Choosing Your Pet

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There are more than 400 different breeds of dogs, each with its own unique characteristics and personality. Understanding the characteristics of breeds is a good place to begin your selection process. Before your start, though, develop a list of the personality traits you'd like in your dog, then consider your lifestyle and how much daily responsibility you are willing to take on to make sure you make the right match.

Dog Breeds

The American Kennel Club divides breeds into seven categories, determined primarily by the purpose for each breed historically. Within each category, you'll find dogs of different types and sizes, but, overall, they possess definable traits and behaviors.

Sporting dogs were bred to hunt game birds and are good choices for active families. Recognized breeds in this category include Setters, Spaniels, Retrievers and Pointers of all kinds.

Hounds are searching dogs, bred either based on scent or sight. Scent hounds can get excited by a found scent and include Beagles and Bassets. Sight hounds tend to be independent and slightly aloof. They can often be described as having long legs, slim bodies and long noses. Breeds in this category include Dachshunds, Afghans and Greyhounds.

Working dogs were bred to for hard work and to serve as guard dogs, such as Huskies, Rottweilers, and Dobermans. Some large breeds make particularly hard workers: Mastiffs, Great Danes and Alaskan Malamutes.

Terriers, also hunting dogs, were originally trained to help find rats, mice and other predators on farms. Today they still have a tendency to be excitable and yappy. They include Airedales and Border, Irish and Scottish Terriers.

Toy breeds were bred for their size and have historically been the pets of noblemen and royalty. But don't be fooled by their size – some of them can be as tough as larger dogs. Examples of toy breeds are Shih-Tzu, Pomeranian, Maltese, Pekinese and Chihuahuas. These dogs may require more grooming than other breeds and they can be more difficult to housetrain.

Non-sporting dogs were bred to be companions for a variety of jobs around the world. The category is diverse, ranging from three varieties of Poodles and Bichon Frise to Dalmatians, Bulldogs and Chow Chows.

Herding dogs helped keep cattle and other livestock from straying. They are often active, intelligent and determined. Familiar breeds include Collies, German Shepherds and Corgis.

You'll need to do in-depth research to find the right fit for your household, but here is some information about dog breeds that match certain lifestyles.

For Families & Kids

  • Beagle
  • Border Collie
  • Bichon Frise
  • Chihuahua
  • Cocker Spaniel
  • German Shepherd
  • Labrador Retriever
  • Pug

Active

  • Border Collie
  • Cocker Spaniel
  • Fox Terrier
  • Labrador

Easy Going & Resilient

  • Airedale
  • Australian Cattle Dog
  • Boxer
  • Fox Terrier
  • Pug

Intelligent

  • Australian Sheepdog
  • Belgian Sheepdog
  • German Shepherd
  • Keeshond
  • Poodle

Less Active

  • Basset Hound
  • Boston Terrier
  • Chihuahua
  • Dachshund
  • French Bulldog
  • King Charles Spaniel
  • Toy Breeds

City Dogs

  • Basenji
  • Boston Terrier
  • Bulldog
  • Lhasa Apso
  • Pug
  • Scottish Terrier
  • Toy Breeds
  • Welsh Corgi

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Where To Get Your Dog

You can obtain a puppy or grown dog from a wide variety of sources: pet stores, classified ads, rescue groups, shelters, breeders or a neighbor. In many cases, people handle the dogs responsibly before you take them home. However, there are puppy mills and brokers, some of which supply other sources, that focus purely on the business of making money and do not follow safe practices or treat dogs properly. That's why it is important to check out your dog carefully and make sure you review and receive detailed documentation.

Wherever you obtain your dog, make sure the place is kept clean. The dog should look clean and healthy. Avoid dogs that appear lethargic. Take time to engage with each dog alone that you are considering and see whether it responds to you by listening to your voice, coming to you and accepting your touch. Lack of response or excessive shyness may mean there is a problem. Carefully examine the dog by looking at its underbelly, feet, eyes and ears to make sure they appear healthy and clean. While you may feel a desire to "save" a dog that has health issues, in most cases, unhealthy dogs don't survive.

Regarding the documentation, be sure to read the fine print about policies associated with health guarantees, returns and refunds. Make sure the contract includes, or can be supplemented with added pricing for, neutering or spaying. Documentation should include information about the puppy's birth, parents, age, health and living arrangements. Documents need to identify you clearly as the dog's owner. You will need this documentation in the future to register pure breeds with kennel clubs and all dogs in accordance with local registration requirements. Documentation may also be needed to travel with your dog internationally.

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Preparing Your Home

Whether you plan to train a puppy or bring an adult dog into your life, your house and family need some preparation before your bring your new pet home. First, buy all the basic equipment and supplies you'll need: food and treats, collars and leashes, chew toys and balls, grooming tools, a crate, a bed and bedding. Get rid of any houseplants that may be poisonous to your dog or move them out of reach. Move any valuable or breakable items to higher ground, too. Cover or protect electrical cords throughout the house to keep them away from inquiring paws and mouths. Use baby fences to block off areas of the house you don't want to open up to the dog, at least initially. Get into the habit of putting the toilet lid down and keeping shoes behind closed doors in closets or up on shelves.

If you have a yard, create a fenced-in area for your dog to play in safely. Within the fenced-in area, create spaces for your dog to dig, chew, chase and run. For larger and active dogs, you might want to set up a dog run. Remember that your dog will need to be leashed whenever it is outdoors.

Prepare your family by discussing the new demands of a dog in the household. Set up a schedule for who will take responsibility for feeding, walking, playing and grooming the dog every hour of the day, seven days a week. Make sure your family, particularly children, understands the adjustments that will be required, especially in the first weeks.

Two other steps are needed prior to bringing your dog home. First, find a veterinarian and set up your initial vet visit for as close as possible to the date you plan to bring your dog home. Second, get identification for your dog. At a minimum, this means having an identification tag created with the dog's name and your name and telephone number in case the dog is lost or injured. These days most pet owners prefer to get a microchip implanted in their dog, or have their dog tattooed. Both of these identification methods deliver their benefit whether or not the collar and tag are lost. Additionally, they don't create a hazard, like tags, which dogs can get caught on crates or other items. Talk to your vet about which identification method is best for you and your dog and have the identification system in place before your dog comes home.

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Bringing Your Dog Home

The day you bring your dog home is a big transition for your dog – and for you. It takes time to get used to having a new member of the family, particularly when you bring home a puppy. Remember that all these new sights, sounds, smells and people can be overwhelming to the dog, so give it time and space to become familiar. Start immediately with the routine you've identified for daily care with regular feeding, walking, playing and grooming times. Try not to let too many people greet the dog at one time. Let the dog get to know each person in your family individually. Also, give the dog time to explore around the rooms open to it to learn your family's scents and become familiar with the territory.

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