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Choosing the Right Dog for You

So, you've decided that you want to adopt a dog. You've surfed the adoption sites on the web, and there are thousands of dogs in your area waiting for a home. They all look so cute. How do you choose from all those adorable faces? The most important thing is to NOT go by looks alone. It doesn't work when choosing a mate, and it won't work with choosing a dog, either. Adopting a dog is a LIFETIME commitment. Dogs live for 10-15 years on average, so it's important to choose one who is compatible with your lifestyle and personality. There are several things to consider when deciding which dog will be the best addition to your family.


Dominic at the beachThe majority of dogs in rescue are mixed breeds. However, approximately 25% are purebred. If you want a purebred dog, you will be able to find one in rescue unless it is a very rare breed. Still, it's always worth a look. There was a purebred Peruvian Inca Orchid listed on at one time. One of CARE's success stories is a beautiful Dutch Shepherd. For the more common purebreds, there are often breed-specific rescues that can help you out. There are dozens of 'what breed is right for you' quizzes on the internet. They can help you determine which breeds best meet your criteria for the ideal dog. The quizzes are only a starting point. Always do further research to be sure that the breed truly is for you.

Mixed breed dogs usually have a predominant breed, so these quizzes can help you find the right mixed breed, as well. Just look for dogs who are a mix of your breed. The current trend is "designer breeds" or hybrids. These are just intentional mixed breeds. They are not purebred. Some "breeders" are selling these "breeds" for a thousand dollars or more. Shelters and rescues are full of "designer breeds", and you can adopt one for much less than a grand! Adopt, and then donate the extra cash to the rescue so they can help more homeless animals find loving homes. There is nothing more special or different about the intentional mixed breeds versus the unplanned mixes. If you doubt it, take this quiz and see if you can tell the difference in the "designer" and the rescue dog. 


The first thing people usually consider is size. Many people believe that the smaller a dog is, the easier it is to maintain. This is FALSE. Size is actually the least determining factor in how high or low maintenance a dog is. Often, smaller dogs are much higher maintenance than large dogs. If you can accomodate a large dog, do not exclude them in your search because you think they will be harder to handle. That is not always the case.

Also, small children and small dogs usually do not mix well. Children can seriously injure small dogs, and the little guys often do not like children. There are exceptions, so if you have your heart set on a toy dog, ask how they do with children. You may find one who loves them. But, as you can see, there are so many variables when it comes to size that it should be your last deciding criteria rather than your first.

There are instances when size does matter. They are:

  • Your landlord restricts the size pet you are allowed to own. Narrow your search to only include dogs under that weight limit.
  • You want to be able to carry your dog in a bag when you go out. Narrow your search to only include dogs who will fit in a stylish bag.
  • You fly often and want your dog to accompany you on the plane. Narrow your search to dogs 12 pounds and under.
  • You cannot afford to feed a larger dog. Great Danes eat a whole lot more than Chihuahuas, so choose a dog you can feed in your budget.
  • You have a size preference that has nothing to do with maintenance. Often there are "small dog" people and "big dog" people. We simply prefer one over the other for reasons of taste. Choose the size that appeals to you.

Dimitri puppyAge

Everybody loves puppies. But, puppies are extremely high maintenance. They need several meals throughout the day rather than just two. They are too young to have bladder and bowel control, so they have to be taken out several times per day and a couple of times during the nightIf you work during the day, you will need to come home and take them out or expect them to potty on the floor while you are gone. They chew on everything, including you, because they are teething and exploring their world. Just like human infants, puppies need near constant attention, unless they are sleeping. If you do not have the time to devote to a puppy, save yourself the headache and adopt a dog who is out of the needy puppy stage.

Adult dogs require less attention than puppies. The majority of dogs waiting in rescue for a home are adults, which works out because this is the ideal age group for the majority of people to adopt. Adult dogs have full bladder and bowel control, so even if they aren't already housetrained, it doesn't take long to teach them. Adults also retain the need to chew, but they no longer chew on you and can easily be taught to chew on appropriate items only. If you're looking for an active dog for you or your children to play with, adults are the best choice. 

Dogs are considered Seniors at 7 years of age. Sadly, senior dogs often find themselves in rescue when their families trade them in for a younger model. There are many advantages to adopting a senior dog.They are no longer the rambuctious youngster they used to be, so they are a good choice if you want a lower-energy dog.  They already know the rules of living politely in human society such as what to chew and what not to chew and when to bark and when not to. Many of them are already obedience trained. Seniors can be the easiest age to care for.

Grooming Needs

All dogs need some grooming. Trimming nails, cleaning ears, giving baths, and periodically brushing teeth are pretty standard grooming requirements for all dogs. For some dogs, that's all there is to it. Other dogs require a great deal more. Long-coated breeds need frequent brushing, some daily, to avoid matting or having things caught in their coat, and to avoid odor. Some dogs need haircuts. You will either need to figure grooming expenses into your budget or learn how to do it yourself. If you enjoy taking your dog to the "salon" and bringing her home with pretty bows in her hair, consider a long-coated breed. If you know that you're not one to spend a lot of time primping your dog, cross the long-coated ones off your list. Matted coats are painful for a dog, and they are stinky for you!

It's not just the long-coated dogs who have high grooming needs. Wrinkled dogs like pugs, shar peis, and bulldogs need their wrinkles cleaned often. Otherwise, gunk can collect in the folds of skin and cause problems for the dog. Hairless breeds also require a lot of care. Many of them are sensitive to the sun and need sunscreen applied before they go outside. They can also have other skin issues that require special care. Do your research to determine if you want to take on this level of maintenance.

Exercise Needs

All dogs need some exercise, but seem need more than others. When dogs do not get adequate exercise, they find other ways to release their pent-up energy. Usually, we do not appreciate the methods they use to burn off that extra energy. They may bark excessively, dig up your garden, get out of the fence and kill a neighbor's cat, chew up your house, or worse. They can even become aggressive out of frustration. If you are a couch potato, do not adopt a Boxer thinking that she will help you finally start exercising. Neither of you will be happy. Likewise, if you like to run 5 miles a day, do not adopt a bulldog and expect him to run with you. Running 5 miles can actually kill a bulldog. Do your research and make sure the dog you adopt has a compatible energy level with your own.

Attention Needs

Some dogs love to cuddle. Others prefer to be left alone. Some dogs follow you everywhere you go. Others hardly notice you left the room. If you want a very affectionate dog who loves to be near you, you will be very disappointed with a dog who doesn't appreciate constant attention. Likewise, if you are annoyed by a dog who needs constant attention, you will be unhappy with a dog who won't even let you go to the bathroom alone. Determine how much together time you want with your dog and choose a dog who likes the level of attention you want to give.


Some dogs are easier to train than others. We call these the most intelligent breeds, but that isn't necessarily the case. A difficult to train dog is not necessarily unintelligent; he's uncooperative! Some dogs are happily compliant with everything you ask of them. Others need a lot of convincing, or they will do what they want to do and not what you want them to do. If you don't have the gumption to take on a strong-willed dog, choose a more compliant one. If you want to do competition obedience with your dog, a bulldog will be more of a challenge than a border collie. If you like a challenge, consider that, too.

Compatibility with Children

dog and children

If you have children, of course you want your new dog to get along with them. Children behave differently than adults, so dogs sometimes see them as an entirely different species. They tend to move more erratically and talk louder and in a higher pitched voice than adults. Some dogs think that is just great and can't wait to join in on the fun. Others are frightened or put off by it. Also, children have a tendency to play too roughly with dogs. They pull ears and tails and pinch the dog. They unknowingly break a lot of canine etiquette rules. That is why children are the victims of an overwhelming majority (80%) of the dog bites delivered to humans. For the safety of your children, make sure the dog you choose is child-friendly.

Some breeds are known for being more friendly with children than others, but there are always exceptions. In addition to researching child-friendly breeds, always introduce your children to the dog you have in mind before making a final decision. Observe how they interact together. If the dog cowers or tries to hide from them, or growls at them, this is not the right dog for you. It's also important that your children like the dog. Choosing the right dog is a family decision, and everyone should be on board before making the commitment. Consider the dog's safety, as well. Children can seriously injure and even kill very small dogs by accident. Toy breeds, in general, are not usually a good choice for families with small children for that reason.

Compatibility with other Dogs

If the dog is going to be an only dog, then it doesn't really matter if she gets along with other dogs or not, unless you want a dog you can take to the dog park. But, if you already have a dog or two, it's important to find a dog-friendly dog. Just like with children, some breeds are known for being more friendly with other dogs, but there are always exceptions. Unlike with children, it's hard to know how dogs will get along living together based on one meeting. It is still a good idea to introduce resident dogs to the dog you are considering adopting before making the decision. While not falling in love at first sight doesn't mean the dog won't work in your household, hate at first sight means she probably won't!

It is generally accepted that the most compatible combination is two dogs of the opposite sex. Some even claim that two dogs of the same sex cannot live in harmony together. We know that is not true because all of the CARE foster homes have more than two dogs. At the time of this writing, I have 2 females and 3 males living in my home in perfect harmony. The key to this harmony is choosing the right combination of dogs and good management. Two females will live together just fine, but only one of them can be the Queen Bee. As long as only one of them wants to be the Queen Bee, there will be no problems.


Good Management is vital to peaceful relations. Dogs living in a household are a forced pack. They did not choose to be together; we choose for them. There are some who believe it is best to let dogs work out their differences on their own. Studies done on real dogs show this is NOT the case. In the wild, they would work it out by fighting over a territory. The winner would stay, the loser move on. In a home, there is no way for the loser to move on, so they may "work it out" by fighting to the death! Forced packs must have human intervention to maintain the peace. This is backed up both by our personal experience and scientific experiments. Since we foster multiple dogs in our homes along with our personal dogs, CARE Volunteers have LOTS of experience with keeping the peace in a forced pack. If you need help with this, ask us!
No matter how dog-friendly the dogs, proper introduction and good management are vital for success. Always supervise the dogs together in the beginning until you would bet their lives it's ok to leave them alone together. Also, refer to the Bringing Home a Dog page for more tips on introducing a new dog to resident dogs.

Compatibility with Cats & other Pets

Cats are a natural prey animal for dogs. However, some dogs have a very low prey drive and can live peacefully with cats and other small animals. It is even possible, though more difficult, to teach a high prey drive dog to live in harmony with cats IF it's done early and before they have had a chance to practice preying on cats. They may learn only to get along with YOUR cats, though. Other cats will still be fair game. Research the dogs you are considering to determine the best match for your multi-species household. 


Just like with dogs, proper introduction and good management are vital for success. Cats should always have a place to run to where the dog cannot get to them. Baby gates work well for this purpose. Dogs should never be left alone with cats, even when you are sure they are friends. Even dogs who get along famously with cats can turn on them given the right trigger, especially if there are multiple dogs. Anything that gets them excited into a hyper-aroused state can trigger them to attack the cats. For example, thunderstorms and stray dogs coming into the yard. Also, refer to the Bringing Home a Dog page for more tips on introducing a new dog to resident cats.


If you find a dog you love with a name you hate, don't let that bother you. We give our rescue dogs names because they deserve to have names. But, the old myth that you can't change a dog's name is utterly false. You can change their names, and quite easily at that. Dogs don't have a concept of names. They just know that when you say a certain word, you're addressing them, and good things happen to them. (You should only use your dog's name positively). So, you can adopt a dog and not adopt his name.

Adopting From CARE

Even if you do careful research to choose the right dog for you, there are still a lot of variables that determine the personality a dog will have. There is always a dog who is the exception to their breed standard. Basically, dogs are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get. That is where adopting from CARE has a distinct advantage. Our dogs all live in foster homes instead of a shelter. We get to know the dog's personality quirks, her likes and dislikes, her behavior issues, her energy level, whether or not she is good with children, and so on. Essentially, we taste-test all the chocolates for you so that YOU do know what you're going go get!

You can learn a lot about our dogs by reading their profiles. There is also an advanced search feature on our website that allows you to enter the criteria you are looking for and see which dogs we have that match. If you want to know more about a dog, contact the foster parent via the email in the dog's profile. We will be happy to answer your questions. If you adopt from CARE and the dog turns out not to be compatible with you, we will take the dog back. If CARE doesn't have a dog who meets the criteria you are looking for, take a look at the other local rescues on You might find your perfect match there. Happy Hunting!

P. O. Box 715 •  Lexington, SC 29071  •  (803) 622-9813 •  caretoadopt [ at ]