So you want to be a dog-owner…

some_different_dog_breeds_by_insanesokpuppet-d5a69h3Human beings have a long history of co-habitation with animals.  In many cultures, those who kept livestock would bring them into the house at night to keep them from being stolen or attacked by wild animals. Cats and dogs have been domesticated since ancient times, and kept in households for practical reasons, such as keeping the rodent population in check, assisting with hunting or herding, or guarding the family.  And today, people keep various types of pets, mostly for companionship.

According the Humane Society, 39% of American households have at least one dog living in them.  Twenty-eight percent of dog owners own two dogs, and 12% of owners have three or more dogs. That’s a lot of pups!

There are over 150 breeds of dogs, and many more mixed breeds. So how do you choose the type of dog that will be an ideal companion?

Group of dogs different sizes isolatedThere are many factors to consider. First and foremost, one must consider the size of the dwelling space that will be shared with the dog.  A high-rise apartment dweller with a 1Bed/1Bath may want a high-energy larger dog, but unless that owner has the time to take that dog on a good long run every day, it won’t be a match made in heaven. Many breeds, such as Labrador Retrievers, Collies, Malamutes, Border Collies, Dalmatians, among others, need lots of daily physical AND mental exercise; if their owners are short on time or energy, these dogs can become frustrated and destructive.  Smaller lap dogs, such as the Papillon, do better in smaller places.

Another factor: with whom will the dog be sharing space? Kids? Cats? Other dogs? Each breed of dog has certain characteristics that make it either more or less likely to live peacefully with children and other pets.  For example the Staffordshire bull terrier is known to be so good with children that in the UK it is called the “nanny dog.” However, this same dog may not do so well with other pets.  Great Danes are known to be good with children, but small children may be overwhelmed by the dog’s typical size.

Choosing a dog is also like choosing a roommate; you must consider day-to-day living and your  tolerance for shedding, drooling, barking, and chewing on items other than dog toys. If your potential roommate’s habits will annoy you, it would be wise to choose differently.

The pros and cons of purebred vs. mixed breed dogs must also be weighed.  With purebreds, it tends to be easier to predict the general characteristics and personality of a dog, but they tend to be more expensive to adopt (unless from a rescue organization), and they may have a greater risk of genetic health problems.  Mixed breeds have greater genetic diversity leaving them less prone to health problems, but there is also less certainty about physical and behavioral characteristics.

group_of_dogsOnce you have puzzled out the purebred/mixed breed decision, then you must choose where to look for your best friend.  Choices include breeders, rescue organizations, and animal shelters, each having their own set of advantages and disadvantages.  The Human Society of the United States strongly urges people not to buy dogs from pet stores in an effort to combat the cruelties of puppy mills.  Wherever you decide to go, see how the dog responds to you in a petting area. Ask about the dog’s characteristics—is it good with children? High or low energy? A barker or a shedder, etc.? And observe the dog’s interactions with other dogs—is it reserved or social, domineering or timid?

Wow! There is a lot to consider when choosing a new companion. Luckily, we live in the internet age, where information and help is readily available. There are websites with quizzes that can help you determine which breed is right for you and your circumstances.  Choosing a dog is a big deal; choose wisely and you’ll be the best of friends.

~ Jayne Burt-Ozyildirim for Doggy Bag to Go