Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Beagle or Basset? Poodle or Pug?

With the sheer number of dogs turned into shelters and advertised in the local paper or on Kijiji, it's clear that somewhere along the line the thought of *planning* for your newest addition has gone by the wayside to be replaced by impulse buys or shallow choices - cuteness factor, being the main offender.

Sure, you DO want a cute dog, but that dog's cuteness quickly wears off when it is herding the children, has endless energy, or won't play well with others.

When you are getting a new family member, whether it is your first dog or your fifth, the decision should always be made with thought and a realistic look at your own lifestyle. In every person's life, as you progress through the path of life, your own lifestyle will change very much - young adulthood, career-based, family with kids, empty nester, and eventually retirement and senior citizenship, to name a few. As you travel that path, the truth is that the right dog for you at 25 might not be the right dog for you at 45 or 60 - based on a lot of things - finances, exercise and energy, physical limitations, the type of home that you live in, etc.

Below are just some of the considerations that should be involved when thinking about what type of dog (not breed!) will best fit into the life you have now.

1. Size
- Bigger dogs cost more money to feed, and accessories - kennels, collars, leashes, etc, are more expensive as you increase in size.
- Bigger dogs are often better suited to families with kids than tiny dogs. Some folks are a bit worried about medium-large dogs hurting children, but the reality is a small dog is at a much higher risk of injury, or for scary things to happen when the kids try to pick up, squeeze, hug, or fall on a small dog.
- Bigger dogs are, by sheer nature of size, much stronger than smaller dogs. If you have physical limitations due to disability or age, size needs to be an important consideration.
-Where you live may play a role in the best dog for you. Some apartments limit you to small dogs only, and if you live in a small one bedroom apartment you might have some space troubles with larger dogs.

2. Exercise Needs
- This is a biggie, because a lack of exercise is one of the leading causes of unwanted behaviour.
- Size is not an indicator of energy level! That's important. Some of the most high-energy dogs I've seen are small dogs, and many of the giant breeds can be pretty low-key. Age of the dog can also play a role in energy levels as well.
- Be realistic, not idealistic! If you are already a jogger and run five days a week, then a very active Shepherd or Malamute may be a great choice! But please don't kid yourself with the idea of "I'll start jogging when I get my pup". Like most New Year's resolutions, that thought process tends to fail miserably. Either take up jogging now, and get a dog to match that in a few months when you have a routine, or get a dog that matches the energy level you have now.

Any dog, even low-energy dogs will need at least 1/2 hour of exercise per day, so take that into account and plan accordingly. If you can't supply that minimum, please reconsider getting a dog until you can fulfill that. Exercise can come in many forms - walking, fetch, playing at the park, swimming, running in a field, frisbee, etc. Putting your dog in the backyard by itself is not exercise. Dogs don't tend to exercise themselves - you need to provide it.

3. Grooming needs.
- Do you want to spend 15 minutes every day combing out your dog, or do you prefer a wash n' wear dog?
- If you want a dog that needs regular grooming, like poodles or many terriers, do you want to spend the time learning how to do it or will you take your dog to a groomer? One takes time, the other takes money.
- Don't mistake short hair for a clean house! Some of the shortest-haired dogs are the worst shedders, and while you aren't vacuuming up clumps of fur these hairs tend to stick into clothes and furniture and clothing like barbs and are hard to remove.
- Are you a clean-freak? This might help determine shedding vs. nonshedding dogs. Keep in mind though the majority of non-shedding breeds have higher grooming requirements and are not wash n' wear for that reason.

4. Age of Dog
- Puppies are most charming little things, with their dependence on you and their big eyes. But keep in mind this can be a most frustrating time! Puppy teeth are sharp, they need to be taught where to potty, they need lots of manners and routine, and they need lots and lots (and lots!) of good socialization!
- Puppyhood is a ton of work, and it is not for everyone. Older dogs have a lot of that behind them already (although not all, if you go the shelter route some of these dogs still need a helping hand), their puppy antics are gone and they are settled into the personality they will carry forward. What you see is generally what you get. Puppy personalities are very unpredictable as to what an adult version will be like.

Those are just a few of the considerations you should ponder as you take that leap to choose your next companion, but that's not all! I will touch on other factors such as breed types and differences, existing pets, level of experience, and longterm considerations in another posting.

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