Once you determine that you’re definitely ready for a dog and capable of caring for one, then it’s time to narrow down your choices.
While some people know exactly what kind of dog they want and where to find him, others have no clue. Either way, I’ll walk you through the most important issues to consider.
Puppy or Adult Dog?
It’s a no-brainer why a lot of people want a puppy—they’re one of the cutest creatures on earth, and there are advantages to getting your dog at this stage of his life. For starters, you’re in a position to teach your pet from day one. You can prevent habits you don’t like from emerging in the first place, and you can take measures to prevent your dog from having socialization issues later on in life. Of course, there’s also something magical about caring for another living being from a very young age.
However, keep in mind that puppies are a lot of work, and the time
commitment is huge. A puppy is brand-new to this world and knows
nothing of human culture and expectations. Puppies don’t come house trained, and you have to walk them very often. They haven’t yet learned that they’re not supposed to play bite. Plus, you have to constantly monitor their every move—puppies are extremely curious and often love to chew everything in sight, so if you let your guard down they can damage your home or, worse, get hurt. In short, you’ll need to be extra tolerant and patient for some time.
What are the advantages to adopting an adult dog? They don’t play bite as much, and house training is a little less difficult simply because their bladders are more developed and they can “hold it” longer. Some dogs may even come fully house trained and know basic requests such as “sit” and “stay.” Older dogs typically cost less to acquire, too. Also, keep in mind that some of the best dogs in the world are those who have spent years in rescue shelters waiting for the perfect home.
However, there may be some disadvantages: Many older dogs may not have been socialized properly as puppies, which can make them less confident in certain situations. For example, many dogs fear men simply because they weren’t exposed to them at a young age. Bad habits like destructive chewing, jumping on people, and pulling on a leash are likely more established, which means it may take a little more effort to put a stop to them. Weigh the pros and cons of having a puppy versus an older dog
and remember not to underestimate the commitment a young puppy
requires. However, if you have the time and patience to dedicate to a
dog regardless of his age, then either can be a perfect addition to
Does Size Matter?
Some people want only a dog they can tote around in their purse; others believe that bigger is better. I’ve worked with dogs of all shapes and sizes, and I’ve learned that size has absolutely nothing to do with the personality of a dog. However, it’s definitely something you should consider. Here’s what you need to know:
- Large dogs may require more room to exercise. This is a generalization, but it’s often true.
- Smaller dogs tend to have longer life spans. For instance, a Chihuahua can live eighteen years, whereas a Bernese Mountain Dog’s life expectancy is a mere six to nine years.2 In fact, a study published in the American Naturalist found that for every 4.4-pound increase in weight, life expectancy dropped by one month.3 Of course, many variables will affect a dog’s life span; size is just one of them.
- The larger the dog, the higher the costs for his basic care. While a small breed might eat about a half cup of kibble daily, a large one can go through ten times that. Grooming, toys, and other expenses can cost more, too.
- Smaller dogs are more portable. You can more easily pick them up and take them in the car or on errands. Also, on most commercial airlines, you can bring a small dog on board as a carry-on as long as he fits in a travel case under the seat in front of you.
- Large dogs can ward off strangers. A Bullmastiff sitting in your front window is going to scare off potential burglars more than a Maltese might, simply because of his appearance. (Though a small dog who’s attentive and likes to bark can also make for an excellent watchdog.)
- Small dogs are easier to control. I’m not saying that it’s easier to train a small dog. However, when a ten-pound dog jumps up or lunges on his leash, it’s quite different from handling an eighty-pound dog with the same behavioral issues. Think about whether you have the strength to control a bigger dog.