Selecting a New Dog

Dogs are wonderful companions and they enrich our lives in countless ways. When adopting a new dog, there are several important responsibilities to consider. Before selecting and bringing a dog home, make sure that you have the time available to train and care for your new family member and are committed to providing proper nutrition and veterinary care for the entirety of your dog’s life.


After everyone who will be living with the dog has agreed that they are ready to commit to caring for a dog for many years (even up to 18 years for small breeds), it’s time to decide what breed or breed type is the best match for you. Important characteristics to consider include the following:

  • Puppy or adult? Puppies are highly active, playful, and of course, irresistibly cute! A puppy is often a good choice for an active owner who enjoys training young animals, is prepared for typical puppy behaviors (such as chewing), can meet daily needs for exercise and play, and has the time to commit to manners and house training. Adult dogs are generally are less active and require less training, and they often enjoy cuddling and petting in place of vigorous play. Consider your own lifestyle and interaction preferences when deciding whether a puppy or adult is the best fit for you.
  • Purebred vs. mixed breed: Every breed of dog was originally developed for a specific working function. As a result, each breed has physical features and a set of behavioral traits that are related to the type of work for which the breed was used. These breed-specific traits are an advantage for owners who have specific desires regarding temperament, size, coat type, and energy level. Other owners have more general requirements, and may be interested in adopting a mix-breed dog from a shelter or rescue group. This approach helps to reduce the number of homeless pets and provides a loving home to a dog in need. One disadvantage is that if nothing is known about the mix-breed dog’s heritage, there is less predictability in terms of adult size and temperament. In these cases, an understanding of the breed types within a particular mix-breed can be helpful.
  • Activity level: Breeds (and breed-types) differ significantly in energy level and daily exercise needs. If you are a highly active person who enjoys being outdoors, one of the sporting or herding breeds may be a good match for you. Alternatively, if your lifestyle is more sedentary, a less active hound or toy breed may be a better choice.
  • Temperament traits: Although every dog is an individual, some general breed-specific behaviors are observed because of the different functions for which breeds were originally developed. For example, sporting breeds such as retrievers and spaniels tend to be very sociable with people and other dogs, while some of the herding and working breeds tend to be more “one-family” dogs. Similarly, some working breeds are naturally more protective than are many of the hunting breeds. Thoroughly research the breeds that you are interested in to learn about temperament traits that may (or may not) fit with your lifestyle and personality.
  • Amount of grooming required: Long-haired dogs require frequent brushing to avoid mats and to keep their coat and skin healthy. Short-haired breeds require less brushing, but still shed and require occasional brushing. Some breeds, such as poodles and schnauzers, require periodic professional grooming. Finally, although some breeds do shed at a slower rate than others, all dogs shed at some time during the year (with the exception of the completely hairless breeds, of course!)


The best source for a purebred puppy or dog is often through a reputable breeder. Most communities have a kennel club that maintains a breeder’s referral service for prospective adopters. These services often are found on the kennel club’s website or in the pet advertisements of a local paper. Select a breeder who has an established reputation, is knowledgeable about both the attributes and the faults of their breed, and is genuinely concerned with the wellbeing and long-term care of his or her puppies. For mixed-breed dogs and some purebreds, community animal shelters or breed rescue groups are a great source. Select a shelter or rescue organization that provides a complete health and temperament screening and requires that all of their animals are spayed or neutered.


  • Health and vitality: Health is of utmost importance. Ask the breeder or caretaker about vaccinations and dewormings and any known health issues. Puppies should have had one series of vaccines and at least one deworming prior to adoption. If you are adopting an adult, ask about the dog’s vaccination and health-care history. A healthy animal has clear eyes, clean ears, white teeth, and a healthy skin and coat.
  • Behavior and temperament: In general, a “middle of the road” approach often works best when assessing a dog’s temperament. While you should avoid a puppy who is extremely timid or fearful, it is also not wise to select the most bold and outgoing youngster. A dog or puppy that is alert, curious, and friendly to visitors is often a good choice for a family pet. Spend time playing with potential pets and discussing each animal’s personality with the breeder or foster caretaker; he or she is the best judge of each individual’s personality.
  • Meet the parents: If you are buying a purebred puppy, or if the rescue group has fostered the mother with the puppies, visit with the mother (and father, if available). Although puppies are not “replicas” of their mother, they will inherit some of her temperament traits and also learn from her behavior at an early age.


Prepare beforehand for your dog by purchasing the care and feeding items that he will need. When your new family member arrives home on the first day, confine him to a single room and allow him to explore that room at his own pace. It is often helpful to first introduce the puppy to the room in which his crate is located or where he will be spending a large amount of his time each day. After he has explored and settled in, begin to introduce family members—preferably one at a time. Each can interact with the new dog or pup by speaking to him quietly, sitting on the floor next to him, and gently petting him or enticing him into a game with a toy. Show him his sleeping area, toys, and food and water bowls. Take him outside frequently to eliminate, always using the same door. Finally, ensure that the puppy has plenty of time to nap and rest during his first day. Travel and introductions to a new family are exciting, but they are also very tiring for a new pup or dog!


  • Food and water bowl: Select bowls that have a wide base and are easy to clean; puppies do best if they are fed two to three premeasured meals per day; two meals per day works well for adults. Fresh clean water should be available at all times.
  • Food: Choose a high quality, nutritionally complete and balanced puppy or adult dog food that is designed for your dog’s age and breed size.
  • Grooming equipment: Use a brush or comb that is suitable for the type of coat your dog has; purchase dog shampoo for bathing and a set of dog nail clippers for keeping nails trimmed.
  • Collar and lead: Your dog’s collar should be well-fitted—snug but not too tight. Use a six-foot lead that will keep him safe during walks yet still allow him some freedom to explore.
  • Crate and bed: Most puppies and young dogs benefit from being trained to rest and sleep in a crate. This aids in house training and keeps dogs safe when they cannot be closely supervised. Some owners also include a soft bed or pad in the crate.
  • Chew toys and interactive toys: Provide a variety of durable chew toys that are designed for dogs and interesting toys for fetching and chasing.