This is a very good question that people with little or no experience with dogs should but often do not ask.
If you have decided to get a dog there are some important questions you should ask yourself and issues to think about to make sure you get a breed that’s right for you.
First take look at your living environment.
Do you have a big house, small house or apartment?
Do you live in the city, a suburban area or rural area?
Do you live by a lake or the ocean or near a forest or mountainous area?
Is it a hot climate, cold, or one that has all four seasons?
Do you have a small yard, big yard, acres of land or no yard at all?
Is your yard fenced? If you don’t have a fenced yard you need to be prepared to walk your dog multiple times every day.
Different breeds are a better fit for different environments. For example, you don’t want to get an active medium or large breed dog that loves to run and needs lot’s of exercise if you live in an apartment. Breeds that were meant for cold climates don’t do well in the heat, unless you want to spend the money to have them clippered down. Dogs with strong prey drives, like terriers and hunting dogs, will run off after squirrels, rabbits and other prey. If not fenced in, they are at risk of getting lost or hit by a car.
Next, consider your living situation.
Do you have a small baby or will you be planning to start a family?
Do you have small children or teenagers?
Are you a single person or a couple living alone?
Do you travel often? What will you do with your dog?
Do you have guests over frequently? Do you want a giant breed greeting and interacting with them?
Many breeds are wonderful with either a single person or a family with children, however, some, like Golden Retrievers are much more tolerant of young children than some breeds. Toy breeds can be fragile and some breeders prefer they not go to a home with any children under the age of 8.
What type of personality do you have?
Really, you ask? What’s my personality got to do with the breed of dog I get?
Well, just as people have different personalities, so do dogs.
People and dogs can be outgoing, quiet, assertive, shy, aggressive, talkative, thoughtful, inquisitive, energetic, calm, etc. Some dogs are more of a barker than others, some howl.
If a person is more of a shy or calm type of person they may not appreciate or want to deal with the high energy of a terrier and vice versa. An active person who likes to hike or roller blade would fit well with a high energy dog that can keep up if they want their dog to enjoy these types of activities also. A couch potato type person would fit best with a couch potato type of dog, or a dog with a calm energy like a golden retriever or a small dog in the toy breed group.
Another thing to consider is the care required for the breed of dog you get.
Do you want a dog that needs regular professional grooming, a long-haired breed that will require frequent combing and may leave a lot of hair around, a short-haired breed or one that doesn’t shed much at all.
Are you looking for a big dog to provide protection? Be careful with this idea. Any dog will alert you to strangers but if you want a bigger breed as a protector you should be an experienced dog owner. These breeds are not for beginner dog owners or those with a “soft” personality. A barking dog will scare away most intruders no matter what breed it is, however, there are breeds, like Airedale Terriers, that are great family pets and excellent protectors.
If an intruder is not afraid of a barking dog they likely will have planned for a way to work around that. They may bring meat with them to occupy the dog or even may kill the dog. If you want protection get an alarm system for your house or buy and learn how to use a gun. Getting a dog for protection only isn’t a good idea.
Now lets look at the breeds as a group to help narrow down the field.
Toy breeds – These dogs are very small and more fragile than bigger breeds though they can be full of energy. Just because they are small does not mean they are wimpy, they will stand their ground and it’s not unusual to see a toy breed back down a larger breed. They shed little and are good apartment dogs.
Sporting group – These dogs enjoy the woods and the water and usually have well-rounded personalities but they do need exercise and enjoy a good hearty workout.
Non-Sporting – This is a diverse group of dogs and are a varied collection in terms of size, coat, personality and overall appearance.
Herding dogs – These dogs are herders and they are remarkable at how the can control the movement of other animals. These are intelligent dogs, easy to train and make good companions. They have a very strong need to herd, however, so unless they have a “job”, they can become frustrated and take out this frustration on you, your children or your household belongings. It is not uncommon for people to complain that their herding dog is “biting” their children, when, in fact, they are nipping and “herding” them. If you choose a herding breed, be prepared to give them plenty of exercise and something to keep that herding instinct busy in a productive manner.
Hound group – Most of the dogs in the group have been or are used for hunting. Some are these dogs have amazing scent abilities while others have a large amount of stamina. Some of these dogs bay, or howl. If you haven’t heard this sound make sure you get familiar with it before you get one of these dogs.
Working dogs – These are large breed dogs, strong and powerful. These aren’t a good breed for a new dog owner. They are smart dogs but need an owner who has experience training and handling this type of dog.
Terrier group – You could also call this the Terror group (just kidding, sort of). These are feisty, energetic dogs and often have little tolerance for other animals, including other dogs. They can be quite assertive and do best with an equally assertive owner who can establish clear rules, boundaries and limitations.
Misc dogs – This is a group of relatively rare or new to AKC breeds. Research them further if you have an interest in one of these.
No article can tell you exactly which breed of dog is right for you but can assist you with making sure you ask the right questions and give you some resources to check out. There are hundreds of different dog breeds so you will need to do some additional research to determine the best breed for your situation. Your research of the different breeds will help you to get a better understanding of what might be a good fit for your environment. The purpose of this article is to help you formulate your questions and provide a little direction for finding the best breed for you.
The dog you get will live with you for the next 10-15 years so some careful thought should be given and research done to determine the best breed for you. Both you and your dog will appreciate that you put in some work now to identify the type of dog that will fit in well in your life.
This web site (http://www.akc.org/breeds/#) will allow you to view each dog by group and by breed. You can see on the left column links to view the dogs by breed and by group. There is a picture of each dog and by clicking on it you can get a good description of the different characteristics of that breed.
Where should I get my dog?
If you decide you want to get a pure breed dog then find the best breeder you can, one who does health certifications, belongs to their National Breed Club and sells their dogs with a written contract and health guarantee. Ironically, a well-bred purebred dog is often less expensive than those sold in stores. Never, ever buy a dog from a pet store! All those puppies come from puppy mills. If you aren’t familiar with “puppy mills” just Google the term and read about the horrible conditions in which these dogs live. No matter what they tell you, no ethical breeder would ever sell pups to a store. In fact, it is cause for dismissal from the National Breed clubs. Likewise with the internet. Buyer beware! There are hundreds of websites with pictures of cute puppies next to flowers or with ribbons in their hair when the reality is that they were born in a horrible puppy mill type situation. Research your breeder and go to visit if at all possible. To find a quality breeder start by looking for the breeder club of the state you live in and you can use the link provided above for the AKC.
You may pay a little more but its worth it to get a dog that is properly bred, is healthy and has the correct temperament of that breed.
If you can’t afford or don’t care about having a quality purebred pup you will be just as well off adopting a dog from a local shelter.
There are many dogs available at rescue facilities that can be a good companion for you. National Breed Clubs also sponsor the rescue of their own breeds so they can point you in the direction of a purebred rescue. There are frequently purebred dogs at shelters, through no fault of their own, but the result of someone NOT doing their homework and buying the wrong breed for their lifestyle and then discover that breed just isn’t a good fit for them. Some of these dogs will be mixed breeds, so by reviewing the various breeds you will get a better understanding of what the dog may be mixed with to determine if it might be a good fit.
This will be a new member of your family and you should take the time to find just the right one. You will be rewarded with many years of loyalty and unconditional love.
A few words about training.
Be sure to start training your dog on day one and consistently reinforce the behavior you want and ignore or discourage the behavior you don’t want. Nearly all behavior problems are the result of poor or inconsistent training and not properly socializing your dog with other dogs and humans. Establishing clear rules, boundaries and limitations so your dog understands your expectations will create a happier and well-behaved pet.
It can be helpful to remember that even though we all love our dogs very much, they are not human. They don’t think like or rationalize like a human does. They are very eager to please and whatever behavior you praise, laugh at or give comfort to is a behavior that your dog will continue to do.
There are two very common mistakes people make with their dogs.
The first one is to comfort their dog when it is anxious, nervous or scared and this just reinforces that behavior.
The second thing is showing excitement when your dog is overly excited, such as when you first come home or see the dog after an absence. The excited human makes the dog even more excited and it is nearly impossible to control an excited dog. Remember, excited does not necessarily mean happy, an aggressive dog will also show a high level of excitement and it may not be at all happy at the time.
A doggie obedience class with your new friend can make a big difference and create a happier, well-adjusted dog.