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My wife and I just bought a new house and we're interested in getting a dog companion. Problem is that neither of us has had a dog before and we're a bit uncertain what would be a good choice.

The house is quite large, around 2500 ft2 (230 m2), although the backyard is pretty small, around 30 ft × 20 ft (10 m × 7 m) as it's a city house. We both work at home and are active people and could provide plenty of walks and trips to the beach or park. There won't be any kids, now or in the future, so I suspect that's a consideration too.

We used to travel a bit, although Covid has changed that somewhat, but if we did again I suspect we'd want someone to dog-sit for us (we have friends who would do this). Other than that we go out for dinner occasionally, but aren't away from the house for long periods of time.

I don't know if this is important, but my wife is quite allergic to cats, although has never seemed to have an issue with dogs.

I think we'd rather adopt a dog, rather than going to a breeder.

Could anyone recommend a breed that they think would be good, or maybe just any recommendations about how we might go about finding a dog that fits our lifestyle. Thanks for any help you could provide here, it's much appreciated.

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  • The first thing I would do is regularly volunteer together at a local dog shelter. You both should know enough about the animals and their behavior before getting one home. Once you volunteer at the shelter, you can also adopt one on a temporary basis to try things out.
    – Yogesch
    Jul 29 at 3:47
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Could anyone recommend a breed?

Breed doesn't always tell you everything you need to know about a dog, but it can give you a helpful understanding of the general needs and some characteristics that are to be expected. Without more information on what you're looking for, I can't recommend a breed, but I can give you some insights on how you can choose one by considering your own lifestyle and how it would pair up with certain breeds, as well as what you're looking for in the pet.

Are you looking for a guard dog? Are you looking for more of a cuddly lap pet? Big dog or small dog? Are you really physically active; do you like running/jogging? How much time a day can you dedicate to playing?

These are all some questions that you may want to ask yourself. It's important to consider what breeds were originally bred for to get an understanding of their kinds of requirements. Consider these two possibilities:

If you get a high energy dog, often found in herding dogs (e.g., German Shepherd, Australian Shepherd) then you will need to play with that dog and get them the physical exercise they need daily, or bad behaviors from lack of energy release can result.

On the flip side, if you get a lower energy dog (e.g., Bassett Hound, English Bulldog) then you shouldn't expect to do things like take them for your daily jog, or go on a long hike with them.

Another thing you will want to consider is training. Every dog will have some level of training, whether you intentionally do it or not. That training may be as simple as learning when/where to relieve themselves or when/where to eat, or it may be you teaching them commands. For many dog breeds, training can be mentally, emotionally, and physically needed for them to be successful as a good pet. Some dogs, however, are resistant to training. There are some commonalities as it relates to these characteristics amongst breeds. For example, Border Collies, Poodles, German Shepherds are highly trainable and usually need at least some training to be sufficiently mentally stimulated and healthy. On the other hand some dogs might get easily frustrated with even basic training and tasks, so you will want to consider the extent at which you will want them to be trained.

If you have very specific desires, I would recommend considering going to a breeder of a dog breed that fits said desires. If you don't have specifics in mind, then adopting is a great option but you will want to make your selection carefully.

Karen Pryor, a well-known dog training thought leader, gives some tips on this page. Here's an excerpt of those tips:

  1. Observe the dog in his kennel from a distance. Does he seem calm, friendly, and relaxed; excitable and aroused; stressed and nervous; or timid and fearful? What does he do when people or other dogs walk by?
  2. Walk up to the kennel and stand sideways at the kennel door in a neutral position. Don’t talk to him or make eye contact as you stand sideways. Does he come to the front of the kennel with a happy face and friendly wagging tail? Charge to the front of the kennel barking aggressively? Slink to the back and avoid eye contact? Stand or lie down quietly, looking at you?
  3. Turn and face him in the kennel. Make direct eye contact, stare, and don’t smile, but don’t actively threaten him. Is he happy and friendly? A little worried? Very fearful? Does he stare back and growl or bark?
  4. Kneel down and make happy talk. Is he still friendly? Less fearful? More aroused or aggressive?
  5. Have another person take him out of the kennel on-leash. Does he walk with confidence, or does he have to be coaxed through doorways and across new surfaces? Is he pulling ahead of the person walking him, or lagging far behind? As he walks past other dogs does he try to greet them happily? Aggressively? Or does he try to avoid other dogs altogether?
  6. Take the dog to a separate room—preferably a relatively quiet room with few distractions. Remove the leash, sit on a chair, and let him explore for several minutes, without trying to engage with him. Is he curious and confident? Tentative and cautious? Excited and boisterous? Does he try to leave the room?
  7. Sit on a chair in the center of the room and solicit his attention. Does he come to you when you call him or does he ignore or avoid you and continue to explore the room? Is he polite when he greets you? Does he jump all over you? Does he seem fearful when you try to interact?
  8. Put his leash back on and sit on the chair again. Stroke his back, his far side, and touch, lift, tug on (gently!), and hold various parts of his body – his tail, his ears, his feet. Does he enjoy or resist the handling? Get excited or fearful?
  9. Training. Without food at first, ask the dog to perform various behaviors that he may already know, such as sit, shake, and lie down. Use common owner body language cues (hand at your chest for a sit, pointing to or patting the floor for down, offering your own hand for shake). Then try and get him to do some behaviors he doesn’t know for a tasty food treat—sit, down (if he didn’t do them for you without treats), or maybe a spin or twirl, where you lure him in a circle to see if he’ll follow the treat. Does he know anything already? Does he seem willing to try new things? Is he fearful of your attempts to elicit new behaviors, or too stressed to even consider a treat?
  10. Playtime! If the dog you’re assessing has been outgoing and friendly, try normal play with him. If he has seemed cautious or fearful, play very gently. See if he’ll chase a ball. Does he bring it back? If he shows no interest in a ball, try a soft squeaky toy, and offer to play tug with a tug toy. If he won’t play with toys, try running away from him and see if he’ll run after you, or get down on the floor and invite him to play. If he’ll engage with you lightheartedly, he’s playing, even if he doesn’t know how to play with toys. On the other end of the scale, is he getting too excited during play? Is he biting at you, grabbing your clothes, jumping on you, perhaps even mounting you? When you stop playing, hide the toy in your hand and fold your arms in front of you. Does he stop what he’s doing or continue to interact inappropriately with you?
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  • Welcome to pets and thank you for this excellent answer! I hope you'll stick around for a bit. If you're interested in the regulars of this community, come say hello in the chat.
    – Elmy
    Jul 22 at 19:28
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Could anyone recommend a breed?

No. Because the breed does not define the character of the dog.

It's true that certain breeds have certain characteristics. For example Border Collies or Australian Shepherds are in general extremely high energy breeds that are completely unsuited for a first time dog owner. Traditional hunting breeds, like Terriers and Dachshunds, have a tendency to bark a lot. Racing hound breeds have a tendency to cuddle a lot.

But that never tells you how the character of the dog will turn out. That is shaped by socialization, upbringing and training.

Any recommendations about how we might go about finding a dog that fits our lifestyle?

There is the "Meet Your Match" system by the ASPCA to assess a dog's character that is backed by scientific research. You can read a short summary in this answer. The guide describes how to confront dogs and puppies with different situations and how to assess their character based on their reactions.

Usually, I would encourage you to try find a dog you like in a shelter, but due to Covid I cannot do that to a first-time dog owner with clear conscience. Unfortunately, a lot of people wanted to adopt dogs this last year and unfortunately many of them didn't have any clue how to socialize and train their new dogs. Now the dogs exhibited problematic behavior and unethical or frustrated dog owners simply dumped them into the rescue system.

So my advice is:

  • Fill out the "Meet Your Match" questionnaire on page 43 to realize what characteristics you'd want in a dog. Bring the questionnaire with you to the shelter as reference, even if the particular shelter doesn't use the Meet Your Match system. (Maybe they'll be interested in learning about it?)
  • If you want to rescue a dog, choose one that's at least 2 years old. That lowers the risk of problematic behavior due to Covid lockdowns and lacking socialization.
  • Do not adopt the dog that runs to you first. Those often turn out to be energetic, independent and strong headed, which seldom is a good fit for first-time owners.
  • Do not adopt the dog that cowers in the corner and looks at you out of the corner of its eye. Those are the anxious ones that are not a good fit for inexperienced owners.
  • Do not choose your dog based on looks. Before you even look at the first dog, tell the staff what kind of character you're looking for in a dog and let them choose which dogs to introduce you to.
  • Ask about the history of the dog. If it's a "Covid puppy" please refrain from adopting it.
  • Ask about the special needs of the dog. Food allergies are quite common and require special food. Some breeds require regular grooming.
  • Spend some time with the dog(s) and try to learn about dog body language and effective training before adopting any dog. I found Youtube videos where a trainer demonstrates behavior and training with a real dog to be the most effective.

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