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Personality is everything. It's as true about dogs as it is about people. If you're thinking about getting a dog, you may have your heart set on choosing a particular breed, but is that breed right for you? Dog personality plays a big role in determining whether a dog is a good fit for your home. Selecting a dog breed becomes a lot simpler if you know which traits and characteristics are compatible with your own needs. Follow these tips to help choose the right dog for your personality and lifestyle.
Consider Your Home and Family
Are you single, or do you have a big family? Do you have young children, other pets, or older kids? In addition to evaluating the members of your family, think about your physical home, too. Space is also a consideration, whether you have a home or apartment, a large fenced-in yard or a small plot of grass, a neighborhood that's great for walking or have to commute to a dog park, all should factor into choosing a dog breed or size of dog.
These questions will help narrow down your search for a dog. For example, if you live in an apartment and don't have easy access to a park or a place to go for walks, you'll probably want to stick to a small dog that doesn't require as much room to get exercise. If you have small children, you'll likely want to avoid toy breeds, which can be fragile and nervous around very young children, and look instead for a larger breed with a reputation for liking little kids. And if you find yourself drawn to very large dogs, such as a Great Dane or St. Bernard, you'll want to be sure you have enough house and yard to comfortably accommodate such a large dog.
Examine Your Lifestyle
Do you work long hours or travel frequently? Do you like to go exploring, or are you more of a homebody?
If you have an active lifestyle, it makes sense look for an active breed that can keep up with you. Terriers and sporting group breeds enjoy a lot of activity and exercise. If you prefer to spend your Saturdays with your feet up, on the other hand, an active breed wouldn't be the best fit. If you find yourself away from home for long stretches and you're not able to take your pup along, you'll need to look for a breed with a temperament that tolerates being left alone for much of the day.
Consider Why You Want a Dog
It's also a good idea to examine what you hope to get out of having a dog. Do you simply want a companion, or do you want a watch dog? Do you want a little buddy to curl up in your lap or a big pal to keep you company when you go jogging? Some pet parents look for a nanny dog who can protect your kids while they play, while others are looking to find a new best friend for their family. Being totally honest with yourself about why you want a dog and what you hope he'll do for you and your family will go a long way toward narrowing down the best type of dog for your family.
Consider Time and Budget
Make an honest assessment of how much time and money you have to devote to a dog. Keep in mind that adopting a dog is very close to adopting a very young child who stays young forever. In addition to supplying proper nutrition, a bed, toys and various accessories, you'll also need to provide grooming, adequate exercise and health care. Some dogs need more of these things than others. For example, no matter how much you might love a Maltese puppy, if you don't have the time or the budget for regular brushing and haircuts, it's not the right dog for you. And some breeds have unfortunate genetic predispositions to medical conditions that can be costly to deal with, both in terms of time and money. Decide ahead of time how much of either resource you're willing to devote to caring for your dog over his lifetime.
Adult Dogs vs. Puppies
Age is another important characteristic to consider. Many people prefer to adopt puppies for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that they're cute and hard to resist. Some people feel that raising a dog from a puppy creates a stronger bond. But puppies can also be a lot of hard work to train and care for, and they have a way of stretching your patience to its limits. Older dogs, on the other hand, tend to come already housebroken and socialized, not to mention well past the destructive, "chew everything in sight" teething stage. Unless they have a traumatic history (which can still be overcome), older dogs usually have no problem forging a tight bond with their new family.
Choosing a Breed or Type of Dog
Once you've listed all of your ideal dog personality traits, it's time to research breeds or types of dogs. A great place to start is at your local shelter to see the types and breeds of dogs you may want to consider. Also, HillsPet.com has many breed information articles available to help guide you, as does the American Kennel Club. If you have no idea how to begin, it might be helpful to start thinking about dog groups. Breeds in the terrier group, for example, tend to be assertive and energetic, and need a firm hand and a lot of patience in order to train them. Dogs in the working group are intelligent and relatively easy to train, and they're happiest if they have a job to do. It might be helpful to start with dog groups.
Once you've narrowed down your selections, you might find it helpful to talk to people who have experience with the breeds that interest you. If you don't know anyone personally who has owned those breeds, try searching online, where you'll find many forums and communities that center around specific breeds. It's also a good idea to talk to your vet, who can not only advise you on breed temperament but also tell you whether the breed you've chosen has any medical predispositions that you should be aware of. Your vet should also be able to recommend a reputable breeder or shelter. Keep in mind that there are many great animal shelters that focus on specific breeds, so you should not need to spend hundreds or thousands purchasing a puppy from a breeder.
Purebred vs. Mixed Breed
While it's generally not difficult to find purebred dogs in need of loving homes at animal shelters, you'll also likely find a large selection of mixed-breed dogs. It might seem that a mixed-breed dog's temperament would be harder to predict than those that are bred to a particular standard, but if you know which breeds make up the mixed breed's heritage, it's not that hard. Generally, mixed-breed dogs tend to have a balance of the predominant traits of their parents. Often they tend to have more middle-of-the-road personalities rather than the extremes you sometimes get with purebred dogs. Also, according to the Humane Society of the United States, mixed-breed dogs are less prone to genetic defects that sometimes result from overbreeding purebred dogs. If you're considering a shelter dog, talk to the shelter's adoption counselor about the personality traits you're looking for. He or she should be able to help you find the best match.
With all of these questions, it may seem like finding the right dog personality is as complicated as finding your soul mate. But it is something that should be taken seriously. After all, your dog will likely be a major part of your life for the next 10 to 15 years. You owe it to the both of you to make sure it's a comfortable fit.
Jean Marie Bauhaus
Jean Marie Bauhaus is fiction author and freelance writer and editor living in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She writes frequently about pets and pet health in her home office, where she is assisted by a lapful of furbabies.