baths too.

Where will your dog hang out while you’re away?

If you and your partner have jobs that keep you away from your dog for large parts of the day or night, where will your dog spend his time? A yard? A crate? In the house? What will you do so he’s not bored? Especially if you get a puppy, will someone be able to let the little guy out to relieve himself?

When you’re away for extended periods of time, will you leave Fido with friends, family members, pet sitters, or at a kennel?

Think about your back-up plan too. We get so many calls in the summer explaining that a neighbour was going to look after the dog, but is now going away on vacation too. Or, while the pet owner is away, the neighbour calls looking for last-minute boarding after realizing that a one-year old lab is a lot of work, pees on their sofa, and digs up their prized roses. Ninety-nine percent of the time, those last minute calls occur when we’re full during busy holiday seasons and can’t help out. Likewise, what will you do if your dog gets a communicable disease and can't stay at the kennel - what are your back-up plans?

Can you afford this animal?

All dogs have base costs to adopt/buy, vaccinate, sterilize, provide regular and emergency veterinary care, and train. However, it takes a lot more money to feed a great dane than it does to feed a chihuahua. Think it through so there are no surprises.

Once you’ve narrowed things down, do talk with people at your local shelter, reputable breeders, veterinarians, and others who work with dogs. They’ll help you narrow things down even more. Don’t go to a pet store that sells puppies because they’ll encourage you to buy from their inventory rather than what fits your dog’s needs and your life - remember puppies aren’t shoes. They do chew shoes though :)

If you or anyone you know is thinking about getting a dog in the future, I hope this post helps you find your perfect match - your new friend for life.