Not all dogs are created equal, and not every dog will fit well into your family. People tend to base their choice on looks, but behavior is perhaps the most important criterion. Matching your family’s needs with your new dog’s is the best recipe for a successful adoption.
If you can’t provide one hour of exercise per day, compete in herding trials, and manage anxious behavior for the next 10 years, that gorgeous, high-strung Australian Shepherd will probably get into a lot of trouble at your house, making you both miserable. Unmet needs are a common cause of many behavior problems.
Here’s some questions to ask yourself to clarify what kind of dog will be the best one for you.
What do you expect your dog to do for you?
Are you looking primarily for home companionship? Emotional support and snuggling? An adventure partner? A sports or exercise companion? A watchdog? A friend for your children or another dog? Describe the behavioral characteristics of a dog that will fit that role.
Where do you live?
What kind of dog will fit into your environment? Do you live in an apartment or townhouse that requires a quiet pet? Do you have a large yard with a radio fence that could traumatize a sensitive dog? Do you have an open floor plan that will make house training a puppy difficult? Will a 100 lb dog be able to stretch out fully on your living room floor? Describe the physical and behavioral characteristics of a dog that will fit into your home environment.
What qualities do you NOT want in a dog?
Does drool disgust you? Hounds are out. Does walking several miles every day sound exhausting? Pointers would be disappointing. Do you only vacuum twice a month and have trouble locating the dog brush? Avoid Huskies. Like to leave big hunks of meat out on your counter? Any dog over 45 lbs will love that. Will snoring drive you nuts? Pugs and Boston Terriers might not be for you. Does a wet, muddy dog sound revolting? Labs, Goldens and Spaniels may want to jump into every puddle and pond they see. Make a list of physical and behavioral characteristics you need to avoid.
How can you find a dog with the qualities you’re looking for?
Read up on breed characteristics. All dogs are individuals, but every breed has behavioral tendencies. For example, Jack Russel Terriers tend to dig, bark and can be aggressive towards other dogs. Not all Jack Russels will do these things, but many will. And you won’t know for certain until you bring the dog home.
Once you have your list of characteristics, talk to shelter staff, fosterers, breed rescues, and breeders about what you’re looking for and ask for help with finding it. Kennel staff, dog walkers and trainers tend to know the dogs the best in a shelter situation.
Hey, I’m not suggesting you adopt an ugly dog. But taking behavior into account is the best way to find a dog that matches your family’s expectations and needs.