Cover Stories

Finding a Dog to Fit Your Lifestyle

Plan ahead to reap the rewards of a loving pet

By Kimberly Blaker

Every year thousands of dogs are turned over to animal shelters because they were given as a gift without first consulting the gift recipient — or people discover they brought home a biter, barker, digger, or jumper. When pets are given away, owners, and particularly dogs, suffer.

So before selecting your dog, do your homework. With a little pre-planning, you can find the dog that most closely fits yours or your gift recipient’s lifestyle.

Variety of dogs, variety of nuisances

Dogs can create many nuisances. Some of these are more common in particular breeds. A barking dog helps protect against intruders. But excessive barking can become a problem. Some breeds known for their barking include the Alaskan malamute, American water spaniel, bassett hound, finnish spitz, fox and other terriers, great Pyrenees, and miniature schnauzer.

A playful, energetic puppy can make a great playmate. But as your puppy grows, that hyperactivity could become overwhelming. High-strung dogs often jump on people and tear through the house. Certain breeds tend to maintain that high energy level well into their adult size bodies. Such breeds include the Airedale terriers, boxer, Brittany, cocker spaniel, dalmatian, golden retriever, Irish setter, Jack Russell terrier, Labrador retriever, pointer, and schnauzer.

Dogs dig for many reasons—to bury a bone, to escape from a fenced yard, to keep cool, or out of boredom. A torn-up yard can be the last straw for many dog owners. The following breeds tend to be diggers: fox terriers, Norwich terrier, and petit basset griffon Vendeen.

Dogs can be aggressive for a variety of reasons. Poor breeding, physical abuse, and even disease can cause aggression in a dog. Certain dominant breeds can also tend toward aggressiveness if not handled by a firm and skilled handler. Choose these dogs with caution and the understanding they require strong leadership: akita, American pit bull terrier, bulldog, bullmastiff, chow chow,doberman pinscher, german shepherd dog, rottweiler, schnauzer, shih tzu, siberian husky, and weimaraner.

Grooming is another consideration. While it may sound painless, the upkeep of certain breeds can be overwhelming. In addition to keeping claws trimmed and an occasional bath, some dogs require lengthy daily brushing to remove tangles or trapped fur in double coats. High maintenance breeds include the American eskimo, cocker spaniel, collie, great Pyrenees, lhasa apso, old English sheepdog, poodle, schnauzer, and terriers.

Traits to look for in a family dog

Many unforeseen problems are avoidable by finding a dog that’ll be easy to handle. Easy trainers include American water spaniel, australian shepherd, bichon frise, cocker spaniel, irish setter,italian greyhound, Maltese, and Shetland sheepdog.

Calm, gentle breeds may be essential to your peace of mind. Keep in mind size alone doesn’t dictate these traits. Gentle breeds you might consider are bassett hound, beagle, bearded collie, and chinese crested.

Playful and energetic puppies can be a handful once they’re full-grown and haven’t outgrown their energy level. These include American eskimo, bloodhound, brittany, dalmatian, golden retriever, irish wolfhound, labrador retriever, pointer, poodle, saint bernard, or schnauzer.

There are many other traits to consider in choosing a new dog. Before bringing home your puppy, read a book or articles about the breed that interests you to determine if it will fit your family’s lifestyle. For personalized assistance in choosing a breed, go to one of the many other breed selection sites. You’ll be guided through a series of questions and receive a free personalized list of matches.

Special considerations

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 800,000 people, mostly children, are bitten annually severely enough to require medical attention. If you have grandchildren or other children who visit, keep in mind that Infants and small children shouldn’t be left alone with a dog. It may be hard to picture your lovable Fido as capable of hurting a child. But even the gentlest dogs have been known to bite.

Little kids sometimes get too close to a dog while it’s eating or chewing a bone or startle a dog while it’s sleeping. Sometimes, small children hang on dogs, pull their tails, or threaten a dog’s safety. This can lead to injury to either the dog or your child.

Also, dogs view their families as part of their pack. A properly trained dog should view adults and older children as alpha (top dog). But a dog isn’t likely to see a small child in this light and may wield its authority when no one’s around.

Apartment living is another consideration. The size dog you choose is vital to both your dog’s well being and to maintain your sanity. High energy and medium to large breeds generally need large areas to romp. Without it, your apartment could become a round-the-clock racetrack. Planning regular walks for these dogs may not be sufficient. You’ll tire long before your dog. Also, there will be occasions when you aren’t able to accommodate your dog’s need to exercise.

The costs of pet ownership should also be weighed out. First, there are obvious costs, such as pet food and annual vaccinations. Other expenses include licensing, monthly heartworm pills, chew toys, damaged belongings, fencing, training, unexpected veterinary expense, grooming, kenneling, and more.

If you or frequent guests have bad allergies or asthma, check with your doctor before bringing any furred, feathered, or finned pet into your home.

Also, the holiday season may not be the best time of year to bring home a new dog. People are generally too busy during the holidays to give a new pet the attention it needs. Choose a season when you’ll be able to spend plenty of time with your new dog as it adjusts to its new home.

Where to find your dog

The Humane Society, an animal shelter, or an accidental litter of pups is a great place to find your dog at an affordable price. Giving a home to a dog that might otherwise be put to sleep or caged indefinitely, and not contributing to the overpopulation of dogs by buying from breeders, are good reasons to go this route.

Most often, you’ll find mixed breeds through these methods. Mixed breeds are less likely to inherit the diseases and disabilities often common in purebreds. Keep in mind though, sometimes these dogs are strays or weren’t properly cared for by their original owner. If a dog didn’t receive proper vaccinations, it could be at risk for disease. A dog that was abused by its previous owner could also pose risks. Ask the animal shelter what it knows about the dog’s history.

Another way to find your new puppy is through a breeder. Taking home a puppy whose history is known and hasn’t been exposed to a poor environment is a plus. But caution should be used even when buying from a breeder. While most are in the business for their love of the breed, there are plenty of exceptions.

Some breeders are only interested in profits and have little knowledge or concern for good breeding and proper care of pups. This can lead to dogs with poor temperaments, genetic disorders, or disease. Ask plenty of questions, request references, and ask to see the puppies in their normal environment.

According to the American Kennel Club, some things to watch for when selecting your puppy include a runny nose, watery eyes, fever, or disease in the litter. If any of these conditions are present, look elsewhere.

Avoid a puppy that trembles and is shy or one that shows a bad temper. Also, understand that a kennel designated “AKC Reg.” doesn’t mean it has the American Kennel Club’s stamp of approval. It merely means the dogs are registered as being purebred.

Finally, keep in mind that puppies should remain with their mother and littermates until at least 8 weeks of age, and preferably 8.

Training Tips

No matter how careful you are in selecting your pet, chances are, your puppy will develop a problem or nuisance behavior. Prevention is the first step. Once properly vaccinated, your puppy will be old enough for an obedience course for puppies.. Teaching your puppy the basics will make it easier to manage problem behaviors. If you can’t take a class, purchase a dog-training manual and stick with it.

If your dog shows signs of aggression, talk with a professional trainer or your veterinarian. Depending on the cause, there may be a simple solution. If you have kids and their safety becomes an issue, your only option may be a new home for your pet.

Whether your dog ends up with a new owner or in a shelter, make sure you explain the reason for giving your dog away, so it ends up in the proper environment.

For other problem behaviors, there are several good books to help tame your dog. Decoding Your Dog: Explaining Common Dog Behaviors and How to Change or Prevent Unwanted Ones by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, provides many helpful techniques. Contrary to popular belief, never hit, kick, or swat a dog with a newspaper. This can lead to aggressiveness or increase already aggressive behavior.

Most importantly, try to understand and accept your pet’s imperfections and adjust your home accordingly to reduce aggravations. In time, your dog will learn to accept the household routine and become a part of it.

Traveling with Puppy

For some dog owners, going on vacation without their dog is like leaving a family member behind. Therefore, many hotels accommodate guests who travel with pets. Try one of the following that offers pet-friendly services at some or most of its locations:

• Residence Inn and TownePlace Suites by Marriott (800) 228-9290

• Best Western (800) 528-1234

• Hilton (800) 445-8667

• Doubletree Hotels (800) 222-8733.

• Embassy Suites Hotels (800) 362-2779

• Holiday Inn (800) 465-4329

• Comfort Inn (877) 424-6423

When Puppy Must Stay Behind

Traveling with your dog isn’t always feasible. When looking for boarding services, ask the following questions, depending on your dog’s needs.

• Are kennels heated and cooled?

• Are they indoor, outdoor, or accessible to both?

• What kind of food do they provide?

• Is one-on-one playtime or leashed walks offered?

• What vaccinations are required?