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How to Choose a Dog

Updated on January 16, 2011


Finding the right dog for you can be a very tiresome experience. It requires researching breeds, dog care, and breeders, not to mention the cost. This guide will help you along every step of the way.

Is it the right time for a dog?

The number one thing you should consider before getting a dog is whether or not it is the right time in your life to get one. Adopting a dog is a huge responsibility and will require lots of your time. Dogs are intelligent, social creatures that also require a certain amount of physical activity per day. If you want a dog, but are not prepared to devote time and energy into it, you should definitely reconsider.

You should also reconsider if you are currently:

  • moving- getting a dog while you are moving is probably not a good idea, you don't need the added stress of having a dog and you wouldn't want the dog tearing up your new house
  • getting married- I have known a few people that adopt dogs just after getting married, and that is fine if you are ready, but getting married is a huge commitment and so is getting a dog
  • having a baby, or have a young child- if you are about to have a baby or have a small child I would recommend waiting to get a dog until the child is old enough to want one
  • traveling constantly- dogs thrive better in a solid, loving home and probably wouldn't like having to get used to new surroundings often
  • going through changes in employment such as new hours or boss- If you are switching jobs or getting new hours I would suggest waiting until you get used to it before adopting
  • having financial trouble- owning adog can be very expensive. you have to pay for the original adoption fee, plus for vet bills, food, grooming, anything they could tear up, and a crate
  • busy all the time- it amazes just how many people claim to never have any leisure time but still want a dog. if this is you, save yourself and the dog the trouble by either making plenty of time for the dog or not adopting

How to Begin

There are a few questions you should answer and steps to follow before you go out and get a dog.

To start, begin by answering these questions to help you decide what type of dog you are looking for.

1. What purpose will the dog serve? Will they be a family pet, guard dog, hunting dog, or be bred?

  • This is a fairly self-explanatory question, but depending on your answer, your dog should be raised differently.

2. What size dog are you looking for? Small, Medium, or Large?

  • Small dogs are loved as pets because they make great lapdogs and are just so darn cute. Medium dog breeds make the perfect pets for many types of people. They are small enough to be carried, but they are still big enough to make good hunting dogs, jogging companions, or guard dogs.Large dogs are loved everywhere for their great physical endurance and strength. Many of them make great working dogs and hunting companions; however, they still make some of the best pets. Also, large dogs commonly have the best temperament of all dog sizes.

3. Do you want a puppy or a grown dog?

  • You must realize that whenever you adopt an adult dog, their personality has already been formed and will not easily be changed. If you can find a well-mannered adult dog, that is a great choice because you will not have to go through all of the potty training. If you adopt a puppy, you have the ability to shape how they will act as adults based on how you treat and interact with them.

4. Where would you like to adopt from? A shelter? A Breeder? Online? A Pet Store?

  • Adopting a dog from a shelter is a noble act and requires a kindhearted person to make the commitment to save the dog. With that said however, adopting from a breeder can also be a good choice because you know exactly what you are getting into and what type of temperament to expect. Also, it is much harder to find puppies up for adoption in a shelter than it is to find adult dogs. Either way you choose, you will still end up with a great dog and nice new addition to your family. I have to say that buying from an online breeder would not be a very good idea. Not only can you not see the dog or how it was raised, but also there is a chance that the "breeder" is actually a puppy mill. Also, there is a good chance that dogs in your local pet store are from puppy mills. I am not going to tell you not to buy from pet stores because those dogs deserve loving homes too, but there are risks involved in buying a dog from a puppy mill. I have more information about puppy mills farther down this page.

5. If you are buying from a breeder, how much money would you like to spend getting the dog?

  • Obviously, owning a dog will require a good amount of money. Apart from the original adoption fee which varies between breeds and breeders, you will have to pay for food, treats, training, veterinarian bills, and other unforeseen events.

6. Do you want a purebred dog, or a mix?

  • Whether or not to get a purebred dog is really just a matter of personal preference. If you are wanting to compete in dog shows, getting a purebred dog would be a good idea. Also purebred dogs have been around long enough so that you will know what kind of temperament to expect. If you are looking for an unusual dog or if you are an adventurous type, a mixed breed dog could be right for you. It is also a known fact that mixed dogs are generally healthier than purebred dogs because of a larger gene pool.



  • you know what to expect
  • can compete in shows
  • can be registered
  • you can show them off to your friends


  • slim chance of an issue with genetics, especially if they are adopted from a bad breeder

       Mixed Breeds


  • unusual
  • healthy
  • you can combine traits of different breeds


  • you don't always know what to expect
  • can't compete in shows

        The differences between purebred and mixed breed are explained in more detail here.

Once you have answered these questions, you should have a pretty good idea about what type of dog you want.

Dog Breeds

After you've answered the questions above, you should begin to research which type of dogs meet your criteria. I have broken up the complete list of breeds into the following categories.

Toy Dog Breeds (smallest)

Small Dog Breeds

Medium Dog Breeds

Large Dog Breeds

Giant Dog Breeds (largest)

I will soon have links to the lists of medium and large dogs with pictures and info about them. For now, here is a video with many of the major dog breeds and the toy, small, and giant dog breed lists are already available in the links above.

Where are you most likely to adopt a dog from?

See results

Finding a Dog

Once you have looked through and found a breed that you feel is right for you, the next step is to look for a breeder, owner, or shelter that you can adopt the dog from. Finding a breeder of a particular breed can sometimes be challenging. Once you have found a breeder you should check to make sure that they are honest and are keeping their kennels clean and neat. Before adopting you should ask to see the parents to make sure they look healthy. All breeders are required to allow to see the parents of the puppies, so if a breeder refuses I would not adopt from them.

If you do not necessarily want a dog from a breeder, one good place to start looking for puppies is on Puppyfinder. Another place to look for dogs and puppies is Petfinder. Pictures and locations are included and there are usually thousands of dogs to choose from.

If saving a rescued dog from a shelter appeals to you, you likely will not have a large amount of dogs to choose from. You may have to wait a while or travel long distances in order to get a particular breed, but I must say from personal experience that those who adopt from shelters tend to be less picky than the type of people who adopt from breeders.

Although unlikely, there is a chance that you could come across a stray dog wandering around your neighborhood. If it has a collar, be courteous by returning the dog to its owner. If not, you can keep the dog at your house and post fliers or advertise in the newspaper that you have found a dog. If no one comes to claim it, it is yours to keep, but most people end up giving found dogs to shelters. Stray dogs are unappealing to some dog owners because you know nothing about the dog's background or personality. You also don't know if it is healthy and up to date on vaccinations. On the other hand, some people just fall in love stray dogs while they are keeping them and decide to permanently adopt. Found stray dogs can make excellent pets and you don't even have to pay an adoption fee.

How to Avoid Puppy Mills

Puppy mills, nicely put, are commercial dog breeding centers that care only about profits and not the dogs. They usually keep a couple of dogs to breed from each litter. Both the mother and father dogs live their entire lives in terrible conditions: small cage with no cleaning, no grooming, minimal vet care, and no love from humans. They are taken out of their cages in order to breed, and once a dog is too worn out to breed, they kill it. More information can be found on the hub, Maxine's Story, which is a very touching and realistic biography of the typical puppy mill breeding dog and on The Puppy Mill Project Website.

If you are concerned about getting a dog from a puppy mill, I would avoid buying online from a breeder (but Petfinder should be fine to buy from). I'm not saying that you shouldn't research or even find a breeder online, but if you want to buy, make sure you visit the breeder and see the parent dogs and the living conditions first. Also, it is the sad truth that most dogs in pet stores are supplied by puppy mills. They deserve loving homes too, but you should be aware of the added risk of genetic disorders with the puppies. Many puppy mills use brother and sister or father and daughter dogs to breed, and that leads to severe inbreeding and can cause major genetic issues which could be very expensive to treat with your vet. The basic rule though, is to go see your dog before you buy them. If you look over their living conditions and meet the parent dogs if possible, then you can completely avoid puppy mills.


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    • profile image

      suzy crabgrass 

      6 years ago

      thanks apreciate it

    • Juliette Morgan profile image

      Juliette Morgan 

      8 years ago

      Hi again - thanks so for doing that - I am sure it will help spread the word - I'll tell Keith, Juliette.

    • bigdogacb profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from United States

      thank you very much for the tip! I had originally wanted to include something about puppy mills but I didn't know enough about them at the time. I included a link to that story which I really liked. thank you for getting me motivated! and tell me if my new additions could use some more work

    • Juliette Morgan profile image

      Juliette Morgan 

      8 years ago

      Good article with sound advice - just one thing, please please can you warn people against buying from a puppymill - see profile page of Keith S, hub called Maxine's story. Thanks,Juliette.

    • bigdogacb profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from United States

      hahaha thanks, Good luck getting a dog!

    • rachel.htpmv profile image


      8 years ago

      Wow! Great advice. I'm yearning for a pet dog, but I know I have to wait -- just a cat right no :/ Got any self-control advice? :p


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