Guest Article: How to Pick the Best Dog for You

Berlin is a 3 year old German Shepherd. The breed was developed to trot around the sheep all day as a “moving fence” style herding rather than nipping and pushing like other styles of herding. For this reason GSDs need daily hikes of a fair distance to burn off their energy and allow them to be calm companions.

If you are looking add a dog to your home, here are some things to consider before bringing a furry member of the family home.  If you’re interested in writing a guest article about a specific topic, contact us.  Here is the information we’ve posted on our advertising information page about these kinds of articles:

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The following guest article is written by Emma Wikstrom.

Grooming needs: Depending on the coat care needed dogs will need to be groomed every 8-10 weeks. Ask yourself do you want a dog you can easily groom yourself or would you want a dog that needs professional grooming? A dog that can easily be done at home would have a tight single or double coat. When you are starting to narrow down what type of dog you would like, call around to local groomers and inquire about their prices before solidifying your choice. The currently popular “designer breeds” especially those who mix different coat types like a single coated Poodle and a double-coated Golden Retriever produce a dog that has a high risk of matting, no matter what their sellers tell you, and are no more or less irritating to those with dog allergies. The myth of a hypo-allergenic dog is just that, due to allergies being caused by proteins in the dog’s saliva, dander, and excrement. While it is an effective marketing tool, it is not a true statement.

Rising Vet Costs: Veterinary care costs are on the rise, primarily due to the rising costs of veterinary school. For perspective, veterinarians are in school for the same amount of time as a medical doctor and exit school with nearly the same amount of debt, sometimes even more. They have to charge enough to earn a living wage and have enough to pay off their student debt. This is another thing to consider in your choice of dog, look into the predictable health of whatever breed you are interested in and then inquire with local veterinary offices to see your perspective prices for their health care.

Things out of the norm to consider is a particular breed’s propensity to health conditions like cancer, bloat, heart disease, and skin problems. Something that is easily overlooked is the dental hygiene of your dog. Extractions and cleanings can be costly and as a general rule, many small dogs as they age will not retain all, or even most of their teeth if they are not checked and cleaned routinely as they age. Unchecked dental diseases will cause heart, liver and kidney issues on top of being very painful for your pet.

Pet insurance is another thing to consider. The prices have dropped dramatically over the years and if you have your heart set on a dog that is more at risk for illness, it could be money well spent to have an insurance policy on your pet to cover routine and emergency vet visits.

Exercise needs: For some dogs, a quick walk around your neighborhood on a leash is all that takes to keep them healthy and happy. Think of your toy breeds like Chihuahuas or Toy Poodles. Their little legs can only take them so far! Whereas working breeds like Labs, Border Collies, Australian Shepherds, and even Corgis need long, hard exercise daily to keep their minds calm and bodies healthy. Only you know how much exercise you are willing to devote to your dog, do not make a new dog a workout plan unless you are willing to truly sit down and think about what that lifelong commitment means. There is a brilliant app called All Trails that shows dog-friendly hiking trails in your area.

Your life stage: Taking your life stage into considerations is very important as well, but regularly overlooked. Do you have or will have kids within this dog’s lifetime? Same with grandkids that will be over to the house. Do you work full time, part-time or are you retired? Even being in school can have an effect! My own life stage, for example, has stopped me from having a dog at my house just yet. I work full time, run a large 4-H club, teach dog training classes. Putting your dog’s well being ahead of your own is always important. They rely on you for all their needs and if you do not put them first, who will?

Where to find your future pet: Adoption, in many cases, is a great option for those looking for either just a sweet house pet or an animal they would like to show in performance sports, (Agility, Obedience, Rally, Nosework, etc.) as mix-breed and purebreds alike are able to participate in these and many other fun performance sports through the American Kennel Club (AKC) and the United Kennel Club (UKC)! There are both the traditional shelter/rescue organization adoption route or there are many breed-specific rescue groups if you are looking for a particular breed, but do not necessarily want a puppy or a dog that fits the breed standard perfectly.

If you are looking for a particular breed and you want to be able to raise them from a puppy or purchase an adult to show in conformation, or just to have one, please put time and effort in finding a responsible breeder to partner with. There are lists of breed-specific clubs on the AKC website and those clubs are more than happy to point prospective puppy buyers in the direction of breeders who are responsible and take their dog’s health and temperament very seriously. As a general rule avoid breeders advertising on Craigslist or in the paper as most responsible breeders gain their customers via word of mouth through their breed organizations. Avoid those breeding for a “non-regulation color” such as a Liver or Blue German Shepherd for example. Those colors are difficult to keep true and therefore more times than not that is the first factor the breeder is looking at when selecting a pair for breeding, instead of temperament and proper health clearances for that breed. You can also contact a breed club to learn about the genetic health testing you should be looking for in your breeder’s program.

Steer clear of breeders that are marketing the “designer breeds” as they mostly (but not always) do not do provide the needed genetic health screenings on their parent dogs and are profit-driven. Michigan is a hot spot for puppies bred in puppy mills, very often those are puppies found in pet shops and marketed online. If a “breeder” wants to meet you someplace off their property and will not allow you to meet the parents that is someone to be avoided.

Find a dog that fits in your life NOW: One of the biggest things to consider before you adopt a dog is of course how to best care for them! Avoid breeds that would require you to change too much of your life, unless you are truly prepared for that life change for your dog’s entire life. If you work 50+ hours per week and really only get outside on the weekends, make sure you get a breed that is happy just being a couch potato and will not mind the long hours in the house. If you are super active and love being out in the warm weather steer clear of dogs with shorter or pushed in snouts as they generally have a harder time breathing in the damp hot air. A dog is a lifelong commitment so be sure you know what you are in for when you decide on a dog to join your life. Dogs are also a large financial commitment as well. Vet visits, grooming, parasite control (flea, ticks & heartworm), maintaining proper diet all add up over the year.

Training: Every dog needs training, the level of training needed is totally up to you and what you expect out of your pet. Being sure that you choose a trainer you enjoy working with and can trust will make the training process much easier. It can be frustrating at times but putting the initial training on your new dog, may they be full grown or a puppy, will make your life with your dog a much more pleasant experience. Having a solid recall, stay and being able to walk on a loose leash in public are the bare minimum you should be looking for when looking into training classes for your pet. Balanced training is another buzz word to look for as those trainers use positive and negative reinforcement to make the expectations of the dog’s behavior clear and fair so they learn quickly and know what is expected of them.

Emma Wikstrom is owns and operates Riverside Dog Training, which she started in June 2019.  She is also the Assistant Superintendent for the Kent County Youth Fair Dog Project.  Those interested in signing up for the upcoming six-week session or have questions can contact Wikstrom via email at [email protected].  Visit the Riverside Dog Training website or Facebook page to read more about the business. 

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