Oct 13 2014

Choosing the Best Dog For Your Home

Dr. Jacqueline Nicholson

By: Jacqueline A. Nicholson, DVM

With the holidays being the most popular time to bring a new dog into the home – many people can become overwhelmed with choosing the right breed for you and your loved ones.  Many parents look forward to surprising their kids with a new puppy.  They want to see their kids’ excitement – and they want to watch their children and puppy grow up together.  A dog can be the perfect addition to a household – provided a number of factors are taken into consideration.  Here are some guidelines to help you make the best decision:

1)      Size.  The size and strength of a dog go hand in hand.  Larger dogs are stronger than smaller dogs.  A dog’s strength is about triple that of a human.  In other words, a 50lb dog has about the same strength as a 150lb man.  This is an important factor when determining who is going to be the primary caretaker of your new dog.  However – size should NOT be confused with temperament.  There are many small breed dogs that don’t have suitable temperaments for small children.  There are also many giant breed dogs that are extremely docile and sweet with small children.  The point is – if you choose a large breed dog, you should expect to put in more training time – not only for your dog, but also for your own dog-handling skills.  No matter what size dog you choose, you should be able to handle your dog in public without being pulled around on the leash.

2)      Hair coat.  Always consider the grooming requirements of whatever dog you choose.  Longhaired dogs are prone to tangling and require regular grooming and brushing.  Failing to do so will result in matted fur – and if left unattended, can result in skin infections, discomfort, and temperament problems.  Every dog should have some time everyday for some brushing at home.  Some dogs will require professional grooming every 4-8 weeks.  Puppies that will be requiring professional grooming should start going to the groomer when they are young so they are better able to adapt to the experience.

3)      Activity level.  You should know before adopting a new dog if you want a highly active dog or a couch potato.  Some people are irritated by active dogs.  Other people want a dog that will run miles with them everyday.  Large dogs that like to play inside the house may bump into things.  However, many of these same dogs are more active when they are young – and then settle with age.  If there will be days when nobody has time to exercise your new dog, you may want a dog with a low activity level.

4)      Children.  If you have children, there is a good chance that other children will be coming to your home.  An overly protective dog could be dangerous in these situations.  Children tend to run around, scream, and make sudden movements like grab a dog at their face or pretend to ride them like a horse.  It takes time to teach your children how to be gentle with your pets – but in the meantime, you’re going to need a breed that is tolerant of these behaviors.  Careful research on how a breed tends to interact with children is important.  A good breeder will tell you if their dogs are a breed that is not comfortable with children.

5)      Trainability.  There’s a relationship between a breed’s trainability and the work that the breed was originally intended to do.  A highly trainable dog may not be the right choice for your household.  These dogs are bred to be busy and work hard.  They like attention and they want to be given direction.  If you’re not looking to invest yourself in a significant amount of dog handling – this may not be the right dog for you.  Size, activity level, protective attitude, and level of aggression all affect how much training your dog will need.  Proper training takes time, work, and the right handler.  One area of trainability that seems to be the most misunderstood is housetraining.  If housetraining is important to you, then you may want to consider avoiding the tiny breed, male dogs – especially if you intend to leave them intact.  Larger dogs tend to be easier to housetrain.

JN article

6)      Finding a Good Breeder.  If you feel strongly about obtaining or purchasing a purebred dog, find a responsible breeder who will be available for the life of the dog.  Any breeder who accepts responsibility of your dog for life is going to be motivated to produce puppies with a good temperament.  That dog will have the best chance of staying in their new homes long term.  It’s always a good idea to meet the breeder in person – and consider allowing the breeder to observe your children with dogs.    When researching any breed, it’s also important to find out what genetic illnesses are common in that breed.  Make sure the breeder you’re working with takes all possible steps to screen for genetic diseases.  A good place to start is with a breeder who is registered with the American Kennel Club.

7)      Choosing Between a Pure Breed vs. a Mixed Breed.  Most mixed breed, adult dogs in shelters are overlooked because everyone wants a puppy.  The most common behavior problem these dogs will have is separation anxiety – because they only want to stay with you, and they’re afraid that you won’t keep them.  With a little time and patience, you can help your dog overcome this anxiety – as long as you don’t have to leave your pet alone for extended periods of time. Mixed breed dogs can make wonderful companion dogs.

8)      Adopting a Puppy vs. an Adult Dog.  Everyone loves a cute, little puppy – but a puppy may not be the best idea for your family.  It’s not difficult to find an adult dog who is already housetrained and spayed/neutered.  A dog that’s already housetrained makes life a lot easier on a family.  They also tend to be past the need to chew.

9)      Timing.  Children reach the mental development of empathy at 5-7 years of age.  At this age, they have an increased ability to treat dogs appropriately.  Younger children can still have positive contact with dogs in the meantime by involving them with therapy dogs – and docile, trained dogs that live with your friends and extended family.  Sometimes it’s better to wait until children begin school before adopting a new dog.

The popular notion that a dog’s behavior will be determined by how the dog has been raised is inaccurate. Breed has a huge impact on a dog’s behavior.  Talk to your friends who have dogs and to breeders, trainers, groomers, veterinarians and others about what training they consider important.  Researching breeds can be fun! If you’re looking for a dog to join your family, avoid getting a dog for a specific holiday.  Take the time to research the right breed, the right breeder, and the right dog.  And finally – if your thought is to have your new dog live in the yard, you may want to rethink getting a dog.  Dogs are pack animals, designed to live in a social unit with others.  Humans can fulfill this need.  Dogs that live with only other dogs – and lack human contact – can develop some behavioral issues.  If you want a dog in the family, make sure the dog will be IN the family.

Dr. Nicholson with Zurry

Dr. Nicholson with Zurry

Dr. Nicholson graduated from the Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine in 2007. She was born in New York City and raised in northern New Jersey. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Alfred University and completed a post-Baccalaureate / Pre-Veterinary Program at Rutgers University.

Over the last nine years, Dr. Nicholson has gained an extensive amount of experience at emergency and specialist hospitals in both New York and New Jersey – including The Animal Medical Center in New York City. After graduation, she completed a one year rotating internship program at Garden State Veterinary Specialists where she was exposed to a wide range of specialty fields including Emergency Medicine, Surgery, Internal Medicine, Oncology, Ophthalmology, Dermatology and Neurology. This experience has been invaluable to both our team and our clients.

Dr. Nicholson’s special interests include feline behavior, oncology, and canine and feline soft tissue surgery.


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