Before people select a dog to bring home, they should think about what kind of dog they want, said Paula Zukoff, behavior and training manager at the Humane Society. "What do they want the dog to do? And how much time do they have for a dog? Then go out and find that dog rather than going out and finding a dog on looks and then finding out that you can't mold that dog into the kind of dog that you want for yourself or your family."
Once you've done your homework, then you can go with your heart.
Things to consider include:
Size: "Certain giant breeds, while they may not need an immense amount of exercise, do need a great deal of space to move freely about the home," said Lisa Peterson, spokeswoman for the American Kennel Club. The amount of space you have outside also can be a factor. If you get a dog that likes to run, you either need a yard where that can take place, or you must be willing to make regular visits to a dog park.
Age: The question of whether to get a puppy or an adult dog hinges in large part on how much work you want to do, Zukoff said. "Puppies are great, but they are a lot of work," she said. But there are advantages to going the puppy route, among them being able to train the dog to your standards from the outset. If you have young children, the puppy can grow up being acclimated to them.
The ages of the dog owners also should be factored in, Zukoff said. "I always say that if you have kids, probably a medium-sized dog would be a good idea," she recommended. "If they're really small, then they're breakable. And if they're really large, then they can unintentionally knock the kids over and hurt them. Medium-sized dogs don't get broken or break the kids."
Exercise: As a general rule, things work out best when you match your activity level to the dog's. Are you looking for a dog that will go out jogging with you or one that's satisfied with a leisurely stroll around the block?
"The size of the dog doesn't dictate the amount of exercise it needs," Peterson said. "Exercise needs vary by breed and what the breed's original function was. She added a warning that if dogs don't get the "stimulation that they need, they'll find their own ways to entertain themselves — like chewing on your shoes."
Cleanliness: The dog's coat — type, length and thickness — determines how much time and expense you'll need to put into grooming. You also should factor in extra cleaning time for your home, Zukoff said.
See it for yourself: If you're getting a puppy from a breeder, insist on visiting the kennel. "Ask to see at least one of the puppy's parents," Peterson urged. "Get an idea of what the future holds for your dog in terms of temperament and appearance. Observe the premises. Is the kennel clean? Odor-free? Pay attention to how the dogs and puppies interact with their breeder. Does the breeder appear to genuinely care for the puppies and their adult dogs?"
Look for love: You want one that wants to be with you. "When you visit with the dog, the dog should be interested in you, should be watching you," Zukoff said. "It should have a slow wagging tail and just look kind of loose and friendly. It's when the dog is more stiff or still and not paying attention to you, that dog doesn't seem as friendly and is going to be harder to train, it might be harder for me to bond with."
Check its physical appearance, too: "Dogs and puppies should be clean, well fed, lively and friendly," Peterson said. "Look for signs of malnutrition such as protruding ribcages or illness such as runny nose or eyes, coughing, lethargy and skin sores."