How to Get the Right Dog for You

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DO YOUR RESEARCH Think about breeds that fit your lifestyle. If you have a small city apartment, a large dog that needs lots of exercise (such as any type of retriever) is probably not ideal. If you have a house with a backyard, you don’t have to focus on only lapdogs. Remember that this dog is going to be a member of your family. Think about your living space -- is there room for a Saint Bernard? If you and your partner both work eight to five, consider breeds that don’t need a lot of exercise, like pugs or bulldogs. If you or any of your close family or friends have allergies to long-haired dogs, make like the Obamas and opt for a hypoallergenic pet like a Portuguese water dog. And if kids are in your near future, you’ll want to think about a dog that gets along well with children, like Labradors or Golden Retrievers.

LOOK INTO ADOPTION First of all, before you think about buying, consider adopting instead. Adopted dogs, on average, cost less than $200 (some are free) and come spayed or neutered and with key shots such distemper, canine adenovirus-2 (hepatitis and respiratory disease), canine parvovirus-2, and rabies -- not to mention, you get to feel pretty great about rescuing one. Find your local dog shelter at and make a visit to see if there are any pups already waiting for a home.

NO LUCK? CHECK OUT OTHER OPTIONS If you don't find what you're looking for at a shelter, then consider splitting the difference and getting your puppy from your local Purebred Dog Rescue (25 percent of all dogs in shelters are purebred). No luck there? Start researching trusted breeders. Read blogs or message boards in your area devoted to breeds you're interested in. Chances are, local labradoodle owners will know who to buy a dog from and places to avoid. Pet stores, many of which source their animals from puppy mills, are another no-no: These mills often have horrific conditions and dogs can be abandoned or even killed when their breeding years are up. Do a background check on breeders to see if they’re members of the American Kennel Club (and contact AKC to verify membership) so that you know that you’re supporting only those who treat animals well. Your local vet may also be able to direct you to well-respected local breeders they’ve worked with in the past.

SNAG SOME FACE TIME If you're going to the shelter, tell the staff what you’re looking for so they can introduce you to dogs they think would be a good fit. In a shelter environment a scared and nervous dog might not represent its best personality, so ask the staff for insight. They’re the ones who spend time getting to know the shelter animals and their personalities, and they want to find the perfect fit for your on the first try. If you don’t see your dream dog on the first visit, be patient -- new dogs come in all the time. Tell the staff what you’re looking for so they can put you on a waiting list for when your ideal pet comes in.

MEET THE PARENTS If you've decided to work with a trusted breeder, meet with him or her in person and ask to see at least one (if not both) of your potential puppy’s parents. This will help give you a sense of your pup’s potential temperament. Also ask about the usual age and cause of death in your potential dog’s family tree; a good breeder should explain any potential genetic problems inherent to the breed.

GET THE HEALTH HISTORY Speaking of health questions, always ask to see the dog's essential paperwork. At a shelter, the staff should have at least background information on how the dog arrived at the shelter. If it ran away, was given up, or was previously abused, all that information should be on file. Some shelters spay or neuter dogs before they’re adopted, some after, so make sure you get all medical history available -- including any known vaccinations or diagnosed behavioral problems. If you’re working with a breeder, the Humane Society recommends the breeder provide you with a written contract and health guarantee, and allows you time to read it thoroughly before signing.

DON’T GET SCAMMED Never send money before talking to the breeder on the phone or, ideally, in person -- and check their references first. Most breeders charge between $300 and $1,500 or more, so it’s important to not just hand over all your money. The fee usually includes the first few rounds of vaccinations as well as a health certificate from a vet. However, if you are getting the dog from out of state, shipping costs can run you $200 and up depending on the size of the dog. If the breeder is bringing the dog to you via car or plane, suggest paying half the money up front and half after the dog arrives and your local vet examines it. Adoption fees from a shelter can range from $50 to $250, but that usually includes everything from spaying or neutering to obedience classes, vaccinations, microchipping and registration, heartworm testing, and short-term veterinary care with the shelter, as well as a donation to the shelter.

-- The Nest Editors

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