Choosing a Dog Breed

When it comes to choosing a dog, there are lots of things to think about: Puppy or adult dog? Male or female? Purebred or mixed breed? Once you've answered these questions, you still need to decide which type of dog breed or mixed breed you'd like. Every dog has his own set of distinctive traits, so it's important to do your research before making a final decision. The following are some of the basic things to consider when selecting the perfect dog for you and your family:

Puppy or Adult?

Puppies offer their new owners a "clean slate," a chance to mold a companion or performance dog and somewhat shape his behavior. Bringing home a puppy allows you to experience and participate in all the fascinating stages of his life.

Take a serious look at your lifestyle, available time and energy, and the willingness of all the members of your family to join in the challenging process of raising a puppy. Also, be ready to spend a good deal of time preparing your home for his arrival. Learn about how to build desirable behaviors in a puppy and young dog, and monitor the interactions of the members of your household with the puppy so that you can maintain consistency in his handling.

It's fair to say that the first six to nine months of a puppy's life make the dog. Your ability to actively and knowledgeably manage and direct your dog's puppyhood will set the stage for his adult life. Is this challenge one that you are prepared to accept at this time, given your daily schedule, your other commitments, and your interest in developing a puppy-raising agenda? If not, consider the alternative of purchasing or adopting an adult.

Obtaining an adult dog from a responsible breeder or owner offers you the opportunity to own a dog whose foundation has been firmly established by a knowledgeable individual. Most dogs are quite adaptable and can shift into a new living environment with some ease, as long as their basic care requirements are met.

Animal shelters, foster care programs, and national rescue organizations offer adult dogs for adoption. The previous owners of these dogs may have surrendered them because they claimed dissatisfaction with the dog's behavior or were incapable of meeting his needs. However, most of these dogs are the victims of inadequate training and neglectful treatment and are perfectly willing to behave in an appropriate manner if given the proper education and guidance.

Male or Female?

You'll get many different opinions about which sex you should choose. Some people swear that females are more easily trained and form closer emotional bonds with their owners. Others firmly believe that males have more character and more consistent temperaments. But the truth is that personality is subjective and varies from dog to dog.

Purebred or Mixed Breed?

Purebred dogs present many advantages. First, a purebred offers you a guarantee of what a puppy will look like as an adult—the size, coat type, activity level, and natural instincts have been passed down from generation to generation. Second, because you are more likely to meet and observe your puppy's mother, temperament can be better evaluated. When purchasing a purebred, find a responsible breeder to ensure that the dog is sound and certified free of certain heritable genetic diseases.

Mixed-breed dogs, or "mutts" as they are sometimes affectionately called, can also make great pets. There are thousands of dogs in shelters all over the United States just waiting to be adopted. Besides being abundant, mixed breeds, because of their varied backgrounds, may escape many of the genetic problems that purebred dog's face. To ensure that you get the best mixed breed for your family situation, find out as much about the dog's history, background, and former treatment as possible. Having this information can help predict future problems and allow you to formulate a solution if they should arise.


Dogs, even small ones, need space—space to play, grow, exercise, and be alone when they want. The amount of space you can provide will determine which kind of dog is best for you.

First, there are basic considerations: Are you allowed to have a dog in your residence? If you rent your home or apartment or live in restricted housing like a condominium complex or retirement village, you may not be permitted to have a dog. Check your lease or your community bylaws to confirm that dogs are allowed in your home before purchasing or adopting one.

If you are permitted to have a dog or if you own your residence, take inventory of the space available. If you live in an apartment or condo, make sure that you can take your dog out for frequent walks and potty breaks.

Consider the size of your residence. A giant breed like a Great Dane or Saint Bernard will not be happy or comfortable in a studio apartment, and a little dog may feel overwhelmed with free access to a large house. Choose a dog who will "fit in" best, especially when he is a full-sized adult.


All healthy puppies are playful, active, and full of energy. Puppies do grow up, however, and each breed will have certain exercise requirements that must be met for its physical and mental well-being. If you pick the right puppy, the level of activity that both of you enjoy should be a perfect match throughout your life together.


As dogs evolved over time, each group developed coats for protection from both the elements and predators—in other words, their coats became matters of function. Dogs with short, smooth coats were good hunters because they didn't pick up burrs or become stuck in the field. Long coats helped dogs who were bred to work in colder climates stay warm.

When you are choosing which breed of dog you want, coat type is an important consideration. Different breeds have different types of coats, and each has specific grooming requirements. Do you want to spend lots of time every day on grooming, or will your schedule only permit once a week? If you choose a breed that requires clipping, trimming, or stripping, are you willing to learn or would you rather pay someone to do it for you? Does shedding really bother you? The answers to these questions can be important factors when choosing a breed.


From the Chihuahua and Yorkshire Terrier all the way up to the Saint Bernard and Great Dane, dogs come in a variety of shapes and sizes. A dog's size can be a part of his appeal (West Highland White Terriers can be at home just about anywhere, no matter how tight the quarters are) or a deterrent (it's much easier to accidentally step on a Westie than a Rottweiler!). You should choose a breed whose size fits your lifestyle.


While a dog of any breed could be happy to snuggle up in your lap, some breeds are more likely to enjoy spending time like this. On the other hand, certain breeds will be more inclined than others to join you for a run in the park. Before getting a dog, decide which personality traits are important to you and look for a breed that meets your standard.


How important is it to you that your dog can do tricks or learn obedience commands quickly? How much time are you willing to spend training him? Some dogs are more easily trained than others. There are great dogs out there who, try as they might, will need a lot more practice than others to learn how to roll over on command. And there are other dogs who can learn several tricks in one day, but they may not have certain other traits that you find desirable. You'll have to decide what's most important to you.

Excerpts adapted from:

Animal Planet™ Complete Guide to Puppy Care by Stacy Kennedy, © 2000, 2012 by TFH Publications, Inc.

Terra-Nova The Siberian Husky by Lorie Long, © 2007 by TFH Publications, Inc.

Raising Puppies & Kids Together by Pia Silvani, CPDT, and Lynn Eckhardt, © 2005 by TFH Publications, Inc.


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