How To Choose The Right Dog For Me

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Are you interested in adopting a dog but wondering how to find the right one for you?

Whether you want a dog who loves to Netflix-and-chill, or you’re looking for a pup who loves running 5Ks and climbing mountains — there’s definitely a dog out there with a personality to match your lifestyle.

The Dodo spoke to Shelby Semel, head trainer at Animal Haven rescue in New York City, Dr. Corinne Wigfall, a veterinarian working with SpiritDog Training, and Liz Claflin, a dog trainer and vice president of operations at Zoom Room in California, to learn how to find the right dog for your lifestyle.

What kind of dog is right for me?

It’s a good idea to figure out the type of personality you’re looking for in your future family member before actually heading to the shelter.

“Before meeting or picking a dog, I think everyone should make a (realistic) wish list of what they are looking for in a dog and what they absolutely could not help [him] work through,” Semel told The Dodo.

For example, some things on your “must-have” list could be:

  • A cuddly dog
  • A dog who’s house trained
  • A dog who’s OK with being alone

And on your “no-go” list, you might include things like:

  • A dog who doesn’t like kids, if you have a family
  • A dog who isn’t house trained, if you don’t have the time to train him yourself

In the case above, maybe your ideal dog’s super friendly and cuddly with people but doesn't love other dogs, but that might not be a dealbreaker for you since he’s still a good fit for your individual needs.

Other things you’ll want to consider when figuring out the right kind of dog for you can include:

The size of the dog

If you live in a tiny apartment, getting a super large dog probably won’t make much sense.

“The bigger the dog, the more space they will need both in your home and ideally a fenced garden area,” Dr. Wigfall told The Dodo. “Smaller dogs are more suited to apartment or townhouse living, whereas larger dogs prefer a bigger home with a [backyard] or access to walks nearby.”

In some cases, big dogs with lower energy levels (like Great Danes) will be perfectly happy in moderately sized apartments, but as a general rule of thumb, more space will be better for larger pups.

The dog’s energy level

Are you super active and love to go hiking and exploring? You’ll probably be better with a dog with a high energy level and good stamina. “Herding or working dogs fit well for this lifestyle,” Dr. Wigfall said.

High-energy pups also need lots of daily exercise and can get bored easily, which means they might not be ideal for people who are gone for most of the day. “How many hours will your dog be left alone for each day, and will they cope with this?” Dr. Wigfall said. “Energetic dogs, such as the husky, will not cope well with long periods of confinement.”

“If you prefer a more calm approach, a smaller breed or less energetic dog will be for you,” Dr. Wigfall said.

The dog’s health

Some dogs are predisposed to health conditions that can affect their function and quality of life. “Do your research carefully to make sure you are aware of the health risks and how to manage them (e.g., Diabetes requires lifelong daily injections — are you OK with needles or do you faint on sight?),” Dr. Wigfall said.

The dog’s temperament

Every dog has his own personality, so spend time with your potential pup (and ask plenty of questions to the shelter and/or foster parents) to learn more about him. If you have any pets at home, consider bringing them to meet the new pup to see if they get along.

How to pick a dog

Now that you’ve done some hard thinking about the kind of dog that will fit into your home environment and lifestyle, you can start looking for your perfect match.

Here’s how to get started:

Find a shelter that does assessments

It’s important to work with a shelter or rescue that’s totally committed to making sure their dogs are matched with the right families — and not just letting any person take any dog without really understanding each other’s needs.

“I suggest choosing a dog from a shelter who does assessments and is completely upfront [about any issues with an individual dog],” Semel said.

According to Semel, it’s even better if the dog was living in a foster home for a while so you can have a better idea of how the dog adjusts to a family and home environment.

“Checking in to see other people’s experiences with the organization is also helpful as, sadly, many rescues do not have the best reputation for pairing dogs with their owners,” Semel said.

Start looking into dogs at a specific shelter

Once you’ve landed on a shelter or two, you can start doing some research into the dogs they currently have available. “Many shelters have websites showing the dogs and providing a little bit of information,” Claflin told The Dodo. “There are also national websites dedicated to showing adoptable dogs in your area.”

Make visits to meet the dogs you’re interested in

You’ll definitely want to meet your potential new dog in person to get a better idea of whether you two will mesh together. Consider bringing anyone who lives at home (including any pets), too.

And be sure to ask staff members and volunteers at the shelter for any information about the dog’s personality and behavior since you might not get the full picture of who your dog truly is by visiting him at the shelter.

“When visiting with a dog, understand that the dog is living in a state of high stress,” Claflin said. “That level of stress commonly alters a dog’s behavior.”

A dog who seems very laid back and chill could actually be completely shut down psychologically because of that stress, according to Claflin. So that super laid-back and chill dog could become a ball of energy once he’s settled into your household and comes out of his shell.

This is why it’s important to allow your dog to decompress and get comfortable in his new home before really assessing who he is. Many rescue dogs need time to open up and really let their true personalities shine.

“Visiting a dog in the shelter is important, but understand that their personality and behavior commonly changes once settled into a new home,” Claflin said.

Choosing the right dog helps limit returns

“At Animal Haven, the rescue shelter I work with, they do a very commendable job placing their dogs with appropriate families to minimize returns, which leads to stress for the family as well as the dog,” Semel said.

It’s important that the rescue you work with knows as much information as possible about your new dog so you can make the best decision possible. The staff should know whether an individual dog is good with kids, can handle an urban environment, and similar personality traits — especially since it helps limit inappropriate pairings, which leads to happier dogs and dog parents.

“With dogs with more difficult behavioral issues, a member of the staff (or me!) will talk to potential adopters to let them know what could be expected and what training would be involved. We ask many questions, listen very closely to their answers and then decide if a meet and greet would be appropriate,” Semel said.

Even after a meet and greet, a good staff member will let you know directly whether or not they think a dog is a good match for you.

Of course, if you want to be extra sure a dog is the perfect match, you can look for rescues that will let you foster to adopt — which means the dog will live with you on a trial basis before you need to make a final decision.

There’s really nothing like the magic that happens when you find the right dog for you — and taking the time to be honest about what you need, as well as what your potential new pup needs, will help give you the best friend you’ve ever had!