Selecting a Dog Breed

Last Updated on January 1, 2023

No dog breed is perfect. All breeds have problems. (By: Petful)

Whether you’re thinking of getting a purebred dog or a mix, you should take the time to do some research into dog breeds.

If you’re thinking of a mix, it will make your shelter search much easier if you have in mind “something like a Lab” or “some kind of terrier.” You will know more about dogs having gone through the search. And if you think you already know what breed you want, you may want to look at some of these resources anyway — you may find that the perfect breed is something you’d never considered before.

There are more than 400 breeds of dog in the world, and no one breed is right for everyone.

Questions to Consider When You’re Looking for a Dog

What size is right for you?

Don’t just ask for a “good-sized” dog — for some people, that means 25 pounds; for others it means 75.

If you can’t figure out weights that exactly, are you looking for something the size of a Cocker spaniel or a German shepherd dog?

How much space do you have?

This is related to the last question, but not really dependent on it — it’s quite possible to keep a large dog in a small space, provided you can give them plenty of opportunities for exercise outside the house or apartment. But keep in mind that if your house is very small, a Newfoundland may take up all the available floor space.

On the other hand, some very large breeds are quite inactive while their smaller cousins will be constantly on the go. That Newf takes up the whole living room rug, but he might just do better there than, say, a Jack Russell terrier, an extremely active small dog.

How much exercise can you give this dog?

Some can get by with a short walk; others need to run for hours every day. Take an honest look at what you’re willing and able to do with your dog.

Be sure to consider both your schedule and your athletic abilities: If you’d like an active dog but your work schedule keeps you busy 70 hours a week, don’t get an active dog. He’d enjoy going for runs with you on weekends but he’d be miserable (and probably destructive) during the workweek when you don’t have time to exercise him.

Where will the dog live?

A lot of people feel strongly that all dogs should live in the house, and just about any dog will do well inside if given enough exercise. If your dog will be spending a lot of time outside, you must consider your climate in choosing a breed — some cannot tolerate heat, while others are equally incapable of being out in the cold.

If your dog must live outside, be sure that they have adequate (enclosed, covered, maybe even heated) shelter, and make an extra effort to spend time with them. And don’t expect your big, black, heavily coated Bernese mountain dog to live outside in the summer sun.

How much grooming are you willing to do?

Are you willing to spend the time required to keep a long soft coat free of tangles and mats? How about the money to have a dog professionally groomed and clipped regularly — say, every 6 weeks for non-shedding breeds like the Sheepadoodle?

Even dogs who are fairly low-maintenance can go through periods of profuse shedding during which their coats need extra attention. And all dogs, even hairless ones, need to have their nails, eyes, and ears taken care of.

What do you plan to do with your dog?

Do you want a loyal couch potato? A jogging partner? A good watchdog? Or do you want to start exploring the many activities you can do with your dog — things like obedience, agility, hiking, herding, hunting, or any of the many others out there?

This will affect your breed choice because, for example, most toy breeds just don’t make good Frisbee dogs.

What past experience do you have with dogs?

This question shouldn’t be taken to suggest that you shouldn’t get a dog if you haven’t already had one — everyone has a first dog at some point. But there are breeds that are not recommended for first-time pet caregivers.

If you have had dogs before, think about what you liked about them — it can be useful information, because no one would recommend a border collie to someone who has always loved the relaxed attitude of mom and dad’s basset hound.

If you have children, are you prepared to teach both children and dog to co-exist peacefully?

Children and dogs can make a wonderful mix … or a very bad one. You need to spend time training both the dog and the children to treat each other appropriately.

A common question is “What breeds are good with kids?” The answer is that it depends more on how the dog is raised and trained. Supervision — even for dogs who are good with children — is a must. Just because a dog is good with children is not license for children to abuse the dog. Every dog will have their breaking point.

If you are unsure of your ability to properly train young puppies and/or children in this respect, you may want to consider waiting until the children are older, or find an adult dog known to be good with children and then supervise.

What “job” are you looking for your dog to know?

If you already have a few breeds in mind, don’t forget to think about the job they were bred for. There are only a few breeds that were originally developed to be pets. Most dogs were originally bred to be hunters, herders, guards, or some other job that might be at odds with what you expect from a pet.

If your garden is very important to you, you might not want to get a terrier; almost all of them will dig. If you don’t have the time to exercise a dog, don’t get a dalmatian, any kind of pointer or retriever, or most herding breeds — all of these dogs were bred to go for miles and miles without tiring. And even if there are no coaches to guard, no birds to find, and no sheep to fetch, they still crave the exercise and they’ll find ways to let you know if they aren’t getting enough.

(My two herding dogs are particularly fond of loud late-night wrestling matches on any day when they don’t get an hour or two of hard exercise. I’ve learned to make sure they get the exercise instead.)

Purebred dogs certainly have temperamental as well as physical traits that are typical of their breeds. After all, breeds were created for specific purposes. Keep the dog’s original job in mind when you watch the dog’s behavior, and don’t be surprised when your new malamute loves to pull.

But you should also remember that every dog is an individual. When books or people say, “Sock retrievers make good hunters” or “Carolina temple dogs are good watchdogs,” they’re talking about the average for the breed, but any individual in a breed may vary widely from that average.

Pick your individual dog carefully, and don’t be afraid to ask the breeder or rescue group or shelter staff lots of questions about your individual dog’s temperament.

No Breed Is “Perfect”

Whatever breed or mix you choose, remember that no breed is perfect. If anyone — whether it’s a book, a breeder, or a someone online — tells you an entire breed has no health or temperament problems, get a second opinion. All breeds have problems, and someone who really cares about the improvement of their breed will be aware of them and tell you what they’re doing to make them go away.

Do lots of research so you can be prepared to ask about the problems specific to your chosen breed. Again, these negatives are not meant to scare you away from a breed, but to let you know what to expect.

Akitas, for instance, are beautiful, noble, dignified animals; but you’d be in for some trouble if you got one without knowing that many of them tend toward aggressiveness and therefore need a great deal of training and careful handling. This doesn’t mean that Akitas can’t be wonderful pets, but only that you have to be prepared to do the work they need and deserve when you get one.

The Importance of Training (Sooner Rather Than Later)

All dogs should be trained — the small ones as well as the big ones.

A puppy kindergarten or basic obedience class will help you socialize your dog and teach her basic manners, it will make her a better companion, and it will help you bond better when you’re first getting to know each other.

Don’t think that getting a dog with a reputation for being smart will get you out of training, either. Highly intelligent dogs usually need more training than the others, because they tend to use their fuzzy brains to get themselves in trouble. All dogs deserve training and some work to do, but the smartest ones will make work for themselves if they aren’t given any, usually at the expense of your house and yard.

A steady, well-behaved, house-trained, quiet, loyal dog doesn’t come out of nowhere, but they can be found in any breed — if you’re willing to work at developing that relationship.

Good luck, be a responsible pet parent, and have fun with your new dog!


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