Picking the Right Puppy

Adding a puppy to the family isn't a decision to be taken lightly. A healthy dog can live for a long time -- beyond 14 years, depending on the breed. Making a lifetime commitment to a dog is a little easier when you think about how your canine pal will fit into your family. Picking the right puppy starts with evaluating your lifestyle and how a dog will fit into it.

Woman holding puppy
Woman holding puppy outside.
credit: David De Lossy/Photodisc/Getty Images

Roommates for Life

The first question to ask yourself is who your puppy will live with. If it's just you, you have a little more flexibility in your choice than if you have a spouse, children or other pets. For example, if you have small children, they may play too rough with some of the toy breeds. A dog with a herding heritage may want to herd your kids by nipping at their heels. Some breeds have a strong prey drive, potentially putting other pets, such as cats, birds and pet rodents, at risk. Respecting your potential puppy's breed history is wise. Though he may not be working for a living, it's difficult -- sometimes impossible -- for a dog to not act on his instinctive tendencies.

Environment is Key

Where you live is important when you pick your pup. If home is a studio apartment, rethink taking on a large or giant breed. A house with a fenced yard is helpful for a dog with a high energy level, no matter how large or small he is. If you plan to keep your dog outside, you should reconsider having a dog. Dogs are pack animals, and when separated from their pack can become destructive and frustrated. Living a life outdoors puts a dog at risk for illness and injury from other people and animals.

Experienced or a Novice?

If you're an old hand at raising and training dogs, you understand how to establish yourself as the leader of the pack and deal with challenging behavior. However, if this is your first dog, think about the breed's personality and intelligence. Some breeds are more responsive to training than others, just as some are more stubborn. A confident owner with some dog history is better suited to take on a strong-willed chow chow. A novice may have better luck with a golden retriever, known for his gentle, eager-to-please nature.

Lifestyle Quiz

If you and the family are always on the go, choose a breed that will enjoy going keeping up and going along for the ride. For example, the English bulldog won't work if you enjoy water life because he can't swim, but the Labrador will be happy to go along for the ride. If you envision puttering around in the garden with your pup by your side, steer clear of many of the terriers, who by their nature can't resist digging. If your idea of fun is spending the weekend binge-watching television, you'll have a frustrated, and potentially destructive, Dalmatian. Finally, if you're often out and about, consider whether it's the right time to add a puppy to the mix.

Time and Money

Any dog requires maintenance; just as you have to have your annual physical and regular haircuts, every dog requires attention. Purebred dogs often have health concerns associated with their breeds; some dogs are prone to hip dysplasia, epilepsy, eye and breathing problems, as well as a host of other conditions. That doesn't mean your chosen pup will experience problems, however, he will require regular veterinary checkups and a good, nutritious diet. Some dogs require regular grooming, which means you may spend some time with a set of grooming clippers or a brush, depending on your pup's coat and what he gets into.

The Final Pick

Once you have an idea of how your puppy will fit into your life, you can choose between a purebred or mixed-breed dog. There is no guarantee that a specific breed of dog will be exactly what you dream of when he grows up; you'll have to work with your pup to show him the way. If you can, observe your potential partner with his litter mates. Watch how he plays and look for cues to see if he has dominance or fear issues. Pay attention to how he looks; his eyes should be bright and clear, his coat clean and healthy and his gait steady. He should be alert and energetic, as well as curious about his surroundings.