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How to Choose the Perfect Dog

Many people choose the wrong dog.

Often dog owners come to us for help dealing with a myriad of problems, most of which are caused by a mismatch in the dogs' and people's needs. "He drives us crazy." "She is destroying our house." "He barks at everything." "She digs up our entire yard." And while we can help them fix many of these behaviors, we cannot change the reality that their dogs' needs and their lifestyles are at odds.

For example, if a single man works long hours, is exhausted when he gets home, and enjoys relaxing and watching television, he shouldn't own a young Border collie. He should choose a dog that matches his energy level, perhaps a more sedentary, perhaps older, dog. A cross-fit enthusiast who runs trails should choose a nimble, energetic animal. A busy, high-energy family with rambunctious young kids should pick a dog that will enjoy that.

So here's, in our opinion, the most important factor in choosing the right dog: an energy level similar to yours.

This can be a bit harder to determine when choosing a pup, and when you are considering choosing from a litter of purebred puppies, your choices are limited to the dogs in the litter which may or may not be the right match. With adult dogs this process is a bit easier. We are big fans of shelter dogs which can be both purebred and mixed breeds. Your local shelters offer a wide variety from which to choose, and most will allow you to return a dog that is a good match. That often isn't possible when buying a purebred puppy. You can search for and browse shelter dogs at

Whatever you do, don't buy from a backyard breeder. A backyard breeder is a person or family who breeds dogs, usually purebreds, casually without decades of experience and serious thought and planning. So-in-so has a pretty golden retriever and her neighbor has a small poodle, so they breed "mini doodles." Or old Joe and his cousin Marge each have nice-looking German shepherds they breed. You will not get a quality dog from backyard breeders who are, to a large extent, responsible for ruining the quality of most breeds. You may end up with a dog with health and/or behavior problems that will cost you financially and emotionally. And you will provide further financial incentive for people to breed poor-quality dogs. If you must have a purebred dog, buy from a well-known breeder with decades of experience. Go visit his or her kennel in person to determine if the breeder is legit. Dogs from top breeders are expensive. Backyard breeders less so. Believe me, you'll get what you pay for.

Though energy level is crucial, other factors are important, too. Do you live in a tiny apartment? Get a small dog. That should be obvious, but you wouldn't believe how often we encounter big dogs causing problems in tiny spaces. Are you a person who enjoys cuddling with your dog? Some working types such as Border collies and German shepherds won't be into that. Almost all golden retrievers will. Make sure you think things through.

And whatever you do, go see every potential dog in person. We often field calls from exasperated owners who make such statements as, "I fell in love when I saw her online." Would you marry a person after seeing his or her online profile? Of course not. You'd spend a lot of time in person getting to know him or her. Whether you use or not, go to your local shelters and tell the staff about your lifestyle, not what kind of dog you want. Don't fixate on certain breeds, colors, etc. They can suggest dogs for you to meet. Be open to animals you wouldn't have considered. A few minutes with each will help you narrow in on the best one. The process will be fun, and the right dog will reveal itself. And if "the dog" isn't there, check other shelters or check back. New ones come in all the time.

Experienced horse people have a saying: "The best horse color is broke." Meaning: Forget color. Forget anything other than whether or not that horse is a good one for you. You may be dead-set on finding a gorgeous palomino, but the first time Goldie bucks you off and breaks your collar bone, that gold color and cornsilk mane won't be so beautiful.

It's the same when choosing a dog. Get one that will be easy for you to get along with. Sometimes the best one, the one you will love with all your heart, isn't always purebred or conventionally beautiful. Be open to possibility.

When choosing a dog, first consider its energy level. Is it similar to yours or your family's? Buy purebred puppies from top breeders. Or better yet, browse, visit your local shelters, and take your time. The perfect dog is waiting for you.

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