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How to choose the right dog breed for your family

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How to choose the right dog breed for your family

Here are 21 tips for narrowing down the field of 190 official U.S. breeds to the one that’s best for you and your household.

Do your research

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Do your research

The most important way to choose the dog breed that’s the best fit for your family is research, research, research. There are countless guides, books and websites made for those trying to pick the right breed, from generic to niche interest. There also are resources detailing the ins and outs of each breed, including how much exercise they need, if they’re able to learn tricks or complex commands, their nutrition and diet concerns, their grooming needs and if they tend to suffer from medical conditions. Many pure-bred dogs suffer from genetic conditions, disorders or dispositions to illnesses. It’s important to know of these before choosing that breed.

Take a personality quiz

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Take a personality quiz

While online quizzes like “Which Gilmore Girls character are you?” or “Pick your favorite desserts and get sorted into a Hogwarts house” are fun, there are actually some useful online quizzes to help define your “dog personality.” The American Kennel Club as well as other dog publications and brands offer online quizzes that can be a good jumping-off point when choosing a breed for your family. The quizzes can suggest breeds that fit your family makeup, lifestyle and more, including breeds you might not have heard of or considered before. PawsLikeMe.com, for example, uses a personality quiz to match you with dog adoption listings from across the country.

Consider personality and temperament

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Consider personality and temperament

While breeds often have typical traits, breed is no guarantee of a specific dog’s personality, intelligence or temperament. Use breed descriptions as a guideline or starting point, but ask a specific dog’s owner, breeder, foster home, or rescue or shelter workers questions about traits that you’re looking for.

Narrow it down to a category of breeds

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Narrow it down to a category of breeds

In addition to the AKC’s recognized breeds, there’s crossbreeds, mixed breeds and mutts of all shapes and sizes. It could be helpful to narrow your field down to a category of breeds. You can do this by desired size or coat type or by the AKC’s seven official groups: toy, terrier, herding, working, hound, sporting and non-sporting.

Keep in mind what they were bred for

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Keep in mind what they were bred for

Digging dogs are going to dig, hunting dogs are likely to chase birds, and herding dogs might try to maneuver children like sheep. You might want a cute, quirky breed like the Nederlandse Kooikerhondje, but getting a sporting dog bred for running, jumping and hunting isn’t a good fit for a family of couch potatoes. Though there can be exceptions, most dogs will defer to their DNA for certain behaviors, so if you can’t handle some of those traits or they’re not a good fit for your family, rule out that breed or group of breeds.

Other animals might not be BFFs with certain breeds

Other animals might not be BFFs with certain breeds

Certain breeds that have been bred to herd or to hunt rabbits or birds might have problems with resident pets, including cats. Hunting dogs have a chase drive that can kick in when they see movement from small animals. Make sure to choose a breed or a dog with a low chase or prey drive if you have other small pets or if you live around lots of wild animals such as squirrels, rabbits or birds. This could make training or controlling your dog difficult.

Mix and match breeds

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Mix and match breeds

If you’re torn between breeds because you like and dislike certain traits in each, why not consider a combo? Crossbreeds have become more popular in recent years as a way to get the best of both worlds from two breeds. Poodles are popular to crossbreed because they are low-shedding and produce less dander, making them ideal for many allergy sufferers. Mixes like labradoodles (Labradors and poodles) and cockapoos (cocker spaniels and poodles) are popular. If health conditions such as hip dysplasia and skin infections concern you, consider a “mutt.” They often are hardier and have a lower incidence of genetic disease.

Meet the dog

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Meet the dog

Whether you’re adopting a shelter dog or picking out a puppy, it’s important to see how a dog breed acts in person before committing. You might read that a breed is playful, but does that mean they’re bowling you over with their energy or that they’re more obsessed with playing fetch than listening to you? One of the best ways to get a read on a breed is to spend time with them and see what it would be like to have them as part of the family.

Consider your climate

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Consider your climate

With the modern marvel of heat and air conditioning, dogs from all different countries can live happily in different climates, but if you enjoy outdoor excursions with your dog, it’s important to consider whether a dog is built for your weather. Having a husky in Arizona means extra heavy shedding and the risk of overheating, while having a Chihuahua or a greyhound in Chicago means buying cold-weather gear like a coat and booties to protect your pup. Consider the health risks and potential costs before getting a dog that’s not ideally suited for your climate.

Don’t get yourself into a hairy situation

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Don’t get yourself into a hairy situation

Big fluffy dogs mean big fluffy hairballs all across your home. Huskies, Alaskan malamutes, golden retrievers, Akitas, Great Pyrenees, Newfoundlands and St. Bernards are just some of the breeds that are heavy shedders that require frequent brushing. Other breeds require regular or even daily grooming to keep their coats from getting matted. Only get a komondor, Lhasa apso, puli, Maltese, Shih Tzu, sheltie, bichon frise, Afghan hound, Scottie, schnauzer, Yorkie or other high-maintenance breed if you can commit the time and money to keep these kinds of pups happy and healthy.

There’s no such thing as a 100% non-allergenic dog

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There’s no such thing as a 100% non-allergenic dog

Don’t let the term “hypoallergenic” fool you. People with dog allergies aren’t allergic to the hair, but to pet dander as well as proteins found in the animal’s saliva and skin that get deposited on the hair. All dogs secrete these proteins, so there’s no allergy-free dog. If someone in your family is allergic to dogs, it’s important to know that they could still have reactions to any dog. Dogs that shed less and are easy to bathe regularly are ideal for allergy sufferers, however. These breeds include dogs with short, curly coats such as poodles, Lagotto Romagnolos, Portuguese water dogs, Kerry blue terriers, schnauzers and soft-coated wheaten terriers.

Think about space

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Think about space

You might have space in your heart and in your family for a dog, but how much physical space do you actually have? Do you only have room in your house for a tiny crate or dog bed? Do you have a yard for play? If you live in an apartment building, how easy would it be to get a dog outside for a walk? How close is the nearest green space or dog park? All of these things should inform which breed you choose. And while small dogs are more suitable for apartments size-wise, certain small breeds need just as much or even more stimulation and exercise than some big, lazy breeds.

Assess your noise tolerance

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Assess your noise tolerance

Certain breeds have been bred to be noisy. Guard dogs need to bark loudly, and with hunting dogs, howling is in their DNA. Beagles, basset hounds, Dobermans, Jack Russell terriers, Samoyeds, Westies and more are known for being vocal dogs. If you need peace and quiet at home for yourself or because you live in proximity to nasty neighbors who might make a fuss, then opt for mellower breeds.

Not all dogs are made for running

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Not all dogs are made for running

Some dogs are built for speed and endurance and get bored, disobedient and even destructive if their minds and bodies aren’t active. While these dogs are happy to relax and cuddle afterward, they aren’t ideal for someone less active than them. Conversely, homebody cuddlebugs don’t make for the best running buddies. In fact, most dogs haven’t been bred for distance, so if you’re a big runner, don’t just assume that any dog will be able to keep up, even if they have an athletic build. According to Runner’s World, Weimaraners, vizslas, greyhounds, Dalmatians, golden and Labrador retrievers, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, border collies, Catahoulas, standard poodles and Portuguese water dogs are the best companions for long, steady runs.

Consider where you want to take your dog

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Consider where you want to take your dog

Certain dogs were bred for the great outdoors, while others are best suited to city streets. If you’re into outdoor adventures such as camping or hiking and want a dog that can tag along, make sure to pick a breed that can keep up. Look for breeds that are athletic, adventurous, agile and can traverse snow and mountains. Conversely, if you want your pup to tag along to the pool, beach or the lake, choose a water-loving breed such as Labrador or golden retrievers, American or Irish water spaniels, or a Portuguese or Spanish water dog.

Pick a kid-friendly dog

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Pick a kid-friendly dog

If you have children or your dog will be around children regularly, it’s important to pick a breed known for being patient, calm and gentle with kids. Small, snappy and less sturdy dogs are sometimes less kid-friendly, while some big breeds are perfect playmates for young kids. Great Danes and Bernese mountain dogs can be great with kids, for instance, but terriers also can be a smart choice because of their intelligence, playfulness and loyalty to their families. Consider the activity level of your children and their ages when selecting a breed.

Plan around your other canine companions

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Plan around your other canine companions

Some breeds or dogs do best when flying solo as the only pup in the house. If you already have a dog, it’s important to introduce them to your new desired dog to make sure they get along. And if you think you might want to add another dog after getting your first one, make sure to get a dog that’s not too aggressive, territorial or dominating.

Know your limitations as an owner

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Know your limitations as an owner

There are certain dog breeds that are known for being stubborn, aggressive or mischievous. And while these pups can be wrangled with good training, if you’re a first-time dog owner, this can pose a challenge that’s best left to owners who are more confident and experienced. For example, huskies are independent and not afraid to “talk back” or ignore their owners, while Dalmatians are known to be destructive when bored.

Make sure you can afford your furry friend

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Make sure you can afford your furry friend

Getting a dog is a major commitment, especially financially. The cost of a pet over its lifetime can cost as much as $20,000, and according to the ASPCA, the first-year costs of getting a dog, such as medical procedures, cages, leashes, etc., runs an average of $500. It’s important to take into account the costs that arise from certain breeds’ medical predispositions as well as additional costs like kenneling your dog if you travel regularly or hiring a dog walker if you’re out of the house all day.

Check your building or city’s regulations

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Check your building or city’s regulations

While the U.S. government places no restrictions on dogs you can own, certain military bases, counties and cities have breed-specific legislation banning or restricting owning or housing certain breeds, especially “bully breeds” such as pit bulls and Staffordshire terriers. Potential restrictions include having to register the dog with the city, getting them microchipped, carrying a minimum in liability insurance or mandatory muzzling of certain breeds in public places. These rules often apply to purebred as well as mixed breeds or even mutts who have any features of the restricted breeds.

Remember you don’t have to get a puppy

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Remember you don’t have to get a puppy

If the thought of committing the time and energy to house train, socialize, crate train and obedience train an excitable puppy is overwhelming, your dog-owning dreams can still come true. Shelters and rescue organizations are filled with adult dogs who’ve outgrown the puppy phase and require less effort to join your family. If you have young children, a puppy might not be a smart move because of the time commitment involved.

How To Choose the Right Dog Breed for Your Family [Gallery]