Secrets To Picking The Right Dog Breed

To sustain this free service, we receive affiliate commissions via some of our links. This doesn’t affect rankings. Our review process.

Man with dog jumping on him (caption: How To Pick A Dog Breed)Picking the right dog breed for you should not be taken lightly. The decision should involve the entire family and take many factors in to account. When it comes to choosing a pup, it is always crucial to research the dog you are seeking.

Whether choosing to adopt from an animal shelter, a breed rescue or a breeder, the journey cannot begin until you have selected which type of dog to get.

Article Overview

How To Pick The Right Dog Breed

Many factors go into choosing the right dog breed. Some of these critical considerations include:

  • Compatibility with children
  • Energy level
  • Size
  • Working vs. nonworking breeds
  • Grooming care
  • Special needs

Some families go in knowing that they want a working dog that can perform search and rescue with a designated handler. Some want a breed that sheds less than others. And, some choose a breed that has lower energy levels.

Dog Breed Selection Checklist

While there are many criteria to consider, these are among the most popular ones:

  • Age
  • Coat length
  • Shedding
  • Activity level
  • Size
  • Family-oriented nature
  • Trainability/intelligence

A Dog’s Age

Age can play a large part in determining the right dog for you. If there are young toddlers in the house you may be better suited to a grown dog that will not teethe on your young children and their toys. Another plus in picking a grown dog is that the rescues and breeders may be able to tell you how the dog interacts with children.

On that note, some families choose to adopt a new puppy that can grow up with their child. With obedience classes, this arrangement can work just as well as adopting a fully grown dog.

Age is also a factor in a dog’s energy level. If you are looking for a running companion, selecting a senior dog is not the right option for you. However, if you are looking for a more sedate dog, then an older dog may be a better choice.

Coat Length And Shedding

Dog sitting next to vacuumSome family members may be particularly sensitive to certain varieties of fur. While there is no such thing as a hypoallergenic dog (the allergen is in the saliva, not the coat), some allergies are made worse by long-haired dogs.

Some dogs shed considerably less than others. For example, a Dachshund sheds a lot less than a Collie.

Hair shedding is not always a matter of allergies. It can be a matter of housekeeping. If you are looking for a dog that won’t leave you running around with a vacuum twice a day, you may prefer a short-haired dog.

As a general rule, dogs with longer coats shed more than those with shorter coats and dogs with wire hair shed less than dogs with silky coats.

Find the best vacuum for pet hair

Activity Level

Families who live in an apartment are not well suited to dogs with high energy levels unless the owners are dedicated to providing an adequate amount of exercise. Many families start with this intention and wind up dropping the ball. A high energy dog without any outlet for their energy will likely become bored and destructive.

If your family has its heart set on a specific breed, it is worth considering an older dog of the desired type.

Working Dog Breeds = High EnergyGolden in woods

In general, working dog breeds have high energy levels. Working dog breeds are one of the AKC classifications. Other classes include sporting, hound, terrier, toy, non-sporting, herding, and miscellaneous.

Dog Size

A dog’s size includes both its height and weight. Families living in a small apartment should consider a smaller dog. If you have small children, be careful when selecting a giant breed. While breeds like Mastiffs can be graceful and gentle with children, they also do not realize the sheer enormity of their size and can easily knock down small children.

Likewise, small breeds that are trained for herding or ratting can nip at children’s heels in an attempt to corral them like sheep. In most cases, it is possible to train this behavior out. So it shouldn’t be a reason to write off a breed.

When selecting a mixed breed puppy from a shelter, there is no way to be sure what size a dog will be once it is full grown. However, shelter officials can often help you determine the approximate size of your fully grown dog by guessing which breeds make up the dog.

Family-Oriented NatureFamily petting dog

Some dogs are naturally good with children. The Labrador Retriever is primarily known for its loving nature towards all. However, some dogs are not as good with children. An Alaskan Malamutes is intended for outdoor work and is not very content indoors with a family.

This is not to say that all Alaskan Malamutes will not be good with children, nor is it to say that all Labradors are great with children. But, generally speaking, some breeds mesh better with a family that contains young children than others.

Find the best guard dogs for families

Trainability And IntelligenceDog next to computer: What Are The Smartest Dog Breeds?

If you are looking for a dog to go on walks with you, you want it to heel. If you are looking for a dog to catch a frisbee, you will need to know it is smart enough to be trained to do so. The examples go on and on. Thus, the brighter the dog, the more trainable it is, in many cases.

But, some dogs are almost too smart for their own good. This makes them stubborn and challenging to train.

Get to know the smartest dog breeds

Dog Breed Selection Interactive Tool

We recently discovered this interactive breed selection tool to help you narrow down the best dog type for you. This gives you more information as you head into the exciting phase of meeting new dogs!

Visit Your Local Animal Shelter Or Rescue Group

Many families frequent the local animal shelter and pick out a dog they fall in love with. This is a perfect way to incorporate the whole family in your decision. Animal rescue organizations temporarily house pets that are homeless and are seeking their forever home. These shelters tend to have lower adoption fees than a breeder or pet store, and you won’t have to worry about the corruption of a possible puppy mill.

Dog in cage at shelterAfter evaluating what you are looking for, you can begin frequenting your local shelter and working with the staff there. Let them know exactly what you are looking for in your future dog.

The great thing about adopting from an animal shelter is that your new pup will leave room for another homeless animal when you bring it home. And you get a wide selection, with your pick of the age, size, temperament, etc. You can choose the dog who you truly connect with.

Fostering a local rescue pup may also be a great way to get your family used to the idea of caring for a dog before you adopt. It will also help keep a dog alive longer than may happen in the shelter since it opens up an extra space for another dog in need.

Why consider adopting from a rescue organization

Try A Local Rescue Group

Some people choose to go with a local rescue group instead of a shelter. Most, but not all, rescues specialize in specific breeds. So it is essential to research what breed would be the best match for you before contacting rescues. Nearly every breed has a rescue organization dedicated to it, and usually, each one has a division throughout the Northeast, Southeast, Central, and Western United States.

Like a shelter, rescue organizations generally have a great gauge of the dog you will be selecting. Since rescue organizations generally foster all of their dogs to volunteers for a selected time period they are able to give you a full picture of the dog you are looking at.

Another plus to selecting your dog from a rescue is that you can get a purebred dog of any age. Often times the older dogs are partially or fully trained when they come home to you.

Tips For Using A Breeder

If you know which breed of dog you are looking for, you may choose to go straight to a breeder. It is critical to research many breeders and ask as many questions as possible when shopping for a purebred dog. Many websites offer lists of questions to ask a potential breeder.

Carefully review the certifications of the dog’s lineage. When you are paying a large amount of money for a new dog or puppy, you must ensure its health by checking over hip, elbow and eye certifications. You should also ask about the health of both parents to make sure that there are no major health problems in the lineage.

Share details about your lifestyle and what you are looking for in a dog. By understanding your needs, a breeder will be able to assess new puppies in terms of their dominance, shyness and  overall personalities. These factors are easy for a breeder to determine as they watch the puppies develop during their first few months of life.

Make sure that you read the contract that your breeder gives you to sign before completion of the purchase. Most often, a breeder’s contract will stipulate that your dog must be spayed or neutered and that if you ever need to give up your dog, it must be returned to the breeder. In general, purchasing a dog from a breeder is more costly and comes with more stipulations than a rescue.

Learn How To Find A Reputable Breeder

Take Your Time. It’s A Long-Term Decision

Girl at animal shelter with dog in cage (caption: How To Adopt A Dog)Choosing the right dog and breed can take a lot of work and a lot of planning. But, why shouldn’t it be a time consuming “project”? After all, bringing a dog home is a decision that can last as long as sixteen or more years.

Things to consider before you adopt

Deciding which traits and breeds you like best is a great way to get started in picking your new family member. But, much like people, dogs are individuals. Each dog has its own personality,  likes and dislikes, etc.

So, ideally, picking out your dog should involve multiple visits. Most shelters and rescues, as well as breeders, require that potential families visit their new dog at least twice before bringing it home so that you are fully aware of the dog that you are getting.

The most significant factor in bringing home your new dog and creating a happy and healthy home is patience. Make sure to take your time and do your research. Then, you will be well on your way to picking the best dog for you and your family.

What’s your favorite breed and why do you love it so much?

About The Author:

Michelle holds an MBA from Vanderbilt University and has worked in marketing at Bank of America, Mattel and Hanes. Her expert advice and opinions have appeared in many outstanding media outlets, including The New York Times' Wirecutter, Forbes, People, Reader's Digest and Apartment Therapy, among others.

She is the proud co-founder of Canine Journal and a dog lover through and through. Since the day she was born, she has lived in a home full of dogs. Her adult home is no exception where she and her husband live with Lily and Barley, their two adorable rescue pups.

In addition to her love for snuggling with dogs, she also has enjoyed working professionally in the canine field since 1999 when she started her first dog-related job at a dog bakery.

Disclaimer: This website contains reviews, opinions and information regarding products and services manufactured or provided by third parties. We are not responsible in any way for such products and services, and nothing contained here should be construed as a guarantee of the functionality, utility, safety or reliability of any product or services reviewed or discussed. Please follow the directions provided by the manufacturer or service provider when using any product or service reviewed or discussed on this website.

Notify of
Oldest Most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Ellie Davis
January 21, 2020 11:31 am

I liked that you mentioned the age, size, and activity level are one of the most important factors to consider before choosing the right puppy for your family. My wife and I are thinking about getting a dog for our kids, and we are looking for advice to choose the right one. I will let her know about your recommendations to choose the right dog for our family.

Ellie Davis
November 1, 2019 1:46 pm

I liked that you mentioned one of the most basic factors in selecting a dog is the size. My husband and I are thinking about getting a dog for our children, and we are looking for advice. I will let him know about the benefits of considering the size to choose the right dog for our family.

Dino Violante
August 8, 2018 10:42 pm

Thank you for emphasizing the importance of researching a lot about the breeder and asking all of the necessary questions if they want to have a purebred dog. How will I do that? Should I check their websites? Or should I ask testimonies from previous customers? This is really important because I want a purebred poodle to give to my sister. I need someone reliable to give one to me because I do not know what it really looks like.

May 17, 2018 4:22 pm

I never thought about if there was a dog breed that was too smart! I am glad you mentioned it because I can see how that could make them hard to train. Do you have a list of breeds that are organized according to the distinction you have made here?

Sadie Cornelius
May 18, 2018 1:13 pm
Reply to  Jay

Jay, yes we have a smartest dog breed article that points out the most intelligent breeds.

John Lawrence
January 18, 2017 8:22 am

Yes it’s true that picking the right dog breed id very important. You need to consider the space, environment and many more. Thanks for this article.

May 2, 2012 9:33 am

Which dog breed is right for you? This is the main question that each person must answer for themselves before taking the huge step of choosing a dog as a pet. As this author points out, this question is actually quite involved and difficult to really answer.

The first thing to consider is what type of dog you think you would like. Do like large breeds or small breeds? Are you more attracted to a certain type of dog due to their mannerisms or style? This is as good a place to start as any.

Now consider your lifestyle. If you are runner and want a dog that will enjoy going out with you every morning, then take this information and add it to the mix. On the other hand, I think it would be a bad idea to think that if you get a high energy dog who likes to run that you will be motivated to add this to you routine every day (or at the very least several times a week). Be very committed to this routine change or else you might find yourself with a dog that has so much pent up energy they start climbing the walls or going crazy!

Also think about your living situation. If you live in a large home with a nice sized backyard you will be able to comfortably add a number of different types of breeds. On the other hand, if you live in the city in a high rise or other small apartment, you should probably not be considering one of the large breeds. Just match the type of dog to your living situation.

Another important step to take when doing your research is to avoid some of the more common misconceptions. These includes old sayings which indicate that the Dalmatian is an excellent breed for children (in reality they can have some very sour moods which may lead to a bit of aggressive behavior…certainly not the ideal breed for being around children).

These tips should start to give you some ideas about a list of breeds which might be right for you. From here, you can examine them in more detail. Maybe even consider going to an animal shelter and taking a look at a few of the different dog breeds and see which ones are available. Also take into consideration any input given by other members of the family.

The bottom line with selecting the right breed of dog is that you simply must match your wishes, needs and desires with the type of dog. You are looking first of all for a good fit. This entails some good and accurate information. Focus on doing your own research and do not believe everything that people tell you (especially the ones who are looking to sell you something). Once you feel that you have enough information start thinking about possible breeds. Maybe even start to get some input from your family members. Then, once the field has been narrowed down to a few select breeds, maybe visit an animal shelter and start looking at some possibilities.

April 30, 2012 4:44 am

If you have a house out in the country with a lot of land or a big yard, then by all means go ahead and get one of the larger breeds. On the other hand, if you are in a small apartment, a smaller breed of dog is probably more appropriate for your situation.

Finally, focus on the general nature and temperament of the dog breed. Make sure you research this thoroughly, since there are many misconceptions about which breeds are well mannered (and which are not). For example, a Dalmation is usually thought to be an excellent breed for children. However, this is not the case. In reality, they can be high-strung, have a very up and down nature and have been known to snap and bite on a fairly regular basis.

April 29, 2012 6:15 am

The size of the dog may have an effect on whether they are the right fit for you and your family. This includes both the height and weight of the breed. If you have small children, it is probably not a good idea to have an Alaskan Husky or a Mastiff. These breeds may indeed intend to be gentle (and they both certainly can be), but they are just simply so big that they do not realize their own size and strength. They can unwittingly hurt or injure small children.

We have also found that it is impossible to ever completely remove all the hair. Also, it will get in your car; we eventually had to put either sheets or blankets on the seats, confine her to the back seat and then regularly change and clean them. It was far more trouble than we had bargained for. Nevertheless, we all loved her. If you want to have the same challenges, than by all means pick a breed that is known to shed frequently and have a great time picking up and cleaning after them!

I also think that the activity level (or energy level) of the particular dog breed you are considering is a hugely important factor. You really need to think about your personality also. When you come home from work after a long day, do you want to spend time in active play with your dog, or would you rather sit down and relax? A high activity and energy level dog breed that has been cooped up all day eagerly expecting your arrival will be very disappointed if you are not ready to engage in some active play, at least for a while.

Also think about your lifestyle and living arrangements. If you live in an apartment in a big city, it may not be a great fit to have a high energy breed. On the other hand, if you are a runner or some other type of athlete, it may work if you intend to take the little one along on your runs or other workouts. Now, you must be committed to doing this, not just trying out a new type of physical routine. Your dog is who he is, and this energy level will not change simply because you have decided that running every other day is becoming too difficult. The author also points out that a ‘working’ type of dog breed generally means a high energy level.

April 26, 2012 7:19 am

As a dog owner, picking the correct breed is one of the most important decisions you can make. This decision should involve not only you, but also the entire family, since everyone will need to live together with the new dog. Make the right choice, and elicit the help and opinions of everyone in the family and they will all feel like they were a part of the decision.

My thought is that including the entire family is a great way to do this. All kinds of studies have shown that the more people are allowed to participate in an important decision, the more involved in the process the feel. This can also lead to a much greater sense of satisfaction once the decision is finally made. This is especially true for younger family members. Kids typically feel left out of most major decisions. Being included could actually make the difference between having them be a willing participant in helping to learn how to take care of the new dog. This could also teach them the value of animals and lessons about learning to care for others and treating everyone (animals as well as people) with greater love and respect. These are all certainly traits which we want to see in our children.

There are a number of factors which should be taking into consideration when deciding upon which breed of dog to choose. Obviously, some of the specific factors will be determined by your particular situation. If you have children, then how compatible a certain breed is with children will be very important for your evaluation (and much less important if you are a confirmed bachelor just looking for a good loyal companion). Some of the additional factors to be considered include the age of the dog, coat length and shedding, activity level, size of the breed and their general nature.

The first factor is the age of the dog. While this does not really relate to picking a specific breed, it does play a big role in influencing many of the other factors. For example, an older dog will likely have more mild and calm nature. Also, choosing an older dog will mean that you do not need to worry about things like the pet biting your toddler because they are teething or just not have been house broken.

You may also want to think about the coat length and how the dog will shed. Personally, this is a big area of concern with my family. In our mind, there is nothing worse than a dog which is always shedding and leaves hair everywhere. Not only are they incredibly difficult to clean up after, if you are not careful this can lead to some strange smells throughout the house.

Hannah Neilson
May 10, 2018 6:35 pm
Reply to  Anonymous

I agree that you want to consider how active your dog is before choosing them. It would be good to find one that is as active as you. My husband and I are looking for a new dog, so we’ll have to find one that has a good activity level.