Choosing a Pet (page 4)
The key to enjoying the healthiest and most satisfying relationship with a pet is realistically choosing one whose needs are most compatible with your lifestyle. It’s easy to fall in love with a cute puppy or kitten you might encounter, but the realities of pet responsibilities may present unforeseen challenges.
Determining what type of pet is right for you is the first step to settling into a fulfilling life with a fuzzy new friend. Learn how to make an educated decision about pet ownership, and start reaping the many benefits of animal companionship!
Finding a pet that meets your needs and lifestyle
Pets are treasured as members of the family by millions of people around the world. Numerous studies have shown that people who have pets tend to be happier, more independent and feel more secure than those without pets. But what type of pet is best for you? You’ll benefit most from having a pet whose needs are compatible with your lifestyle and physical capabilities.
Lifestyle considerations that influence your choice in a pet
- Little outdoor activity - If most of your time is spent at home, consider pets that would be happy to stay with you in that environment. You may enjoy playing with or cuddling a cat or a bunny; watching fish or reptiles; or talking or singing along with a bird.
- High activity level – If you’re more active and enjoy daily activities outside of your home, especially walking or running, a dog might be right for you. Canine companions thrive on outdoor exercise, keeping you on the move. Plus, the social element of doggie outings encourages interaction with other people you meet along the way.
- Small children and the elderly - Families with small children or elderly living in their homes should consider the size and energy level of a pet. Puppies and kittens are usually very active, but delicate creatures that must be handled with care. Large or rambunctious dogs could accidentally harm or knock over a small child or adult who is unsteady on their feet.
- Other animals in household – Consider the ongoing happiness and ability to adjust of the pets you already have. While your cat or a dog might love to have an animal friend to play with, a pet that has had exclusive access to your attentions may resent sharing you.
- Home environment - If a neat, tidy home, free of animal hair, occasional muddy footprints and “accidents” is important, then a free-roaming dog or long-haired cat may not be the best choice. You may want to choose pets that are confined to their quarters, such as fish, birds, or a turtle/
- Landscaping concerns – With certain pets, your landscaping will suffer. Many dogs will be tempted to dig holes in your lawn, and dog urine can leave yellow patches – some say unaltered females cause the most damage.
- Time commitment - Finally, and perhaps most importantly, keep in mind that you’ll be making a commitment that will last the lifetime of the pet – perhaps 10, 15, or 20 years with a dog or cat; as many as 30 years or more with a bird.
Choosing between a dog or a cat.
Dogs and cats are the most common household pets. While on occasion, you’ll see someone walking a cat on a leash or a dog that uses a litter box, typically the needs and natural behaviors of dogs and cats are different:
Typical Distinctions Between Dogs and Cats
Indoors or Outdoors
Housecats do enjoy being outdoors sometimes, but can wander off.
Dogs need routine exercise and walks outdoors during the day (unless you have a large, fenced backyard where they can run and go to the bathroom)
Essential training of cats usually includes using the litter box and not clawing furniture. Cats resist training.
Dogs need much more training than cats. Most dogs enjoy training, because it gives them something to do. They also have an innate desire to please their people.
If you love serenity and independence mixed with playfulness, a cat is more likely to satisfy you.
If you want to be greeted exuberantly every time you come home, a dog is a better choice.
Cats are often content to be left alone (except, of course, when you'd rather they leave you alone).
Dogs thrive on interaction with humans and other dogs.
If you have trouble deciding whether to choose a dog or a cat, consider the old adage: A dog will be delighted to serve you; a cat will consider you its servant.
Choosing the perfect dog
If you’ve decided a dog is the right pet for you, you have another important decision to make: what kind of dog? There are a number of factors to consider.
One size doesn’t fit all
What size dog fits your lifestyle? Even though it seems logical that a smaller dog would be happier than a larger one in an apartment or a condo without a yard, that isn’t necessarily true. All dogs do need daily exercise and outdoor activity, but some need more than others.
For example, oversized Newfoundlands actually prefer lounging around home and taking leisurely walks. And the tiniest of terriers can be extremely rambunctious and need lots of exercise and outdoor stimulation.
Puppy or mature dog?
There’s no denying that puppies are adorable, but along with the cuteness comes added responsibility. Puppies require more time and attention for housetraining and behavior training, which may include patiently tolerating “accidents” and chewing phases. For these reasons, people who don’t have time to meet a puppy’s needs or prefer not to deal with training, often decide to adopt an older dog.
Additionally, small children or elderly adults in your family may not have the patience or ability to manage a puppy’s exuberance.
Purebred or mixed breed dogs
Another choice may be between a purebred or mixed breed. Some people prefer purebred dogs because they enjoy participating in dog shows, or are drawn to the “look” or characteristics of a particular breed.
Other people prefer mixed breed, “one-of-a-kind” dogs. Adopting a dog that needs a good home, whether it’s a puppy or mature dog, can be very rewarding. Some people say adopted dogs exhibit a special bond and appreciation for their owners.
Whichever type of dog you prefer, there are advantages and disadvantages to consider:
Choosing a purebred or mixed breed: pros and cons
Matching a dog’s “happiness factors” with your own
There are over 150 different types of purebred dogs, and an exponentially larger number of mixed breeds. You can narrow down your choices by realistically matching a dog’s “happiness factors” with your own. Hang around dog parks and talk to other dog owners. They can give you clues as to whether a certain type of dog will be happy with what you are able to provide.
Keep in mind that dogs were originally bred to serve specific functions. Kennel Clubs have divided dog breeds into seven different groups, based on those origins:
- Herding dogs (Collies, Old English Sheepdogs, Australian Shepherds) thrive on a farm with animals to herd. To be happy and well-adjusted in an urban setting they need lots of exercise, a job to do, or to be involved in a sport such as agility or obedience.
- Hounds (Beagles, Bassets, Greyhounds) naturally track other animals – and humans – by smell or sight. Sight-driven dogs move quickly, their speed and stamina making them difficult to catch if they get away from you. Smell-driven dogs move more slowly, but are prone to wander off to track a scent. They can be very vocal, howling or baying.
- Non-Sporting dogs (Chows, Dalmatians, Poodles) seldom serve their original purposes – for example, Poodles hunted truffles, and Dalmatians were “coach dogs”. Non-sporting dogs are popular family companions when their individual activities levels and needs are a good match for those of family members’.
- Sporting dogs (Pointers, Retrievers, Setters, Spaniels), bred to dash around all day finding land and waterfowl for their masters, are active, alert and require daily, invigorating exercise. They like to be around people, getting lots of attention. Labrador and Golden retrievers, both members of the Sporting group, are two of the most popular family pets.
- Terriers (Westies, Fox Terriers, Wheatons) are energetic, tenacious, brave and determined… and they love to dig! Developed to hunt and kill rodents and foxes that raided farms, terriers are a feisty breed. Quite independent, they’re difficult to train. Although they can be friendly, loyal and stable pets, some may be “yappy” and will nip boisterous children.
- Toy dogs (Cavalier King Charles, Chihuahuas, Yorkshire Terriers) are bred as companions - they only want to be with you! But even lapdogs need exercise. Small and fragile, they can be excitable and yappy, and can easily get under foot. Children and the elderly must take extra care around them. Loyal and intelligent, they love to learn tricks.
- Working dogs (Akita, Boxer, Doberman, Great Dane, Newfoundland) are born to “work” at a specific physical job, whether it be guarding, hauling, rescuing or sledding. Many are not ideal as family pets, but can be with proper socialization and obedience training. Independent, strong willed and physically overpowering, they must be kept under control and gets lots of appropriate exercise.
Where to find the dog of your dreams
Once you’ve narrowed down your choices, where do you find the dog of your dreams? Purebreds are usually obtained through breeders, pet shops, and breed specific rescue groups, although they can also be found at animal shelters. Mixed breeds are abundant at shelters and rescue groups.
You’ll have a very different experience when visiting each of the sources for your new dog.
Breeders are the place to look for a purebred dog, as well as “designer” mixed breeds, such as Labradoodles (Labrador Retriever/Poodle mix).
Responsible breeders will encourage you to visit their facilities – often a home – to meet and interact with their dogs. Reputable breeders want to make sure that their animals are a good match with the people purchasing them and that they will be living in a healthy, loving environment.
Advantages: You’ll get to meet the parents of the puppy, and get a health guarantee, instructions for care and follow-up advice on training and behavior problems.
Disadvantages: Can be costly. If animals are confined to cages, conditions are unsanitary, and many different breeds are produced, the breeder may not be reputable.
Pet shops that sell dogs usually keep them in individual cages or in a confined area, but will often allow you to handle and play with animals you are considering purchasing. By doing so you get a sense of whether the animal is healthy, engaging and playful.
Unfortunately, some pet stores get their dogs from “puppy mills” (breeding facilities that churn out purebred puppies with improper care, and inbreeding, often leading to health and development problems in the animals). One warning sign is if the young pet shop animals are extremely shy, anxious or fearful. Pet shops usually won’t admit it if their pets do come from a puppy mill.
Advantages: Offer purebred dogs with “papers” and health guarantees.
Disadvantages: Often highly expensive. You also may not know the puppy’s origins.
Rescue organizations literally rescue “homeless” dogs. Many come from animal shelters. Although some rescues have facilities where the animals are housed, most shelter their dogs temporarily in foster homes, at boarding facilities or veterinary offices. In these places the animals are screened and observed for health and behavioral problems.
Rescues hold adoption events, usually on weekends, to give the public opportunities to meet available dogs. Some rescues have websites with photos and descriptions of their animals.
Advantages: The health and behavior of dogs are screened; rescues may know if the dog is friendly with kids, other animals, strangers, etc. Adoption fees (donations) vary from nominal to costly.
Disadvantages: A rigorous screening process of the prospective adoptee, and an adoption agreement/contract, are often required.
Animal shelters are funded and operated by a city, county, or a private organization (usually nonprofit).. Shelters are a wonderful place to find an adult dog – and sometimes puppies are even available.
Visiting an animal shelter can be depressing, with so many dogs kept in less-than-ideal conditions and confined in cages because of budgetary constraints and overcrowding. Many of the animals, fearful and in shock, will not exhibit exuberant personalities. But shelters can be a treasure trove of unpolished gems. Usually time can be spent with dogs outside of their cages, giving them an opportunity to show you how much love they can give.
Advantages: Nominal adoption fees; spaying/neutering and vaccinations are often included. Volunteers often assess dog’s behavior and friendliness with other animals and people, and may be available to assist if problems arise after adoption.
Disadvantages: Shelters offer no health guarantees; the history of the dog’s previous care and treatment is often unknown.
Settling in with your new dog
- Purchase all of the items you’ll need before bringing home your new dog, to provide the best care and comfort for him.
- Meet with family members to agree upon who will be responsible for which aspects of the dog’s care.
- Find a good veterinarian. Get references from other pet owners.
- Take your new pet to the vet as soon as possible for an examination, as well as to establish a relationship with the vet, which will be ongoing. Discovering any existing or serious health problems as quickly as possible gives you more options.
- Understand that everyone in your household, including the pet, will need a little time to get to know each other and adjust to new elements in their lives.
- Participate in the training of your dog, if need be, and get involved in other activities that both you and your dog will enjoy. Notice ways in which your life is enriched by your new dog’s presence.
To Learn More: Related Helpguide Articles
Related links for choosing a pet
Choosing the right pet
Practical Advice and Considerations – Factors to consider before choosing a pet, such as "Do you have room for a pet?" "How much will a pet cost?" "What activities do you enjoy?" (American Veterinary Medical Association)
Selecting the Right Pet for Your Family – Points to consider before adopting a pet, and what factors to consider in choosing what type of pet to get. (Humane Society)
Choosing the Right Pet For You (PDF) – Explains the benefits of dogs, cats, and other bets, as well as tips for determining what type of pet is right for you. (BestFriends.org)
Choosing the right dog or puppy for you
American Kennel Club Recognized Breeds – Contains a list of breeds with photos, plus breeder referrals. (American Kennel Club)
Dog Breed Info Center – Features an extensive list of breeds, as well articles on breeders, care, and lots of helpful tips. (The Dog Breed Info Center - commercial site)
Choosing the Right Dog – Features 27 different articles to get you started on dog ownership. Among their topics: things to consider before you start your pet search, special topics (apartment dogs, high energy dogs), choosing a breed, picking a breeder, how to tell if they’re a puppy mill, and more. (Dog Owner’s Guide – Online Magazine for Pet Owners)
Rescue organizations and resources for finding pets
Pet Adoption - Offers a database of several hundred thousand adoptable pets plus a resource library, connections to shelters and resource groups, classified ads, and local volunteer opportunities. (Petfinder.org)
Find an Animal Shelter in the US – Clickable map/index with animal shelters in all 50 states.
Adopting from an Animal Shelter – Comprehensive article about adoption, with resources to reputable agencies and shelters. (The Humane Society of America)
Hugs for Homeless Pets – Gives international rescue and shelter listing searchable by country.(Hugs for Homeless Pets)
The benefit of pets
For Seniors, Pets are Just Plain Healthy – Provides information about the health benefits of pet ownership for seniors. (Delta Society)
Physical & Medical Health Benefits of Pets – Describes all the wonderful ways pets can help us live healthier, happier lives. (PetEducation.com; commercial site)
Pets and children
Kids and Pets– Tips for parents about ensuring a safe and loving relationship between children and pets, including how to introduce a new pet to a baby. (HomeVet.com, a Connecticut veterinarian’s website)
Dogs and Children – Article about kids and dogs living under the same roof. Includes some tips for training the dog and the child. (Chesapeake Bay Retriever Relief and Rescue)
Reprinted with the permission of Helpguide. © 2001-2008. All rights reserved.
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