Choosing Your Next Dog Companion

I am a dog lover. Chances are, since you are reading this article, so are you. My family has been blessed with three wonderful canine companions. What dog characteristics did we seek when choosing the breed? Which dog breed matched our family personality? How about health problems of a particular breed? Is shedding an issue? These questions and more should be considered when choosing the perfect dog as your family friend.

Our concerns were temperament (how will the dog react in certain situations), friendliness (will the canine try to eat our kids), and size. Size became less important as we grew to love the canine community. Our dogs have been a Cocker Spaniel, Maltese, and St. Bernard – in that order. So from 5 lbs to 130 lbs, well that’s quite a range. Each excelled in temperament and friendliness.

We were not too concerned with the breed’s health issues. We discovered that our Cocker Spaniel was prone to ear problems, requiring us to swab her ears regularly then using vet-prescribed ear drops. Molly the Maltese succumbed to cancer after living a long life. Our St. Bernard, Kelly, had issues with her hips (a heavy dog but light for the breed). Larger dogs, as we learned, have a shorter lifespan simply due to their size and the stress it places on their heart.

When choosing a dog, which breeds should we steer away from? Lynn Duckett, Vice President of the Asheville NC Kennel Club states “A well-bred and properly trained pit bull is one of the sweetest dogs imaginable. In all cases where dogs have attacked humans, the irresponsible owner is actually more responsible than the dog. Some people like the image of being seen with a ‘tough’ breed; somehow they think it makes them look cool,” she said. “Sadly, these are the very owners who refuse to properly train and socialize their dogs.”

“I’m sorry to say that I’ve seen it all,” said Gail Hubbard, a certified dog trainer and co-owner of A Good Dog’s Life. “That is, the golden retriever that becomes aggressive and the pit bull who is just a loving lap dog. People seem to place blame on the dog – it’s definitely easier,” she said.

I too have known owners of pit bulls who simply adored their pet. They experienced no aggressive behavior and were good family pets. Any breed can develop poor habits, but with proper training and socialization, these habits can be broken.

Susan Wilson, also a certified dog trainer and co-owner of A Good Dog’s Life said, “I probably would not adopt a puppy from a litter with a mother that is very protective and untrusting of other people and other dogs,” Wilson said. “Puppies learn a lot from those first eight weeks.”

“Breed type has its place, for sure, but the things dogs pick up and learn from their earliest environment (breeders) along with the environment new owners provide enhances the dog’s personality,” Hubbard said. “That enhancement could be for the best, and it could be for the worst.”

While every purebred has certain characteristics that are predictable, “there will always be individual differences,” Duckett said. “Just like humans, dogs have different personalities or temperaments; even in a litter of purebreds, there can be a huge range of personalities.”

So what was our secret for selecting the perfect dog? We simply sat on the floor and waited for the friendliest ball-of-dog-fluff to come visit. Regardless of the method, do take selection seriously. The rewards are outstanding.