Choosing a Dog: The Right Age, Breed and Temperament for Your Family

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.
Tips & Advice → Choosing a Dog: The Right Age, Breed and Temperament for Your Family

In support of November's National Animal Shelter Appreciation Week, Bark Busters wants to help you choose the right dog for your family.

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 a dog with the best temperament for you and ensure he 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.
  • Owners must fill the void created when they take a puppy away from his mother and littermates.
  • Attention is required to properly house-train a 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 his background, such as the details of his 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 he can be trained and, while good training can improve certain traits in a dog, training cannot change a 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:

  1. 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. He 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. A fear of strangers makes a nervous dog a challenge to train.
  2. Timid - Also a bottom-of-the-pack dog, a timid dog will hold his ears back, squirm, put his tail between his legs, or roll onto his back. You can easily train this type of dog once he recognizes you as his leader.
  3. Dominant - This top-of-the-pack dog requires owners to demonstrate their own leadership through a consistent and committed effort to train the dog, no matter how long it takes. When around strangers, this dog stands his ground and, under some circumstances, attacks. He will not relinquish his leadership position easily and, if you move too quickly with training, he could bite. With professional help and a lot of determination, however, even the most dominant dogs can be trained.
  4. Middle of the Pack - This dog is easy to train because he wants to please his owners 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.

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 and lifestyle. 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 owners. 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
  • 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
  • West Highland White Terrier

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 his size from his mother but be slightly smaller than his largest parent.

Designer Dogs
Designer breeds, crosses 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 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 perfect dog for everyone.

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