Selecting the Right Dog for Your Family

By Liam Crowe

CEO and Master Dog Behavioral Therapist

Bark Busters USA

A dog’s breed and temperament, combined with your lifestyle and personality, all play an important role in determining what kind of dog is the best fit for you. For instance, a slight or shy person could find a large-breed dog—especially one that is boisterous or hyperactive—difficult to control. On the other hand, a timid, little dog may not be a suitable match for an adventuresome, outgoing, or loud person.

So with all the choices available, how do you go about selecting the right dog for you?

Deciding Between a Puppy and a Full-Grown Dog

If you are considering adopting a dog, first determine whether you want a puppy or an adult dog. Adopting a puppy has certain advantages—you will be able to choose one with the best temperament for you and ensure it gets a proper education before behavioral problems or bad habits develop. But puppies bring added responsibilities, too. During the first few months, a puppy requires more of your time than an older dog.

- Puppies should not be left alone for extended periods of time. 
- They need to be fed several times a day, constantly monitored, and handled with care.
- Puppy parents must fill the void created when they take a puppy away from its mother and littermates. 
- Attention is required to properly house-train the puppy. 
- Other training is required with goals suitable for the puppy’s age. (Training goals will change as the puppy matures.)

If you do not have the time required for a puppy, consider adopting a full-grown dog that has already gone through the puppy stage.

- Usually an older dog will be housebroken and less likely to chew anything and everything within reach. 
- More advanced training can begin immediately. 
- As a newcomer to your family, however, even older dogs require attention and understanding while they become oriented to a new environment.

Before adopting an older dog, learn as much as you can about its background, such as details of its diet so you can be sure any change in diet will not be abrupt. If adopting a dog from another home, ask for a favorite item, such as a toy, a blanket, or a pillow that the dog can take with him. This will help in the transition.

Understanding the Importance of Temperament

Temperament has nothing to do with a dog’s size, breed or upbringing—temperament is something innate in a dog. A dog’s temperament has a lot to do with how easily it can be trained and, while good training can improve certain traits in a dog, training cannot change the dog’s temperament.

There are a variety of temperaments in dogs, and some dogs can have a combination of temperament traits, but generally speaking, dogs have four basic temperament types:

Nervous – This bottom-of-the-pack dog requires more effort and perseverance on your part to train. An older, nervous dog can act in a variety of ways around strangers. It might bark but then back off, or circle while barking and growling. Another nervous type might settle down when the stranger is seated but bark and possibly try to attack when the visitor gets up to leave. Its fear of strangers makes a nervous dog a challenge to train.

Timid – Also a bottom-of-the-pack dog, a timid dog will hold its ears back, squirm, put its tail between its legs, or roll onto its back. You can easily train this type of dog once it recognizes you as its leader.

Dominant – This top-of-the-pack dog requires pet parents to demonstrate their own dominance through a consistent and committed effort to train the dog, no matter how long it takes. When around strangers, this dog stands its ground and, under some circumstances, attacks. It will not relinquish its leadership position easily and, if you move too quickly with training, it might bite you. With professional help and a lot of determination, even the most dominant dogs can be trained.

Middle of the Pack – This dog is easy to train because it wants to please its human parents out of respect for them as the leaders of the pack. Usually friendly toward strangers and not aggressive toward other dogs, this type of dog is delightful to own.

Spotting a Puppy’s Temperament

Even if the puppy is very young, you can tell its temperament. Within the litter, watch how the puppies run and play to determine where each puppy stands in the litter’s pecking order. More dominant puppies act bossy by standing over the other littermates. Less dominant puppies act submissive by rolling over or lowering their heads.

Then, observe the individual puppy you are considering adopting when it’s alone with you. A well-adjusted puppy will follow you freely when you lead it. Then drop a soft glove or cloth near the puppy and watch its reaction:

A confident puppy will approach the object immediately to investigate. While this puppy could grow up to be a well-adjusted dog, it is likely to be strong-willed and might be a challenge for a soft-natured person.

A less-dominant pup will jump and move away when the object is dropped, but it will usually return fairly quickly to investigate. Less bossy than the more confident puppy described above, this puppy will make a great pet.

The puppy that takes longer to approach and runs around the object acting as if it is alive and might attack is a little timid but still will make a wonderful pet with proper, gentle training. The puppy that barks at the object, runs away and crouches down or refuses to return to the spot has a more nervous temperament and could be a difficult pet. More patience will be required during training.

Finally, lift and hold the puppy in your arms. A pup that settles in and sits still is far more acceptable than one that wriggles and tries to escape.

Choosing the Best Breed for Your Personality

In addition to recognizing an individual dog’s temperament, you would do well to investigate the breed that best suits your needs. Listed here are some of the most popular breeds and, based on our experience with hundreds of thousands of dogs worldwide, how their personalities and characteristics might match the requirements of different types of people. While some breeds do have tendencies toward a certain temperament, keep in mind that this is not absolute. Use the information as a guide, but we recommend you make your final decision based on background information and observation.

Sociable Dogs with Soft, Even Temperaments 
These breeds are typically less demanding and more docile, making them perfect for elderly people and families with children. They are loving and respond well to lots of attention, and prefer to not be left alone: American Cocker Spaniel,Cavalier King Charles, Spaniel, Golden Retriever, Lhasa Apso, Poodle, West Highland White Terrier, Whippet

Dogs that Require More Discipline
Often exuberant, many of these breeds require more discipline and exercise—but are great for people with lots of energy. Their loyal, loving natures still make them wonderful family pets: Afghan Hound, Boxer, Bull Terrier, English Cocker Spaniel, Dachshund, Dalmatian, Doberman Pinscher, German Shepherd, Great Dane, Miniature Schnauzer, Rottweiler

One-Person Dogs
Protective of their homes and owners, these breeds are perfect for people who live alone. Not in all cases, but these breeds tend to be less suitable for families: Chihuahua, Chow Chow, Maltese, Pekingese, Shih Tzu

Mixed Breeds
Generally hardier and less prone to hereditary faults, mixed breeds can be pets that are just as good—and sometimes better—than purebreds. Still, some are better than others. As a basic guideline, a pup is likely to inherit its size from its mother, but be slightly smaller than its largest parent.

Designer Dogs
Designer breeds, a cross between two purebred dogs, were developed to create a mix of the best characteristics of each breed. For instance, the Goldendoodle combines the family-friendly traits of the Golden Retriever with the non-shedding, hypoallergenic traits of the Poodle. Some of the more popular mixed hybrids are the: Puggle (Pug / Beagle), Schnoodle (Schnauzer / Poodle), Labradoodle (Labrador / Poodle), Chorkie (Chihuahua / Yorkshire Terrier)

Just like people, dogs come in all shapes, sizes, and temperaments. A dog’s breed and temperament, combined with your lifestyle and personality all play an important role in determining what kind of dog is best for you. Do a bit of research first, then visit your local shelter. There is a dog with the perfect temperament for everyone.

Liam Crowe is CEO of Bark Busters and a master dog behavioral therapist. Bark Busters, the world’s largest dog trainingcompany, has trained more than 400,000 dogs worldwide using its all-natural, dog-friendly methods. Bark Busters training is the only service of its kind that offers a written lifetime guarantee. With hundreds of offices in 42 states and 10 countries, Bark Busters is continuing its mission to enhance the human-canine relationship and reduce the possibility of maltreatment, abandonment, and euthanasia of companion dogs. For more details, call 1-877-500-BARK (2275) or visitwww.BarkBusters.com to find a dog trainer in your area, complete a Dog Behavior Quiz, or learn about becoming a Bark Busters franchise owner.

© Copyright 2008 Bark Busters USA, All Rights Reserved

This SPCA International article is intended to help further your understanding of your animal's needs. We understand yourunique bond with your pet and it is our pleasure to help you look after its welfare. Thanks to your continued support, SPCA International is able to provide you and countless others with important news regarding the safety of your pets. Thank you again for your donations – every little bit helps!

Join our Cause

Stop the suffering.
Save lives with SPCA International.

Sign up for SPCA International alerts to receive regular updates on animals in crisis and how you can help.

Privacy Policy