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What Dog Breed is Best for You?

Updated on October 15, 2014

How to Choose the Best Dog for Your Family

It is a real heartbreak when a loving family lives in stress for years - or has to give up their beloved pet - just because they have chosen the wrong type of dog. When you're looking to adopt a new dog or puppy, it's vital to choose the right breed for your family, your activity level, and your lifestyle.

The wrong choice can mean a lot of frustration for both you and your dog, and it's almost a guarantee of behavior problems - a leading reason why a lot of perfectly healthy pet dogs end up in shelters or, worse yet, euthanized.

An energetic hunting dog can be a bouncing disaster in a family that loves to settle in with movies and video games in their down time, but a perfect match for an active lifestyle. A high-strung little terrier is cute as the dickens, but he will drive a keen gardener to distraction with his digging. My rescue Shiba Inu (that's his photo, here) was a stubborn and fearless "primitive" who needed an experienced handler even in his old age, but so smart, he was a real pleasure in training. And if you adopt a laidback greyhound, you'd better be prepared to share the couch!

The right choice of dog, however, can bring joy and love like you've never known. It pays to do your homework and learn about the various breeds, then do a realistic assessment of your wants and needs before you fall for a pair of beseeching big brown eyes!

Dog Breed Groups

  • Sporting Dogs
  • Hounds
  • Working Dogs
  • Terriers
  • Toy Dogs
  • Non-Sporting Dogs
  • Herding Dogs
  • Miscellaneous

Dog Breeds - Consider: What kind of work or lifestyle was each breed of dog bred for?

Start your research by looking first at the general groups of dog breeds (listed below), then narrow your choice of breed down from there.

It is important to become familiar with the overall characteristics of the dogs within the breed groups, before you get fixed on a particular breed for sentimental reasons, because you love the look or remember a similar dog from childhood, or any of the other not-so-rational reasons we can end up choosing a pet.

Within each group, you'll find a lot of variation in size of dog, temperament, appearance, coat length and grooming requirements, and so on - so whichever group you're looking at, there's likely to be a pup who catches your eye and steals your heart.

Golden Retriever Running, by David Martyn Hunt [Creative Commons CC BY 2.0 (]
Golden Retriever Running, by David Martyn Hunt [Creative Commons CC BY 2.0 (]

Sporting Dogs

For example, the Sporting group includes both the tiny Chihuahua and the massive Cane Corso, as well as spaniels, retrievers, pointers, setters, and the like - yes, it's true!

What they all have in common - the reason why all of these very different breeds are in the Sporting group - is their purpose in life. They were bred for hunting and other active outdoor activities. You can expect that even the smallest of dogs in this group will need regular exercise, and a lot of it!

Dog With Stick Chewing, by Manfred Antranias Zimmer [public domain (]
Dog With Stick Chewing, by Manfred Antranias Zimmer [public domain (]

Herding Breeds

Similarly, dogs within other breed groups will share certain characteristics and instincts bred deeply into their genes.

If they aren't given another appropriate job to do, for example, Herding dogs like a Shetland Sheepdog (Sheltie) or Border Collie will almost certainly try to round up the neighbhorhood children by nipping at their heels. These are smart and energetic creatures who are bred to work, and they very often don't adapt well to the life of a couch potato.

Terriers were bred to be fearless hunters of rats and other vermin, often digging down into holes and underground burrows after their prey, in the case of the smaller Terrier breeds - so don't be surprised if a dainty Cairn Terrier shows just as much attitude as the tough-looking American "Staffie", and if both like to dig. They are brothers under the fur!

And so on - each group with its own traits, based on what job the dogs were developed to do.


Terriers were bred to be fearless hunters of rats and other vermin, often digging down into holes and underground burrows after their prey, in the case of the smaller Terrier breeds - so don't be surprised if a dainty Cairn Terrier shows just as much attitude as the tough-looking American "Staffie", and if both like to dig. They are brothers under the fur!

And so on - each group with its own traits, based on what job the dogs were developed to do, whether that job is guarding the herd (or family home), romping with the kids, retrieving game and waterfowl, or simply cuddling on your lap between gentle walks together.

So many different breeds of dogs!

Once you've identified the Group that is the best fit for the role you want your dog to play in your life - exercise companion, lap warmer, protective guard, or playmate for the children? - then you'll be ready to take a close look at the specific breeds within that group.

The Dog Breed Bible: Descriptions and Photos of Every Breed Recognized by the AKC
The Dog Breed Bible: Descriptions and Photos of Every Breed Recognized by the AKC

I first came across this wonderful reference book in my veterinarian's waiting room, later won my own copy as a door prize at a dog trainers' conference, and have since given copies as gifts to a number of dog-lover friends. It's lovely just to leaf through the pages and admire the variety of canines in the gorgeous photographs, while learning about the history, standards and traits of each breed.


Dog Breed Quiz

How many breeds can you name, just off the top of your head?

See results

How many breeds of dogs do you know?

The American Kennel Club (AKC) and Canadian Kennel Club (CKC) recognize more than 160 different breeds of dogs. Some dogs are quite uncommon, of course, and you may go your whole lifetime without getting to know a Stabyhoun or a Sloughi - but you'd be surprised at the variety of purebred pooches ready for adoption through the many breed-specific rescue groups. And that's not counting all the rare breeds without AKC registration, and the many wonderful mixed-breed dogs who are waiting in animal shelters for rescue to a new home!

Animal Planet - Dog Breed Selector
Animal Planet - Dog Breed Selector

Dog Breed Selection

It's a tough choice! Here's a tool to help.

Discovery's website for Animal Planet offers a dandy free online Dog Breed Selector tool to help you start to zero in on the best breed for you, through a multiple-choice online questionnaire. The ten questions have to do with the size and temperament of the animal you think would suit you, how much time and exercise you think you'll be able to give him, and what kind of climate you live in as well as how much grooming you want to do.

I've been through the tool a number of times, just for fun, and the results vary a great deal depending on your answer to the first question (what size of dog you want), so I'd suggest keeping an open mind about the size - a lot of the calm "gentle giants" are easier for an older person to live with than a smaller "lap dog" with boundless energy, actually - and concentrate on being as realistic as you can in your answers to the questions that go more to your lifestyle. That's where the big difference will show.

Do You Have a Multi-Pet Family? - Compatible pets make life easier andmore pleasant for everyone!

Fun, by Jette Feigenbaum [licensed under Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.0 (]
Fun, by Jette Feigenbaum [licensed under Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.0 (]

Often it can work quite well to have a quiet older animal and a rowdy youngster, or pets of two different species, in the same home, but this is very much a case-by-case basis. Before bringing a new pup into your home, consider the needs and lifestyle preferences not only of your human family members but of any other animals who are already in residence.

Ready to pick out a puppy? - Remember: Breed is a guideline, not a guarantee.

Animal Dog Puppy, by Carlos Henrique Cacau [public domain (]
Animal Dog Puppy, by Carlos Henrique Cacau [public domain (]

Dogs are individuals, to begin with, and no two of them are ever exactly alike. Even within a breed - even with pups from the same litter, with exactly the same bloodlines - there can be a great deal of variation from one puppy to another. And then, just as with humans and other animals, the personalities of the individual dogs are further shaped by their early handling, life experiences and training.

That's why it is such a terrible risk to get a puppy through one of the online "classifieds" sites, rather than buying from a breeder or adopting from a pound or animal rescue group. There are no guarantees, when it comes to a living creature, but avoiding the "puppy mills" and "backyard breeders" is one of the best things you can do to avoid buying yourself a source of heartache and vet bills.

When you adopt a pet dog, plan for 10 years together, as a general rule. That is a long time to live with an animal as a member of your family, so this is not a decision to make on impulse - no matter how cute the puppy is, or how much your kids beg you! Research the various breeds to make an informed decision on the right dog for your family - that's the best way to up your chances of finding a well-matched, compatible pet who will be a joy for years to come.

What breed of dog is right for your family?

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    • flycatcherrr profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      @Colin323: My family had a Lab when I was in high school; a lovely choice, Colin.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Labradors. We have had two so far, and I wouldn't change : even tempered and faithful.

    • AtlantaGeorgia LM profile image

      AtlantaGeorgia LM 

      5 years ago

      I love my Lucca, he's a bichi-poo, and he loves playing with other dogs, especially at the dog park. We have been thinking of getting another dog and this was quite helpful. We'll be visiting the animal shelter soon. :)

    • Lynda Makara profile image

      Lynda Makara 

      5 years ago from California

      I like a dog who's more of a couch potato, and one that's small enough to be portable. I really love big dogs but they're harder to care for when they start to have joint problems.

    • Zeross4 profile image

      Renee Dixon 

      5 years ago from Kentucky

      I love so many dogs, it is hard to choose my favorite. I think they all have their own special qualities and characteristics that make them unique. I love Schnauzers, Rottweilers, Dachshunds, Cocker Spaniels, and more! Great lens :)

    • takkhisa profile image


      5 years ago

      What a great lens! I personally like guard dog such as German shepherd, Rottweiler and Doberman.

    • Brite-Ideas profile image

      Barbara Tremblay Cipak 

      5 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      we're so happy with our very first dog ever - we've had her for three years, we adopted her from an elderly family member - she was 9 at the time - a Shih-Tzu, and currently the star of the house :)


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