How to choose the right puppy for you and your family!

Authored by Kathryn Nilsson

Have you finally made the decision to get a dog? Or maybe you are looking to add another dog to your household? It is definitely not a decision to be taken lightly, doing your research is critical for finding a dog that is the right match for you. There are many factors that play into a dog being the right match for you or your family. Hopefully, by reading this and doing your own research, you will make an informed decision before bringing your new dog home!


The first step when deciding to get a new dog is what breed? In order to set yourself and your new dog up for success, the first step is to choose a breed who’s general characteristics fit your lifestyle. It is not to say that every individual dog exhibits the characteristics generally used to describe their breed, but it is a good place to start.

The AKC divides breeds in 7 groups, Sporting, Working, Non Sporting, Herding, Hound, Toy, and Terrier. All breeds are grouped into one of these categories according to their general characteristics, both physical and temperamental, as well as what task they were originally bred for. Some breeds may have characteristics that could fit in multiple groups, while other breeds don’t seem to fit with any of the groups (these breeds fall into the group known as the Non Sporting group).

Sporting dogs include Retrievers, Spaniels, Pointers, and Setters. These dogs were originally bred to work alongside hunters to flush, retrieve, and/or point out game to their human companions. These dogs are normally fairly active, eager to please, and enjoy the water. Most sporting breed dogs will require moderate exercise, but are also happy to spend some time lounging around the house. The ideal home for a sporting breed dog would be one with an owner that is fairly active, has a good amount of free time, and is committed to giving their dog adequate mental stimulation and exercise as a part of their daily routine.

Working dogs include the Doberman, Rottweiler, Giant Schnauzer and Mastiffs. These dogs were originally bred to guard, pull, and rescue, among other tasks. These dogs are large, intelligent, focused, and powerful. All working breed dogs need a job and plentiful structured exercise to be successful in a home. The ideal home for a working breed dog would be one with an owner that is active, willing to invest time and money into training, and is committed to giving their dog a “job” as a part of their daily routine. Plenty of mental stimulation is a must.

Non Sporting dogs include the Bulldog, Poodle, and Chow Chow. These dogs are a mixed bunch that vary in size, energy level, and temperament. If choosing a dog from the Non Sporting group, it is best to do research on the specific breed that interests you. The ideal owner for a non sporting breed dog will vary depending on the given breeds characteristics. Keep in mind, whether you get a Bulldog or a Shiba Inu, all breeds need to be exercised mentally and physically in order to keep their minds and bodies healthy.

Herding dogs include Collies, Shepherds, and Sheepdogs. These dogs were originally bred to move livestock and are very focused on movement. These dogs are very active, highly intelligent, extremely trainable, and engaged in whatever they are doing. A herding breed dog needs a job and lots of structured mental and physical exercise to be successful in a home. The ideal home for a herding breed dog would be one with an owner that is very active, has a home as opposed to an apartment, is willing to invest time and money into training, understands the mental and physical requirements of their breed, and is committed to giving their dog structure and a “job” as a part of their daily routine.

Hound dogs include the Beagle, Greyhound, and Dachshund. These dogs were originally bred to track game for hunters by either sight or scent. These dogs are driven, independent, vocal, and sturdy. The ideal home for a hound breed dog would be one with an owner that lives in a home as opposed to an apartment, is patient but willing to invest in training, and is committed to giving their dog an outlet for their dog’s drive to track as a part of their daily routine.

Toy dogs include the Chihuahua, Pug, and Maltese. Some of these dogs are smaller versions of dogs originally bred to do a specific job, while others were originally bred for companionship. These dogs are small, expressive, and vocal. The ideal home for a toy breed dog would be one with an owner that is committed to treating their dog as a dog, because although they are small and cute, they still need structure, exercise, and rules to be successful.

Terrier dogs include the American Staffordshire Terrier, Airedale Terrier, and Cairn Terrier. These dogs were originally bred to hunt and kill vermin. These dogs are determined, active, and alert. The ideal home for a terrier breed dog is one with an owner that is patient, willing to invest time and money into training, and is committed to giving their dog an appropriate outlet for the dog’s drive.

Mixed breed dogs are a fantastic option for many households. Many mixed breed dogs can have the ideal characteristics (size, color, coat type, energy level, athleticism, work drive, etc) of a variety of breeds, with generally far less health issues than their purebred cousins. The shelter and many rescues are full of great mixed breed dogs that are looking for homes. If you do not have a specific need for a certain breed of dog, be sure to go by your local shelter and meet the many wonderful dogs that are looking for forever homes. Please take into account the dog’s energy level and overall temperament when doing your meet and greets at a shelter. Make sure these things match what you think is ideal for your home before adopting.

If you are struggling to decide on the right breed for yourself and your family, it is important to take certain aspects of your life into consideration. Are you a very active person or do you prefer to lounge inside? Do you work long hours or do you have a fair amount of free time? Do you have children or other pets? Do you live in an apartment or house, in the city or in a more rural area? Are you willing to invest in training? How do you see your dog fitting into your life overall? Answer each of these questions honestly and apply your responses to the ideal criteria for an owner of the above breed groups.

You may notice a trend among some of the characteristics of ideal owners for the breed groups listed above, the main one would be you must have time to commit to your dog. This may sound a bit harsh, but if you work long hours, have a new baby, travel often, or aren’t dedicated to putting time into addressing your dog’s individual needs, then it may not be the ideal time to get a dog. You owe it to your future dog to wait until you can be as committed to their happiness as they will be to yours. It is not to say that some of the ideal owner characteristics above cannot be worked around if you are committed to a dog. Maybe you don’t have much free time or aren’t the most active person but want a Herding or Working breed dog, then you will have to get your dog a backpack to walk with, teach them how to treadmill, or get them involved in a sport (agility, dock diving, flyball, etc) to combat your lifestyle with their needs as a dog and their breed. The bottom line is you have to fulfill the physical and mental exercise needs of your dog to have them be as successful as possible in your home.

Choosing the wrong breed for your household, would not only result in an unhappy dog, but can also result in a variety of behavioral issues that are never fun to deal with and are usually preventable. Digging, excessive barking, herding children or other animals, inappropriate chewing, leash reactivity, separation issues, and anxiety can all be the result of improper or inadequate physical and mental stimulation for your dog’s individual needs.

Energy Level

A dog’s energy can refer to a couple of things, and both are important to consider. A dog’s energy can be thought of as their energy level (high energy, moderate energy, low energy) or as their natural born demeanor (cautious, happy

Although certain breeds may be prone to being a certain energy level, there is always variation among individuals. Classically high energy breed may include, Australian Cattle Dogs, German Shepherds, Siberian Huskies, and German Shorthair Pointers. Classically moderate energy breeds may include Labrador Retriever, Golden Retrievers, American Staffordshire Terriers, and Beagles. Classically low energy breed may include Mastiffs, Bulldogs, Pugs, Great Danes and Greyhounds. Whether you have a low energy dog or a high energy dog, ALL dogs need exercise. Choose a breed that has an energy level that is classically equal to or lower than your own energy level.

All individual dogs have a certain natural born demeanor that they have from birth until death, and although you can manage this demeanor, whatever it might be, you cannot change it. This demeanor will vary among individuals in a breed, and even individuals in the same litter. The vast majority of dogs are what we tend to affectionately call, “happy go lucky”, they go with the flow and are happy to be where they are. With a happy go lucky dog, although you may have the occasional issue with them during their adolescent faze, they are generally going to become great additions to your household. A certain number of individuals are generally more cautious or submissive, they always wait for others to do things first, and will most likely need some confidence building on their way to adulthood to be successful members of the family. Other individual dogs are generally more confident. A confident dog is not an issue, and can be a great quality in a dog that needs to perform a job or has a confident handler, but if unchecked an over confident dog can cause problems in a household. Choose an individual dog with a demeanor that fits your confidence level as an owner and handler. There are many good ways to judge an adult dog or puppy’s natural born demeanor. There are a lot of good articles available online with tests you can perform while meeting a dog to help you assess a dog’s temperament. Read as many as possible, and use as many of these tests as you see necessary to decide on the right dog for you! Attached below are a couple good articles to reference.


Age is another important factor in getting a dog. You can get a great dog without getting a puppy! Contrary to the saying “it’s all about how you raise them”, dogs live in the moment and are always learning, and therefore have an amazing ability to adapt and conform to new lifestyles in new homes and adopt new rules.

We consider dogs to be puppies up until around 8 months of age. From birth to 8 months of age puppies go through many changes and many stages of learning. Having a puppy can be an extremely rewarding journey, but it is also a lot of work. Getting a dog as a puppy provides you with the opportunity to guide your dog into being a great adult, with ideal structure, exercise, and love. However, along with the cuteness, comes potty training, teething, and socializing, all of which have their own sets of challenges and are extremely important. If you are interested in getting a puppy be sure that you have the time for mid day potty breaks, many vet visits for vaccines, socialization and exposure to as many aspects of life as possible, and a lot of patience. A puppy may not be the ideal fit for your household if you work a busy job, have a new baby, travel often, or generally don’t have much time or patience.

Adolescents are dogs aged 8 months to 2.5 years. Adolescents can be the most difficult time in a dog’s life, as they are essentially teenagers. This is the time when dogs reach sexual maturity and subsequently new behavioral issues can arise. At this age, dogs are no longer the natural followers that they were as puppies, and they will start to push their boundaries. Structure and consistency during this phase of a dog’s life is critical to steer dogs successfully into adulthood. Although adolescence can be a trying time for owners, seeing an adolescent dog through to adulthood is a rewarding adventure and allows you to have a great adult dog if you play your cards right.  If you are interested in getting an adolescent dog, be sure you have time to invest in training to learn how to implement the structure and daily mental and physical exercise that your dog will need. The good news is that you will probably be past things like potty training and teething at this age however, adequate time for the dog is still a must!

Adults are dogs 2.5-8 years old. Most adult dogs are past their puppy and adolescent shenanigans and have settled into their own. Adult dogs are certainly trainable, but have definitely had the chance to establish their own set of patterns and habits. An adult dog would be a great choice for your household if you aren’t looking to deal with potty training, teething, or teenage behavior changes. Adult dogs will still require training and exercise, but will require less intense management than your adolescents or puppies.

Seniors are dogs 8+ years old. Just because a dog is technically considered a senior doesn’t mean that they don’t still have years left to live! When looking for a dog, be sure to consider bringing an older dog into your home if you want a dog that is more settled into their ways and spends a bit more time relaxing than on the go.

This post was authored by Kathryn Nilsson.