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8 Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing a Dog Breed

Find out which dog breed is right for your lifestyle.

by Kate Sheofsky | expert review by Annette Louviere, DVM
April 12, 2022
A dog running with a woman on a pier.
Photo: BONNINSTUDIO / Stocksy

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Here’s the thing about looking for a dog: it’s easy to immediately fall in love with almost any one you see. Whether browsing breeder sites or stopping by shelters, all the dogs you encounter will be giving you The Look, and it will be hard to resist them. This is why it’s so important to put a lot of thought into what type of dog suits your lifestyle before you come face-to-face with one and emotions take over. Because even though you’ll adore your new addition no matter what, some dogs will fit into your life better than others. 

To help you think through your situation, we pulled together a few questions for self-reflection. Then we asked Dr. Annette Louviere, a veterinarian at pet genetics company Wisdom Panel, to chime in with insights to help guide your decision.

Eight Questions To Ask Yourself

1. What’s your climate?

Dogs are adaptable, but that doesn’t mean they thrive in all environments. Temperate climates work well for most pups. But if the weather gets too cold or too hot, problems can arise. At a minimum, some dogs will be uncomfortable — and in more serious instances, they could be at risk for health issues. Dr. Louviere explains more.

“Any brachycephalic — or short-snouted — dog will have trouble cooling off in hot, humid environments, so they should be closely watched when playing outside. This issue can be compounded in dogs with short snouts and long coats, like the Shih Tzu. Additionally, breeds from cold weather climates, such as the Alaskan Malamute and Norwegian Elkhound, or mixed breed dogs with thick, dense coats, tend to have a low tolerance for the heat.

“On the other end of the spectrum are dogs that have a harder time in cold weather. Those with short fur — or even no fur — may have difficulty keeping warm. These pups will benefit from wearing layers, much like we do. Similarly, dogs from warmer climates, like the Chihuahua, or those low to the ground, may not enjoy the snow as much as other breeds. And unfortunately for our short-snouted friends, they may also struggle to breathe when the weather gets too cold.”

2. How active are you? (Be honest)

Are you a runner who wants an active dog because you’re looking for a jogging partner? Or do you want an active dog because you’re hoping they will turn you into a runner? Generally speaking, the former has a better success rate than the latter. We’re not saying dogs can’t help you be your best self, but it could be a risky gamble, because it’s really important that you can provide any dog you get with enough exercise and enrichment to meet their energy level. If you don’t, your dog may turn to destructive behavior, which will not work out well for you, your dog, or your favorite pair of shoes. But if you’re truly an active person with plenty of time to devote to your pup, herding and sporting dogs could be a great fit.

If you like to spend your free time at home streaming shows or reading, look for a pup who’s happiest when they get to be curled up with you. Dr. Louviere says Poodles, Italian Greyhounds, and Papillons like to be attached to their person like velcro. But any lap dog that likes to snuggle will appreciate the introverted tendencies in their human.

P.S. If you’re a runner who likes to go solo, plenty of dogs are happy to kick it on the couch while you’re out for a jog. According to Dr. Louviere, Basset Hounds, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Shiba Inus, and Shar Pei enjoy “me time” at home.

3. When nature calls, do you answer?

If you’re an avid hiker or camper and looking for a dog to share outdoor adventures with, a tiny lap dog will probably have trouble keeping up. Better bets are sporting dogs, like Labs and Pointers, or herding dogs like Australian Shepherds or Border Collies.

4. Are you looking for a travel buddy?

If road trips are your thing, you have lots of options. But if you plan to fly and want your dog with you, size will be important. Check out carrier requirements for a few airlines, and make sure you get a dog who will fit under the seat.

5. Does anyone in the home have allergies?

If you or someone in your house gets a runny nose or itchy eyes when dogs are around, a hypoallergenic dog will likely be your best choice. Only here’s the thing: there’s actually no such thing as a truly hypoallergenic dog. But several breeds are low-shedding, and those tend to work best for people who suffer from pet allergies. These include Poodles, Maltese, Bichon Frise, and Schnauzers (to name a few).

Wondering if a Doodle will do the trick? Maybe. It depends on which genes have been passed on to the pup. If you’re working with a breeder, they can use genetic testing to determine the dogs’ likelihood of shedding, so you’ll know that information before you decide to buy.

6. How do you feel about trips to the doggie salon?

Some of those hypoallergenic dogs we just talked about? They tend to also be the ones who require regular trips to the groomer for trims. That takes time and money, so make sure that’s something you’re on board with that fits in your budget. If low-maintenance is more your style, short-coated dogs typically require less grooming.

7. What’s your housing situation?

If you own your house (congrats!), you get to decide what kind of dog to bring home. But if you rent, your landlord may have a say. Check your rental agreement to see if there are limitations on size. And some places have breed restrictions, so make sure you understand local laws before you begin your pet search.

If you live in an apartment and share walls with neighbors (ones you don’t want to hate you), a dog who barks a lot could be a problem. Dogs will bark for various reasons, and you won’t always know in advance if you have a talkative one on your hands, but some breeds are known to bark more than others.

“Beagles, Papillons, Basset Hounds, Rat Terriers, and Siberian Huskies are a few more vocal breeds,” says Dr. Louviere. “As far as breed groups, Terriers and Hounds are known for being most vocal. That said, there are things pet parents can do to reduce the tendency to bark. So if you get a dog who barks a lot, talk to a trainer or veterinarian for some tips.”

8. Do you have — or plan to have — kids?

This is a biggie because you may need to look pretty far down the road of life to answer this one. If kids are going to be part of the equation at any point, Dr. Louviere has some advice.

“If you have young kids, toy breeds may not be the best fit. Not only can some be nippy, but due to their small size, they tend to be more fragile and can’t withstand any rough handling from kids. On the other hand, giant breeds can be a problem for the opposite reason. Some may be gentle giants, but they could accidentally knock over and harm very young children.

“Herding breeds can also be tricky with young kids. They may try to herd kids like sheep (which involves nipping), and not all herding dogs like to be handled as much as other breed groups. Herding dogs also require a ton of exercise and mental stimulation, and it can be hard for busy parents to meet those needs. However, if you have older kids, they may be a good match for a herding dog’s endless energy.

“Other dogs that could be challenging with little ones are the spitz breeds, such as Chow Chows, Akitas, and Siberian Huskies. They have the tendency to be stubborn and independent, and they don’t always tolerate the unpredictability of a young child.”

If you want a dog who will be your kid’s BFF, family favorites like Labradors, Golden Retrievers, Beagles — and mixes that include those breeds — are a great choice.

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Kate Sheofsky

Kate Sheofsky hails from San Francisco, where she developed a love of writing, Giants baseball, and houses she can’t afford. She currently lives in Portland, OR, and works as a freelance writer and content strategist. When not typing away on her laptop, she enjoys tooling around the city with her two rescue pups searching for tasty food and sunny patios.