Factors to consider when choosing a dog

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Many people choose a dog based on experiences from their past.  They may have fond memories of a dog once owned by their family when they were children.  Others may surf the internet and fall in love with one online.  However, the surest way to select the right family dog for you is to consider all the factors; what breed, sex and age, long or short-haired, pedigree or mixed breed, rescue dog – or – specially bred.

Primarily, the most important factor to consider is your lifestyle.

The way we live determines whether we should bring a dog into our home.  Owning a dog needs dedication and patience, so ask yourself “how much time do I have for a dog?”   After all, dogs need to be trained, exercised, be mentally stimulated and groomed; they need high quality food, veterinary care, perhaps boarding, day care or a professional dog walker, and other supplies.

tuggyDogs are highly social animals; they need to be walked / exercised regularly and to interact with people and animals to ensure they are confident and well-mannered in everyday situations.  Some dogs require a lot of attention; they can get nervous if no one is home with them.  This means anxious dogs may, as a consequence, cause a mess for the owner to clean up, chew or scratch something when home alone.  Boredom may also get your dog into trouble from digging up the garden when unsupervised to barking at passersby to get their kicks, these are all things to bear in mind.  So, if a potential owner works long hours, they should think carefully before getting a dog.

Your income can determine your lifestyle, so it’s important to consider the financial implications of owning a dog.  Typically, dogs live between 8 to 12 years.  According to a report by Churchill Insurance, a dog can cost an average £22,000 over the course of its lifetime, and depending on the breed these costs can vary significantly.  For example, a Jack Russell Terrier is estimated to cost up to £18,000 compared with £33,000 for a Great Dane.

fashionweekPet accessories can significantly add to the costs especially with the trend for pet clothing.  Designers like Burberry and Gucci are now incorporating ‘doggie wear’ into their collections endorsed by celebrities such as Paris Hilton.  It’s no suprise that when Pet Fashion Week launched in New York twelve years ago with 124 designers showcasing their products, the event would continue to grow in popularity.  In 2015, Pet Fashion Week featured items including a five thousand dollar dog collar!

While dog fashion may not be your thing, it is important to be realistic about your lifestyle to ensure you are ready – and – able to commit to owning a dog, otherwise the consequences can be devastating.  According to the Dog’s Trust, the number of abandoned dogs has risen where families are no longer able to cope.  The statistics, from the annual Stray Dog Survey 2015, suggest reluctant authorities killed 5,142 stray dogs in 2014, and a total of 102,363 stray and abandoned dogs were handled by councils, with under half eventually being claimed by their owners.

What breed, size, sex and age?

Having considered your lifestyle, you should then decide on the breed, size, sex and age best suited for your home.  There are several hundred breeds of dog falling into seven groups:

  • gun dog
  • hound
  • pastoral
  • terrier
  • toy
  • utility
  • working

Within these dog groups are a wide range of sizes, colours and temperaments.  The Doberman Pinscher serves well as an alert watchdog, making this a good fun breed for sports such as IPO.  Whereas the Beagle is a playful family pet even though it was originally bred for hunting, so enjoys a good sniff.  Breeds such as the Collie or Welsh Corgi are good herders of farm animals, so they enjoy a game of chase.  While these maybe pedigree animals, there is also the mixed breed (one with many breeds in its background) such as the Labradoodle, and this just as easily fits into family life.

According to the Kennel Club, the top five breeds in the UK for 2017 were;

  1. Retriever (Labrador)
  2. Spaniel (Cocker)
  3. French Bulldog*
  4. Pug
  5. Spaniel (English Springer)

*2018 quarterly statistics from the Kennel Club revealed the French Bulldog moving into the number 1 slot.

Another factor to consider is “How much space do I have for a dog?”.  Medium-size or small dogs are best suited for the confines of city life, where apartment living is common and gardens are usually small.  Dogs need space to move around in and to get the exercise they need.  Large dogs take up space, eat a lot and need plenty of physical stimulation.  Someone living in an apartment would suit a companion breed like the Chihuahua, usually weighing around 6lb, rather than a Great Dane, one of the tallest breeds which can attain 36 inches (90cm).

Choosing the right breed to suit a family with small children is crucial.  kidsanddogscreenSometimes children can play roughly with their pets, wanting to carry and squeeze or dress them up; in turn, they expect the dog to be tolerant and co-operative.  Some breeds have a more ‘laid back’ temperament than others, thrive on attention and would be more suited to this environment (e.g.) a Labrador.  Having said that, all good pet owners should learn the appropriate ways for children to interact with their dog and supervise interactions to ensure all parties are enjoying any play together and so on.  (See Dr Sophia Yin’s How To Interact Poster, left.)

Having other pets at home must also be considered.  Breeds like the Basset Hound are, typically, more tolerant with other animals and interact well with them.

Another factor is a dog’s coat.  The Afghan hound has beautiful long hair but it requires commitment with frequent brushing and periodic trimming.  While dogs with heavy undercoats are more comfortable in colder weather, they shed more than short-coated dogs in spring and autumn.   And, short-coated dogs require less coat care but may not handle cold weather as well as their heavy-coated canine friends.  Choosing a short-coated dog or one that sheds fewer hairs is especially important for allergy sufferers.

The sex of the animal should also be considered.  Males are usually larger, stronger and can be prone to scent marking or more risk taking than females.  Some say females are easier to train than males but there’s no real science backing this up.  Female purebreds can be mated with males of their breed and their pups can be sold for profit; they can have strong maternal instincts that might include guarding children, as well as their own pups.  Dogs of either sex can be neutered, and there are advantages and disadvantages to this as well.

Another factor is the age of a dog.  Most people want a puppy so they can build a relationship with it from an early age, and who can doubt the attraction when you see a newborn.  However, be practical rather than emotional; puppies may not be suitable for everyone.  An elderly person wanting a canine companion may find an energetic, excitable puppy too much.  Some people prefer to own an older dog as they are out of their juvenile stage and may already have some rudimentary training, meaning they are unlikely to require the time commitment of a puppy.  While older dogs are often more likely to be found at a rescue shelter, they may have some training needs that have to be addressed in order to help them adjust to their new life in your home.  Nevertheless, older dogs can provide more sedentary companionship.

Where next?

The final consideration is where to find a dog.  There are a number of sources; from pet shops, kennels to newspaper and online advertisements, social media and rescue centres.

For some people being able to rehome a rescue dog and provide a loving environment is their primary consideration.  Rescue dogs often need extra patience, training and affection to help them get over the stress of having been in a kennel or traumatic previous experiences.  Potential owners must take this into account before choosing a rescue dog to avoid the dog being returned to rescue.  Having said that, I know plenty of rescue dogs that have quickly adapted into their new homes, and required very little training because the dog simply found themselves in a shelter environment because their owner passed away or there was a change in personal circumstances.

However, if you’re looking for a specific breed and a puppy, then the ideal place to buy is directly from a reputable registered breeder.  Breeders can be found through dog clubs and advertisements in specialist magazines.  Breeding should be carefully planned and thought through with regard to producing a healthy, good temperament pup.  Most breeders will offer some form of guarantee contracting to take the dog back if they are not suitable.  The same cannot always be said for puppies sold from commercial breeding established (otherwise known as ‘puppy farms’) where dogs are bred for the mass market.

Wherever a dog is sourced, it is vital to check its health.  Eyes should be bright, the puppy should be full of energy and appear fit and well.  Owners should ask for proof, if possible, of hip and eye scores, as well as vaccination and worming treatment.  Ask to see both parents of the puppy too, if dad is not on site, insist on meeting the puppy’s mum so you can see her temperament and check her appearance for health etc.  Click here to read my tips on picking the right puppy for you, once you’ve found a breeder.

Final thoughts…

Owning a dog brings along its own set of responsibilities.  Anyone wanting to bring a dog into their lives must be willing and able to live up to those responsibilities before making this long term commitment.  Remember, if you’re not sure what to do enlist the help of a certified trainer to advise on your search.  I know many, including myself, who are only to happy to assist families in the search for their four–legged friend.

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