6 Steps to Choosing the Right Dog for You 

Getting a dog is a big decision. Let this guide help you choose the right dog who'll fit with your lifestyle!

Updated December 19, 2022
Woman playing with pug

Deciding which dog is right for you is not an endeavor you should take lightly. Not only are you opening your home to a new pet, but you're also opening your heart. You're committing to a lifetime of snuggles, walks, vet visits, and adventures together. It's a process, but we can help you figure out how to buy a dog or choose your new rescue pup. From determining what exactly you want in a dog to making your final decision, we'll guide you through the six steps you need to pick the right dog for you.

1. Decide What You Want in a Dog

Think about what you're looking for in a pet dog. Do you want an athletic dog who will take part in rigorous hikes or backpacking trips with you? Would you like a companion who can also provide you with some protection? Are you searching for a service dog? Is finding a hypoallergenic breed a requirement for you? Do you prefer a large dog or a smaller dog? Or do you simply want a loving buddy who will snuggle up next to you on the couch? Make a list of the qualities you want in a pet, so you have a clear direction.

2. Evaluate Your Lifestyle and Home

Unfortunately, there can be a big difference between what you want in a dog and what you can accommodate. You'll need to take a close look at your lifestyle, schedule, budget, and environment before you can even begin searching for a dog.

Ask yourself these questions, and adjust your list of "wants" accordingly:

  • How much room do you have in your house and your yard? Smaller and low-energy dogs can do well in smaller homes, whereas active dogs need ample space.
  • How much time do you have to dedicate to your new dog? Athletic breeds often need two or more hours of exercise each day, and long-haired dogs usually require daily grooming.
  • Can you handle caring for a puppy? Puppies take a great deal of attention and must be let out every hour or two during potty training.
  • Do you have other pets in the house? Dogs and cats can get along great, but you need the space and tools to introduce them properly.
  • What does your budget look like? Purebred dogs can come with a price tag of more than $3,000, depending on their breed and pedigree. However, you should also consider the cost of food, supplies, preventive care, and potential medical emergencies.

3. Consider Whether You'll Adopt or Purchase

Young woman in animal shelter

There are many ways to find a new dog, but you'll generally take one of two paths: adopt from a rescue, or purchase from a breeder. While many people have strong opinions on this topic, neither route is "right" or "wrong." It really comes down to what works best for you. Consider each before you make a decision.

Adoption Considerations

Some shelter pets are found as strays. Others are surrendered to rescues for various reasons. Either way, adopting a dog allows you to give this pup a second chance at a safe and comfortable life. With so many available dogs in shelters, you can pick from a wide range of breeds, sizes, ages, and temperaments. It's often an economical option because rescues handle all health checkups, vaccines, deworming, and spay or neuter surgery before you take the dog home. As a bonus, many adoptable adult dogs are already housebroken and trained.

However, adopting can also come with challenges. If you adopt a puppy, you likely won't know how big your pet will be when they're fully grown. You also won't know the details of a rescue dog's history, so it's possible they could come with health or behavioral problems that you will have to work through.

Breeder Considerations

Most dogs available from breeders are puppies, and they're usually ready to go home around 12 weeks of age. When you go this route, you'll know exactly what breed your dog is, along with approximately what size they'll reach as an adult. Reputable breeders complete genetic testing on all breeding dogs, so you should know if the pup has any inherited diseases.

Raising a dog from puppyhood is an incredibly meaningful experience, but it's also demanding. You'll need to potty train your new pup, address teething, have them vaccinated, and schedule a neuter or spay if you don't intend to breed your dog. Purebred puppies can also be very expensive.

4. Begin Researching Rescues or Breeders

Once you've decided whether you'd like to adopt or buy, or if you're open to either, it's time to start your search. Based on your list of qualities you want and can accommodate in a dog, you should have a clear idea of the type of dog you're looking for. Maybe you want a young rescue dog who can keep up with your toddler and get along with your current dog, though you don't have a preference for size. Or perhaps you want a small lap dog to provide you with constant companionship during the day.

Peruse online adoption databases to find dogs that meet your criteria. Petfinder and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) offer large-scale searches for adoptable pets. Take a look at their photos and make sure to read their bios for important information, like if they get along with other pets or if they have any health conditions you should know about. You can also reach out to local shelters directly to find out if they have any dogs that meet your requirements.

If you've decided to purchase a purebred puppy, zero in on what dog breed is right for you. There are breed quizzes you can take, which can offer you some direction. Aim to narrow your choice down to one or two breeds.

Dog breeders are everywhere, but they are not all equally responsible in caring for their puppies and breeding for health. Take the time to find one who is ethical. The American Kennel Club offers a list of breeder referrals, which is an excellent place to begin your search. You'll be directed to the parent club of the particular breed(s) you're interested in, and the club will give you contact info for the breeders who have met their quality standards. You can also ask your veterinarian for local recommendations.

5. Meet Potential Contenders

Young woman in animal shelter

Even if a dog looks great on paper, that doesn't mean you'll connect. Reach out to the rescue or breeder to set up meet-and-greets with any dogs you're interested in. Most rescues will allow you to spend some time in an enclosed room or outdoor space with a dog so you can get to know them.

Talk to the dog and see how they react. If the dog will allow you to, pet them. Many dogs are edgy in a shelter setting, so it's possible the dog won't show their full personality. Some dogs may act calm when you first meet them at the rescue, only to become nervous when you take them home. It's difficult to tell how a rescue's personality will come through in a stressful shelter setting.

However, you should have a gut feeling about whether this dog is right for you. If you don't have chemistry, that's OK. Meet as many dogs or puppies as you need to before you find "the one."

Many breeders will also allow you to visit the puppies before you purchase (however, many breeders have strict quarantine protocols in place to protect their puppies and prevent the spread of diseases like parvo, so you may not be allowed to handle young pups). Even at a young age, you can tell a lot about a puppy's personality by the way they play and interact. Ask if you can meet the parents, as well. Even though each dog is a unique individual, this will give you an idea of how your dog will look and behave when they grow up.

6. Make a Collective Decision

Now it's time to make a decision. If you have other adults, children, or pets living in your house, they'll need to weigh in on the choice. Make sure everyone is on board. If you're having trouble deciding between a few dogs, meet them as many times as you need before you settle on your choice.

Whether you're adopting or purchasing, there might be some urgency surrounding your decision. Other potential pet parents might also want the dog you're interested in. If you're hesitant, don't let the pressure get to you. Getting a dog is a big commitment and one you should feel confident about. Take your time when choosing which dog or breed is right for you. The extra effort pays off when you find your amazing new pup.

Which Dog Is Right for Me?

Knowledge is power, and it's important to do your research when looking for the right dog for you and your family. Research various breeds to find out if their traits and temperaments align with your needs. Ask the breeder or rescue staff questions about the pet's health status, habits, tendencies, and personality. Whether you're looking for a purebred puppy or an adult rescue dog, the perfect dog for you is out there. We can't wait for you to find each other.

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6 Steps to Choosing the Right Dog for You