MINNEAPOLIS – It was love at first sight when Bryce Wergeland and Teri Woolard saw Molly the beagle, but they had promised themselves that they wouldn’t be swayed by a cute face.
They met Molly on a Friday. They went home and spent the weekend talking about her, including making sure that she complied with their condo’s pet policy, even hashing out which one of them would be responsible for her morning walks. Then they went back to the Animal Humane Society’s adoption center in Golden Valley, Minn., to visit her again.
By the time they returned Tuesday to pick up Molly and take her home, they were ready to lavish their love on her, confident they had made the right decision.
“When we decided to pick out a dog, we agreed that we wouldn’t do it based just on emotion,” Wergeland said. “That’s why we came back to visit her again. We wanted to make sure we had the same reaction.”
In doing so, they avoided one of the major pitfalls in picking out a dog – the impulse decision that backfires.
“Before people think about going out and getting a dog, they want to think about what kind of dog they want,” said Paula Zukoff, behavior and training manager at the Humane Society. “What do they want the dog to do? And how much time do they have for a dog? Then go out and find that dog rather than going out and finding a dog on looks and then finding out that you can’t mold that dog into the kind of dog that you want for yourself or your family.”
Once you’ve done your homework, then you can go with your heart. “You see a dog and it has the qualities you want and there’s just something there, something about that dog that just captures your heart, and that’s the dog for you,” she said.
The best way to ensure that emotion doesn’t turn your decisionmaking into a case of the tail wagging the dog is to assess the characteristics – both yours and the dog’s – that go into a perfect match. Things to consider include:
SIZE: As with many aspects of picking a dog, this involves both personal preference and more pragmatic matters, starting with the size of your home.
“Certain giant breeds, while they may not need an immense amount of exercise, do need a great deal of space to move freely about the home,” said Lisa Peterson, spokeswoman for the American Kennel Club. “Someone who lives in a small condo or apartment should think twice about getting a dog like a Great Dane or mastiff, both of which need a lot of room to move.”
The amount of space you have outside also can be a factor. If you get a dog that likes to run, you either need a yard where that can take place or you must be willing to make regular visits to the local dog park.
AGE: The question of whether to get a puppy or an adult dog hinges in large part on how much work you want to do, Zukoff said.
“Puppies are great, but they are a lot of work,” she said. “It’s almost like having a new baby in the house. And if you want them to turn out as a well-rounded, confident dog, they’re even more work.”
But there are advantages to going the puppy route, among them being able to train the dog to your standards from the outset. If you have young children, the puppy can grow up being acclimated to them.
Speaking of children, the ages of the dog owners also should be factored in, Zukoff said.
“I always say that if you have kids, probably a medium-sized dog would be a good idea,” she recommended. “If they’re really small, then they’re breakable. And if they’re really large, then they can unintentionally knock the kids over and hurt them. Medium-sized dogs don’t get broken or break the kids.”
EXERCISE: As a general rule, things work out best when you match your activity level to the dog’s. Are you looking for a dog that will go out jogging with you or one that’s satisfied with a leisurely stroll around the block?
An important thing to keep in mind: “The size of the dog doesn’t dictate the amount of exercise it needs,” Peterson said. “Exercise needs vary by breed and what the breed’s original function was. For example, a mastiff just needs light exercise, while the much smaller border collie needs a great deal of regular exercise.”
She added a warning that if dogs don’t get the stimulation that they need, they’ll find their own ways to entertain themselves – like chewing on your shoes.
CLEANLINESS: The dog’s coat type, length and thickness determines how much time and expense you’ll need to put into grooming.
“Different breeds have different grooming needs,” Peterson said. “Breeds with a long, heavy coat, such as the Shetland sheepdog, need regular grooming to prevent mats and tangles. Double-coated breeds such as the Akita require weekly brushing. Dogs with hair, like a poodle, need regular haircuts at the groomer.”
You also should factor in extra cleaning time for your home, Zukoff said.
“I think something a lot of people don’t think about is just how messy dogs can be,” she said. “If you get a big, slobbery dog like a Newfoundland or St. Bernard that’s going to be shaking its head and slobber is going to be going everywhere and there’s going to be hair everywhere, you’re going to spend a lot more time vacuuming and wiping up the walls than if you got a little poodle.”
SEE IT FOR YOURSELF: If you’re getting a puppy from a breeder, insist on visiting the kennel.
“Ask to see at least one of the puppy’s parents,” Peterson urged. “Get an idea of what the future holds for your dog in terms of temperament and appearance. Observe the premises. Is the kennel clean? Odor-free? Pay attention to how the dogs and puppies interact with their breeder. Does the breeder appear to genuinely care for the puppies and their adult dogs?”
LOOK FOR LOVE: When it comes to picking out the exact animal that will be your companion for the next several years, you want one that wants to be with you.
“When you visit with the dog, the dog should be interested in you, should be watching you,” Zukoff said. “It should have a slow wagging tail and just look kind of loose and friendly. It’s when the dog is more stiff or still and not paying attention to you, that dog doesn’t seem as friendly and is going to be harder to train, it might be harder for me to bond with. I always like to say you want to look for a loose, wiggly dog, as if it’s saying, ‘I’m all wiggly because I’m excited and I love people.’ ”
Check the animal’s physical appearance, too.
“Dogs and puppies should be clean, well-fed, lively and friendly,” Peterson said. “Look for signs of malnutrition such as protruding ribcages or illness such as runny nose or eyes, coughing, lethargy and skin sores.”
ALL FOR ONE: The addition of a dog to the family goes better for the dog and the family if everyone is in agreement, Zukoff said.
“I think it’s really important that every person visits the dog before you decide,” she said. “And I think it’s important for everyone to know what the dog knows and what kind of cues you”re going to use to tell the dog to sit or wait for food or whatever. That way, everybody’s happy, And everyone can decide on one dog.”
For Wergeland and Woolard, picking Molly was a mutual decision. Woolard grew up with beagles, so she was glad to have another one. Wergeland grew up around hunting dogs, but he found something in Molly to which he could relate.
“She has bad knees, and I have bad knees,” he said. “We’ll fit together when we go for walks.”