Training Tips

Selecting the Right Dog for You and Your Family

A dog's breed and temperament, combined with your lifestyle and personality, all play an important role in determining what kind of dog is the best fit for you. For instance, a slight or shy person could find a large-breed dog—especially one that is boisterous or hyperactive—difficult to control. On the other hand, a timid, little dog may not be a suitable match for an adventuresome, outgoing, or loud person.

So with all the choices available, how do you go about selecting the right dog for you?

Deciding Between a Puppy and a Full-Grown Dog

If you are considering adopting a dog, first determine whether you want a puppy or an adult dog. Adopting a puppy has certain advantages—you will be able to choose one with the best temperament for you and ensure it gets a proper education before behavioral problems or bad habits develop. But puppies bring added responsibilities, too. During the first few months, a puppy requires more of your time than an older dog.

If you do not have the time required for a puppy, consider adopting a full-grown dog that has already gone through the puppy stage.

Before adopting an older dog, learn as much as you can about its background, such as details of its diet so you can be sure any change in diet will not be abrupt. If adopting a dog from another home, ask for a favorite item, such as a toy, a blanket, or a pillow that the dog can take with him. This will help in the transition.

Understanding the Importance of Temperament

Temperament has nothing to do with a dog's size, breed or upbringing—temperament is something innate in a dog. A dog's temperament has a lot to do with how easily it can be trained and, while good training can improve certain traits in a dog, training cannot change the dog's temperament.

There are a variety of temperaments in dogs, and some dogs can have a combination of temperament traits, but generally speaking, dogs have four basic temperament types:

  1. Nervous – This bottom-of-the-pack dog requires more effort and perseverance on your part to train. An older, nervous dog can act in a variety of ways around strangers. It might bark but then back off, or circle while barking and growling. Another nervous type might settle down when the stranger is seated but bark and possibly try to attack when the visitor gets up to leave. Its fear of strangers makes a nervous dog a challenge to train.
  2. Timid – Also a bottom-of-the-pack dog, a timid dog will hold its ears back, squirm, put its tail between its legs, or roll onto its back. You can easily train this type of dog once it recognizes you as its leader.
  3. Dominant – This top-of-the-pack dog requires owners to demonstrate their own dominance through a consistent and committed effort to train the dog, no matter how long it takes. When around strangers, this dog stands its ground and, under some circumstances, attacks. It will not relinquish its leadership position easily and, if you move too quickly with training, it might bite you. With professional help and a lot of determination, even the most dominant dogs can be trained.
  4. Middle of the Pack – This dog is easy to train because it wants to please its owners out of respect for them as the leaders of the pack. Usually friendly toward strangers and not aggressive toward other dogs, this type of dog is delightful to own.

Spotting a Puppy's Temperament

Even if the puppy is very young, you can tell its temperament. Within the litter, watch how the puppies run and play to determine where each puppy stands in the litter's pecking order. More dominant puppies act bossy by standing over the other littermates. Less dominant puppies act submissive by rolling over or lowering their heads.

Then, observe the individual puppy you are considering adopting when it's alone with you. A well-adjusted puppy will follow you freely when you lead it. Then drop a soft glove or cloth near the puppy and watch its reaction:

  1. A confident puppy will approach the object immediately to investigate. While this puppy could grow up to be a well-adjusted dog, it is likely to be strong-willed and might be a challenge for a soft-natured person.
  2. A less-dominant pup will jump and move away when the object is dropped, but it will usually return fairly quickly to investigate. Less bossy than the more confident puppy described above, this puppy will make a great pet.
  3. The puppy that takes longer to approach and runs around the object acting as if it is alive and might attack is a little timid but still will make a wonderful pet with proper, gentle training.
  4. The puppy that barks at the object, runs away and crouches down or refuses to return to the spot has a more nervous temperament and could be a difficult pet. More patience will be required during training.

Finally, lift and hold the puppy in your arms. A pup that settles in and sits still is far more acceptable than one that wriggles and tries to escape.

Choosing the Best Breed for Your Personality

In addition to recognizing an individual dog's temperament, you would do well to investigate the breed that best suits your needs. Listed here are some of the most popular breeds and, based on our experience with hundreds of thousands of dogs worldwide, how their personalities and characteristics might match the requirements of different types of owners. While some breeds do have tendencies toward a certain temperament, keep in mind that this is not absolute. Use the information as a guide, but we recommend you make your final decision based on background information and observation.

Sociable Dogs with Soft, Even Temperaments

These breeds are typically less demanding and more docile, making them perfect for elderly people and families with children. They are loving and respond well to lots of attention, and prefer to not be left alone.

Dogs that Require More Discipline

Often exuberant, many of these breeds require more discipline and exercise—but are great for people with lots of energy. Their loyal, loving natures still make them wonderful family pets.

One-Person Dogs

Protective of their homes and owners, these breeds are perfect for people who live alone. Not in all cases, but these breeds tend to be less suitable for families.

Mixed Breeds

Generally hardier and less prone to hereditary faults, mixed breeds can be pets that are just as good—and sometimes better—than purebreds. Still, some are better than others. As a basic guideline, a pup is likely to inherit its size from its mother but be slightly smaller than its largest parent.

Designer Dogs

Designer breeds, a cross between two purebred dogs, were developed to create a mix of the best characteristics of each breed. For instance, the Goldendoodle combines the family-friendly traits of the Golden Retriever with the non-shedding, hypoallergenic traits of the Poodle. Some of the more popular mixed hybrids are the:

Just like people, dogs come in all shapes, sizes, and temperaments. A dog's breed and temperament, combined with your lifestyle and personality all play an important role in determining what kind of dog is best for you. Do a bit of research first, then visit your local shelter. There is a dog with the perfect temperament for everyone.