When it comes to choosing a family canine, there are more questions to ask than just "how much is that doggy in the window?"
One of the first questions to answer is what kind of dog fits your lifestyle, according to Lisa Peterson, director of communications for the American Kennel Club. "You have to look at such factors as the size of your house and family, whether there are children, what size dog and energy level you can handle, and how much time you have," she says.
Author and pet behavior expert Chris Shaughness lists additional points to consider. "Avoid impulse. Know the breed. Talk to a shelter. And consider older dogs," she says.
There are numerous ways to learn about different breeds and their characteristics. In addition to reading books, potential owners can find a lot of information on the American Kennel Club's website, http://www.akc.org, according to Peterson. "You can attend local kennel club or breed shows and approach the owners after the event," she says. "Most will be glad to talk to you about their breed and give you a close-up look at the dog. There are 'meet the breeder' events on the local level that are good sources of information. You can also call local breeders and ask whether you can come and see their dogs. We all want to encourage people to become responsible dog owners."
Though most purebred dogs are predictable in terms of characteristics, it is a fallacy that some are hypoallergenic. According to Peterson, though single-coated dogs do shed less and produce less dandruff than those with double coats, they still can cause problems for people with allergies.
One way of checking this out is to spend some time with five dogs of the breed you are considering. "You might not be allergic at all, or you might be all right with the first four and have a reaction to the fifth dog," Peterson says.
People often are surprised by the characteristics of different breeds. For example, many people don't realize how strong-willed a little Yorkshire terrier can be or how difficult an energetic terrier can be to live with, according to Shaughness, author of "Puppy Mill Dogs SPEAK!: Happy Stories and Helpful Advice." "Mixed breeds are a genetic crapshoot, but they often don't have the strong characteristics of any one breed," she says.
She adds that one of the biggest problems is that new dog owners don't realize how much time it involves. "It takes time to train and exercise a dog. You need to think about your lifestyle, whether you have kids, whether you work, whether you are busy. The biggest thing most people underestimate is the time involved. Dog ownership involves more than just walking a dog. It needs mental stimulation every day. Dogs want a life, too. You have to keep their body, spirit, mind and emotions engaged."
People looking for a dog should consider adopting one from an animal shelter or a rescue group.
"Generally, adoptions are available for dogs that are 6 weeks or older. And about 30 percent of dogs in shelters are purebreds," says Connie Mogull, a longtime volunteer with and former president of her local humane society.
Mogull explains that many dogs end up in shelters for various reasons not caused by the pets themselves. "The owner may have died. The family may be moving and can't take the pet with them. Someone in the family may have an allergy. There are many reasons a dog ends up in a shelter," Mogull says, adding that canine rescue organizations will come into a shelter and take dogs of certain breeds to care for them and place them for adoption.
Older dogs can be especially good fits because they already are socialized. Many animal shelters conduct temperament tests, such as seeing how a dog reacts around a cat, according to Mogull.
Shaughness, whose most recent three dogs have come from shelters, agrees. "There is nothing like calm older dogs. They are good companions and very affectionate. Mine were my inspiration," she says.
It is important for first-time dog owners to be aware of how much time and money is involved in getting a puppy and raising it to maturity, according to Peterson. She recommends getting a stuffed puppy a month before purchasing a real one in order to get an idea of what ownership involves. "Treat it like a real puppy, and act as if you have to feed, train, walk and play with it every day," she says. "It's a plausible way of making you think about what is involved in being a responsible pet owner. You realize 'I must be a responsible dog owner.' We all must be up to the task."
Mogull recommends that anyone who works full time not get a dog younger than 3 years old. She considers the first three weeks to be the most critical time when bringing what she calls a "secondhand dog" into a new home. "It is important to establish a routine during the first three weeks. The only thing a dog recognizes as his own is food, so you need to get into a routine that includes feeding and walking," she says.
Mogull is adamant about one thing. "Don't buy from pet shops or puppy mills," she says. "It is so important to support your local shelter."