Choosing The Right Dog For You

The Early Show, Early Show resident veterinarian Debbye Turner, dog
CBS/The Early Show
Getting a dog is always an exciting time in a home, but it's important to choose properly or you can end up with something different than what you bargained for.

Early Show resident veterinarian Debbye Turner says it's important to consider what type of lifestyle your family leads (active or sedentary), if you have children, allergies and more before deciding what type of dog you want.

Different dogs are better for different living situations. They can come in difference sizes, coats and temperaments. So choose carefully.

Long before you start looking for the perfect pooch for you and your family, there are several factors that you should consider and a number of questions to ask yourself, says Turner. The best way to avoid a bad experience with owning a dog is to be well-educated. Questions to ask are:

  • Am I ready for a dog?
    Dogs are living, breathing, feeling beings. They are not like a new piece of furniture that can generally be ignored. Dogs (depending on breed) can live up to 20 years. So ask yourself if are you ready for this long-term commitment? You should expect to spend $200 to $400 per year on food and veterinary care. This number get higher as the dog ages. According to the American Pet Products Association, pet owners spent on average $460 on each pet last year. Plus, owning a dog is a lifestyle change. Are you ready to find pet care when you are away on vacation or business. Can you come home in the evening to walk and feed your pet? Do you have the space for a pet?
  • Why do I want a dog?
    Different breeds can address different needs. Do you want a watch dog? Do you want a lap dog? Or do you want a dog good with small children? How about an athletic dog? If you live in a one-bedroom apartment, then you might not want to have a border collie, which requires a lot of exercise and attention. If you want a dog that will run 5 miles a day with you, then you probably don't want a Great Dane or Mastiff, which are great couch potatoes.
  • Are there small children in the family?
    Miniature breeds are not a good choice for a household with toddlers. Because small children have not yet learned to be gentle, they can be a danger to small dogs like Maltese, toy poodles, Yorkies or Chihuahuas. In fact, a large sturdy, patient breed is best with small children -- dogs like cocker spaniels, beagles, basset hounds, even sheepdogs.
  • Do I have a fenced-in yard?
    High energy, athletic dogs need space to run and explore. Therefore German Shepherds, border collies and Labrador retrievers are good choices for the active person with time to play and romp with their dog. If you live in a small apartment or house, then a small breed is better for you.

    Size Does Matter

    While many dog owners swear by the breed that they own, the truth is that all breeds and types of dogs can make wonderful pets, says Turner. The biggest advantage to owning a purebred dog is you know exactly what you are getting into in terms of size, color, lifespan and temperament. However, the argument can be made that mixed breeds (or mutts) are healthier, live longer, and are even smarter than purebreds. The bottom line is, if your dog brings you joy and love, then it doesn't really matter what his pedigree is, says Turner.

    Almost no one can resist a cute puppy. But think long and hard before getting a puppy. Just like children, they have to be raised. You must be ready to socialize them, house-train them, behavior train them and lose a few pairs of shoes to puppy chewing. Just like humans, puppies go through a teething phase, adolescent phase (where they will test your boundaries) and, of course, a puberty phase. Turner says it is important to remember to spay or neuter your dog if you don't plan to breed it.

    Small breeds, such as toy poodles, Pug, Maltese, Yorkies and the Chin, are great for older folks, people with small living space and single-person households. Most of these breeds like individual attention. They generally don't like a lot of noise, rough kids or strangers. A small breed dog can live 15 to 20 years.

    Medium size breeds vary greatly by variety. But dogs like cocker spaniels, Golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers and collies are good family pets. These dogs do need exercise, so be prepared to take them walking daily or have a fenced-in yard for them to romp. Most medium sized dogs live 10 to 15 years.

    Large breeds have two important needs — space and food. You can expect a Newfoundland, like the one we have here, to eat 5 to 8 cups of food per day. Plus big dogs need enough space to walk, stretch out and sleep. While most "giant breeds" are pretty sedentary, they do need some exercise. Because of their imposing size, large breeds are good if you want a "guard dog." That is not to say that they are mean. They are not. They just look intimidating. Most large breeds are pretty mild mannered, so they may be a good choice for a family with small children. They can take the poking, pulling and prodding. However, Turner says you should never leave a small child with any pet unsupervised. Large breeds have the shortest lifespan of most dogs. They live only 7 to 12 years.

    Animal shelters, humane societies and reputable breeders are the best places to get a dog. Beware of pet stores that tend to get their puppy supply from puppy mills and "assembly-line" breeders. Your veterinarian is a great resource for good breeders in your area. Plus many animal shelters get abandoned purebreds, so you can get a purebred dog for a nominal cost at your local humane society. Breed rescue organizations are a good resource too.

    A final note, if you don't want to deal with a lot of dog fur, then you want to avoid Labradors, Golden retrievers, sheepdogs, or any long-haired breeds. For breeds that shed less, consider poodles, Bichon Frises and Chinese Cresteds. And remember that breeds like poodles, Bichon Frises, Pulis, Scottish terriers and Maltese require regular grooming.

    And if you don't want a "yapper", Basenjis, Borzois and Whippets rarely, if ever, bark.