How to Pick the Right Dog for Your Family

Juliet Farmer

Photo by NovemberLove
Adopting a dog can be very gratifying. However, it can easily turn into a nightmare if you don't know what you're getting into before you adopt. I did a ton of research before I decided to adopt a greyhound, and I'm glad I did because I knew (some)what to expect.

Heidi Ganal, the CEO and founder of Camp Bow Wow, has lots of experience with all types of canines, and she's here to share her tips on picking the best dog for your family and lifestyle.

According to Heidi, there are three key issues to consider before you pick the right pooch for your pack.

How old are the members of your family?

If your kids are under 7 years old, Heidi says they're usually not ready for puppies 5 months old and under, or toy-sized (under 15 pounds) dogs of any age.

Puppies have ultra-sharp "milk teeth" and toenails and often teethe on and scratch children, resulting in unintentional injury to the child, causing the puppy to become something to be feared rather than loved. Toy dogs are fine-boned, touch-sensitive creatures that don't weather rough or clumsy handling well. They break relatively easily and are quicker to bite than their larger-boned, mellower relatives.

Unless your children are unusually sensitive, low-key, respectful individuals, a medium- to large-sized dog over 5 months old is usually the safer choice. Regardless of size, all interactions between small children and dogs should be monitored by a responsible adult.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, are there frail, elderly, or physically challenged individuals in your household? If so, strong vigorous adolescent dogs aren't a wise idea. A new dog must fit the current physical capabilities of his keepers with an eye toward what the next 10 to 15 years will bring.  

Who will be the dog's primary caretaker?

A decade or so back, this was an easy question to answer -- Mom. She stayed home and cooked, cleaned, and raised the family dog. Most families these days don't have that option. This leaves the family dog to be sandwiched in between lessons and sports and household chores and so on. One parent should be designated Primary Caretaker to make sure the dog doesn't get lost in the shuffle.

During the 10- to 15-year lifespan of the average dog, your children will be growing in and out of various life stages, and the family dog's importance in their lives will wax and wane like the moon, so Heidi says to avoid saddling a child with total responsibility for the family dog and threatening to get rid of it if the child isn't providing that care. It isn't fair to the child or dog.

Choosing the family dog should include input from all family members. The selection experience is one the entire family can share. Doing some research and polling each family member about what's important to them in a dog will help pin down what you'll be looking for. Books like Daniel Tortora's The Right Dog for You or The ASPCA Complete Guide to Dogs can be tremendously helpful and can warn you away from unsuitable choices for your family's circumstances.

How much can I spend?

The price to obtain a dog runs the gamut from free-to-a-good-home to several thousand dollars, and it doesn't always hold true that you get what you pay for.

The purchase price of a dog is a very small part of what the dog will actually cost. There's also food (and more food, in the case of a large or giant breed), grooming (fancy coated breeds such as Poodles, Cockers, and Shih Tzus need to be clipped often), chew toys (the vigorous chewers like a Bull Terrier or Mastiff can work their way through an $8 rawhide bone in a single sitting), outerwear (short-coated breeds like Greyhounds, Chihuahuas, and Whippets must have sweaters and coats in the winter or in lavishly air-conditioned interiors), and miscellaneous supplies (bowls, beds, brushes, shampoos, flea products, odor neutralizers for accidents, baby gates, leashes, collars, heartworm preventative, etc.).

And don't forget the dreaded veterinary emergency! My own vet emergency experiences have racked up thousands of dollars, which can be especially shocking in the wee hours of the morning, when said emergencies usually occur.

Beyond money, how much time and energy can you spend on a dog? According to Heidi, in general, the Sporting, Hounds, Herding, and Terrier breeds will demand more time in training and daily exercise than will the Guardian or Companion breeds. A puppy or adolescent will need more exercise, training, and supervision than an adult dog. And the first year with any new dog regardless of age or breed type will put more demands on the owner than any other time, for this is when you're setting up house rules and routines, which will last for the lifetime of your dog.

What factors did you consider before you brought your dog(s) home?

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