The companionship, friendship, trust and devotion of a dog is a tremendous joy, but it’s important to look into which dog is right for you before you bring home a puppy or rescue dog. One of the reasons why dogs end up in rescue centres and shelters is simply, and sadly, because of a mismatch between the dog and his owner. Before you go falling in love with that cute puppy (and all puppies are incredibly appealing!) or the rescue dog gazing hopefully through the kennel bars at you, consider which breed or mixed breeds of dog will best be suited to you, your lifestyle and circumstances.
If you want a puppy, are you aware of the extra initial costs and the work that is involved in rearing and training an energetic bundle of fun? Puppies of all breeds need a great deal of time and attention; toilet-training, four meals a day for the first few weeks, puppy classes, playtimes, teaching them to walk on a lead and to socialize happily with adults, children and other dogs. The expense of vaccinations, micro-chipping and neutering needs to be considered in advance, too. Puppies are a delight to have around but they need guidance in developing good manners, and many puppies, sadly, are handed over to rescues when they reach the demanding, awkward and often pushy stage of adolescence between the ages of 6 to 9 months. However, if you feel prepared for the commitment, then bringing up a dog from puppyhood is immensely rewarding.
Many people now choose to adopt a rescue dog. As a canine psychologist I work with a lot of rescue dogs and feel strongly that they should be in caring homes. Not all of these dogs have emotional baggage, but some do have problems, so take a list of questions along with you. Your local rescue centre should give you as much information as possible about the background, health, and any known issues before you make the decision to adopt. Usually rescue dogs have been vet-checked, vaccinated, neutered and micro-chipped before adoption. You will be visited at home by a member of the rescue centre, to ensure that your home is safe for a dog and that your garden is secure. You will also have the opportunity to ask questions about settling your dog in and starting off on the right foot (or paw). Bear in mind that dogs will often behave very differently in a home to how they seem in kennels. Spend time getting to know the dog first, through making several visits along with family members and your current dog, if you already have one. This will help to foster mutual bonds and make the early days of adoption run smoothly for all involved.
Think about your lifestyle. Are you a couch potato, preferring to relax in your leisure time? If so, look for a dog which doesn’t need a great deal of exercise. Sighthounds, such as greyhounds and lurchers, can run very fast (up to 45mph), but only need 20 to 30 minutes exercise twice a day and are happy to lounge around the rest of the time. Older dogs of all breeds are often overlooked in kennels, yet they tend to be calm and gentle companions. You also have the pleasure of knowing that an older dog has been given the chance of well-deserved love and comfort through the twilight years.
Are you active and energetic? If so, a terrier or one of the working breeds such as a Collie, Labrador or German Shepherd would suit you well. These dogs need more exercise and enjoy mental stimulation through play or agility classes.
Do you have children? If so, you will need to teach your children and their friends to treat your dog gently and to leave him alone at mealtimes and while he’s resting. Dogs and children can be wonderful companions to each other, but respect should be taught on both sides.
How long will your dog be left alone each day? If you work part-time, a dog can usually be left for a maximum of 3 or 4 hours, but please bear in mind that dogs are highly social creatures and find it hard to be left alone for long periods. If you work full-time your dog’s needs should be carefully thought through and attended to. Some dogs can cope with being left alone as long as someone (a friend or dog-walker) can come in at least twice daily during working hours to let your dog out in the garden for a toilet break, check his water bowl is full, and walk him or play with him. Think about whether you have the energy for playing with and walking your dog after your working day. A dog that has been left on his own for hours needs to be exercised and given special time for fun, games and affection when you come home.
It’s useful to read as much as you can about the breed (or mix of breeds) that you are considering buying or adopting, and there are many good books available. Doing some research in advance helps you to make a wise decision that you and your new dog will benefit from in the years to come.