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Which dog is the right dog?

By Dr. Mari Maristany

Rowan County Animal Shelter veterinarian

When choosing your next family dog, which questions do you ask to find the best fit for your household?

Too often, people begin with the wrong questions and end up with the wrong dog. The wrong dog then ends up in a shelter or abandoned or just left in a dog lot to spend its days alone.

One of the first things most people consider is how the dog looks, what they think is pretty, handsome or cute. If that is the main consideration, then you have a recipe for disaster. The vast majority of dog breeds were developed to do something, and the appearance was an afterthought or a direct result of their function.

Greyhounds are built long and lean because that is the build that is made for speed, not because someone liked  long, lanky dogs. The fastest dogs were the ones that were valued, the ones people bred. And so it went for the majority of breeds.

I suggest that one look at choosing a dog much in the same way that one chooses a vehicle. If a guy is looking to impress the gals and wants to cruise around town with his girl magnet, probably the minivan is not the vehicle he should choose. The Ferrari would work much better.

If he has four kids and is looking to get them to Little League baseball games, the Ferrari will not work, no matter how beautiful the car is and no matter how much he likes the way it looks. Just as the Volkswagen bug won’t work if one has horses or hay to haul.

So when choosing the next dog, first ask, ”What do I want the dog to do?”

Do you want a jogging companion? Then look for breeds that were meant to run. Want a dog to play with your kids and all the neighborhood kids?  Then pick a breed known to be meek and friendly.

How about a couch potato to sit on your lap all evening? Definitely pick a breed that is low-energy. Do you want a hunting companion or a dog to compete in fly ball or agility? Then look for a breed that is full of energy and always ready to go.

Think about what the dog is supposed to do. A husky is a beautiful dog, but it was bred to be tied to a sled and then to run away from you. That is exactly what they are famous for doing — unning away. They are not home bodies.

Hounds put their noses to the ground and follow them. They are almost always docile and do well with lots of kids and commotion (think of the whole pack running after the quarry), but good fences are a must.

After function is decided upon, consider size and coat. A medium to large dog will be a better jogging companion than a little dog, and a big couch potato takes up the whole couch. Dogs with thick or long coats take more time and energy to keep their coats in good condition. Short-coated breeds are more “wash and wear.”

All dogs shed, except dogs like poodles, and those breeds need regular hair cuts.

The next question is whether to get a puppy or an adult. Most people think that a puppy is a must, but that is often a big mistake. It can be hard to determine what the dog’s temperament will be when it is a puppy. With an adult or almost grown dog, it is much easier to tell if it will be a nervous dog or easy going, an aggressive, friendly or shy one.

It is much easier to house-train an adult dog than a puppy. Puppies suffer from being left alone for long hours each day. Adult dogs are not so active and are less likely to frighten young children with over-exuberant play.

When the norm was to have at least one adult at home full time, raising puppies was much easier. Now that situation is the exception, and it is much harder to raise young pups. Adult dogs are often the perfect answer.

Both the American Kennel Club and Purina have excellent surveys online that help you decide which breed or type of dog would best fit you and your lifestyle. Another site with breed profiles that list traits such as which dogs are good for novice owners and which require an experienced owner, which dogs do well in apartments and which are high energy, is Dogtime.com.

Remember, this dog will live for 12 to 16 years. Do the research now and take your time before acquiring your next dog, and everyone will be happier.

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