Personalized Dog Training --- Choosing a Dog


A Guide to Choosing Your Next Dog from the Shelter


Animal shelters - pure breeds

Reputable breeder

Animal shelters - mixed breeds

Time commitment


Other people

Breed Rescue

Personality and Temperament

Choosing a dog and dog breed Web Links

Plan ahead

Female versus Male

Puppy or Adult?

Finding a puppy

Service and guide dog organizations

Friend's groups

Sue Sternberg - Rondout Valley Kennels


Visiting a shelter

Living quarters

Where do I find an adult dog to adopt?

Mixed breed rescues

Why you are getting a dog?

For the dog's sake --- Think long and hard before getting a dog.

It is important to find a dog that is a good match to your lifestyle and household.  Many dogs that end up in shelters do so because of people not putting enough thought into getting a dog.  Owning a dog is a responsibility that should not be taken lightly.   Obtaining a dog is like getting a new family member that you will be responsible for.  The responsibility lasts the dog's lifetime (around 12-20 years).   This is a long-term commitment. 

First, consider your living quarters.  Do you have a yard?  Is it fenced?  Do you plan to walk your dog several times a day?  Can you provide enough exercise for your dog?  Is there an area where you can exercise your dog, such as a dog park, nearby?  Are you familiar with your community's leash laws, dog waste clean-up laws, and any other legislation in your community that covers the number or type of dogs allowed?  While breed-specific legislation is not a good thing and while the behavior of your dog(s) instead of the number of dogs that you own should be the issue, you need to be familiar with the rules that exist in your community.   Also, concerning your living quarters, do you own a home, own a condo, or rent a house or apartment?  Does the place you live allow dogs?  Please, do not get a dog unless you live in a place that allows them.  Some dogs end up in shelters due to owners that live in rental housing and get the dog without first making sure that a dog is allowed.

Consider your time.  Do you have time for a dog?  Be aware that dogs are TIME INTENSIVE instead of SPACE INTENSIVE.  This means that a dog needs you more than he/she needs acres in which to run.  Being a farm dog is not necessarily a good life for a dog, unless the farm dog is a trained herding dog and/or a loved family dog.  Besides not many opportunities exist for being a free-running farm dog here in New Jersey - even on farms this is too unsafe due to nearby roads and the possibility of an unsupervised dog being too guarding of his/her territory.   The myth of sending an unwanted dog "to the farm" to live the good life, just doesn't exist anymore.  Besides, even when a dog has a huge fenced yard, much of the time the dog can be found on the stoop or scratching and barking to be let in (or for his owner to join him).  Many dogs do not tend to exercise on their own, instead they need their owner to accompany them. 

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Next, consider other people in your household and/or your life?  Do they all want a dog?  Is anyone scared of dogs? allergic to dogs?

Consider why you are getting a dog?  If you are getting a dog for the kids, remember that kids cannot take care of a dog 100%, so you will have to want to take care of the dog yourself - and actually enjoy it.  So, don't get a dog for the kids unless you are getting the dog for yourself also.  If you are getting a dog to emotionally rely on and overly spoil, that type of one-sided relationship is not so good for the dog.  If you are getting a dog for companionship and to be part of the family and you plan to be committed to the dog you are on the right track. 

Also, consider your budget.  Can you afford a dog? True, you don't have to clothe your dog (unless your dog needs a coat to stay warm in the winter) or send your dog to college.  But you do need to feed your dog (quality food does make a difference in health and behavior), provide shelter and safety (a fence or dog run, crate, gates), provide toys for your dog to play with and chew toys for his teeth, depending on his/her coat you may need to get your dog groomed, possibly pay for training for obedience, socialization, or dog sports (such as agility), and you must provide veterinary care which can be very expensive.   Spaying or neutering is another important expense to take into consideration.

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Finally, consider your future and the WHAT IFS.  If you are single, what if you get married and your spouse does not like, or is allergic to your dog?  If you are married, what will happen when you have children?   You must take this into consideration when choosing a breed of dog, choosing an individual of that breed, and deciding how to go about training and socializing the dog so that babies, toddlers, and kids are not an issue.  Many dogs end up in shelters due to new babies or babies that are starting to crawl or toddle.  What if you have to move?  Are you prepared to do what it takes to keep your dog if you must move? This means moving into a place that allows dogs.  Their owners' moving is another reason given for dogs being taken to the shelter.  What if you lose your job?  How much sacrifice are you willing to make to keep your dog?  Also, consider your age and health.   Will you be able to care for the dog in the future?  Instead of discouraging you from getting a dog, the idea is for you to think about possible scenarios and plan ahead (I personally would not want to be without a dog and studies have shown companionship of a dog to be very beneficial).  Concerning planning ahead, reputable breeders should have a return clause in their contract requiring any dog they sell that cannot remain in its home to be returned to them.   This will help in case of emergency, but returning a dog to the breeder should not have to be a fall-back due to poor planning.  Well-run breed rescues also take back dogs that cannot remain in their homes.  Some senior citizens adopt from a breed rescue with the knowledge that the rescue will take the dog if they can no longer care for it.  Some rescues make prior agreements with senior citizens to care for their dog if the need should arise.   A donation to the rescue or a clause in their will provides for the dog to be cared for by the rescue giving the senior citizen peace of mind.  Some people are lucky in that they have family who are willing to take their dog if they can no longer care for it.  In this case, it is very important to have a formal agreement since sometimes families who unexpectedly end up with a loved one's dog turn the dog over to the shelter. 

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Once you have considered the above, and you know that you definitely want and can care for a dog, you have to determine what type of dog to get and where to get your dog. 

What type of dog is for you????

Many people can immediately tell you what they want their dog to look like, and while looks are important, it's also extremely important to consider how you would like your dog to act - the dog's personality and temperament.   A dog does not stay cute for long if you can't stand how the dog acts!  The particular breed, or the mixture present in a mixed breed, can make a huge difference in how a dog acts.  If you want a calm dog, then a Jack Russell Terrier or Border Collie probably would not suite you.  If you do not like a dog that yips and barks, a Shetland Sheep Dog would tend to be an inappropriate choice.  If you don't like dogs that grab your socks then a retriever breed is not a good idea.  If you don't want a dog that is guards your home, don't get a Rottweiler.  If you don't like a dog that tries to herd, don't get a herding breed.  And, if you don't want a dog that digs and chases small mammals, don't get a terrier.  Now these are just generalizations and sometimes an individual of a breed will act different than most members of the breed, but if you purchase a puppy, don't count on your puppy acting different than his/her breed. 

If you do purchase a puppy from a reputable breeder, then knowing the parents of your puppy (at least know about the sire's personality and temperament if you can't meet him) and knowing other dogs related to your puppy will help you determine the future temperament of your puppy.  YES, how you raise your puppy will make a difference - BUT, it cannot completely override the genetically programmed temperament and personality.  SO, only purchase a puppy if you like the personality and temperament of his parents and relatives - REMEMBER YOU CAN ONLY MOLD YOUR PUPPY - YOU CANNOT CHANGE HIS/HER BASE TEMPERAMENT AND PERSONALITY.   I see too many people who get puppies out of bad situations - namely unsocialized puppies taken away from a mother who is aggressive - thinking that with love they can raise the puppy to be loving (click here to learn more about preventing dog bites).  Most times this just does not work and results in heartache.  If you truly want a loving puppy that grows into a loving dog, get a pup from a reputable breeder and know that the parents and relatives of the pup have good temperaments. 

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Personality issues to consider:  Do you want a really friendly dog that will go up to everyone or do you want a more aloof dog?  Do you want a dog that tends not to bark or do you like a dog that barks in some situations?  Do you want a dog that requires little exercise or do you want a dog that you can take on hikes, jog with, and throw a ball for hours with?  Do you want a lap dog?  It's important to point out that not all small dogs make good lap dogs.

Next, you can consider appearance.  Practical considerations include size - do you want a giant dog, a large dog, a medium dog, or a small dog?  When you get a pure breed puppy, you will know in general what size your puppy will be when grown.  With mix breeds it may be a bit hard to determine, unless you know the mix.  Another practical consideration is hair - do you want a long-haired dog or a short-haired dog?  How much grooming are you willing to do?  Do you need a dog known to be easier for a person with allergies?  Another appearance issue is the type of ears, nose, tail.  Some dogs have upright ears, some have  hanging ears, sometimes people crop certain breeds' ears.   Some breeds have natural noses whereas others such as pugs and boxers called brachycephalic breeds have pushed in faces which make it harder for them to cool down in hot weather.  Finally, some breeds have natural tails and for others the tails are cropped.

When you research dog breeds you should also pay attention to the health issues for the breeds you are interested in.  Know which health issues the breeder should test the parents for prior to breeding.  The breeder should have solid proof that these tests were done and that the parents were clear.  Word of mouth is not good enough to say that the parents are clear of health issues.  Lack of physical symptoms, such as "the parents do not limp" is also not good enough.  Tests that a reputable Golden Retriever breeder should do to make sure that their breeding stock is less likely to pass on genetic problems  include testing of hips, elbows, heart, and eyes.  Clear hips and elbows are certified either by the U. of Pennsyvania or the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA).  OFA rates cleared hips as excellent, good, or fair.  The breeder should show you a certificate from one of these organizations stating that the sire's and dam's hips and elbows are clear.  The heart must be cleared by a certified veterinary cardiologist, not just any vet.  Finally, eyes must be cleared yearly by a board-certified veterinary opthalmologist.  The official registry for eye clearances is CERF (The Canine Eye Registration Foundation).  Other health issues to consider when learning about the relatives and ancestors of a Golden Retriever puppy are epilepsy, cancer, and thyroid problems.  A reputable breeder should provide you  with information that you ask for.  Health issues will differ by breed, so be sure you research the health issues for your breed of interest.  Remember, as for a human baby, there are no guarantees that a puppy won't have genetic health issues; however, by purchasing a puppy from a good and reputable breeder you are placing the odds more in your favor  (I define REPUTABLE BREEDER as a breeder who cares about the future health and temperament of the breed, a breeder who cares about the future structure, appearance, and working ability of the breed, and a breeder who cares about the welfare of each individual puppy and is responsible for the lifetime of each puppy). 

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The following links will help you research breeds of dogs and provide additional information on buying a puppy from a reputable breeder.  Also, there are dog breed books available at your local library or book store. 

Leilah's Website Links to Choosing a Dog

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Puppy or Adult?

If you do not want an adult dog --- do not get a puppy!!!!  All puppies grow into adults in 8 to 10 short months.  And at that age they act more like teenagers - a juvenile mind in a grownup body!

Before you get a puppy think long and hard.  You may actually have the time and ability to care for a grown up dog, but not a puppy. 

A puppy needs to eat more often.   A puppy needs to go out more often.   A puppy needs to be house trained.  A puppy will have a certain amount of accidents in your house prior to being house trained.   A puppy needs to be socialized.  A puppy needs to be taught that it's okay to be left alone for short periods gradually increasing to longer periods.  A puppy needs to be kept safe in a puppy-proofed area.  A puppy on up to a juvenile dog may need more exercise and attention than an older dog.  A puppy will need to be spayed or neutered (an older dog may already be spayed or neutered).  And a puppy is a blank slate as far as training goes.

Older dogs may need some of the above also, but the above list contains things to think about when considering getting a puppy.  Some people love to start with a puppy and mold it into an adult, others would rather adopt an adult who well-deserves a loving home and not have to live through the puppy stages. 

Some people think that older dogs are just someone else's problem - maybe someone else did have a problem keeping them, but they may be what another person dreams of in a dog.  Often older dogs need a home because of unfortunate circumstances, bad luck, or an owner who impulse bought without thinking what taking care of a dog requires.  Dogs end up homeless due to many reasons including divorce, kids with allergies, they chased the cat, they needed basic training, because their owner was working two jobs and had no time, because their owner graduated from college, got married, got pregnant, moved, joined the armed forces, got sent overseas, because the dog had a treatable health problem the owner didn't want to deal with, or just because the dog dared get too big, wasn't as cute anymore, and the novelty wore off.   Of course, some dogs lose their homes due to aggression, but the non-aggressive shelter dogs can be diamonds in the rough and well worth spending the time searching out.

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You have decided that an adult dog is best for you!!! Where do you find an adult dog?

If you would like an adult pure breed dog, a good bet is to contact breeders and find out if they have any dogs to place.  Often a breeder will be placing a dog that didn't work out in the show ring, but will make a wonderful pet.  Some are even partially trained.  Sometimes a breeder will be finding a home for a dog that was returned to them - maybe the dog's owner had a family emergency and could not keep the dog.  Breeders will tend to charge a fee even though they are placing a dog.  They know that dogs that are not free tend to be cared for in a better way.

Another good bet is to apply to adopt a dog through a pure breed rescue.  Click on the AKC website, Leilah's website, or the netpets website to find out about pure breed rescues for the breed of your choice.   Many rescues foster the dogs so they learn about each dog and match them to the profile supplied by potential adopters.  Some rescues are just referral rescues.  Referrals only refer you to an available dog.  They usually do not check on temperaments or match the dog to the adopter.    Most rescues will charge a fee - that's how these volunteers can afford to pay the veterinary expenses, etc. 

Sometimes pure breeds can be found in animal shelters.  Be careful that the fact that the dog is a pure breed does not cloud your vision to temperament problems, health problems, or to the fact that that breed or individual is not suited to you and your family.  It is noble to rescue a dog from the pound, just make sure that your family will be safe with the dog and that the dog will fit into your household and stay rescued.  Some dogs get bounced from home-to-home, which is not fair to anyone involved.  Please read the section on shelters below (click to jump there from here).

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Another source of pure breed dogs is service and guide dog organizations.  If you would like a Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever, or German Shepherd Dog (they use some other breeds also, these are just the most common) and you don't mind being on a long waiting list (it may be years instead of months), you can sign up to adopt a dog that did not make it through their program.  Dogs needing to be placed may have health problems that exclude them from being Guide Dogs or Service Dogs, but not exclude them from being pets.   Or they may not have passed certain of the tests required to pass the program - for example, dogs that have too high a prey/chase drive or dogs that are scared of loud noises would not pass.  These dogs may just be socialized with a little basic puppy training or they may have had more extensive training prior to not making the grade.

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If you would like an adult mixed breed dog, there are some mixed breed rescues that foster dogs and match them to the profile that you provide them.  Some mixed breed rescues might be found by searching the internet. Some shelters have friend's groups that rescue dogs from the shelter and foster them.  Another way to find adult mixed breeds is to visit your local shelter.  Just be aware that there are different types of shelters and some are run better than others.  A "no-kill" shelter may sound like a wonderful thing; however, when dogs are left in a shelter their mental health goes down hill with every passing day.  A dog that started out as timid gets more so, a dog that started out as aggressive gets more so, and a dog that had everything going for him will begin to have problems associated with being in the shelter environment.  Thus, an adoptable dog gradually becomes less adoptable and an unadoptable dog becomes even more unadoptable.   So, it is very unfair to keep an aggressive dog that cannot be adopted in jail for life and it is also unfair to keep any dog in a shelter situation for too long.  Sometimes a peaceful death is better than a tortured life.  Then there are some shelters that euthanize dogs, not based on their adoptability, but only based on the order they came in, the number of days they have been there, and depending on how crowded the shelter is.  To me this does not make reasonable sense.  Finally, some of the more progressive shelters employ trainers who temperament test the dogs, work with the adoptable dogs to make them remain adoptable and even become more adoptable, and give the shelter advice on which dogs they determine to have aggression issues and thus, would become a liability if placed in a home.   These shelters only euthanize dogs with aggression issues or serious quality-of-life health problems. 

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Visiting a shelter.  Do not stare directly at the dogs in the kennels - this is not good body language on your part since dogs view this as a challenge or a threat.  When you choose a dog from the shelter, make sure that the dog has soft sweet eyes (no hard stare and no glancing eyes in which you can see the whites of the eyes).  Make sure that the dog has a friendly, not stiff, stance with relaxed ears, not aroused and forward or plastered back. Make sure the dog is not barking and lunging at the kennel gate.  Also, do not choose a pathetic dog hiding in the far corner of the shelter shaking.  You can't be sure that this dog won't bite in fear.  Do ask the shelter workers what they know about and their experience with a particular dog that you are interested in.  What do they know about his/her temperament and background?  Finally, have a shelter worker help you take a friendly-appearing dog out on leash away from the barking dogs and other shelter commotion and see what you think about the dog.  Does he warm up to you or remain aloof?  Is he friendly?  You want a friendly dog that does warm up to you, not one that does not seem to relate.   It's important to not take out any dog that does not seem friendly in the kennel.   Also do not take out any sexually mature-intact dogs (meaning over 1.5 years of age and not "fixed"), and do not take out dogs that are overly cautious, that are highly aroused, or that do not show any signs of friendliness. Prior to visiting the shelter, check out Sue Sternberg's Rondout Valley Kennel website by clicking on her name below.  This shelter in New York state is the way all shelters should be run.  Check out the shelter shop and purchase "Successful Dog Adoption", it's well worth the $16.99. 

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 Click here to go to Female versus Male - how to decide.



You have decided that a puppy is best for you!!! Where do you find a puppy?

I really cannot recommend shopping for a mix breed puppy.  Pet stores are not good ideas due to health issues, lack of proper socialization, and to the fact that when you "save" that pup from the pet store they make a profit and that just encourages them to purchase another pup from a breeder who obviously does not care who ends up with the pup.  It's profit motivated.  Pet stores sell whatever the market will bear - pure breeds or mixed breeds.  Being profit motivated it supports large and small puppy mills and backyard profit-motivated breeders.  These breeders do not fit the definition of a good and reputable breeder, one who cares about the future health and temperament of the breed, a breeder who cares about the future structure, appearance, and working ability of the breed, and a breeder who cares about the welfare of each individual puppy and is responsible for the lifetime of each puppy.  I'm not saying I have not met nice dogs who happened to be purchased from a pet store, but I am saying that your odds of ending up with a dog with health or temperament problems is greater.  And why support those breeders who aren't being responsible?  Sometimes mixed breeds are sold for quite high prices with fancy names such as cocker-poo, peeka-poo, labra-doodle, etc.  It's important to realize that these are overpriced mixes with fancy names.  Furthermore, when you purchase a mixed puppy it can be hard to tell what the size or personality of the dog will be.  Will the mix between the labrador retriever and rottweiler act more like the lab or the rottie? Will the mix between the dachshund and the great dane (don't ask how it happened!), be the size of the dachshund or the dane?

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Click here to go to Female versus Male - how to decide.

The best way to get a puppy is from a reputable breeder.  After researching the breed, research breed clubs in your area and then from the breed clubs, contact breeders in your area.  Since reputable breeders breed to improve the breed and not necessarily to meet the market demand, you will have to expect to be put on a waiting list.  On the bright side, the list should not be as long as the waiting list to receive a guide dog or service dog who didn't make the program.  Most of the breed club members will breed to produce dogs that can compete either in conformation showing or performance events, such as obedience showing, agility, or field events (field events may include hunt tests, field trials, lure coursing, or whatever the breed was originally bred to do).  Some breeders breed multiple-purpose dogs - maybe they do both conformation showing and hunt tests.  All breeders should aim to produce dogs that make great pets and have good health and temperaments.  Talk to breeders about their dogs and don't be afraid to ask questions.  A good breeder will ask you as many or more questions about yourself than you ask them!  Many breeders will have you complete an application.   Many people don't see the value of purchasing a pet from a line of dogs bred to compete in conformation or performance events.  The truth is that the titles in your pup's pedigree do have meaning - the presence of the titles hopefully means that the pup was bred in a thoughtful process, CH means that your pup's ancestors met appearance and movement standards, and performance titles mean that your pup's ancestors had the instincts of the breed and were trainable.  Fortunately, due to genetics, these good traits can be passed to your puppy.

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Once you have found a breeder make sure that you are comfortable that the breeder is reputable.  Talk to the breeder about health and make sure that the breeder shows you the paperwork indicating the parents have their health clearances (click here for more about health clearances).  Meet the dam (the mother) of the pups (or the to-be mother) and make sure you like her personality and temperament.  Meet the sire (the father) if he is present - if not, ask the breeder about him - not just about his appearance, but about his personality and temperament.  The breeder should be able to give a good reason why she chose that particular sire for the breeding.  The basis of the reason should be to improve the family line/to retain a feature of the family line that she feels is important/to maintain and improve the breed for the future.  The breeder should not have bred to the sire because he was available, was a neighbor's dog, or because she saw a "for stud" ad in the newspaper.  Of course the area where the puppy's are should be reasonably clean - with in mind that a litter of pups quite consistently makes a mess and that a breeder cannot clean up every second.  Ask the breeder where the pups are whelped and kept once they are able to leave the whelping box.  The pups should not be separated from the activity of the household.  Ask the breeder what she does to socialize the pups - she should have a plan.  Many breeders will not let the general public in to see young pups due to fear of disease, but they should have a plan to make sure that when the pups are old enough, they experience different objects, people, floor surfaces, sounds, etc.  Many good breeders will practically have pups house trained by using a puppy pen with a surface for sleeping (such as a rug or blanket) and another surface for doing business (such as newspaper or wood shavings). 

When I breed a litter of puppy's (which I rarely do), I even teach the pups to settle to get what they want.  Many breeders unknowingly encourage pups to bark, jump up, and get excited for food by feeding them when they are barking, jumping, and excited.  I first teach pups that a clicker means dinner, just by clicking it right before I feed them for several days.  Next, I start to prepare their food, which makes the pups excited.  Then I wait until they settle down - maybe I step behind the corner to help them settle (however, young pups to tire and settle quite quickly if you stop making the feeding noises).  As soon as they settle, I click the clicker and then feed them (the clicker marks the calm behavior so they tend to do it more in the future) .  By the time the pups go to their new homes I can have an entire litter of 10 pups not only settling, but sitting, before I feed them - and this is all with me saying nothing.  I also teach the pups not to jump on me for petting and attention by sitting on a very low foot stool with the puppies surrounding me.  I sit and the pups jump up on my legs.  I do not touch any pup that does not have four paws on the floor.  Anytime a pup has four paws on the floor I immediately touch and stroke that pup.  It does not take long for a litter of 10 pups to be trying their hardest to remain on the floor for petting.

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Female versus Male - How do you decide?

Many people are deadset on only wanting a female and often have trouble finding an adult dog to rescue or a puppy because only males are available.  It is true that males tend to get bigger than females (although you never know - in my last litter many of the females are larger than the males - granted the females of this litter seem to be more overweight than the males.  I kept a male and I show him in obedience and do agility and field work and keep him in shape.  His brother is a service dog and he is also kept in good shape).  Some of the other things that make people not want a male are not true - at least not with a neutered male.  Neutered males do not roam, do not mark if properly house trained, are not harder than females to house train, and do not tend to be more aggressive than their female siblings.   In fact, for Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers, neutered males tend to be more people-dogs than the females.  They tend to be quite mushy whereas the females tend to have more of a stand-offish attitude.  So, do not assume that you will only take a female or only a male before asking the breeder about the traits of males and females of the breed that you are interested in.  You may be surprised and change your mind.  To finish this section, I cannot stress enough that an unneutered male is an entirely different animal than a neutered male.  If you take a male, he will be much more pleasing to you and thus a better companion if you neuter him (note: if you take a female, it's also a good idea to spay her - besides she's your pet and you probably do not want to deal with her coming into heat every six months and attracting stray males into your yard). 

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