Choosing a Dog Breed for Your Family: 13 Things to Consider

Carefully choosing a dog that matches your needs and preferences before adopting can greatly reduce the risk of returning them to the shelter.

Updated February 21, 2024
Woman hugging her cute pug at the park

Choosing the right dog breed isn't a straightforward task since no single breed fits every situation perfectly. Even though dogs of the same breed might act differently, knowing about the breed can clue you into what the dog might be like and what it might need, from puppyhood to full-grown. Getting a handle on these details is key to making sure the dog you choose is a great fit for their new home.

What to Consider When Choosing a Dog Breed

Four of the most important factors to consider when choosing a dog breed include temperament, size, overall cost, and the needs and preferences of individual family members. 

Think About the Breed's Temperament

The first consideration that most people evaluate when choosing a dog breed is general temperament. Some breeds are considered more outgoing and friendly, while others are more prone to displaying aggression. Which breed a family chooses depends on their needs.

If they're looking for a guard dog or protective animal, a territorial or protective breed may be suitable. If, on the other hand, they're interested in a dog that will wander up to cuddle everyone, more easygoing breeds are a better choice.

Do You Want a Protective or Social Breed?

Black young man petting his fluffy Pomeranian dog at the park

Labs and golden retrievers are good examples of easy-going dog breeds. They're often more likely to attack strangers with kisses than growls. If someone is searching for a guard dog, though, protective breeds like German shepherds, Chesapeake Bay retrievers, or doberman pinschers would be a wiser choice.

Need to Know

Check the breeds list on your homeowner's insurance policy. Some breeds might cause your policy costs to rise. 

Consider Different Breed Traits

Grab a notepad and a pen. If you already have a particular dog in mind, or certain breeds in mind, jot down what each dog's temperament is like. You'll be able to compare them easier once they're all written down. Temperament characteristics to examine include:

  • Territorial nature and protectiveness
  • Energy, activity level, and playfulness
  • Intelligence
  • Loyalty
  • Sensitivity
  • Compatibility with other animals

Find Information About the Breed

Breeders, books on different dog breeds, and stats from the American Temperament Test Society can give you a basic idea of a breed's general behavior, helping you narrow down the choices. But even then, the most reliable way to understand a breed's temperament is by personally spending time with them.

It's important to remember that there's a lot of variation in personality and behavior among individual dogs, even if they're from the same breed. 

Need to Know

Most rescues or shelters have rooms where you can bring the dog you're considering so you can get a feel for one another and see if it would be a good match. 

Decide on an Approximate Size Before Visiting the Shelter

Naturally, larger breeds like great Danes and Newfies require more space both inside the home and outside for exercise. Smaller dog breeds like Chihuahuas, Maltese, or toy poodles are more suitable for smaller environments, including apartments, senior care centers, and mobile homes. 

Need to Know

Some medium or large dog breeds can also be good for apartments or seniors looking for loving pups. 

Look Beyond the Initial Cost

All dogs, no matter what their size, temperament, or breed, require a multitude of supplies, like toys, a collar, leashes, and a crate (if you're crate training). But there's a common misconception that the initial costs of adopting a dog are the biggest concern.

Truth be told, that could be the easiest part to cover financially. It's important to shift your focus from the initial cost of bringing a rescue dog home to the costs of maintaining their health throughout their lives. 

Consider Medical Care for Different Breeds

Some dog breeds tend to be healthier than others. It's important to consider potential medical expenses before adopting a particular breed. Often overlooked by future pet parents, the breed's common health issues can lead to significant medical costs down the line. 

Golden Retrievers and Cancer

Golden retrievers have a higher risk of developing cancer, typically in their later years. Being aware of and prepared for such breed-specific health concerns is crucial for anyone planning to welcome a dog into their home. 

Bernese Mountain Dogs Have the Most Expensive Pet Insurance

One of the best places to look for breeds with the highest medical expenses is the pet insurance company. According to Figo Pet Insurance, the Bernese mountain dog is the most expensive dog to insure. They explained, "That's probably due to the fact that they are prone to a number of health issues, including bloat, hip and elbow dysplasia, hypothyroidism, and von Willebrand disease, which is a blood-clotting disorder."

Great Danes Experience Bloat

According to Embrace Pet Insurance, "Gastric dilation-volvulus, more commonly known as bloat, is the number one killer of great Danes, and they bloat more often than any other breed." This requires a veterinary visit, which can be quite costly.

In addition to bloating, great Danes also "suffer from a high incidence of cardiomyopathy, where the heart becomes enlarged. This is very common in all giant dogs, and when it occurs late in life, it's usually manageable with medication. Have your dog's heart checked at least once a year, and have any murmurs or unusual symptoms investigated by a board-certified veterinary cardiologist."

Other Medical Costs

We won't go through each breed individually, but these three breeds give you an idea of how particular breeds can be more costly than others. While you may not have any significant medical expenses to cover when adopting, be aware of what future medical expenses you may be responsible for. This could make a big difference in the breed you choose.

Quick Tip

Since pet insurance companies are responsible for paying vet bills, they also have a general idea of which breeds are the healthiest (or least healthy). Looking at the breed from their perspective could give you a good idea of what you'll need to pay for later.

Don't Forget Food-Related Expenses

Having a big dog breed means you'll need to think about the money, especially for food. For example, a great Pyrenees will eat a lot more than a smaller papillon. Even though one bag of dog food doesn't seem too expensive, the cost really adds up over time.

When you add up what you'll spend feeding a big dog throughout its life, it can get pretty high. So, if you're thinking about getting a large dog, make sure you consider how much it'll cost to feed them over the years. It's an important part of planning your budget and being ready for the commitment of having a big dog.

Include Grooming Costs

Some dog breeds, like the giant schnauzer, require continuous grooming throughout their lifetime to keep their skin and coat healthy. If you don't mind grooming, it's no big deal, but if you would rather not spend a lot of time and money on getting your pup's hair done, you may want to look into low-maintenance dog breeds.

Some of the most common low-maintenance breeds include the dachshund, pug, basset hound, shih tzu, beagle, Boston terrier, and pomeranian. As you can see, breeds don't have to be short-haired to require less grooming. If this is something that plays a role in your decision, don't forget to do some digging to figure out what the possible pup's grooming requirements are. 

Keep Family Member Needs in Mind

Before choosing a dog breed, the entire family living in the household must be involved in a discussion about the kind of dog you're looking for. There are some dog breeds that are more suitable for life with a family than others. 

Small Children in the Home

Small children do not make good companions to small dogs, which they may see as toys and could inadvertently harm them. The dachshund, for example, could easily get injured by a young child. Their long backs combined with their small legs make them disproportionate and more prone to back injuries than other breeds.

If You Have an Active Home

Some dog breeds are excessively loyal or protective and will not do well with a very socially active family; constant intrusions from strangers would frighten and stress the dog. Consider how busy your house is. If you're home alone, you probably do want a loyal, protective dog. If you have a family with your kids' friends going in and out and constant visits from your family or neighbors, looking for a social dog breed would be a wiser choice. 

Family Members With Allergies

If family members are allergic to animals, including dogs, consider hypoallergenic breeds such as poodles, shih tzu, or Maltese. While no dog is truly non-allergenic, certain breeds shed less and can be more comfortable for allergy sufferers since they produce less dander. 

Related: 36 Hypoallergenic Dog Breeds: Easy to Love & Live With

Discussing Dog Breeds With the Fam

Selecting a dog breed by considering the needs of human family members guarantees that everyone enjoys the love and companionship of a faithful pet perfectly suited to the entire family. By discussing the choice with your family, you reduce the risk of having to surrender them after they're adopted. 

Getting on Board With Training

Some dog breeds are easier to train than others. If you've been in the dog realm for a while, you've probably noticed some have a stubborn, "You have to convince me" personality, whereas others are so eager to please you that they're ready to do whatever you ask. Some breeds that are easy-to-train include German shepherds, border collies, and Bernese mountain dogs. 

Adopting a Mixed-Dog Breed

Close up shot of beautiful Goldendoodle puppy

You may fall in love with the purebred dog at the shelter, but if you've fallen head over heels with a mixed breed, there's still a way to get a rough idea of what their lifelong expenses may be. If you're adopting a mixed breed and aren't sure how to figure out their needs, dissect the breeds they're mixed with. The goldendoodle is a great example of this. Golden retrievers are highly susceptible to cancer, whereas poodles tend to have fewer health problems.

The golden also sheds a ton, resulting in fur piles throughout the house, and the poodle hardly sheds at all. Back in the day, this designer breed used to just be called a mix, but the combination of the two breeds has resulted in a hypoallergenic dog breed with a lower cancer risk. In fact, according to Nationwide Pet Insurance, "Golden retrievers and standard poodles, which are the parent breeds of goldendoodles, are 3.8 times more likely to have a claim for cancer than goldendoodles. "

Purebred Puppy Mill Dogs

One in every four dogs at the shelter is purebred, according to the Animal Rescue Professionals Association. Some of these dogs were purchased from a breeder, but others may have come from a puppy mill. Responsible breeders weed out medical conditions in the breed line, but puppy mills are only concerned with profits.

This means that, if the dog is from the mill, their parents probably weren't screened for genetic conditions, and they could be more likely to experience health conditions than others. If the dog isn't a puppy, and they're an adult from the puppy mill, they probably received little to no veterinary care throughout their life, which could also result in them needing more care later in life (or currently). 

Quick Tip

Most shelters don't mind answering where the dog came from, so if you want to make sure they're not from the mill, don't be afraid to ask. 

First-Time Pet Parents

First-time pet parents often make the mistake of adopting a dog based solely on how the dog breed looks. While you may find a certain breed adorable, it's important to consider which breed suits you best. First-time pet parents should look for easier dog breeds to care for. The easiest dog breeds are generally easy-to-train and have a social personality. 

Need to Know

Breeds that fall into this category include Coton de Tulear, whippet, papillon, cavalier King Charles spaniel, and the labrador retriever.

Be Absolutely Certain Before Adopting

As a professional in the industry, I've noticed many people choose dogs solely based on how they look. While the dog breed you're considering may be the cutest thing on planet Earth, making sure they're the right breed for you is most important. If you adopt a dog you consider cute that doesn't mesh well with your family, whether it's due to their training needs, grooming requirements, or otherwise, neither you nor the dog will be happy. 

By considering the breed's temperament, adult size, financial requirements, and suitability for all family members, potential owners take responsibility for their decision and select an appropriate companion that will remain a cherished family member for many years.

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Choosing a Dog Breed for Your Family: 13 Things to Consider