Updated: Nov 28
I think most people who are considering adding a dog to their family want to be a good dog owner. Being a good dog owner doesn’t start on the day you bring your new dog home; it should start well before that.
I’m a huge proponent of doing research and giving a lot of thought as to what type of dog is right for you and your family. Don’t just look for the first cute furry face you see, because choosing the wrong dog for your home may make you, your family and the dog miserable – the complete opposite as to why you want to get a dog.
What breed of dog is best for me?
The first thing you want to think about is your lifestyle. Of course, just by adding a dog to your home you will be making changes to your way of life, but you want to consider whether you’re willing or able to make significant changes to it. There is a dog out there for you if you don’t want to make a lot of changes. But it might not be the dog you think you want!
When I worked at an animal shelter, I’ll never forget the six-month-old German short hair pointer that was surrendered because it had “too much energy”. The reason for surrender made me laugh and made me sad both at the same time. It made me laugh because it’s an adolescent German shorthair pointer, and so of course the dog would have boundless energy. It made me sad because the family had apparently gotten this dog as a puppy, and obviously hadn’t done their research before the dog was brought home.
There are tremendous differences in the behaviors and activity levels of various breeds. If you have a lot of time and are a very active person, then a very active breed might fit in well to your lifestyle. If you are a busy family without a lot of time, or you’re fairly sedentary and happy to maintain that, then you may want to consider a dog that won’t be as active.
When thinking about breed and breed mixes, do some research into what they were originally bred to do. This can give you some insight into behavior and activity level. As an example, a herding dog was bred to actively work with sheep all day long, and make decisions without constant input from the handler.
So you know if you get a dog from the herding breed it is going to be a high energy dog and extremely intelligent, this will be a dog that needs a couple of hours a day of exercise, and activities that allow it to engage its brain.
You will also find it helpful to talk to somebody who actually lives with that breed of dog. If you don’t know anyone personally, just about any breed will have a Facebook group that you can join. That would be a good place to ask questions and get some information first hand from people who have a lot of experience with the breed.
Best age of dog to adopt
The answer to “what is the best age to adopt a dog?” is it depends on you and your family.
Breed isn’t the only thing that is going to impact a dog’s behavior and activity level; age should be another consideration. There are pros and cons to different stages in a dog’s life, and that may make a difference depending on your lifestyle.
I’ve heard many, many people say that they want a puppy because they want to “raise it right”. Unfortunately, the myth of “It’s all in how you raise them” isn’t true. Genetics and early development play a huge part in a dog’s behavior and personality. You can do everything right, and still end up with a dog that has issues.
Puppies can be a lot of fun and I can understand that’s why it would be someone’s preference. If you want a better idea of what kind of dog your puppy will grow up to be, then your best bet is to get your puppy from a reputable breeder and meet the dam, and if possible, the sire. Stay away from purchasing a puppy from that breeding if the adult dogs seem shy or aggressive as there’s a good possibility their off-spring will inherit those traits.
Remember that a puppy is going to be a ton of work. Young puppies need a lot of your time and attention, just like a human baby. Housetraining almost never goes as fast as you think it will; you may have a few months of accidents to clean-up. There will also be chewing, constant supervision, socialization and training. That’s a lot of work!
Sometimes adopting an adolescent dog has benefits over getting an 8- or 10-week-old puppy. I adopted my dog Whimsy when she was about a year old. Yes, she was energetic and needed training. But she was also already housetrained, and really didn’t chew too much.
Adolescent dogs look like adult dogs, so many times people make the mistake that their dog should behave better. But adolescent dogs are typical of teenagers in any species. They don’t make good choices, are impulsive and energetic, and require a lot of attention and exercise. Most dogs I saw surrendered to the shelter were in this age range because they can be so difficult to live with.
The good news is that adolescence is a temporary stage, and doesn’t last as long as it does for a human. If you choose to bring an adolescent dog into your home you can work on manners training during this important developmental stage, create some structure and look forward to having an adult dog in just a year or so.
Some people are worried about adopting an adult dog because they feel that they are taking on somebody else's problem. That isn’t always the case. Sometimes adult dogs are surrendered to the shelter for reasons that have nothing to do with their behavior. Family members die, people have to move into apartments and can't take the dog with them, or they have lifestyle changes that means they no longer have time to give the dog what it needs.
Don't worry if the dog you're interested in is listed as having been a former stray. There's this perception that a stray dog is essentially a feral dog fending for itself. And that may be true in some places, but in most of the United States a stray dog is simply a dog who has been separated from its owner.
Sometimes that separation is intentional, the owner may have abandoned the dog because they didn't want to take the dog to a shelter. Sometimes the dog gets loose and the owners, for whatever reason, don't make an effort to find them. Two of the adult dogs I have adopted were former strays, and both were extremely affectionate dogs that loved to snuggle and meet new people.
There are a lot of benefits to adopting an adult dog. If you really want to know “what you’re going to get”, obtaining a dog 2 years of age or older is a great way to do so. Adult dogs have gone through their developmental stages and their personality is fairly set.
The biggest mistake people make when they adopt adult dogs is to assume that with little bit of time and love, dogs who behave with reactivity or aggression, or who have fear or anxiety issues will come around. It is certainly possible to improve a dog's coping skills with behavior modification, and make them better able to exist in our world. But this is done with a lot of training and consistency over a long period of time.
On the other hand, if the adult dog is extremely affectionate, doesn't get fearful easily, and seems fairly comfortable in a variety of situations, that is also not likely to change. All of the adult dogs that I have chosen to adopt over the years have been easy dogs with very few issues.
Other benefits of adopting an adult dog is that if they come with bad habits such as inappropriate chewing or aren’t entirely housetrained, many times it’s easier to work with than a puppy with the same issues. Adult dogs don’t need to chew like puppies and so will chew less; making it easier to teach them what they can chew on. Adult dogs also have better bladder control, so don’t need to eliminate as often as a young puppy. Because you’re starting this dog in a new home, it can be easier to change the habits they had in their old environment.
Some people really enjoy adopting senior dogs. The size of a dog will determine the age at which they are considered seniors; for small dogs it’s about age 11 or 12, and medium sized dogs at about age 10. The downside, of course, is that you likely won’t have as much time with your dog as they’re in the last part of their life.
Another thing to consider with a senior dog is that they may require more visits to the vet. Just as older humans have more health issues, so do our dogs.
But there are a lot of benefits to adopting a senior as well. As a mature dog they typically don’t have the high energy level of a younger dog. So, if you aren’t active, a dog in this age group will most likely be fine with a walk just a few times a week.
Older dogs typically aren’t as destructive as much younger dogs, and are more likely to be housetrained. A senior dog won’t need as much entertaining and supervision, and may be more appreciative of chilling out while you stream Netflix or read a book.
Shelters and rescues are full of dogs of all ages, breeds (including pure bred) and breed mixes, but breeders also sometimes have dogs older than young puppies they want to rehome. Getting a dog should be a life-long (the dog’s) commitment.
The best dog to adopt is the one that is going to fit into your home. Putting some thought into not only the breed, but the energy level and advantages of the different ages can help you make a good choice.