HOW TO CHOOSE A DOG



What type and breed of dog is right for you? It can be tricky not falling for the first puppy that you see, but a bit of research before making the big decision can avoid huge problems in the future


a woman holding up a puppy
choose a dog to fit your lifestyle

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Thinking about getting a dog?


If there is one thing that stands out for me about the first lockdown it is the amount of people who decided that they would get a dog. In our local area alone the dog population exploded and I have seen all manner of gorgeous puppies out with their owners!


As is the case when puppies meet and greet you usually end up talking with the owners. Many had been planning to get a dog anyway and thought that as they were going to be at home it made sense to get one straight away. Others, like one elderly gentleman I met, had been bought a labrador puppy by his adult children to keep him company in lockdown. Even as a five month old puppy it was nearly pulling him over and I couldn't imagine how he was going to be able to manage as it grew to full size.



This is not to say that older people can't handle larger dogs. I dog walk with a lovely chap in his 80's who has a very well trained Bernese Mountain dog. The guy is a like a goat on his feet as he shoots up the hills and round the woods and is perfectly at ease out for hours on a walk in all weathers with his dog. It's all about getting the right dog for your personal circumstances.



What should I think about when getting a dog?



  • What sort of home do you have? Dogs need their own 'quiet space' for their basket or crate and if you live in a small flat it may not be the best idea to be getting a large boisterous dog. Ditto if you have small children that could get knocked over.

  • How much outside space have you got available? Ideally dogs need some safe and secure outdoor space where they can be let out to play and do their business. The size of the area needs to be appropriate for the size of the dog.

  • How much time do you have to spend with the dog? A puppy will need training as well as socialising (an older/rescue dog may already have had this). Dogs should not be left on their own all day. Three to four hours is a maximum as they can get anxious and lonely and with that they can get destructive and bark a lot. They also need mental stimulation and play time as well as company (they are pack animals). Also think about their coat, will they need a lot of grooming? Some breeds need daily grooming whilst others hardly need any at all.

  • How much exercise will the dog need? Exercise requirements vary enormously and are based on the breed, age and health of the dog. Puppies should only be exercised for about five minutes a day per month of their life for roughly the first twelve months to avoid injury to their growth plates. After that will you have the time to exercise a fully grown dog? My dog needs over two hours a day and I can tell you when the rain is lashing down outside it is not something I always look forward to!

  • How house proud are you? Dogs get muddy and however hard you try that mud still seems to get inside! Most dogs also shed fur. It is easier to get a smaller dog clean. Frequently my dog has to go in the bath to be showered off (he will not tolerate a hosepipe) and I really need my husband to help me get him in now because he has got so big. I often dream of a small dog I could put in a sink to rinse off. At this time of year there seems to be mud splatter on the pale grey hall walls no matter how much I try and towel him off before he gets inside.

  • Housetraining, you need to be prepared for the clean-up and the training. You can housetrain a puppy in about two weeks but you need to be working on this full time during that period and you will still get accidents at night until they get older. Housetraining can be exhausting as you need to keep an eye on them at all times when they are awake.

  • How much can you afford to spend a month on your dog? After you have bought your dog you will still have a lot of additional expenses. Their food, toys, collars, leads, treats, harnesses and grooming for starters. It is also a good idea to take out pet insurance to cover any unforeseen vet bills. Then you have monthly flea and tick treatments along with their annual inoculations. You can get quotes for pet insurance online before you buy and most vets runs a monthly payment scheme to cover flea treatments and annual inoculations. Think also about whether they will need neutering or spaying. Some vets include this as part of the first year payment plan but it is a good idea to find out beforehand so you have an idea of what monthly costs you are going to be letting yourself in for.

  • Have you got the time to take your dog to training courses? Puppies need to socialise and one of the easiest ways to do this is with puppy training classes. These do cost but are not hugely expensive and your dog would get to meet other dogs the same age. These classes help you get some basic puppy training and then there will often be more advanced obedience classes you can attend as the dog gets older. Many dogs enjoy agility classes and scent clubs too. If you are into outdoor sport there is also CaniX where you can run, bike or scoot with your dog - see www.canicross.org.uk for details.


Choosing the right dog breed



Some people really don't care what type of dog they have. Cross breeds, mongrels or Heinz 57's are often far healthier than pure breeds due to their larger genetic pool and this can make them cheaper to insure. Many pure breeds are prone to certain health conditions which is why it is a good idea to buy from a reputable breeder where such issues are frequently tested for in the parents.


My first dog was a rescue but had to be put to sleep just before the first lockdown. I sponsored a Romanian dog via a charity with a view to adopting but she found a home in Romania so I decided to take a fresh approach to finding myself a dog. My new dog was going to be around for the next ten years or so and I wanted to make sure that it would fit in with my lifestyle. I wrote down certain qualities that I wanted in a dog. For me the most important ones were:


  • fairly large in size (I didn't want a small dog)

  • likes a lot of exercise (I like to walk a lot and run in the woods in the better weather)

  • reasonably easy to train

  • didn't shed a lot of fur

With these objectives in mind I bought The Complete Dog Breed Book and started to work my way through. The book was brilliant in that it had a photo of each dog along with information on the breed. It also had details of height, weight, lifespan and colours. More importantly it rated each dog on four factors:


  1. the amount of daily exercise required

  2. the amount of grooming required

  3. ease of training

  4. level of sociability


I worked my way through the book and made a short list of the dogs that I felt fitted my lifestyle. Then I researched each breed on the short list further on the internet. Some were discounted because they were really hard to get hold of in the UK, and some for other reasons (likely to bark a huge amount being one of them). My final choice was a golden retriever - I had to give up on the 'doesn't shed a lot of fur' criteria!



TIP: Try making a list of your ideal dog and see if there are any points that are particularly important to you such as size or shedding.


How to find your dog or puppy


  • Try your local dog homes or charities to see whether they have a dog that would be suitable for you. There have been reports in the press recently that dog homes have already started to receive dogs that were bought in lockdown and are no longer wanted. Most have websites with photos and details of the dogs available.

  • If you want a particular breed then go on to The Kennel Club website where you can find details of the breeders you can contact and also find details of breed rescue homes.

  • If you look on the internet for puppy adverts be aware that there has been a massive rise in dogs being advertised that have come from puppy farms. These dogs are quite likely to have behavioral and health issues and frequently fall sick and even die soon after they have been purchased. To avoid being conned by a puppy farmer (and many are plying their trade from perfectly respectable looking homes) read the tips from the RSPCA for spotting online adverts for puppies that are likely to be from puppy farms.

  • Be prepared for an interview! Dog homes and most decent breeders care about where their dogs and puppies go and will want to make sure that the prospective purchaser is suitable. I had a 30 minute telephone interview with the breeder to get on a short list before I got my puppy. This is also your chance to ask questions about the puppy and the breeder as well.

If you do decide to get a specific breed of dog then I recommend getting a book dedicated to that breed. I got The Complete Golden Retriever Handbook By Linda Whitwam. She does a whole range of books on different dog breeds.


Breed specific books give much more information on things like bringing the puppy home, house training, feeding, exercise, training, health and grooming with the benefit that all the information will be relevant to that particular breed.



TIP: Spend some time thinking about your lifestyle and what you really want from a dog and make sure you choose the right size and breed to match


This article is not designed to put you off dog ownership, far from it. My dog is an integral part of my life, as a companion, a friend on adventures, for making new friends socially and for helping to keep me exercising daily. He is always happy to see me, always up for doing something (even gardening) and can keep me warm when I'm watching television!


On the downside he is young, excitable and now very strong so needs a firm hand and plenty of training. He loves nothing better than being covered in mud and the garden looks like a bomb site from the holes he has dug. He eats everything he can get his paws on and shreds toys and mauls leads for a living. He scoffs unidentified objects in the woods which can frequently result in an explosion from one end or the other (or both) and likes to roll in badger and fox poo.


I wouldn't swop him for anything.


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