Choosing The Right Dog Breed for Your Family

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Dogs are like people. They come in all shapes and sizes with all kinds of personalities. There are a number of considerations to keep in mind when choosing a dog. First, get together as a family and decide what to adopt. If you have children, keep the criteria simple, so they can be involved too. Just remember, you don’t ask a three-year-old to choose between all of Baskin-Robbins’ 31 flavors. You ask him if he wants chocolate or vanilla. The same concept applies here. Try to pare it down to about five or six breeds, and then decide what characteristics are most important for your family. Think about size and coat care, but more importantly, temperament.

There are seven groups of dogs: sporting, hounds, working, terriers, toys, non-sporting and herding. Add in mixes of every breed and there are endless possibilities. The majority of sporting, hounds, working and herding dogs are larger breeds with many great pet qualities. However, there are some smaller dogs in these groups to consider as well. Most hounds are pack animals that blend well with humans or other pets, and in general, are very social. Sporting dogs have high energy levels. Active, athletic families might be a good match. Herding breeds are usually highly intelligent and faithful; however, socialization is important if you want them to be good neighbors. Herding and working dogs feature a combination of guard dogs and multipurpose working dogs. Note that dogs in each of these groups shed and will require some grooming, regardless of coat length.

Now, for the smaller dogs: terriers and toy breeds are predominately small. However, this is not always the case, as the American Staffordshire Terrier (Pit Bull) is included in the terrier group. All terriers are true working dogs and in general, are quite tenacious. They were bred, mostly in England, to kill vermin. For small dogs, yes, they do have big teeth, but can also make very good family pets. However, individual breeds and temperaments can vary greatly. Be sure to research them thoroughly before making a final decision. Toy breeds are extremely small and are popular because they don’t take up much space. Plus, they are like perpetual puppies with cute faces and small bodies. However, because they are so small, toy breeds can be fearful of being dropped or stepped on, which can cause problems for families with small children. Most of the toy breeds require professional grooming about every six weeks to keep their coats in good condition and brushing is required between grooming sessions. Most of the long-coated toy breeds are low shedders but do require quite a bit of maintenance, so be prepared to spend more time on them.

The non-sporting group has the widest variety of breed types because it includes all the dogs that don’t fit into the other six categories. That said, Poodles were originally sporting dogs, Bulldogs were working dogs, Spitz were sled dogs, etc. Most of the dogs in this group have been categorized as pets in lieu of their original purpose; research as much as possible before making a final decision.

If you are looking for a purebred, the American Kennel Club web site is a great source that allows people to search by the seven groups listed above or by specific dog breeds – i.e., Beagle, Labrador Retriever, Bulldog, Pomeranian, etc. Pare down the list to a few breeds and then list what you like best about each. This will help you decide between the various purebred dogs and cross (mixed) breeds, like a Lab/Beagle cross or a Poodle/Pom. Mixed breeds can be found in any shelter in the country and the options are virtually endless. Surprisingly, a lot of purebred dogs also are available in shelters, so check the local shelters and humane societies before buying. You will get more for your money and a nice, healthy pet to love in return.

Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images

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