By Terry Albert
The Obama family’s search for a dog was widely publicized earlier this year. They made a great (and careful) selection and Bo has settled into his new life with the First Family. If you are thinking about getting a dog, how do you decide what breed to get?
This is not meant to be a comprehensive guide to choosing a dog, but I do want to point out some lifestyle issues that will help you make your choice. Also, I think mixed breed dogs make wonderful pets, but do take into consideration what breeds make up the dog you select. You can’t always tell, but a good guess can help you choose a dog you can live with.
You’re a clean freak
Do NOT choose a German Shepherd, Alaskan Malamute or Labrador Retriever. These breeds shed worse than many long-coated breeds. Unless you are willing to spend a lot of time grooming, these breeds are not for you.
You’re an athlete
Joggers, here’s the perfect breed for you: a Dalmatian. They were bred to run alongside a horse carriage and rest underneath while the owners went about their business. You might think a greyhound is a great idea, but they are sprinters, not intended for long periods of running.
Most of the sporting breeds are very athletic; for example, German Shorthaired Pointers.
Get a reptile. No, really, there is no such thing as totally hypoallergenic dog. Even non-shedding breeds have skin dander. It all depends on what you are allergic to. Some very “clean breeds” are Portuguese Water Dogs, Schnauzers, Poodles, and Bichon Frise.
You’re a couch potato
I have all the good intentions in the world, but I still spend a lot of time relaxing in the recliner. Pick a dog that matches your energy level. Many dogs were bred to specifically serve as lap dogs–most of the toy breeds, in fact. That being said, a small dog is not always a lap dog. Jack Russell Terriers (renamed as Parson Russell Terriers) will be dancing on your head if they don’t get enough exercise. My mini Dachshund serves as my lap warmer in the evenings.
You might also consider an older dog if you’re not particularly active. I have adopted many senior dogs, and have never regretted it for a minute. I got Sandy at 14, and she lived to be 18. Their love is like no other.
You want a watchdog
Be careful what you ask for, you might get it. One of my pet sitting clients is a single woman who owns a Giant Schnauzer. Casey (shown above) is a great dog, and a 100 pound black dog at the front door intimidates EVERYONE who comes to the house. He is protective and cautious with strangers. He is perfectly trained; she understands how to deal with a dominant dog, and he has never shown aggression to any human or animal.
But most of us aren’t so dog savvy, and you may do better with one of the less powerful breeds. A good watchdog can be a Lab, who barks when someone arrives, and then runs for his favorite stuffed animal to share with the newcomer. A dog that lets you know someone is arriving and then shuts up and lets you be the pack leader is the type of pet most families want. So unless you understand what it takes to own a Doberman, I recommend you pick a less protective breed.
Get a potted plant. Just kidding… Between jobs and kids, many families don’t have the time to make a dog the center of their universe, and that is fine. As long as your pet gets family time with you, you can still have a dog. Puppies require a lot of supervision and training. Consider an adult dog. If you’re not going to make the dog a part of the family and let him live indoors with you, don’t get one.
Don’t pick a dog that needs daily brushing or an hour walk am and pm unless your family is already used to these chores. Don’t get a second dog to keep the first one company; it doesn’t make up for a lack of attention from you, and you just doubled the workload.
You are pregnant
When I was a dog trainer, and then later as a volunteer for rescue, I saw so many pregnant women who wanted to get a dog. The nurturing instinct just won't wait for the baby to arrive– you need something to cuddle and love NOW. "But we want them to grow up together," you say. Wait. Wait until the child is old enough to enjoy the dog, and you have more time to train both of them. Adding a puppy is like adding a child to the family; it's a lot of work, and when the baby arrives, he or she will be your priority. Dogs don't live as long as people. Coordinate their shorter lifespan so the child and dog are better matched in maturity level.
You live alone
The choice is yours. Dogs make great companions. They listen to you, they’re always happy to see you, and they don’t complain when you snore. Just pick one that matches your activity level!
Here are some sites to help you choose a breed that’s right for your family:
Animal Planet’s dog selector: http://animal.discovery.com/breedselector/dogselectorindex.do
And a book:
Choosing a Dog for Dummies, by Chris Walkowicz
© 2009 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.