Fetching the Top Dog for Your Life

So, you thought your new dog would become your sprightly jogging buddy but the pup turned out to be a couch potato? Or perhaps you brought a pooch into your home in order to teach your children responsibility, but you're the only one who learned the lesson: never do anything like that again.

Bringing a dog into your home is a marriage of sorts, a commitment for the lifetime of the dog. With careful planning prior to getting your dog, you can lay the foundation for a beautiful partnership that you and your dog will both cherish.

Questions to Ask

Successfully integrating a dog into your life requires careful planning. Ask yourself several questions and answer them honestly. Can your lifestyle support the demands of a dog? Why do you want a dog? Given these reasons, which dog breeds are most likely to fit the bill? Male or female? Puppy or adult?

When considering whether to get a dog, you need to evaluate the true essence of dog ownership, best described as "dogness." The cult of dog, dogness is a medley of things. It's the slightly different odor that permeates your house once a dog moves in. It's the late-night runs to your veterinarian when your dog ingests your garments. It's the way the dog leash fits into your hand as comfortably as the tennis racket or the bicycle handlebars once did.

Is Dogness for You?

Dogness isn't for everyone. Perhaps you need dogness like a carpenter needs termites: A dog might chip away at your hallowed lifestyle, making you feel heavier in the feet. No more spontaneous overnights at a bed-and-breakfast. Vacation getaways are luxuries that require careful choreography – finding a reputable boarding kennel, scheduling boarding, gathering the necessary health records for boarding and so on.

The cost to maintain a dog is significant. Veterinary care can be expensive and unpredictably timed: a sudden problem like a simple fracture can cost several hundred dollars to repair. Dog food and incidentals like grooming, boarding fees and toys are also costly.

The biggest investment you'll need to make in your dog is time. Plan on three 15-minute walks daily, at minimum. And, if you don't want paw prints on your walls and ceilings, you'll need to provide your dog with a daily period of vigorous exercise, perhaps throwing a ball or going for a run.

Get Your Home in Shape

Before you open your home to a dog, you may need to bring your accommodations up to snuff, pooch-style. If you live in a rented abode, find out in advance if your landlord allows dogs to live there. One of the top reasons dogs are surrendered to shelters is that the landlord doesn't allow them in the dwelling. If you're planning to buy a large dog or one that needs ample exercise, you might need to make provisions for your dog to spend unsupervised time outdoors, perhaps in a fenced yard. You should also try to ensure that your dog's barking will not interfere with the peace-of-mind of your neighbors – or yours!

In preparation for your dog's arrival, you must also set up an infrastructure for canine care. Spell out in advance who will be feeding, walking, grooming and cleaning up after the dog and make sure all parties are in full agreement with the arrangement. If you're getting the dog for your children to take care of, be prepared: Even the most eager of kids can become bored easily and the day-to-day care of the dog probably will become your responsibility.

Once you've established that a dog will fit into your life, you'll need to select one. First, do you want a puppy or an adult? Raising a puppy can be enjoyable and quite fulfilling. Think of a puppy as a clean slate, an opportunity to "mold" a dog to suit your lifestyle. But also consider a dog's life span: A puppy means a 10- to 15-year commitment.

Raising a puppy is a lot of work and often very frustrating. Housebreaking is difficult and cleaning up puddles and piles is no fun. At some time or another, almost every puppy chews – often beyond recognition – something that his owner values. Most puppies, particularly the large sporting breeds like Labrador retrievers, are very energetic and require a lot of exercise. Perhaps the hardest part about raising a puppy is teaching him general etiquette, the nuts and bolts of living with his owner.

Bringing in an adult dog has advantages and disadvantages. While an adult dog usually knows the basics of domestic living – how to sit, stay and go to the bathroom outside – he may come with baggage from his former living situation. But in general, his behavior patterns are set –an advantage for an owner that wants to be assured that she "clicks" with her new pet.

You'll also need to choose between a purebred and a mixed-breed dog. Purebred dogs come with canine "roadmaps" detailing their personality traits, idiosyncrasies and health profiles. However, purebreds are often less hardy than mixed breeds, both physically and often emotionally, as a result of inbreeding. Mixed breeds are also often less subject to the behavioral extremes seen in many of the purebred dogs.

The Breed

If you've decided on a purebred dog, you'll need to select a breed that is compatible with your lifestyle and with your reasons for wanting a dog. With over 140 American Kennel Club (AKC)-recognized breeds, and many more breeds beyond this, there are a lot to choose from. If you want a rough-and-tumble dog to play with, for example, you're barking up the wrong tree if you get a lumbering Basset hound. Looking for a mellow little house dog that's an easy keeper? Think about a Cavalier King Charles spaniel rather than a Border collie, who would probably herd you around the house. Kids at home? Some breeds, like golden retrievers, are known for their gentle disposition. Have allergies? Consider one of the "hypoallergenic" breeds, like the Wheaten terrier. Temperament, size, appearance and general breed characteristics – such as grooming requirements – must be taken into account when choosing a breed.

The Gender

Gender is another important consideration. Male dogs, particularly those that aren't neutered are more likely to roam and fight with other dogs. Male dogs often require longer walks because they tend to urinate in multiple locations. Female dogs, on the other hand, are pregnancy risks until they can be spayed.

Where to Find Your Dog