What Kind of Dog Should I Get? Choosing a dog is a 10-20 year commitment and there are some important things you should consider.

In considering the differences among dogs, breeds help us understand the physical and behavioral traits typical of the various types of dogs. Choosing a dog with characteristics suited to your family’s care-taking abilities makes a safer and happier experience for the dog as well as the family.

Breeds are so different from each other that one dog can be perfect while another would never successfully fit your home. Expect that according to Murphy’s Law, in a mixed-breed dog, the most difficult traits of each breed will prevail. Wishful thinking doesn’t shape a dog’s temperament: genetics, early life experiences, management and training do. A dog’s genetic heritage will be the limiting factor on how much you can shape the temperament in the direction you desire.


A dog is approximately as strong as three times the dog’s weight compared to an adult man: 50-pound dog = 150-pound man. Consider limiting the size of your dog to one whose adult weight will be no greater than one-third the weight of the handler. Many people will have a lot more fun with a dog they can comfortably manage on the leash.

Activity Level

Does your family’s dog need to be calm in the house while everyone is busy? Will there be days when no one has time to spend a few hours exercising the dog? If so, choose a breed or mix with a low activity level. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a hiking partner and you are a weekday as well as a weekend athlete, a more active dog would be better able to keep up with you.

A dog whose activity level fits your household will be happier, and so will your family. When considering a shelter dog, you need to judge by the activity level that is normal for the breed(s), rather than how the dog is behaving when you meet at the shelter. Shelters are stressful and exhausting for dogs, so the dog’s normal activity level tends to be reduced until a couple of weeks or so after adoption.

Protection Attitude

If you have children, other children will be visiting your home. An overly protective dog would be miserable and dangerous in such a situation. Unless one of the parents is a serious dog trainer, opt for breeds having low or no protection attitude.

The same goes for any highly sociable household, with people in and out visiting and you visiting other homes with your dog. Some breeds have been selectively bred to take on responsibility for detecting and sizing up strangers, with a view to protecting against those who don’t pass inspection. This kind of dog is a big responsibility when your lifestyle involves a steady stream of new people.

Aggressiveness toward Other Dogs

When your dog tries to pick fights with all the other dogs you meet on walks, people can get hurt. You can reduce this risk by choosing breeds low in the trait of aggressiveness toward other dogs.

Housetraining Ability

Dogs are not equal when it comes to housetraining, either. Some dogs are downright easy. Which dogs would you guess those to be? Do you think the little dogs are the easiest to housetrain? Guess again! Larger dogs tend to be easier to housetrain, often having it mastered by around four months of age.

Expect a small dog to be closer to a year of age to be solid on housetraining, and some never make it. Tiny male dogs in particular need consistent supervision, and are unlikely to ever be able to be trusted with the run of the house unless you have them neutered at a fairly young age. A tiny male dog who is left intact, fathers puppies, and isn’t meticulously managed in the house may never achieve housetraining.

Where is Your Dog Going to Live?

Plan to buy a crate when you get your dog, and teach your dog to live in the house. By planning this in advance, you can choose a dog your whole family is willing to have indoors and you will end up with a happier, better-behaved dog and happier neighbors.

Every dog needs the chance to learn to rest calmly in a crate to help develop good housetraining habits; to learn to direct chewing into dog toys instead of household goods; and to be able to cope with situations such as moving, medical problems and emergencies. Resting calmly in a crate is an important life skill for a dog.

If your thought is to have your dog live in the yard, rethink the idea of getting a dog. Dogs are pack animals, designed to live in a social unit with others. They can be perfectly happy if those others are human rather than canine. Getting two or more dogs to live outside doesn’t fill their need to be part of YOUR family. Dogs who live with other dogs and spend little time with people can develop some bad behavior problems, such as disturbing the neighborhood peace with barking. If you want a dog in the family, make sure the dog will be IN the family.


Some breeds, like the Poodle, require lifelong visits to a professional groomer. So do many other breeds you might not think of, like the Cocker Spaniel. Every dog should have a few minutes of grooming every day, for the wonderful training and conditioning to human handling it provides.

Plan the time it will take for the daily grooming, as well as the time and the money to take the dog to a groomer if that service will be required. Generally the dogs who require professional grooming should have an appointment every 2 to 8 weeks. Discuss the grooming with some professionals BEFORE you get the dog. A puppy of a breed that requires professional grooming will need to start the grooming visits young, so that the pup will develop the necessary coping ability.

Potential Genetic Illnesses

When researching any breed, find out what genetic illnesses show up in dogs of that breed. Every breed has one or more genetic problems. Mixed breed dogs have these, too, but they are generally much less common due to a phenomenon called hybrid vigor. Make sure any breeder you decide to trust for a puppy has done everything reasonable to screen the breeding dogs for genetic problems.

A responsible breeder is very knowledgeable and careful about placing puppies in homes. The breeder will want to know you. You become “family” with the breeder in a sense, because a responsible breeder will help you with the dog and will take the dog back if that is ever needed, for the dog’s whole life. Don’t get a pure bred puppy from any other kind of breeder. Since you don’t meet the breeder of a puppy who is for sale in a pet shop, you know the pet shop puppy did not come from a responsible breeder who meets the families and follows the puppies throughout their lives to protect them.

Adult dogs can come from breeders and rescue groups as well as from shelters. Adult dogs tend to be much quicker to train than puppies, and are more in greater need of being rescued than puppies!

More How to Choose A Pet – Sterling Animal Shelter

List of Breed Rescue Groups in New England

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