There's no better way to round out the family unit than bringing a canine member aboard. Dogs are great for companionship, home security and can help teach your kids how to be responsible for another living thing.
When it comes time to pick out your family dog, there are many factors to consider. It's easy to get carried away in the presence of a litter of puppies and wind up with a dog that isn't the right fit for your family. That's why it's important to do your research beforehand so that you can make an informed decision with both your head and your heart. We've compiled a list of 10 things you should think about when shopping around for the perfect canine family member.
When choosing your dog, take into consideration your schedule and the amount of time you can put into your new job as canine parent. If your schedule is such that nobody is around for periods of four to eight hours at a time, then you're going to need some help. In fact, if this is the case, then you might want to avoid getting a puppy altogether. Some breeds are more active than others, so if you don't have time to take your dogs on some long walks and runs, then you should avoid breeds like huskies, Labrador retrievers, border collies and Jack Russell terriers. It's probably best to stay away from mixes of those breeds as well. If your schedule permits, though, feel free to get an active breed, as they can help you stay active as well.
Puppy or Adult?
How much time you have is the main consideration when deciding whether or not to get a puppy or an older dog. Raising a puppy can sometimes feel like a full-time job. They have a seemingly endless amount of energy and require a lot of attention when it comes to house breaking and training them.
You can count on it taking several weeks, if not longer, to properly "potty" train a puppy. Plan on lots of middle of the night trips outside, not unlike a newborn baby's schedule. An older dog may already be house broken and crate trained, and if they aren't, they'll likely be a quicker study.
Adult dogs are also more likely to be through their destructive chewing phase. Finally, animal rights advocates will tell you that there are more adult dogs that need adopting, which is always something to consider.
When making any kind of decision for your family, money is always something to keep in mind. Choosing a dog should be no different, because they can cost a lot of money in the long run. If you plan on buying a specific breed and skipping the adoption route, then the purchase price is a serious consideration. Breeds range from a few hundred dollars for Labs and golden retrievers all the way up to the thousands for select or rare breeds.
If you adopt, you can count on about 50 dollars in start-up costs like shots and spaying or neutering. Most rescue groups also require a "donation" to help with their overhead. This can run a couple hundred dollars, too.
Also consider the size of the dog. Premium dog food is expensive, and large dogs can eat you out of house and home. Vet bills can mount up on dogs prone to certain types of disease. Some say that pure-bred dogs are more susceptible to sickness than your average mutt or "pound puppy."
Choosing a dog with the right temperament is extremely important, especially if you have children in the home. Some breeds are well known as child-unfriendly, and they aren't necessarily all big dogs. Small terriers and spaniels are not well regarded as pets if you have kids. Neither are poodles, chow chows, pinschers and schnauzers.
Conversely, some of the larger dogs can be the most gentle with kids. Retrievers are legendary for their temperament, and make great family dogs if they're well exercised. You can also add boxers, mastiffs, hound dogs, collies and St. Bernards to the list of dogs suited for kids. Whatever kind of breed you get, be sure to spend lots of time socializing them and making sure they can be trusted around your children -- and that your children can be trusted around them.
Should You Rescue?
Animal advocates will tell you firmly that you should never buy a dog from a breeder or a pet store. Why? There are between 6 and 8 million new dogs and cats admitted to shelters each year, and sadly, 3 to 4 million of them are euthanized [source: Humane Society].
On the bright side, the other 3 to 4 million are adopted by families looking for a loyal and loving new member. Rescued pets can be great additions to your family and you can teach your children a valuable lesson in helping to take care of those that need it. You might literally be saving a dog from certain death when you adopt from a shelter. And if you're into specific breeds, take heart in knowing that 25 percent of dogs available in shelters are pure bred.
There are usually a few nominal fees associated with adopting from a shelter. Many people who adopt from shelters continue to support them through donations after witnessing the work being done.
Do You Have Allergies?
One thing to consider when picking out a family dog is whether or not anyone in the house has any kind of pet allergies. The good news is that dog allergies are less common than cat allergies. Pet dander (a combo of dead skin cells and dried proteins from skin secretions and saliva ) on dogs, as with cats, is what humans are allergic to. This is the flaky skin that you'll see on the fur of dogs and cats.
Even though fur isn't necessarily the culprit, it can't hurt to have a dog that doesn't shed as much if you or your children are allergic to dander. The American Kennel Club lists the following breeds as having little pet dander and being ideal for allergy sufferers: Chinese crested, bichon frise, Bedlington terrier, Maltese, poodle and schnauzer.
Picking out the breed of your dog is a lot of fun and requires a good bit of research. The Internet is a great place to do this kind of research, with thousand of Web sites detailing everything you need to know about every breed on the planet. The American Kennel Club Web site is a good starting point for researching breeds, as are adoption sites like Petfinder.com and the American Humane Society.
If you're interested in adopting, the shelter sites in your area likely have photos of and information about the available pups. From there, research the specifics of the breed or breeds of the dogs that interest you. Look at the things we've listed so far in this article, like size and overall temperament, as well as how they do with kids. If you aren't picky, then narrow it down to a large pool of breeds and then pick a pup out at a shelter near you.
Picking a Dog From a Shelter
If you go the shelter route, then you're going to have your choice of what's there. This means a broad range of breeds, shapes and sizes of all ages to choose from. Do your homework before you get there to help you narrow down your selection.
It can be tough to get an accurate reading of a dog's energy when they're in a cage. Ask if you can take the dog out into a larger area or even take the dog on a short walk. Once you get the pooch away from other dogs, you'll get a better sense of their personality.
Renowned dog trainer Cesar "The Dog Whisperer" Millan recommends asking the shelter employees about temperament and disposition. His feeling is that the shelter worker is most concerned about making the right match. He also recommends checking your emotions at the door and not letting the circumstance of a particular dog outweigh finding the best match for your family.
Male or Female?
Deciding whether or not you want a male or a female dog is a huge part of the process when getting your family dog. Male dogs are typically more affectionate and need more attention. Females can be more independent and inconsistent with people. That's not to say that females aren't as loving or into attention, but they're more prone to also enjoy their "alone" time.
On the other hand, females are generally believed to be easier to train and stay more focused. Male dogs tend to retain their puppylike tendencies for longer, with some never really growing out of them.
Both male and female dogs can be good with children, but some say that females are a better choice because of their nurturing nature. Having your dog spayed or neutered is the responsible thing to do these days, so you shouldn't have to worry about reproduction.
The amount of available room you have for your dog is a key consideration for which one you choose to invite home. If you live in a small, one-bedroom apartment, go with a breed that weighs less than 50 pounds. Dogs that have an overabundance of energy are also not suited for small spaces.
If you live in an apartment or condominium, you also have your neighbors to consider, so avoid dogs that bark a lot if you can. Citronella spray anti-bark collars are available to curb this behavior in a safe way.
If you have a single-family home then, ideally, you have a fenced-in yard for the dog to exercise and do his business. If your yard isn't fenced, think about getting it done for your own convenience. Being able to let your dog out for a bathroom visit instead of having to take a walk can be a real advantage.
In rat-infested New York City, the dogs of R.A.T.S. are working to rid the city of its burgeoning rat problem. HowStuffWorks goes along for the ride.
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