Choosing the right puppy for your family

Wanaka Sun column by dog behaviourist Leone Ward

Often I go to a behaviour consult with a family where the puppy/dog they have chosen is not suited to the family or their lifestyle. When choosing a dog, it’s important to look beyond superficial attraction to make the right choice for your family.

This can be tricky because we are often swayed by the wrong things. We look at how cute they look, or that they are small or large without understanding temperament, breed tendencies, exercise and training requirements.

Before you rush in, research potentially suitable breeds and, if you can, spend time with the kind of dog you are considering. Explore breed characteristics and talk to family and friends who own dogs. Here are some key things to consider.

Consider family dynamics: is a baby on the cards, or might an elderly relative come to stay? Under-fives need careful supervision with any dog, but some breeds are more comfortable around children.  

Some dogs have a stronger prey or chase instinct and young children running around squealing in excitement can lead to a chase and often end in a bite.

Dogs need space to move from room to room and even small dogs, such as Jack Russell Terriers, need lots of space as they are so active.  

Section space can be smaller but consider proximity to neighbours, barking issues if they are left alone or people walking past.  Some dogs can become quite territorial or have fear issues and will bark at any movement they can see.

Breed characteristics can be revealing – so do your homework. Consider where a breed originates, the climate it is used to and most importantly the job it was bred to do.

All dogs need exercise and daily interaction with their owners, and do not like being left alone for long periods. A dog that is bored, stressed or frustrated can become very destructive. Working breeds, including the German Shepherd and Golden Retriever, need plenty of exercise, as do many terriers and even toy breeds need daily walks.

Some breeds are more responsive to training than others – for example, Labradors, and Golden Retrievers are instinctively compliant, and Poodles learn things very quickly. But people often mistakenly think that large breeds need more training than small ones. That’s probably because people tend to be more lenient with small dogs.  

A small dog nipping someone is often considered “not a big deal” but if that were a Rottweiler it would be considered totally unacceptable.  Of course, it is unacceptable for any dog to nip and should be addressed very quickly.

Once a dog becomes an adult, it’s very difficult to change bad habits and you could easily find yourself being ruled by an aggressive small dog. Training is vital from the time you bring your puppy home and consistency is the way to get results.  

An “outside” dog is usually not trained as well as it does not have the interaction with family and is not expected to learn social rules.

If you want a dog to be outside all the time and you are not out there with them in that environment (e.g. farming) then reconsider getting a dog. They are social animals and desire our company.  It’s often a lonely life for an outside family dog.

Some non-moulting breeds include Maltese, Yorkshire terrier, Miniature Schnauzer, Poodle and Shih-tzu.  If a family member is allergy-prone, choose a breed with a coat that is “hairy” rather than “furry”.

As strange as it sounds, if you are house-proud, you might be better with a long-haired breed.  Long hair sheds, but is easily removed with a daily vacuum. Short hair, on the other hand, will weave itself into clothes and upholstery and can become impossible to remove.

Whatever dog you choose make sure it suits your family, take full responsibility, don’t expect children to train a dog and remember a dog is for life, so let’s make sure you and your dog have the very best relationship.

For information or canine behaviour assistance contact

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