Choosing a puppy is kind of like choosing the right life partner, isn’t it?
Of course, we’re usually drawn to looks first… and then personality comes up next on our list of criteria. Sometimes, in human life partners and puppy life partners, that works out just fine. But, sometimes it doesn’t.
Let’s be honest – we all know personality is what counts in our human companions. It’s no different when you’re looking for a new puppy or dog.
“Shopping” for puppies
The idea of “shopping for a dog” has evolved with our times. Now, with a click of the mouse, we can scroll over thousands and thousands of images of dogs in need of homes. But what melts our hearts… Their story or their looks?
Of course, their stories always get us.
But, what helps you shift from that aww feeling, to thinking, “Oh my gosh, this is my dog!”? It’s a question everyone needs to answer for themselves, and knowing what triggers that feeling for you will help you choose your puppy.
The importance of temperament and personality in your next puppy
Over the past 10+ years I’ve had the greatest privilege of working with many different dogs, with many different personalities and temperaments. So, for me, a physically cute puppy or dog has a 100% correlation with its temperament.
But first, let’s define two very important words: personality and temperament.
Personality refers to characteristics that have been influenced by the environment, including the dog’s life experiences.
Temperament, on the other hand, refers to characteristics that are influenced by genetics. That’s why breed is such an important consideration when choosing a puppy… but we’ll dive deeper into that shortly.
Good tempered doesn’t necessarily mean obedient, either. A good tempered dog is adaptable, and a good tempered dog knows how to ‘speak dog’.
What does that mean when you’re choosing the right puppy for your family? For starters, we need to look beyond physical traits. Even if you’ve always had your heart set on a particular breed, that doesn’t always mean that type of dog will be suited for your lifestyle.
Things to consider when choosing a puppy
The Breed of the Puppy
It’s absolutely vital that you do some breed research before bringing home a new puppy, because different breeds have vastly different temperaments.
When researching breeds, ask yourself, “What is this breed’s purpose in life? Why was this breed created?”
It might seem silly, but remember – the existence of dog breeds requires deliberate effort and interest. Sometimes, a pure breed can be an intention, human act. But, sometimes the environment creates a breed. For example, the “mutts” that roam the streets in India are nearly identical physically and temperamentally. Even though these dogs are considered mixed breeds, they too can be identified as their own breed, because they are the result of a combination of breeds.
When it comes to your new puppy, you need to understand the genetic influence of the breed.
Think of a German Shorthaired Pointer, a Weimaraner, or a Viszla. An active family isn’t enough for many of these dogs. They need more… they need an active lifestyle. Meaning, these dogs will ideally spend 6 – 8 hours exercising their hearts every single day.
Remember, your definition of active is very different from the dog’s “definition”. These breeds are bred to work independently to some degree, and they need to be active off leash. They can’t do their “job” and feel satisfied running or exerting energy on leash.
Understanding breed knowledge and each dog’s purpose helps us identify our own roles. Gaining knowledge about a dog’s utility allows us to decide whether we can live with that dog’s characteristics. Can you enrich, empower, and satisfy your new puppy, or will you spend a lifetime trying to inhibit its natural tendencies?
The Dog’s Energy Level
Some breeds have higher energy levels than others, and vice versa. If you’re an ultra-marathon runner looking for a training partner, a Rhodesian Ridgeback might be a great choice for your very active life (as long as you spend the requisite amount of time being active each day, as we discussed above.)
But, if you work 60 hours a week and have little time to dedicate to exercise, you’ll end up with a large, destructive bundle of energy… and a major headache.
The Puppy’s Personality
The best puppy personality for you will be different than the best puppy personality for your neighbor. Some people want a rowdy, energetic dog who’s ready to run and play all day, and others prefer a calmer, quieter puppy.
Regardless, if you’re looking at a litter of puppies from a breeder, it’s also important to look at the environment they’ve been raised in so far. Have they been handled and played with, so that they’re used to human touch? Is the environment sanitary?
With shelter puppies, you may need to be a little more thoughtful in your personality assessment, since shelters can be scary places for any dog, and that can impact how the puppy behaves.
The Dog’s Needs
Similarly, you also need to think about your new puppy’s medical, nutritional, and grooming needs.
If you’re adopting a puppy with pre-existing medical issues, are you prepared for the level of care that will be required? Nutrition is another key thing to consider, since you’ll want to feed your new puppy the highest quality food possible (we love Orijen and Acana, but there are many other options available.) Long-haired dogs often need regular visits to the groomer, but shorter haired dogs aren’t exempt.
The dog’s needs are sometimes directly correlated with the next important consideration: finances.
Dogs can live long lives, especially smaller breeds. Are you prepared to care for the dog financially throughout it’s entire life?
Before getting a puppy, learn more about the costs involved. Talk to a local vet and see how much their exams and vaccines cost. While you’re at it, learn about any medical issues your preferred breed is predisposed to, and then get some details about the costs.
If you’re looking at dogs with grooming needs, find out how much that will cost ahead of time by contacting a groomer. To save money, many pet parents try to get away with bringing their dogs in every 4 months, or only before the holidays. But did you know that the importance of grooming is about more than cleanliness? Many dogs that don’t get groomed regularly suffer from painful matting and other discomforts.
Food can get pricy, too. Bigger dogs eat more, so factor that into your cost calculations.
Your lifestyle (and your family’s, if applicable) will play a huge role in the type of puppy you choose.
For starters, how many hours a day can you dedicate to the welfare and well-being of your dog? Different dogs require different levels of commitment, but you do need to be able to spend several hours with your dog each day.
Also think about your work schedule, any children in your home, any other pets in your home, how often you entertain large groups of people, whether you enjoy outdoor activities and other forms of physical exercise, and other lifestyle considerations.
As you do this, you might realize that while you’ve always been drawn to Golden Retrievers, a lower energy pup like a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel could be a better fit.
What type of home do you have? Do you live in a high-rise apartment without easy outdoor access? Does your HOA have restrictions on whether or not you can have a dog? Do you have a large yard with a fence? Whatever your setup, your home should have an impact on the type of puppy you choose.
And remember, all hope isn’t lost if you don’t have a fenced in yard. Many dogs can cope just fine in apartments if they’re given the proper care and attention, but you need to commit from the beginning.
Are you a frequent traveler, and how often do you travel? Jetting off on a last minute vacation or work trip isn’t as easy when you have a puppy or dog waiting for you at home.
Of course, travel isn’t off the table once you get a dog. But, if your pup can’t join you, do you know who will watch him or her while you’re away? It could be a friend or family member, but if you’ll be depending on pet sitting services to help you out, get a realistic estimate of the costs beforehand. You’ll also want to visit and tour different facilities to get a feel for how they operate – you’d be amazed at the differences from one facility to the next!
Yes, attraction is important, too! Don’t feel bad if you’re looking for the cutest, cuddliest puppy you can find. Just remember to keep the dog’s personality and temperament in mind, while also taking your own lifestyle into consideration.
Once you spend some time thinking critically about the best type of dog for you and your life, the choice should be much easier. It’s an incredibly self-reflective process, too. You’ll learn a lot about yourself, and I even find this type of reflection to be very personally healing.
Many people let their impulses take over, and the consequences can be tragic. Too many puppies and dogs end up in shelters because their humans didn’t truly take the time to understand the magnitude of the commitment they were making, including the impact a dog would have on their lives.
This can be prevented easily, though.
The next time you’re choosing a new puppy, take a deep breath and pause to think. Remember, it’s not just about your life… it’s also about the life you’ll be affecting.
What things did you look for when you chose your last dog? What made you think, “Yes, this is MY dog”? If you don’t have a new puppy quite yet, how will you make that choice? Don’t forget to share your thoughts in the comments