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How to choose a dog

In the market for a dog? The process takes planning and work. Here's a game plan for someone seeking to bring home a canine friend. William Hageman, Chicago Tribune

Think it out

The worst mistake that people make, says Karen Okura, manager of behavior and training at the Anti-Cruelty Society (, is impulse adoption.

Don't pick an animal because it reminds you of your old dog, she says, or because you pity it, or because you lost your job and need to feel loved, or because the kids want one, or to save a marriage or relationship.

There are plenty of good reasons to adopt.

"The No. 1 objective is to save a life. People don't realize the number of amazing dogs being euthanized," says Rochelle Michalek, executive director of PAWS Chicago ( "Dogs make great companions. They're great from a social perspective. Nothing breaks the ice like a dog when you're out meeting people."

Once you have a good reason to adopt, use your head.

"People should look at practical things," Okura says. "Does someone in the home have allergies? How prepared are you to do a minimal amount of grooming?"

Also ask yourself: Do you have the time to feed, train and exercise a new dog? Okura figures a puppy needs two years of intensive training; older dogs, a year. Can you afford the financial investment? Even routine medical care isn't cheap. Does the entire family approve, not just one or two members? Will a new dog get along with other pets in the home?

If you're looking at a puppy, know how big it's going to get. If it's from a shelter or one of those "free-to-good-home" ads, take your best guess and be prepared for an adult dog that's 10 to 30 pounds plus or minus that estimate.

Choosing a breed . . . or not

Figure out what you want: big, small, male, female, energetic, laid-back, etc. Every factor should be considered.

Is there a purebred that appeals to you? Learn more about that breed's dogs, from how big they get, to their temperament, to how much they shed. Talk to a rescue group that deals in that particular breed.

Two sites listing breed rescue groups are and

Or, consider a mutt. There are a lot more mixed-breed animals needing homes. They also tend to be less prone to breed-specific health problems, and there's a school of thought that they're smarter. They're also going to cost a lot less, in most cases.

How to find the right dog

Okura does not recommend pet shops. "No breeder worth his reputation will sell puppies to pet stores, period," Okura says.

Backyard breeders? Maybe. They could be clueless owners or they could be running their own small-time version of a puppy mill.

Reputable professional breeders can be worth the expense and effort, but it's important to check them out beforehand.

"You can get a really nice dog from a professional breeder," Okura says. "If you're (set) on a purebred dog, and you want the lineage to go back 10 generations, fine. But expect to be grilled, and possibly rejected.

"If you don't care about lineage, go to a rescue or an animal shelter."

Shelters are becoming prime sources for quality purebred dogs — well-kept, socialized, trained and family-ready — because of the economy, as well as those impulse adopters who had to have a purebred but changed their minds and gave up the dog.

A shelter dog can cost $75 to $300, and very often are spayed or neutered and up-to-date on shots. A purebred dog from a breeder can cost two or three times as much.

Still totally unsure? Michalek has a suggestion: Volunteer at a shelter. You'll get an up-close-and-personal look at all kinds of dogs.

Once you've zeroed in on a dog, have a family meeting with it. Everyone: Mom, Dad, the kids, your other pets.

Go for the perfect fit

Don't rush it. Okura says to do your homework and find the perfect fit.

"One of the things I tell people is to be picky. Lots of people feel guilty in a shelter, looking at homeless animals. 'It's bigger than I wanted,' or 'Look at all this hair.' We actively advise people who say, 'He's just not right,' to keep looking. Because somebody will take the dog you said no to."

Where to start

Here are four Web sites that offer links to animal shelters and rescue groups, as well as a lot of helpful information for prospective pet owners:

How to choose a dog 01/05/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 5, 2010 12:03am]
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