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Choosing the right dog - the breed, the size, the temperament, the cost - is the key first step to building a loving, healthy and happy relationship with a pet. Get it right and you're likely to have a deeply rewarding experience. Get it wrong and you're facing a potential nightmare.
So what should you do? First, recognize that there are two parties to this relationship - you (and the fellow humans in your household) and the dog. Both sides of the equation have to be compatible, which means that you have to understand as much about yourself as you do about the animal you're adopting.
Your lifestyle, habits and personality will guide the type of dog that's right for you. So before taking a dog in, it's crucial that you take a personal inventory. Do you live in a small apartment in a city, in a suburban home with a backyard or in the wide-open spaces? Are you an active person or are you a couch potato? Are you looking for a dog for security, as a companion for children, as an exercise partner? Are you a type-A workaholic with little attention to spare, or do you have more leisure time? Are you away from home a great deal or is the house your base of operation? Are you prepared for the expense?
Know Your Dog
While all dogs are individuals (you could find a timid Rottweiler and an aggressive poodle), specific breeds share general characteristics and make similar demands on their human companions. The choices can be dizzying. The American Kennel Club, for example, recognizes over 150 breeds, and the world is blessed with a nearly infinite variety of mixed breeds. Here are some of the major issues to consider in narrowing you choice:
The AKC divides the breeds into seven groups that essentially reflect their backgrounds: sporting, non-sporting, hounds, working dogs, herding dogs, terriers, toys and a miscellaneous class. Most breeds will look for a job (guarding, herding, retrieving, etc.) that is along the lines for which they have been bred.
(Actually, if you are really, really busy and away from home an awful lot you should think seriously about not getting any kind of dog! Dogs are very social animals that NEED people and or other dogs around).
Other dogs are calmer and need less exercise. These include the Maltese and the mastiff, which despite his large size and appearance is quite docile.
City apartment dwellers might want to consider a toy breed, such as a Pomeranian, Brussels griffon or Pekingese, if they are looking for a small dog, and could think about a standard poodle if a larger dog is desired. If you live in the suburbs, your household might well be able to accommodate dogs as large as the Great Dane, German shepherd or husky.
You should also be aware of health issues related to the environment. A Mexican hairless would not do well in the cold climate of the Rocky Mountains, but an Alaskan malamute would be perfectly comfortable. The West Highland white terrier might not be a good choice for areas with high spore and pollen counts, such as South Florida.
Novice owners would be well advised to avoid breeds selected for enhanced aggression, such as pit bulls, Rottweilers, chows, shar-peis and akitas.