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Choosing the Right Dog

How to Find the Perfect Canine Friend

If you’ve decided a dog is the right pet for you, congratulations. People with dogs tend to be healthier and happier, and suffer less from depression, stress, high blood pressure, heart disease, and loneliness than those without. A close relationship with a dog can provide you with years of protection, companionship, and unconditional love.

While the rewards of owning a dog are greater than any other pet, so, too, are the responsibilities. All dogs need daily outdoor exercise, regular medical check-ups, and a lot of attention from their owners. To make sure you find the perfect canine friend, it’s important to choose a dog that best fits in with your lifestyle.

What kind of dog is best for you?

There are a number of factors to consider:

One size doesn’t fit all

What size dog fits your lifestyle? Even though it seems logical that a smaller dog would be happier than a larger one in an apartment or a condo without a yard, that isn’t necessarily true. All dogs do need daily exercise and outdoor activity, but some need more than others.

For example, oversized Newfoundlands actually prefer lounging around home and taking leisurely walks. And the tiniest of terriers can be extremely rambunctious and need lots of exercise and outdoor stimulation.

Puppy or mature dog?

There’s no denying that puppies are adorable, but along with the cuteness comes added responsibility. Puppies require more time and attention for housetraining and behavior training, which may include patiently tolerating “accidents” and chewing phases. For these reasons, people who don’t have time to meet a puppy’s needs or prefer not to deal with training, often decide to adopt an older dog.

Additionally, small children or elderly adults in your family may not have the patience or ability to manage a puppy’s exuberance.

Purebred or mixed breed dogs

Another choice may be between a purebred or mixed breed. Some people prefer purebred dogs because they enjoy participating in dog shows, or are drawn to the “look” or characteristics of a particular breed.

Other people prefer mixed breed, “one-of-a-kind” dogs. Adopting a dog that needs a good home, whether it’s a puppy or mature dog, a purebred or a mixed breed, can be very rewarding. Some people say adopted dogs exhibit a special bond and appreciation for their owners.

Whichever type of dog you prefer, there are advantages and disadvantages to consider:

Choosing a purebred or mixed breed: pros and cons
Purebred Mixed Breed


  • Tend to know general physical characteristics, such as size
  • Tend to know general behavioral characteristics, such as temperament, personality


  • Greater risk of genetic health problems
  • Expensive to purchase, unless adopted from breed-specific rescue
  • Every dog is individual; you’re not guaranteed a certain personality or appearance just because the dog is a purebred


  • Genetic diversity means less prone to health problems
  • Desirable qualities of more than one breed, such as size, temperament, personality
  • Less expensive or nominal “adoption” fee


  • Less certainty about physical and behavioral characteristics, especially with a puppy. However, if you can identify the type of puppy (e.g. Lab mix), you have better chance of knowing how he’ll turn out.
  • Characteristics of more than one breed can be both good and bad

Choosing a purebred:


  • Tend to know general physical characteristics, such as size.
  • Tend to know general behavioral characteristics, such as temperament, personality.


  • Greater risk of genetic health problems.
  • Expensive to purchase, unless adopted from breed-specific rescue.
  • Every dog is individual; you’re not guaranteed a certain personality or appearance just because the dog is a purebred.

Choosing a mixed breed:


  • Genetic diversity means less prone to health problems.
  • Desirable qualities of more than one breed, such as size, temperament, personality.
  • Less expensive or nominal “adoption” fee.


  • Less certainty about physical and behavioral characteristics, especially with a puppy.  However, if you can identify the type of puppy (e.g. Lab mix), you have better chance of knowing how he’ll turn out.
  • Characteristics of more than one breed can be both good and bad.

Matching a dog’s “happiness factors” with your own

There are over 150 different types of purebred dogs, and an exponentially larger number of mixed breeds. You can narrow down your choices by realistically matching a dog’s “happiness factors” with your own. Hang around dog parks and talk to other dog owners. They can give you clues as to whether a certain type of dog will be happy with what you are able to provide.

Keep in mind that dogs were originally bred to serve specific functions. Kennel Clubs have divided dog breeds into seven different groups, based on those origins:

  1. Herding dogs (Collies, Old English Sheepdogs, Australian Shepherds) thrive on a farm with animals to herd. To be happy and well-adjusted in an urban setting they need lots of exercise, a job to do, or to be involved in a sport such as agility or obedience.
  2. Hounds (Beagles, Bassets, Greyhounds) naturally track other animals—and humans—by smell or sight. Sight-driven dogs move quickly, their speed and stamina making them difficult to catch if they get away from you. Smell-driven dogs move more slowly, but are prone to wander off to track a scent. They can be very vocal, howling or baying.
  3. Non-Sporting dogs (Chows, Dalmatians, Poodles) seldom serve their original purposes—for example, Poodles hunted truffles, and Dalmatians were “coach dogs.” Non-sporting dogs are popular family companions when their individual activities levels and needs are a good match for those of family members’.
  4. Sporting dogs (Pointers, Retrievers, Setters, Spaniels), bred to dash around all day finding land and waterfowl for their masters, are active, alert and require daily, invigorating exercise. They like to be around people, getting lots of attention. Labrador and Golden retrievers, both members of the Sporting group, are two of the most popular family pets.
  5. Terriers (Westies, Fox Terriers, Wheatons) are energetic, tenacious, brave and determined… and they love to dig! Developed to hunt and kill rodents and foxes that raided farms, terriers are a feisty breed. Quite independent, they’re difficult to train. Although they can be friendly, loyal and stable pets, some may be “yappy” and will nip boisterous children.
  6. Toy dogs (Cavalier King Charles, Chihuahuas, Yorkshire Terriers) are bred as companions—they only want to be with you! But even lapdogs need exercise. Small and fragile, they can be excitable and yappy, and can easily get under foot. Children and the elderly must take extra care around them. Loyal and intelligent, they love to learn tricks.
  7. Working dogs (Akita, Boxer, Doberman, Great Dane, Newfoundland) are born to “work” at a specific physical job, whether it be guarding, hauling, rescuing or sledding. Many are not ideal as family pets, but can be with proper socialization and obedience training. Independent, strong willed and physically overpowering, they must be kept under control and gets lots of appropriate exercise.

Where to find the dog of your dreams

Once you’ve narrowed down your choices, where do you find the dog of your dreams? Purebreds are usually obtained through breeders and breed specific rescue groups, although they can also be found at animal shelters. Mixed breeds are abundant at shelters and rescue groups.

Caution: Animal welfare groups such as the Humane Society of the United States recommend that you avoid buying a puppy from a pet shop or online store

Many of these retailers get their dogs, cats, or other animals from breeders that care improperly for the animals. Over-breeding and overcrowding often lead to health and development problems in their pets. Responsible breeders want to meet their buyers in person to ensure that there is a good fit between the owner and the pet.

Source: Humane Society of the United States

You’ll have a very different experience when visiting each of the sources for your new dog.


Breeders are the place to look for a purebred dog, as well as “designer” mixed breeds, such as Labradoodles (Labrador Retriever/Poodle mix).

Responsible breeders will encourage you to visit their facilities—often a home—to meet and interact with their dogs. Reputable breeders want to make sure that their animals are a good match with the people purchasing them and that they will be living in a healthy, loving environment. For ways to identify a reputable dog breeder and avoid those who exploit animals, see the Resources and References section below.

  • Advantages: You’ll get to meet the parents of the puppy, and get a health guarantee, instructions for care and follow-up advice on training and behavior problems.
  • Disadvantages: Can be costly. If animals are confined to cages, conditions are unsanitary, and many different breeds are produced, the breeder may not be reputable.

Rescue organizations

Rescue organizations literally rescue “homeless” dogs. Many come from animal shelters. Although some rescues have facilities where the animals are housed, most shelter their dogs temporarily in foster homes, at boarding facilities or veterinary offices. In these places the animals are screened and observed for health and behavioral problems.

Rescues hold adoption events, usually on weekends, to give the public opportunities to meet available dogs. Some rescues have websites with photos and descriptions of their animals.

  • Advantages: The health and behavior of dogs are screened; rescues may know if the dog is friendly with kids, other animals, strangers, etc. Adoption fees (donations) vary from nominal to costly.
  • Disadvantages: A rigorous screening process of the prospective adoptee, and an adoption agreement/contract, are often required.

Animal shelters

Animal shelters are funded and operated by a city, county, or a private organization (usually nonprofit). Shelters are a wonderful place to find an adult dog—and sometimes puppies are even available.

Visiting an animal shelter can be depressing, with so many dogs kept in less-than-ideal conditions and confined in cages because of budgetary constraints and overcrowding. Many of the animals, fearful and in shock, will not exhibit exuberant personalities. But shelters can be a treasure trove of unpolished gems. Usually time can be spent with dogs outside of their cages, giving them an opportunity to show you how much love they can give.

  • Advantages: Nominal adoption fees; spaying/neutering and vaccinations are often included. Volunteers often assess dog’s behavior and friendliness with other animals and people, and may be available to assist if problems arise after adoption.
  • Disadvantages: Shelters offer no health guarantees; the history of the dog’s previous care and treatment is often unknown.

Selecting a dog

Breeders, shelters, and rescue organizations usually let prospective owners meet and interact with available dogs. If possible, try to visit the dog a couple of times to best gauge a dog’s temperament before making a decision.

  • See how a dog responds when you have the chance to be with him in a pen or petting area. A dog that approaches you and wants to play may make a friendly pet. One that hides or is not approachable may require more work and time to become a good companion.
  • Ask the breeder or rescue handler about a dog or puppy’s characteristics. They should be able to tell you if a dog is good with other pets or children, for example.
  • Observe the dog interact with littermates or other dogs.
  • When selecting a puppy, kneel on the ground and call the puppy to you. Click your fingers to get the puppy's attention. If he comes quickly, he may have a strong attachment to people. If he stops to smell the flowers along the way, he may have an independent streak. If he doesn't come at all, it may be a sign that he’ll have difficulty forming a bond with people.

Settling in with your new dog

  • Purchase all of the items you’ll need before bringing home your new dog, to provide the best care and comfort for him.
  • Meet with family members to agree upon who will be responsible for which aspects of the dog’s care.
  • Find a good veterinarian. Get references from other pet owners.
  • Take your new pet to the vet as soon as possible for an examination, as well as to establish a relationship with the vet, which will be ongoing. Discovering any existing or serious health problems as quickly as possible gives you more options.
  • Understand that everyone in your household, including the pet, will need a little time to get to know each other and adjust to new elements in their lives.
  • Participate in the training of your dog, if need be, and get involved in other activities that both you and your dog will enjoy. Notice ways in which your life is enriched by your new dog’s presence.

Related Articles

The Therapeutic Benefits of Pets

The Therapeutic Benefits of Pets – Caring for a pet is a responsibility, but it can also make you happier and healthier, both mentally and physically.

Play, Creativity and Lifelong Learning

Play, Creativity, and Lifelong Learning – Play matters for both kids and adults. It helps us be more inventive, smart, happy, flexible, and resilient.

Boosting Emotional Health

Improving Emotional Health – Strong emotional health is tied to your physical health and lifestyle. Learn how to boost your overall physical and mental well-being.

Resources & References

Choosing the right dog or puppy for you

American Kennel Club Recognized Breeds – Contains a list of breeds with photos, plus breeder referrals. (American Kennel Club)

Dog Breed Info Center – Features an extensive list of breeds, as well articles on breeders, care, and lots of helpful tips. (The Dog Breed Info Center—commercial site)

Choosing the Right Dog – Features 27 different articles to get you started on dog ownership. Among their topics: things to consider before you start your pet search, special topics (apartment dogs, high energy dogs), choosing a breed, picking a breeder, how to tell if they’re a puppy mill, and more. (Dog Owner’s Guide—Online Magazine for Pet Owners)

Rescue organizations and resources for finding dogs

Pet Adoption – Offers a database of several hundred thousand adoptable pets plus a resource library, connections to shelters and resource groups, classified ads, and local volunteer opportunities. (

Find an Animal Shelter in the US – Clickable map/index with animal shelters in all 50 states.

Adopting from an Animal Shelter – Comprehensive article about adoption, with resources to reputable agencies and shelters. (The Humane Society of America)

Worldwide Shelter Directory – Gives international rescue and shelter listing searchable by country. (Hugs for Homeless Animals)

Finding a reputable dog breeder

How to Find a Responsible Dog Breeder – Tips on finding a compassionate dog breeder who has the dogs’ best interests at heart. (Humane Society of the United States)

Authors: Lawrence Robinson and Jeanne Segal, PhD. Last updated: July 2013.

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