A primer for picking a pooch

  • Article by: JEFF STRICKLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 1, 2013 - 11:13 AM

When it comes to selecting a dog, there’s a lot more to it than just falling for a cutie.

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Bryce Wergeland got ready to take home his rescue beagle mix, Molly, from the Animal Humane Society in Golden Valley.

Photo: Anna Reed, Star Tribune

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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 on Monday 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.”

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