Finding the Right Dog Breed for Your Family

By Nicole Marsh, September 13th, 2021

It is part of the quintessential American image: a spouse, 2.5 children, a white picket fence, and a dog.

While there are many people eager to welcome a dog into their home, finding a dog is not always easy.

Options abound! There are dog breeders, animal shelters, and breed rescues. Puppies, adults, and elderly dogs.

In all of those choices, there are hundreds of breeds and even more mixes to choose from.

Once someone decides to welcome a dog into their home, it can be easy to find one and bring it home. But will it be the right dog for you and your family?

Why Breed Knowledge is Important

  • Dogs have been bred into hundreds of breeds over the centuries.
  • Many breeds were bred to serve a specific purpose or do a job. Some breeds worked closely with humans and others worked independently.
  • Instincts sometimes run deep in a breed; other dogs will need a lot of training to serve their original purpose.
  • Some dogs were bred to be a companion dog and will happily sit beside their people.

Knowing about a dog's breed or mix of breeds is important to understanding how the dog will look and act.

While a breed is not a guarantee of most traits, it can be a good predictor.

Knowing what to expect from a dog will help a family decide to bring it home, or not.

This is especially important when considering that dogs often act differently when in a shelter or a puppy than they will at home or as an adult.

The dog you meet briefly when adopting may not be who you bring home.

Look at Your Lifestyle

The first step in deciding what breeds will work best for your family is an honest evaluation of your lifestyle.

  • How active is your family? Are you often out and about, visiting parks or going for a jog? Or are most of your activities sedentary or not dog-friendly?
  • Does everyone spend a lot of time outside the house, or do family members have a more flexible schedule?
  • Are there any allergies to consider?
  • It is also important to evaluate your living situation. Most living arrangements can be made to work with a variety of breeds, but it is still something to think about.
  • Will you be playing fetch in the backyard, regular hikes in the woods, or a stroll around the block?
  • How much time do you want to spend grooming a dog?

It is important to be honest when evaluating your lifestyle.

Do not think about what you will do when you get a dog; if you are not already living that lifestyle it will be difficult to make that change long term.

Additionally, not being realistic might leave you with a dog that does not fit your lifestyle. When that happens, both dog and people end up unhappy.

Breed Activity Levels

One major consideration is a dog's natural activity level. Some breeds have a high energy level and need a family to match it.This need can be met in a variety of ways.

  • Some owners enjoy a brisk jog in the mornings and evenings with their dog, who can happily relax for the rest of the day.
  • Other families participate in sports with their dog, such as regular fetch or Frisbee games.
  • Still others give their dogs jobs and dedicated sports. Examples of this are agility competitions, herding, or obedience trials.
  • Dogs with high energy needs will find their own outlets when not given proper activities and exercises. This will show up as bad behaviors, such as chewing, barking, and escaping.

Other dogs have a much lower energy level and even a walk might seem too much.

Dogs with low energy levels may feel stressed or overwhelmed with a family that is always on the move.

A high energy family with a low energy dog may feel disappointed with their dog or even a lack of connection.

Breed Personality

Different breeds are known for having different personalities. It is important to note that a breed, even a purebred dog, is not a guarantee of personality traits. That said, certain traits are more common than others in different breeds. Often, these traits are related to the dog's original purpose. A dog's upbringing will also affect their personality.

A Bichon Frise is known for being a happy, playful dog. Originally bred for companionship, they are happiest playing with and receiving attention from family members. Akitas, on the other hand, are often reserved and aloof. Akitas tend to be territorial and protective of their families and may not want to snuggle on the sofa.

Other considerations are how well the dog naturally gets along with small pets, other dogs, and children. If a family has a cat, a terrier may not be the best breed choice. Families with children may choose a dog such as a Golden Retriever or Labrador, known for being affectionate with children and having an energy level to keep up with a family.

Grooming Requirements

Some dogs, such as an Old English Sheepdog, one can easily imagine will need a lot of time spent on grooming.

Other dogs, such as a wire coated Jack Russell Terrier, need a greater grooming commitment than anticipated.

How much time are you able or willing to spend grooming your dog? Alternatively, will you be able to bring your dog to be professionally groomed regularly?

Every dog, whatever coat it has, will need regular bathing. Some dog will need it more often than others, but it is important to consider how to meet this need.

Breed Size

Breed size varies a lot, from the diminutive Chihuahua to the giant Wolfhound .

A larger dog may be more difficult for some to handle physically.

Some people find a small dog to be more convenient, others simply love larger breed dogs.

Some large dogs can do very well in a small apartment, provided they have enough exercise. Others will feel cramped, or make the space feel cramped, simply by walking around.

Some people may feel worried a small dog will often be underfoot and may easily be injured.

Often, a breed size will come down to personal preferences.

Training Requirements

All dogs will need training.

A young puppy will need to be house-trained, socialized, and have basic obedience lessons.

An older rescue dog may have learned the basics but will need time and patience to adapt to its new home.

Some adult dogs have had little to no formal training and will need intensive education and socialization to be happy.

Other rescued dogs may be dealing with anxiety or coming from an abusive situation and need special care and training to be their best self.

It is often recommended families attend a formal dog training school, especially if it is your first dog. The primary purpose of dog schools is to teach the owner how to properly train and interact with the dog to ensure proper behavior.

If you plan to do more work with the dog, such as showing the dog or competing in agility or obedience, further schooling will be needed.  

Other Considerations

The age of a dog is an important consideration. Regardless of the dog's breed, a puppy will require more patience and training than an adult.

A senior dog will have lower energy requirements than a younger dog of the same breed and may just need a quiet, loving home.

Deciding on a breed or breeds of dog that will work best for your family does not preclude adopting a rescue or shelter dog!

It will though give you a better idea of what kind of dog will work well in your home.

Often rescues list a dog's breed. It is often a best guess of the mix, but sometimes the dog is a purebred.

Rescues are also able to help find a dog that will be a good fit for families, whether it is certain qualities in the dog or certain breeds.

If you find your heart set on a certain breed of dog, but want to avoid purchasing a purebred dog, another option is a breed rescue.

There are many regional rescues dedicated to only one breed, or a few related breeds, which strive to find good homes for dogs.

When reading about breeds, the American Kennel Club website is a good resource where you can find out about breed standards, such as size and weight, and a dog's temperament.  

Dogs can be wonderful companions. They are also a lot of work. Being prepared to welcome a dog into your home is integral to everyone's happiness and well-being. Knowing what dog breeds will suit your family best is one way to be prepared.

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