Selecting the Right Pet

How not to become a statistic: the importance of careful dog selection

In 2014-2015, 6,765 dogs were euthanised by the RSPCA in Australia, and 4,700 – nearly 70%, that is – of these were put down due to behavioural issues. Now, assuming that such a vast number of dogs weren’t born to be bad, this tells us something: dogs are often damaged beyond salvation by the environment they grow up in. Homes that weren’t appropriate for them.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that there were 4,700 dogs snatched from the claws of some malicious Cruella De Vil. Whilst too high a number of these dogs came from people who shouldn’t be allowed to have pets at all, many came from well-intentioned owners who suddenly had realised that what was once an adorable fluff ball had grown up to become a compulsive gnawer/barker/biter/chaser/bed-wetter/generally-impossible-to-keep-in-a-civilised-society beast. And at that point, since they didn’t have Cesar the dog whisperer on speed dial, it was too late.

This little blog post is all about ensuring that such a devastating realisation never hits you, and that you instead end up with a soul mate who is just as interested in quiet home life/daily marathons/boisterous baby play/hunting/truffle-digging as you are. Because if you love life and you love dogs, chances are that there is just the right kind of dog for you.

First off, however, let’s get some basic questions out of the way. So, you love dogs, but will you love having a dog? You won’t necessarily get to sleep in much anymore. On occasion, you’re likely to find yourself with a new wallpaper pattern, complete with soil samples from the local park. Holidays will be in the company of your new friend – or, alternatively, tinged with guilt. Also, there will be hair. And sccchlobbbber. And a new ecosystem of expenses.

Still reading? Good. We’re on the same page. You decidedly want a dog. First box ticked.

Next: puppy or grown dog? Many would consider that getting a dog means getting a puppy, and the first time in a dog’s life can indeed be extremely rewarding. But puppies come with a number of challenges that are, hopefully, in the past for a grown dog. Housebreaking, gnawing on everything in sight, commuting to the vet for deworming and vaccinations: a dog will never keep you as busy as it will during its first year of life. Unless you have a lot of spare time, a puppy might not be the right choice for you.

So much for the more mechanistic aspects of growing up. Then there’s the development of a personality that can be very hard to guess at the puppy stage. Sure, dogs of the same breed tend to share certain character traits, and your treatment of the puppy will affect its personality to a degree, but there’s no way of knowing what the end result is before you have, well, the end result.

The same can be said about certain physical traits. Grown size, for one. It’s a lot easier to guess in purebred puppies; with mixed breeds you run a much greater risk of the whole affair blowing out of proportion, so to speak. With a grown dog, on the other hand, you’ll naturally know what to expect. (Because you’re no longer expecting it; you’re looking at it. We are famous for our deep and insightful kernels of wisdom here at PetListings.)

Ditto for some debilitating – and, potentially, economically crippling – health conditions. Take hip dysplasia, for example. It’s a pretty common, pretty painful and pretty expensive degenerative condition, for which there is no complete cure. And X-rays of your puppy won’t tell whether it will have a propensity for developing hip dysplasia. Since it’s largely hereditary, you can check the hip scores of its parents for some strong indications, but not even that will be 100% foolproof. Again, only looking at a more mature dog will give you the answer.

Puppy, grown dog, puppy, grown dog, puppy, grown dog… unless you’ve got your answer from the above, it’s time to start pulling off flower petals.

However you arrive at your decision, should you end up buying a grown dog (hooray!), go to a shelter and pick out a rescue animal (good on ya!). It’s a choice you’ll never regret. Or at least the dog will never regret it.

We’re not at all partial here at PetListings, but get a rescue dog, ok? You get to look deep into the eyes of a desperate soul and whisper, Cesar-style: “I love you and I’m going to get you out of this place”. Adopting usually results in a really strong relationship, too. Dogs aren’t stupid, and they won’t forget who saved their life. You’ll have good karma peaking all around.

Right. Sorry. No more of that. Moving on.

Next: big dog or small dog? The idea that large dogs absolute need mansions or big yards is a myth. Given enough exercise, they will most likely be happy to lounge with you in your city studio the rest of the time. Some small dogs will actually require much more activity than larger ones. A Yorkshire Terrier is small enough, but it’s got the energy of the Duracell Bunny and might agree a lot less with a sedentary home-body lifestyle than a giant St Bernard, which will sleep 16-18 hours a day.

It’s also incorrect to say that a big dog requires a well-built owner to control them. With the right touch, even little old ladies can be perfect masters of large dogs. Showing who’s boss isn’t about physical size or strength. If it is, you’re doing something wrong, and your 45-kg Rottweiler is likely to have you for breakfast, should you ever slack off at the gym.

But there are other aspects to big dogs to consider. Costs of surgery, medicine and food go up, for instance, and there are practical details like having to give up the backseat or boot of the car when going on road trips or that little children may go flying like bowling pins when your Great Dane gets playful. Common sense stuff, really. Think BIG, and it’ll come to you.

Then there’s the question of male or female, which many prospect dog owners never think to ask themselves. Males do tend to be more confident and dominant, and females are usually more quiet and affectionate. That’s broadly speaking, of course. Every dog is different.

Now, finally, we’re down to breeds. (Let’s forget about the mutts for the moment; you can read more about the purebred/crossbred/mutt discussion here.) There are 170+ formally recognised breeds out there, and many of them have been bred for quite particular purposes. You’ll find guard dogs, bird dogs (not the flying type, but the one that flushes out pheasants for the Duke of York, you know), water dogs, cattle dogs, search dogs and so forth. They are all specialists of their trade.

If you do have a particular purpose in mind, your range of choices will be a lot more restricted, and you’ll no doubt get all the advice you need from your fellow enthusiasts. But the point here is this: if you’re getting a dog for companionship alone, you can go with almost any breed as long as you give the dog the exercise it requires. If you connect with a gun dog like Weimaraner Long Hair, go for it. You won’t have to be out shooting pigs all day to keep it happy. Just be prepared that you’ll need to stay more active than you would with, say, a Pekingese.

There are numerous breed-to-lifestyle matching generators out there. You can give the ones at Pedigree or Optimum a spin for now (soon, you’ll find a breed selector right here at PetListings). This blog post isn’t meant to take you all the way. Rather, we wanted to give you some food for thought, so that you’ll take the time required to ensure that your new furry friend will become a friend for life and not another “rehomed” statistic.

Choose wisely.