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Buying a Dog: Tips on Selecting the Perfect Furry Friend for Your Family

Buying a best friend should not be taken lightly — at least a best friend of the four-legged variety.

The purchase of a dog is a wonderful and important decision for many households. But there is a lot to consider when adding a living creature with its own personality to a household.

Whether you are searching for a particular pure bred or visiting the local shelter for the perfect pooch, shelter and American Kennel Club directors agree this is what you should consider before adding a member to your family:

What Kind of Dog is Right for Your Home?

First of all, the decision to buy a dog should involve everyone in the household. Roommates, spouses, children, and anyone who will be caring for the dog should be involved in making the decision.

“The bond has to be established that this is the right pet for everyone,” said Gail Buchwald, senior vice president of the adoption center at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Adoption Center in New York City. “You want everyone involved.”

Dogs must be walked, if you have a yard, you may need to put in a fence. While many small dogs do well in apartments, some very large breeds, like Mastiffs are not extremely high energy and can also work in apartments.

Many dogs have extensive grooming needs. “Many times people will pick a dog on looks or photographs without looking at the dog’s needs about exercise or grooming,” said Lisa Peterson, director of club communications for the American Kennel Club.

Even if you saw the cutest dog on the planet, do the research to see if it is really the dog for you. Most dogs live 10 to 15 years, so make sure the pet you bring home will be the temperament you are ready to coexist with for years to come.

Can You Really Afford a Dog?

Dogs are expensive. The initial purchase price is only the first consideration. Pure bred or designer crossbreds may cost hundreds or thousands of dollars while adopting a dog may run $50 to $200 depending on type of dog and where you live. Dogs must go to the veterinarian every year.

“I think if they’ve never owned a dog, people are surprised by the number of the vet visits,” said Peterson. “If you get a dog and you work, you’re going to have to hire someone to come take care of the dog, or if you vacation, you’ll have to pay for boarding fees.”

Grooming, training, spaying or neutering, and food are just some of the costs that dog owners will face.

Click here to see the cost of owning a pet (Adobe Required)

Caring for Another Creature

Dogs are not an accessory to your lifestyle or household. They are family members who require attention. Any dog, no matter how small or laid back, requires exercise. Even if you have a yard, it is important to actually exercise the dog, either walking it or playing with it outside. Dogs must be walked. The general rule is that a puppy can only hold its bladder for an hour for every month old plus one.

So, if your puppy is two-months-old, it can only hold its bladder for three hours.

If you work eight hours a day or more, someone will have to be home every few hours to take the puppy outside.

Also, no matter how great a temperament, purebred experts and the ASPCA agree that all dogs need obedience training.

Purebreds

There are more than 150 different purebred dogs recognized by the American Kennel Club. “The biggest advantage is the predictability of a pure bred,” said Peterson. “You know exactly what you’re going to get, grooming requirement, type of coat.”

And while purebreds do have traits that carry from dog to dog, every dog is an individual. Lisa Romano of San Francisco thought Gus, a Maltese/poodle mix, would be a convenient 8 pounds.

A year later, her Maltipoo is actually a Cockapoo, a cockerspanial/poodle mix, weighing in at 15 pounds, almost twice the size of the dog she thought she was getting.

If you do decide on a purebred, it is imperative to find a responsible breeder. The American Kennel Club is a great resource to find a breeder. Each national breed has its own club.

Locate a clubs to find a breeder for the dog you’re looking for. Many of these clubs also have rescue programs. These programs place purebred dogs that have been rescued in homes. Adopting a rescue dog is considerably cheaper than buying a puppy from a breeder and allows a dog in need to find a home.

“The best thing to do is engage in a conversation with the breeder, ask to go to the house and see the dogs,” Peterson said. “The best thing about doing that is that you’ll have a life-long breeder as you raise your dog. The breeder is a wonderful resource for the dog.”

She also recommended asking to see the dog’s mother, and make sure you have your written contract and AKC certification when you pick your puppy up. A good breeder will have many questions for you as well, about your lifestyle and expectations. A quality breeder is a resource you should be able to turn to throughout your dog’s life.

Many purebreds are prone to certain genetic diseases. Make sure to ask a breeder if they check for breed-specific diseases. Peterson recommends asking the breeder to see a dog’s genetic health clearance.

Here are some breed ideas depending on lifestyle:

Couch potato: Bulldog, Greyhound, Whippet, King Charles Spaniel

Runner/ Hiker: Border Collie, Labrador, German Shorthaired Pointer, Beagle Norwegian Elkhound

Apartment dweller: Mastiff, Yorkshire terrier, Maltese, Pug, Miniature Pinscher

Country Living: Huskie, German Shepard, Labrador Retriever

Allergies: Peterson emphasizes no dog is 100 percent hypoallergenic. However, dogs with a single coat, such as Bedlington Terrier, Chinese Crested, Bichon Frise, Poodles, Portugese Water Dog, and Schnauzers do not shed. Any breeder or shelter employee can discuss which dogs are best for people with pet dander allergies.

Adopting

There are many dogs in need of a good home. According to the ASPCA, five out of 10 dogs in shelters and seven out of 10 cats in shelters are destroyed simply because there is no one to adopt them. Even if you are looking for a purebred, adopting may still be the way to go. Besides rescue groups for purebreds, the ASPCA estimates 20 percent of dogs in shelters are purebred.

Have the time for a dog, but not the time to train a puppy? Many adult dogs at shelters already have basic obedience and are already socialized.

Buchwald advises people to devote some time to visiting shelters. “Be prepared to visit an adoption center more than once,” she said. “When’s the last time you bought the first car you saw on the lot, or the first house you visited?”

Click on one of the links below to find a shelter near you:

ASPCA

PetFinder.com

Adopt-a-Pet

Not all shelters are the same. Many post pictures of adoptable dogs online, but Buchwald said many of the most popular dogs never make it to the Web site because they are adopted before they can have their picture taken.

Some shelters will take waiting lists for certain dogs, while other shelters, such those run by the ASPCA, work on a first come, first serve basis. Although adopting is significantly cheaper than buying a purebred, there is still an adoption fee, usually from $50 to $150, and putting a hold on a dog that you absolutely must have may cost approximately an additional $75.

ASPCA shelters also provide ‘canine-ality’ assessments on most dogs to screen out aggression, but also to identify the dog’s personality. They also provide dogs that are spayed or neutered, and microchiped, all of which can run several hundred dollars at the vet’s office.

Definite Do’s

Do Your Research — No matter what the dog, it is important to research the right type of dog for your home, and the right source, whether breeder or adoption center, to get the dog. Be patient, it may take many trips to the adoption center, or visits with various breeders, to make the right match.

Prepare your Home — Each dog has individual needs in a home, but all dogs will need a food and water dish, and a crate. “People always say…a crate?! I’m not going to crate my dog?! Dogs are comforted in a den-like environment,” Buchwald said. “It is their personal space until the dog is ready to make the entire house their home.” Also plan to bring a dog home when you will have a few quiet days, such as a weekend, to spend with your new family member.

Obedience Training — “Training ... is really important to do it in a class environment,” Buchwald said. “So they learn socialization.” Dogs adopted from the ASPCA, and many other shelters, have already had basic obedience and are offered free training courses run by the shelter. During September, the AKC sponsors Responsible Dog Ownership days around the country, click here to learn more

Definite Doggie Don’ts

— Do Not Buy Online — The Internet is a great place to begin your search for information about breeds, breeders and shelters. However, you should always meet and speak with the person you are buying a dog from, and never order a dog over the Internet.

— Never Before Eight Weeks — Any responsible breeder or shelter will not let you take a puppy when it is too young to leave its mother. Many small dogs need to wait until 10 weeks for the puppy to be able to leave the mother.

— Do Not Go to a Pet Store — While you may have gotten your guppies from the local pet store, and you will definitely need a pet supply store shopping spree before you bring a dog home, do not buy a dog from a pet store. Both Buchwald and Peterson agree that dogs at pet stores are often prone to genetic problems, because they are often bred at so-called "puppy mills" that value quantity over quality. These dogs do not come with the socialization or guarantees you get from a breeder or shelter.