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Multi-Dog Household Series: How to Choose the Right Dog

You have decided that you are ready to add a dog to your household. You have weighed all the pros and cons, determined that your existing dogs are okay with a new family member or that you are willing to manage if they aren’t okay, and now it’s time to start looking. Congratulations!! It is always exciting to add a new member to a family. Now, it’s time for the next question: How do you choose the right dog for your family?

It is much easier when you are selecting a solo dog. Even when you are adopting with an existing pet in the house, advice I hear a lot is to go to a shelter, walk through the kennels and see who speaks to you. It is advice I have given in the past, and it’s how 4 of the 5 animals in my home have ended up there. It’s not necessarily bad advice, especially if you are selecting a solo dog. However, when you are adding to an existing household sometimes we must take a more practical approach.

The downside to the “let them pick you” approach is one I live with every day. I have ended up three times with dogs who don’t exactly fit my lifestyle. Especially the first time around! I ended up with a dog that I ended up changing my entire lifestyle, and even my career. Not everyone is in a position to do that. When we recently went from 3 dogs to 4 dogs in our home, we decided to be more thoughtful and really make sure we were adding a dog that would be a good fit for us. It has been the easiest addition to our home I think we have ever had.

So how do you find this dog? What is the approach if not to just go see what’s out there? We’re going to break this down into three parts.

Part One: What kind of dog do you want to live with?

The first thing I want you to do when thinking about what kind of dog you want to live with is take appearance and breed out of the picture to begin with. We sometimes get fixated on a certain appearance and breed and no matter how terrible a fit it is for our lifestyle and what we want to live with, it’s hard to make the right choice because we are already so invested.

A great example of this are Corgis. A lot of people want Corgis, and who can blame them? They are adorable, dynamic dogs with huge personalities in a small package! What people don’t always know, or truly understand is that they are still hardcore herding dogs who need a lot of training and exercise. As such they aren’t always the best fit for the average pet household.

So the first thing to focus on when you are trying to figure out the right dog for you, are personality traits and other similar things. As you narrow down those traits you can then start determining breeds or breed types that fit into that spectrum.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself as you are thinking through this.

  • How much exercise can I provide this dog?

  • What kind of energy level do I want to live with?

  • How much training do I want to put into this dog?

  • Do I want to do a dog sport?

  • Would it be for fun or do I want to compete someday?

  • Am I okay living with a dog that barks a lot?

  • Do I want to deal with lots of grooming or shedding?

  • Am I willing to work with a dog through behavior problems?

  • How severe?

  • Are there children in my household?

  • If yes, how old are they and what is their typical interaction with dogs?

  • If no, is there a chance there will be in the future, are there children that come over at times but don’t live in the house?

  • Is there a way to keep the dogs and kids separate safely when you cannot watch them?

When you are thinking about energy levels and exercise needs, think about your average to busy weeks. Don’t base what you will be able to provide a dog with your ideal week, because that won’t happen very often. For example, what my border collie really needs on an ideal week is two to three one hour hikes a week, plus at least four days with at least 30-45 minutes of training and one additional training outing. That level of activity doesn’t happen very often. Typically her week consists of two 45 minute hikes, and three days with about 30 minutes of training. We compensate with other enrichment activities, but we also just accept that there are some days she is going to be more difficult to live with and she might spend most of her day in the backyard being entertained by squirrels.

Activity level and training requirements are the biggest areas that I see people overestimate what they will be able to commit. Be realistic with your estimations and know that even if what you can offer is very small, there will still be a dog out there for you, they just might not be exactly what you pictured physically. Begin to think about age and size as well as you work through the questions. If you want a couch potato buddy who won't ever get over 20lbs, you will be better off looking at an adult dog versus a puppy. No matter what dog you get, puppies are energetic and need lots of training and focus. Plus, you can never guarantee the adult size of a puppy so if size is extremely important, looking at an adult dog makes the most sense.

Part Two: What kind of dog does your dog want to live with?

As we talked about in our last post, if you are looking at creating a multi-dog household then you are not the only one whose opinion matters in this situation. We need to make sure that the existing dogs who already live in your home will be comfortable with the new addition. Think about the dogs your dog enjoys playing and sharing their space with. What do those qualifications look like? Does your dog prefer:

  • Smaller or larger dogs

  • Female dogs or male dogs

  • Young pups or older dogs

  • High energy or low energy

To give you an example, here are Oliver’s qualifications for dogs who share his home:

  • Smaller than him (30lbs)

  • Females

  • Lower energy dogs who do not directly want to play with him

  • Older dogs are typically better

Age and size are important factors for our dogs as well. If your dog prefers to share space with a lower energy dog, or has a specific play style that they prefer when playing with other dogs, considering an adult dog may be safer. When you start with a puppy, you never really know what you are going to get personality wise as they grow up. If your existing dog is very particular about the type of canine personalities they enjoy, adopting an adult dog can help make sure you don’t have any major clashes in that area. You also cannot guarantee the adult size of a puppy. Some dogs definitely prefer dogs who are around their size, or will get nervous around particularly large dogs.

Once you have your list of qualifications, and your dogs list of qualifications, we are ready to start defining what kind of dog we are looking for. Take your two lists and combine them into one list. See if there is overlap anywhere, or if there are any compromises that you need to make on your list to accommodate your dogs preferences, or any compromises your dog will need to make. If your dog really enjoys high energy dogs but you would prefer a lower energy dog, lower energy should be on the final list. If you would like a giant breed dog but your dog gets nervous around dogs larger than them, then a dog of similar size to your existing dog should be on the final list. Find the common ground, and the compromises that are in the best interest of both of you.

Now that you have your final list you can start researching breeds that might be a good fit for your list, and looking at rescues and shelters! In the next part of this series we will address Part Three of How to Choose the Right Dog: Where to Find the Right Dog! If you need help making your list, let us know. We are always here to help!

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