How to choose the dog that’s right for you and your family
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
What’s the best dog breed? That’s one of the most commonly asked questions on social media, not just because it gets lots of likes and responses, but because everybody has an opinion.
Fortunately for those of us who love dogs, there is no single answer that’s right for everyone. With more than 400 different breeds around the world and countless mixes and crosses of those breeds, there’s a “best” dog out there for each person.
We can, however, narrow the choices based on our personality and lifestyle, and what we’re looking for in a dog. Are you active or laid-back? An athlete or a couch potato? A traveler or a homebody? Do you work, work, work, or do you balance the workday with hobbies, activities or downtime? Do you want a dog who’s playful? Protective? Smart? Funny? Loves to snuggle? Those traits don’t necessarily all come in the same canine package.
To find the dog who’s just right, make two lists. In the first one, write down traits that describe your personality and lifestyle, the type of home you live in (stairs or single-story, yard or no yard, apartment or house, city/suburb/rural), whether you have kids and how old they are, and how much time per day you could or would devote to a dog.
On the second list, write down everything you’re looking for in a dog: size, coat type or length, activity level and ways you’d like to interact with the dog -- jogging, playing fetch, dog sports, boating, swimming, hiking, napping on the couch, teaching tricks ... you name it!
To bring your two lists together, look for one of the many dog selector sites that offer suggestions based on your input. Pet food companies, including Purina and Pedigree, often have such quizzes on their websites.
When I used the one from Purina, entering traits I’m considering for a future dog, the suggested breed was a toy fox terrier, one that’s on my list. Pedigree gave me an option of eight breeds, including the one I already have -- cavalier King Charles spaniel -- plus three others I’ve considered over the years: American water spaniel, Japanese chin and papillon. Rover.com matched me with a rat terrier and a cocker spaniel, both breeds I might consider. The Spruce Pets recommended several different spaniel breeds, all of which are among my faves.
Using several different breed selectors can help you cover all the bases and narrow your selection. Interestingly, none of them suggested a silken windhound for me, which is at the top of my list for a next dog. If you’ve got your eye on a rare or foreign breed, cross-breed (aka “designer dog”) or mixed-breed dog, try the DogTime.com breed selector. And the websites of pet health insurance companies such as Embrace and Trupanion often have extensive breed and cross-breed profiles -- but no quizzes.
I also noticed that none of the dog selector tools took health into consideration. It’s a good idea to think about how much you could afford to spend on veterinary care annually and whether the breed or mix you have in mind is prone to expensive health problems. Within breed profiles, pet health insurance companies sometimes include a dog’s risks for certain conditions, as well as the cost range for treating them.
Once you have some breeds in mind, get to know them. Watch YouTube and Animal Planet videos featuring the breeds that interest you. Look for videos of puppies and adults being trained or groomed, doing tricks or dog sports, playing or just hanging out around the house. Then start seeking out reputable breeders -- at dog shows or online at the breed club website. (You can also see more here: uexpress.com/pets/pet-connection/2021/01/25.)
Even if your chosen dog is a cross-breed or mixed-breed, look for breeders who do health testing and raise pups in the home, not outdoors in barns or tiny pens. They exist.
Can’t find the “right” dog? You might be a cat person.
Build a catio
cats will love
Q: I want to build a catio for my two cats. Do you have any design tips?
A: Congrats to your cats for having such a great owner! They’ll enjoy their outdoor space. Here’s some advice on what to think about.
Give your cats as much vertical and horizontal space as possible to allow for climbing, sniffing and lounging. At a minimum, the catio should be 6 feet by 6 feet. Add a cat tree or incorporate a real tree into the plan -- as long as your cats can’t get to the top -- plus perches or walkways at various heights around the perimeter. Walkways, about 6 inches wide, should also cross the space diagonally.
Enclose the catio with screening tough enough that it can’t be clawed through by a determined predator -- or your cat. And it should have actual flooring, not just dirt, so that other animals can’t dig beneath it to get inside. If possible, lay a sealed concrete floor. It’s not just strong; it can also be hosed down as needed. If you’re going all out, have the floor slope to a drain for easy cleanup.
Prevent altercations with stray cats by building a solid base wall about 3 feet high so there’s no hissing, yowling and spitting at ground level. The screening can go up from that.
Add a cover for protection from the elements. Design it so the catio has both shaded and sunny areas.
Planters filled with cat-safe plants provide nibbling and sniffing enjoyment, as well as a pop of color. Options include African violets, Boston ferns and, of course, catnip. Consider a small fountain or other water feature if your cat enjoys dabbling in the wet stuff.
Remember your own comfort. Make sure you have easy access for plant and litter box care. Here are more tips: bit.ly/3PTAtpB. -- Kim Campbell Thornton
Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
safe for dogs
-- It’s cookout season, and it culminates on Labor Day next month. Dogs are notorious for stealing items off the grill -- or at least begging for a taste -- but make sure you know what’s safe before handing out treats or laughing off a canine food theft. Say yes with a smile to a bite of skinless, boneless lean meat, such as chicken, as long as it’s not slathered in barbecue sauce or anything spicy. Grilled veggies such as broccoli and carrots are OK, too. Avoid ribs and pork chops; the small or oddly shaped bones can cause choking or obstructions. Same for corn on the cob. And anything on skewers is a serious hazard. Keep trash out of dog reach, and alert guests not to give Baxter anything he shouldn’t have.
-- Have you met the Bombay? The black cats with copper eyes, sometimes nicknamed “parlor panthers,” are smart and affable, enjoying their owners’ company as well as putting out the welcome sign for visitors. Bombays often enjoy walking on a leash or playing fetch with small balls. They love attention and are frequently found adorning a lap.
-- Goldfish are popular “starter pets” for kids, but they need more and better care than they’re typically given. First rule of fin club: Don’t keep goldfish in bowls. They need a good-size aquarium that holds 75 to 100 gallons. Surprised? Goldfish can grow to be well over a foot in length, and it’s a myth that goldfish kept in small bowls or tanks will stay small. So give them space! They also need a good water filtration system and frequent partial water changes to keep their aquatic environment clean. Finally, don’t overfeed them. Give only the amount they can finish eating in a couple of minutes, once or twice a day. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts. Veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker is founder of the Fear Free organization, co-founder of VetScoop.com and author of many best-selling pet care books. Kim Campbell Thornton is an award-winning journalist and author who has been writing about animals since 1985. Mikkel Becker is a behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/Kim.CampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.