How To Choose A Dog

Breed Characteristics

  • Hound

  • Sporting

  • Livestock / Pastoral

  • Working

  • Toy

  • Terriers

  • Primary Considerations

    • Temperament & Personality

    • Activity Level

    • Size

    • Grooming Needs

    • Strong-Willed

    • Good with Children

  • Adult or Puppy

  • Purebreds, Crossbreeds, & Mutts

  • Brachycephalic Dogs

When choosing a dog you are entering a relationship that can last 10-15 years or longer so compatibility is of utmost importance. It would serve you well to not solely rely on looks and a brief description found on an internet site or a book about dogs.

It’s important to understand that breed characteristic generalizations apply to a group and not necessary an individual.

Temperament & Personality

The personality of a dog is made up from a combination of genetics, inherited traits, and early life experiences. A dog’s breed or breed type influences the dog’s appearance, but more importantly their temperament and behavior. And behavior tendencies even in the same litter can vary widely. Genetics determine physical traits such as; size, color, structure, coat type, energy level, and it consists of the inherited characteristics of a breed. Traits such as nervousness, reactivity, body sensitivity, sound sensitivity, may be attributed to genetic factors.[1]  Or they may be acquired and developed with early life experiences of the puppy in the first 12-weeks when these life experiences can both positively or negatively affect a dog’s confidence, emotional stability, timidity, fear, and phobias.  (see Socialization)

Temperament refers to the aspects of the dog’s character or personality that change little over a lifetime due to inherited traits and early life experiences which shapes behavior resulting in strong predispositions. Character traits develop as a dog matures and are influenced by life experiences, preferences, routines, and practices. A dog’s personality or temperament is consistent and changes little over a lifetime, although behavior can and does change, personality is generally consistent.

A dog’s personality is a combination of temperament and character.

  • Temperament = pre-disposition (heritable propensities)

  • Character = disposition, (learned style of coping or navigating the world)

    • Character develops through the interaction of temperament and environment

    • Character emerges as one matures and has more life experience

    • Patterns form habits

The important fact is that behavior is never wholly inherited or wholly acquired but always developed under the combined influences of hereditary and environmental factors.Scott, John Paul. Genetics and the Social Behaviour of the Dog. University of Chicago Press.

Please choose carefully

I"ve met many dogs who when they were adopted believed they were going to a home with their new best friend and companion. Sadly, many ended up with an address and an acquaintance. Others ended up at an animal shelter and were euthanized because of overcrowding.

Primary Considerations

Energy Level / Activity Level

Energy Levels: Low, Medium, High, Very High

Do not get a dog that you cannot or will not fulfill their exercise needs. Get a dog with a level of energy that matches the family. The dog's energy or activity level should be equal to or less than the family's.

A high energy dog will not be happy being left alone all day with nothing to do and nowhere to go. This can lead to behavior most would consider destructive.   


An important consideration is whether you can physically control the dog. A twenty pound active dog may be too much for some to handle.

Toy size dogs generally move quickly out of your way, whereas larger dogs often lay there and don't move when you are walking toward them which can result in tripping over them. Small children can easily injure a small dog by falling on them, or not treating them gently. It is also not unusual for a small dog to feel the need to defend themselves rather than running and hiding. 

Grooming Needs

All dogs shed, but dogs with hair that is clipped, are generally considered hypoallergenic. It is not the hair or fur that causes the allergic reactions, but rather the skin cells known as dander. This dander gets onto the dog's fur so dogs that shed frequently can result in more dander in the environment. Larger dogs will naturally have more dander just based on their size.

Short hair dogs can often get by with a brushing once a week, while some long hair dogs can require daily brushing. Some dogs require professional grooming and clipping to keep their coats in good condition.

Dogs with a double or undercoat will shed a greater volume of fur. Other dogs like the Dalmatian will shed year-round. If you are wearing white, they will shed black hair on you. If you are wearing black, you will have white hair on you. 


There are dogs that characteristically have a temperamental disposition to assertiveness. Published bred profiles that include comments like "unsuitable for inexperienced dog owners"  "needs consistent, determined owner", "requires experienced owners", and "requires experienced and authoritative owners" are not advised for the easy-going, permissive, and or first time dog owner. These dogs range in size from the toy to large breeds. These dogs require a 100% committed assertive leader. It is not required to be harsh to control these dogs; in fact it is recommended that you are not. While most dog owners would not be a good match for these dogs, they can be great dogs for those who have the proper knowledge and necessary skills.

Good with Children

Some dogs like children, some tolerant, and others want nothing to do with them. This is influenced by breed, early socialization, and life experiences. If the dog will live with children look for a dog that likes children, a dog should not have to tolerant them.  Dogs with a more independent nature may not tolerate much handling.

Some dogs are uncomfortable around toddlers and young children. Dogs that are nervous, high energy, touch-sensitive, or have dominant tendencies are generally not a good match for younger children

There is no set age where it is appropriate for children and dogs to be together. The child's age is arbitrary because the maturity of children varies.   Dogs and children should always be supervised when together.  Children must be taught to respect dogs and understand that they can be a playmate, but they are not a play thing.

Young children don't have the ability to make a distinction between appropriate and provoking behavior when interacting with dogs. Dogs should not have to tolerate constant touching, handling, restraining, or abuse by children. Hugging often times is annoying for dogs and can be viewed as threatening.

Herding breeds will have the tendency to chase children and are set off by the movement of bicycles, roller skates, etc... and are prone to nipping.

Scent hounds breeds generally would rather play hid-and-seek, and find a ball or toy rather than catch, chase or retrieve it.  

Guarding breeds and Terriers characteristically do not like to share. They can be taught to share and retrieve, but this is best done before 16-weeks of age. This is a consideration around small children.

Adult or Puppy?


Lacking the companionship and endless play his littermates would have provided, the puppy needs you to be his playmate. No excuses are truly satisfactory for a puppy who wants to play, play, play but has no one with whom to play. In a natural setting, a puppy wouldn’t have to pester anyone or eat the linoleum out of boredom or bark in the backyard as a way to amuse himself. His littermates would be there, just as eager to play as he, littermates with which to chase, bite, wrestle, explore, etc. Although raising puppies together is NOT a good idea if you want a companion animal who is bonded to human beings and not to his puppy pals, it is a humbling moment when you watch puppies playing and realize that this is what you are going to replace in this puppy’s life. Think of this the next time you find yourself exasperated with the puppy who won’t stop pestering your other dogs to play, or who drops a toy invitingly at your feet for the millionth time, or who dances just out of your reach, reluctant to have a game end. Think of your puppy multiplied by 4 or 6 or 8 and what fun that many puppies would be having together. Then remember – you volunteered to be the substitute for that.” It Takes a Pack to Raise a Puppy by Suzanne Clothier

Puppies require a greater commitment then that of adult dogs. Puppies need to be feed more often, given more frequent potty breaks, need to receive several vaccinations until about 4 months of age, need to be handled more, socialized, and exposed to the world in a controlled manner to prevent the development of behavior problems. This must start with the breeder to prevent future problems.   

If you choose a puppy, you must be prepared for the challenges of the juvenile period from 3 to 6 months, and the adolescence stage from about 6 months to up to 3 years in some breeds until they reach social maturity.

Adolescence is often considered the most difficult period of dog ownership, and the age at which many dogs are surrendered to animal shelters. Sadly, many dogs will never see their second birthday because many people apply permanent solutions to temporary problems by surrendering their dogs to animal shelters.

Most puppies are destructive between 6-18 months as they explore their environment. It is a natural stage that many unknowingly maintain this behavior by restricting the dog's freedoms, keeping them bored, frustrated, anxiety, etc...

If you are set on getting a puppy, please download and read: How To Buy A Puppy @


With an adult dog you can see physically what you are getting in the way of size, color and appearance. It is not always apparent what the extent of previous learning has been or what the temperament or personality of the dog is without spending the time to evaluate.

Adult dogs are available for adoption for various reasons. Some of the reasons can include the dog is a stray and the family never bothered to search for the dog, the dog may have had behavior problems, the dog was too active for the family, too much to handle, or the family did not have enough time to spend with the dog, and often everyone in the family did not want the dog from the start.

Since animal shelters do not resemble a home environment you cannot be sure of what behaviors that you will see in the home.  

Temperament test will not guarantee the dog's future behavior, because the dog's behavior is influenced not only by genetics and what it has previously learned, but it is greatly influenced by the environment and new owners. 

Each breed and individual dog's development period will vary slightly. When choosing a dog the dog's genetics are very important because they determine a dog's individual tendencies and predispositions that affect its behavior.

Purebreds, Crossbreeds, & Mutts

There are several considerations when looking to adopt a dog, one of which is choosing between a purebred, crossbreed, or a mutt.


A purebred dog has had most of the genetic variety bred out of them to select for size, appearance and temperament, thereby providing the ability to predict the likely characteristics of the dog as an adult and the probable behavior.

Artificial selection has contributed to numerous genetic disorders in purebreds today, so they should only be purchased directly from a reputable breeder and never a puppy store or backyard breeder. Rather than purchase, consider adopting a purebred from a shelter or rescue. You will not have to pay the inflated purchase price. For additional information read "How To Buy A Puppy".   @


Dog of two purebred parents of different breeds. Much like purebred dogs there is a better chance of determining likely characteristics because the genetic makeup is still limited.


Parents that are either mixed breeds or crossbreds. With mutts, review the physical features such as the ear shape, shape and size of skull, chest size, feet, tail, color and texture of coat, energy level and behavior to determine the likely genetic influences. If choosing a puppy, adult size and appearance is difficult to determine.  Mutts or mixed bred dogs are generally not subject to the inbreeding of purebreds or the limited gene pool, but there are no assurances a mixed bred dog will not develop a genetically inherited disorder.

Breed Characteristics

There are no "best" breeds or types of dogs. Differing dogs are better for certain situations. There are no perfect dogs, which should not be surprising since there are no perfect people.

It is important to understand what job the intended breed was designed for. It may be a high energy dog that was developed to herd, or to find and kill small rodents. It may be a guarding breed, or developed to assist humans with hunting, or just breed as a companion dog.

As part of your research, look up the breed standards and other descriptions of any dog you are considering.

Terms from breed standards:

"Dignified and aloof, with a certain keen fierceness"

"tends to show dominance to other dogs"

"fearless and with well developed protective instinct"

"loyal and affectionate to those who earn his respect"

"distrustful of strangers"

“very resistant to fatigue”

“on the tip-toe of expectation at the slightest provocation”

“aloof with strangers and has a keen protective instinct.”

If you have guests at your home regularly, you may not want a dog that is "distrustful of strangers". If you are easy going or permissive, a dog that is described as "loyal and affectionate to those who earn his respect" is probably not the right dog for you.

If you do not want to live with excessive drooling, research the breed you are considering carefully. Some of the more popular dogs such as the Boxer, Great Dane, Newfoundland, English Bulldog, and the Basset Hound and many others may not be to your liking due to drooling. These are not the only excessive droolers, so it will serve you to you your homework before choosing a dog.

Hound Group

Common with many in this group is predatory behavior directed at small animals with fur. This can include rabbits, squirrels, cats or even small dogs. These breeds need early socialization to small animals so that cats and small dogs are not looked upon in the same light as rabbits which were hunted for food.

They typically are considered more independent / aloof and less interested in human direction which can make them harder to train.

Sight Hounds

These are a sprinting breed that can have remarkable stamina as they chase down prey. Sight hounds hunt in two different ways: They chase, catch and kill, or they chase and capture and wait for the hunter to arrive to kill the prey. They are not a vocal breed, they hunt silently. They are easily distracted due to a strong predatory chase drive.

Many will require a considerable amount of daily exercise.  Many of the Sight Hounds with short-coats and low body fat will seek out soft resting places such as your couch or bed unless you provide a comfortable resting place for them.

Sight hounds were breed to work independently and are often described as dignified and aloof but trustworthy companions. They are known to be a soft breed, both physically and emotionally and extra care should be used in training. 

Whippet, Greyhound, Pharaoh Hound, Afghan Hound, Irish Wolfhound

Scent Hound

Scent hounds range in size from small short-legged hounds, medium-built athletic hounds, to the large heavy-bodied hounds.

Some follow scents with their nose on the ground following a trail, and others with their nose in the air to track their prey.  They are distracted by scents. Scent hounds are long distant runners and if in an unsecured area are often just happy wonderers following the path that their nose takes them.

They are a vocal breed; they bark, bay or howl on the hunt. Some of these breeds like company, and if left alone they will bay or howl to call out to others. 

While some of the breeds, specifically the large, heavy-bodied hounds need a modest amount of exercise; most of the medium-built athletic hounds will require a considerable amount of daily exercise.  Scent hounds generally would rather find a ball or toy rather than catch, chase or retrieve it.  

Beagle, Bloodhound, Basset Hound, Rhodesian Ridgeback, American Foxhound

Sporting / Gun Dogs

They are naturally active and alert and make good companions and great family dogs for those who will provide regular, vigorous exercise. They are generally less physically sensitive making them good around small children, but that does not mean children should be unsupervised or that the dog should be expected to tolerate harassment or abuse. They were bred to work with humans so they do not want to be along all day.   


        American Cocker Spaniel, English Cocker Spaniel, Welsh Springer Spaniel  

Other Dogs with Spaniel Names

The King Charles Spaniel was bred exclusively as a companion dog.  The Tibetan Spaniel was bred as an alarm dog and companion for the monks in Tibet.


        English Setter, Gordon Setter, Irish Setter, Irish Red and White Setter


        English Pointer, German Short-haired Pointer, Weimaraner, Vizsla


       Standard Poodle, Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever, Chesapeake Bay Retriever

Livestock / Pastoral Dogs

This group was bred for the protection or herding of livestock.  Typically have double coats to protect it from the elements.

Livestock guarding

These are large strong dogs that are considered fearless guardians that were required to protect livestock from predators and thieves.  Most are naturally suspicious of strangers and need early socialization to other dogs to prevent problems with aggression.

Anatolian Shepherd Dog, Komondor, Kuvasz, Pyrenean Mountain Dog 

Herding Breeds

These are high-strung, high-energy dogs that need lots of exercise. Herding breeds need a job. If you do not provide one, they will create one. Their herding instincts can lead them to chase cars, bicycles, kids on roller skates, children, etc... They also are prone to movement motivated nipping.

They characteristically bond strongly with one person and are highly trainable since they were breed to work with humans. Most need early socialization to other dogs to prevent problems with aggression.

Australian Cattle Dog, Australian Shepherd, Border Collie, German Shepherd, Collie

Working Group

The working group is comprised of Service Dogs, working with and assisting humans, and Property Guards which often worked independently of humans.

The working breeds can be high in reactivity and moderate to high in aggression. Many tend to bond strongly to one owner or family. Their size and strength make it imperative that they live in a structured environment and be properly trained.

Service Dogs

Rescue Dogs

St. Bernard

Cart Dogs

These breeds were used to pull heavy loads on wheeled carts behind them.

                                                    Bernese Mountain Dog, Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, Newfoundland

Sled Dogs

These dogs are extremely powerful high-energy dogs that need a considerable amount of exercise.   They are known for their independent attitudes.  

                                                     Alaskan Malamute, Siberian Husky, Canadian Eskimo Dog


Carriage Dogs

Their task was to run or walk alongside or behind horse drawn carriages to protect the travelers and their property.   


Guard Dogs

                                Property Guards

These dogs require a strong leader and are not for novice owners. They are loyal and can range from affectionate to independent. 

                                             Boxer, Doberman, Great Dane, Boerboel, Bullmastiff, Leonberger

Toy Group  (Companion Dogs) 

The Toy Group is primarily comprised of dogs whose sole purpose is as companion animals. Most of the dogs in this group are considered affectionate and loyal and like attention. The majority of the toy breeds do not need a great amount of exercise. 

                                              Bichon Fries, Italian Greyhound, Pomeranian,  Pekingese, Lhasa Apso, Chihuahua

Some of the dogs placed into this breed group are placed into this category due to their small size. Dogs such as the Affenpinscher, Brussels Griffon, Manchester Terrier, and Miniature Pinscher (breed smaller since its working days) were household or city dogs used to control vermin and can be classified as Earth Dogs. 


This group derives its name from the Latin terra, meaning earth. They are often described as feisty, energetic, excitable, highly reactive, tenacious, extremely brave and tough with little tolerance for other animals, including other dogs.  This is generally a vocal breed that likes to bark. They are naturally curious, have high prey drives and like to dig

They were breed to work independent of humans so they are characteristically more independent or aloof by nature.  This can make them more of a challenge to train.

Earth Dogs

Many of the terriers have wiry coats that require regular and special grooming known as stripping. Terriers as a whole are not big shedders.

Jack Russell, West Highland White Terrier, Australian Terrier, Airedale Terrier

Other Dogs with Terrier Names

The Silky Terrier was breed from Terrier lines but it is not classified as a Terrier, but rather listed in the Toy Group since it was breed as a household companion dog.

The Tibetan Terrier is not classified as a Terrier since they are not true Terriers. They were breed as companion animals and to herd sheep. It could be classified as a pastoral herding breed.

Fighting Dogs

Included in the terrier group are dogs that are not earth dogs, but rather they are crosses between terriers and bulldogs to create a tenacious fighting dog. Today their primary use is as a companion animal despite its original purpose these dogs are generally friendly with people.

Bull Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier

Fighting Dogs

A number of dogs were originally bred with fearless temperaments to be fighting dogs. Like so many other breeds of dogs, these groups today are not usually breed for their original purpose. Although these dogs have a heightened genetic potential for aggression, their temperament has been refined into the breeds they are today.

Dogs are individuals and they vary greatly. When there is a problem with aggression it is not merely genetics, but rather has often been enhanced by humans.

Today these dogs are listed in the Non-Sporting Group, Working Group, or the Utility Group by different Kennel Clubs. 

Akita, Boston Terrier, English Bulldog, Neapolitan Mastiff, Shar Pei

Brachycephalic dog breeds (flat or pushed-in faces)

Predisposed to serious health conditions

Please choose carefully

I"ve met many dogs who when they were adopted believed they were going to a home with their new best friend and companion. Sadly, many ended up with an address and an acquaintance. Others ended up at an animal shelter and were euthanized because of overcrowding.

[1] The Dog  Its Behavior, Nutrition, and Health  Second Edition  Linda P. Case

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