Pets

How to pick the perfect pooch

In the market for a dog? It pays to sniff around. We know someone who recently made a spur-of-the-moment stop at an animal shelter and walked out a few minutes later with a new dog. A dog that wasn't housebroken. That nipped. That needed a crate (which had to be hastily purchased).

Our friend had the best of intentions — everyone wants animals out of shelters and in homes — but this was not the best way to adopt a dog.

The process takes planning and work. Here's a game plan for someone seeking to bring a dog home.

Think it out

The worst mistake that people make, says Karen Okura, manager of behavior and training at The Anti-Cruelty Society, is impulse adoption.

Don't pick an animal because it reminds you of your old dog, she says, or because you pity the animal, or because the kids want one.

"The No. 1 objective is to save a life. People don't realize the number of amazing dogs being euthanized," says Rochelle Michalek, executive director of PAWS Chicago. "Dogs make great companions. They're great from a social perspective. Nothing breaks the ice like a dog when you're out meeting people."

Once you have a good reason to adopt, use your head.

"People should look at practical things," Okura says. "Does someone in the home have allergies? How prepared are you to do a minimal amount of grooming?"

Also ask yourself: Do you have the time to feed, train and exercise a new dog? Okura figures a puppy needs two years of intensive training; older dogs, a year. Can you afford the financial investment? Even routine medical care isn't cheap. Does the entire family approve, not just one or two members? Will a new dog get along with other pets in the home?

Choosing a breed

Figure out what you want: big, small, male, female, energetic, laid-back, etc.

Is there a purebred that appeals to you? Study up and learn more about that breed's dogs, from how big they get, to their temperament, to how much they shed. Talk to a rescue group that deals in that particular breed. It can tell you a breed's quirks — and it might even have an animal that would be a good fit.

Two sites listing breed rescue groups are akc.org/breeds/rescue.cfm and netpets.com/dogs/dogresc/doggrp.html.

If you have no particular breed in mind, consider a mutt. There are a lot more mixed-breed animals needing homes. They also tend to be less prone to breed-specific health problems, and there's a school of thought that they're smarter than purebreds. They're also going to cost less, in most cases.

Where to find a dog

Okura does not recommend pet shops. "No breeder worth his reputation will sell puppies to pet stores, period," Okura says.

Backyard breeders? Maybe. They could be clueless owners or they could be running their own small-time version of a puppy mill.

Reputable professional breeders can be worth the expense and effort, but it's important to check them out beforehand.

"If you're hellbent on a purebred dog, and you want the lineage to go back 10 generations, fine. But expect to be grilled, and possibly rejected," Okura says.

Shelters are becoming prime sources for quality purebred dogs — well-kept, socialized, trained and family-ready — because of the economy. As well as those impulse adopters who had to have a purebred dalmatian or Chihuahua or Lab and just as impulsively changed their minds.

A shelter dog can cost from $75 to $300, and very often is spayed or neutered and up-to-date on shots. A purebred dog from a breeder can cost two or three times as much.

Don't rush it. Okura says to do your homework and find the perfect fit.

"One of the things I tell people is to be picky. Lots of people feel guilty in a shelter, looking at homeless animals. 'It's bigger than I wanted,' or 'Look at all this hair.' We actively advise people who say, 'He's just not right' to keep looking. Because somebody will take the dog you said no to."

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