Choosing the Right Pet
The "Perfect Dog"Whether you're thinking of getting a purebred dog or a mix, you should take the time to do some research into dog breeds. If you're thinking of a mix, it will make your shelter search much easier if you have in mind "something like a lab" or "some kind of terrier."
What size is right for you?Don't just ask for a "good-sized" dog--for some people that means 25 pounds, for others it means 75. If you can't figure out weights that exactly, are you looking for something the size of a Cocker Spaniel or a German Shepherd Dog?
How much space do you have?This is related to the last question, but not really dependent on it--it's quite possible to keep a large dog in a small space, provided you can give it plenty of opportunities for exercise outside the house or apartment. But keep in mind that if your house is very small, a Newfoundland may take up all the available floor space. On the other hand, some very large breeds are quite inactive while their smaller cousins will be constantly on the go. That Newf takes up the whole living room rug, but he might just do better there than, say, a Jack Russell Terrier, an extremely active small dog.
How much exercise can you give this dog?Some can get by with a short walk, others need to run for hours every day. Take an honest look at what you're willing and able to do with your dog. Be sure to consider both your schedule and your athletic abilities: If you'd like an active dog but your work schedule keeps you busy 70 hours a week, don't get an active dog. He'd enjoy going for runs with you on weekends but he'd be miserable (and probably destructive) during the work week when you don't have time to exercise him.
Where will the dog live?A lot of people feel very strongly that all dogs should live in the house, and just about any dog will do well inside if it's given enough exercise. If your dog will be spending a lot of time outside, you must consider your climate in choosing a breed--some cannot tolerate heat, others are equally incapable of being out in the cold. If your dog must live outside, be sure that it has adequate (enclosed, covered, maybe even heated) shelter, and make an extra effort to spend time with your dog. And don't expect your big, black, heavily coated Bernese Mountain Dog to live outside in the summer sun!
How much grooming are you willing to do?Are you willing to spend the time required to keep a long soft coat free of tangles and mats? How about the money to have a dog professionally groomed on a regular basis -- say, every 6 weeks for non-shedding breeds which need to be clipped? Even dogs that are fairly low-maintenance can go through periods of profuse shedding during which their coats need extra attention. And all dogs, even hairless ones, need to have their nails, eyes, and ears taken care of.
What do you plan to do with your dog?Do you want a loyal couch potato? A jogging partner? A good watchdog? Or do you want to start exploring the many activities you can do with your dog--things like obedience, agility, hiking, herding, hunting or any of the many others out there? This will affect your breed choice because, for example, most toy breeds just don't make very good frisbee dogs.
What past experience do you have with dogs?This question shouldn't be taken to suggest that you shouldn't get a dog if you haven't already had one -- everyone has a first dog at some point. But there are breeds that are not recommended for first-time owners. If you have had dogs before, think about what you liked about them -- it can be very useful information, since nobody would recommend a Border Collie to someone who had always loved the relaxed attitude of Mom and Dad's Basset Hound.
If you have children, are you prepared to teach both children and dog to co-exist peacefully?Children and dogs can make a wonderful mix...or a very bad one. You need to spend time training both the dog AND the children to treat each other appropriately. A common question is "What breeds are good with kids?" The answer is that it depends more on how the dog is raised and trained. Supervision -- even for dogs good with children is a must. Just because a dog is good with children is not license for children to abuse the dog -- every dog will have its breaking point. If you are unsure of your ability to properly train young puppies and/or children in this respect, you may want to consider waiting until the children are older, or find an adult dog known to be good with children and then supervise