Choosing The Right Dog

The selection of available canine companions at a shelter can be overwhelming. Man’s best friend comes in all shapes, sizes, and of course personalities. Almost any shelter dog will make a wonderful lifelong companion for you and your family, but some of these bundles of energy will make less appropriate pets for you than others. The key is knowing what to look for. Here are a few things to think about:

What’s Your Lifestyle?
Choosing the right dog means identifying the animal that suits your lifestyle. If you live alone, in a small, third floor apartment, adopting a large, active, retriever mix might not be the best choice. Conversely, if you have a family of four and are looking for a companion to match an active lifestyle, such an animal may be perfect. A dog’s size, exercise requirements, friendliness, assertiveness, and compatibility with children should all figure into the decision.

Breed and Mixes
How do you find out which dogs have the qualities you are looking for? Information is the key: learn about various breeds, visit with animals at the shelter, and speak with an adoption counsellor for guidance. Dogs fall into one of two categories–purebreds or mixed breeds. Most animals shelters have plenty of both. The only significant difference between the two is that purebreds, because of their parents and other ancestors, are all members of the same breed, are similar to a specific “breed standards.” This means that if you adopt a purebred puppy, you have a good chance of knowing how big he will get and what general characteristics (both physical and behavioural) he will have.

Mixed Breeds
The size, appearance, and temperament of most mixed breed dogs can be predicted. Mixed breeds are simply combinations of different breeds. So if you know the ancestry of a particular mixed breed puppy or can identify what type of dog he is (i.e., terrier mix), you have a good chance of knowing how he will turn out. Mixed breeds offer many advantages over purebreds. When you adopt a mixed breed, you benefit from the combined traits of two or more breeds. You also get a dog free of genetic defects common to certain purebred dogs. Mixed breeds are often considered the more “natural” dog. When you adopt a mixed breed, you are adopting a unique combination.

Visit with Shelter Animals
While you are at the shelter, keep in mind it is a stressful place for any animal. Quite often, a dog’s true colour will not show until he is away from other animals and the shelter environment. So even if you walk past a kennel with a dog who is not vying for attention, do not count him out. He may just be a little scared and lonely.

An adoption counsellor can help you select a canine who matches your lifestyle. When you spend time with each animal, consider the following questions:

How old is the dog? You may want to select a puppy as your new companion. Young dogs require more training and supervision than more mature dogs. If you lack the time or the patience to housetrain your pup or to correct problems like chewing and jumping, an adult dog may be a better choice.

How shy or assertive is the dog? Although an active, bouncy dog might catch your eye, a quieter or more reserved dog might be a better match if you do not have a particularly active lifestyle.

How good is the animal with children? You can learn about the dog’s past from a history sheet or adoption counsellor, but often past information may not be available. An active dog that likes to be touched and is not sensitive to handling and noise is a dog who would thrive in a house full of kids. Puppies younger than four months of age because of fragility and special needs, often will not be adopted out to families with young children.

Choose a Pal for Life
Every dog in the shelter can provide you with boundless love and companionship and every dog deserves a lifelong home. Some dogs are better for you and your lifestyle than others. You should take the time to make a thoughtful choice. You are you choosing a pal likely to be with you for the next 10 to 15 years (or longer). Select the right dog and you and your new companion can enjoy those years to their fullest.

Adapted from the Humane Society of the United States, 2010.