Choosing a new dog can be exciting, but it can also be overwhelming. It’s hard to know where to start your search. Here are some tips to keep in mind as you look for the perfect furry family member.
1. Why you’re considering a new dog
Think about why you want a dog, and what kinds of activities you see yourself doing with him. Swimming at the lake? Duck hunting? Trail running? Competing in flyball? Snoozing on the couch?
These considerations will help you narrow down your options. For example, a service dog or a hunting dog will need to be intelligent and fairly large. A dog that will be doing a lot of outdoor activities in a snowy climate should be a sturdy dog with a double coat for warmth.
2. Where you’re getting the dog from
Breeders typically specialize in one breed of dog, so they are very knowledgeable about that particular breed. The dog’s lineage gives you important clues about the likely adult size, temperament, and health status of your new puppy. Note that pedigreed dogs can be quite expensive.
Shelters (Like the Animal Rescue League of Boston) take in all kinds of animals, so you will have more luck if you are open to dogs of different breeds and backgrounds. You probably won’t know much about the dog’s history, but rescue organizations try to give prospective adopters some idea about the kind of home that the dog would thrive in. For example, they should be able to tell you if the dog gets along well with other dogs, cats, or small children.
Rescue dogs aren’t free, although they tend to be much less expensive than purebred dogs. The adoption fee generally covers some initial medical care, such as shots, heartworm treatment, and spaying/ neutering.
You might think that the only dogs at animal shelters are older dogs with serious behavior problems, but people surrender dogs for many reasons that have nothing to do with the dog’s actions. In many cases, the owner simply passed away.
Don’t assume that you won’t be able to find a puppy at the humane society, if that’s what you want. Sometimes an unwanted litter is brought to a shelter, or a pregnant stray is rescued and the puppies are fostered until they are old enough for adoption.
3. What breed(s) you’re looking for
There are so many wonderful dog breeds, it would be impossible to spell out all the advantages of each one here. In general, two important factors to keep in mind are size and exercise requirements. If you live in a small apartment on the 30th floor, a pint-sized Australian Shepherd might seem like a great idea – until you realize how much exercise these dogs truly need to be well-adjusted.
When deciding on the best dog breeds for you, be sure to consider other lifestyle factors, like shedding and drooling. A Newfoundland wouldn’t be a good choice for self-described clean freaks, for example. Your expectations should be realistic.
Remember that dogs are individuals, so you may not be able to predict the dog’s personality based on the breed alone. Retrievers in general like to fetch, but some definitely prefer to lounge!
4. What age dog you’re looking for
Adult dogs are in many ways lower-maintenance than a puppy. An adult dog is usually already housebroken, and probably knows a few basic commands. Adult dogs may have some behavior challenges, especially if they came from a traumatic or abusive situation. Another downside of adopting an older dog is that you simply won’t have as many years together.
A puppy is a clean slate – an adorable, wiggly clean slate! And if all goes well, you will have at least ten joyful years with her. But puppies are a lot of work. Until they get the hang of life in a human household, you’ll have to clean up some accidents and deal with some chewed-up possessions.
You should keep in mind that puppies will need frequent trips outside, even if the housetraining is going well. You can’t expect a puppy to hold it for 8 or 9 hours, so if you’ll be at work all day it’s smart to have a dog walker lined up.
5. Whether everyone in the household is on the same page
Before you start seriously looking for your new family member, make sure everyone is on board with the plan. Getting a dog that your significant other doesn’t want can be a recipe for disaster.
It’s also important to agree on the basic expectations for the dog. Where will the dog sleep? Are you going to allow him on the couch, or on your bed? What is the policy on table food? Make sure that you’ve discussed these sorts of rules before the dog comes home, so you won’t confuse him.
6. How you will train the new dog
Think about the training your dog will need. Are you prepared to teach him basic household manners yourself, or do you see yourself taking him to a trainer?
If you are you hoping to get her involved in dog shows or dog sports, or take her hunting, your dog will likely need specialized training.
I wish you the best of luck in your hunt for your new family member!