Many people ask, “What is the best type of dog to get?” or “What is the best breed of dog to get?” In order to raise the perfect dog, you have to pick the perfect dog—that is, the perfect dog for you. Unfortunately, I cannot answer that, only you can. The question you should ask yourself is, “What am I looking for in a dog?” Are you looking for a very energetic dog that needs a lot of exercise, attention, and work (German shepherd, Belgian Malinois, Lab, etc)? Or are you looking for just a good dog to have as a companion who is completely happy just lying around the house all day? Or are you looking for something in between? Are you looking for a hunting dog, a protection dog, or just a companion? All of these are questions you have to ask yourself; your answer will help you decide what dog is perfect for you. There is no perfect dog. The Belgian Malinois is a very high–energy, high–maintenance dog and therefore is not meant for everyone. Pugs and poodles aren’t meant for everyone, either. So it really depends on what you are looking for. Also, look at the expectations you have for a dog, then ensure the dog you pick is capable of meeting them. Meaning, if you want a dog to do protection, do not get a beagle; if you want a dog as a running partner, do not pick a bulldog. There is not one that would be perfect for everyone, but there is a dog that would be perfect for you and what you want.
Once you decide on the dog you want, now you have the task of finding a good breeder for that specific type of dog. You should go to a good, qualified breeder, not who many refer to as a “backyard breeder.” These are often people with no knowledge, training, or handling of dogs who just so happened to have two dogs, one got pregnant, and now they are selling the puppies. These puppies can have a wide variety of problems, such as temperament, nerves, aggression, and medical concerns. I always recommend finding someone who is an American Kennel Club (AKC)-certified breeder; meaning, their dogs have been tested and come from good, proven lines, genetically and medically. An AKC breeder should have your puppy’s family lineage for at least a few generations back, often further.
If you are against breeders because you think they are just in it for the money, you are mistaken. Often they make very little profit off their dogs after they pay for food, medical care, and shots. Keep in mind, you cannot put a price on the eight weeks of headaches, loss of sleep, and messes made in the house by the litter of pups. I love dogs, however, for the very little profit per dog, it is definitely not worth it for me to take care of six to 12 puppies for eight weeks.
Now that you have some great breeders lined up, ensure the breeder can deliver the specific type of dog you are looking for. A big misconception people have is that if they have a German shepherd, a Belgian Malinois, or a Rottweiler that we can turn him or her into a great protection dog. That is far from the truth. Generally, protection dogs are bought from breeders who breed specifically for this type of work; meaning, they will take two high-drive, high-confidence, good-nerved dogs (usually former protection dogs) and breed them together. Not every dog out of their litter will be successful in this line of work. So, ensure the breeder you are using is breeding for what you are looking for in your dog. If you want a Lab to be used as a hunting dog, ensure you are getting a Lab that is bred from a working line. People breed for families/companions, for looks and show, and for working lines, so you have to ensure the breeder you choose is breeding not only the breed of dog but also the type of dog that you are looking for.
Once you’ve really narrowed it down to a specific breeder, do your research. Breeders are like any other business in the world, you cannot take their word for it just because it is their business. Ask for references, talk to other people who bought the same type of dog you are looking for and contact them. See if their dog is what they expected, if they had any problems, how their dealings were with the breeder. Remember, getting a dog is around a14-year commitment, so it is important to ensure that you are getting exactly what you want. A good breeder will ask you as many questions as you ask them, so red flags should go up if you can just show up with the money and take their dog without any questions from either side. Generally the breeder will have an application with a questionnaire, they will want to meet with you in advance, and they will want to find out as much about you as possible. Also, they should tell you that their dogs are not available until they are eight weeks old—this is another good indicator to look out for. Up until eight weeks, the puppies are still with their mother, learning to interact with their siblings, learning vital things such as bite inhibition (what is acceptable and unacceptable play, etc.). Great breeders want to ensure their dogs are going to great homes.
I realize that many dogs are bought from shelters and rescue organizations, so maybe you are thinking that none of this guidance applies to you. Believe it or not, it still applies, just in a different way. If you want to purchase a dog and you do not want to get it from a breeder nor pay the high price that often comes with many purebred dogs, then a dog shelter or a rescue organization is a great way to go. As I stated earlier, do not get a dog from a backyard breeder—someone who is in it only for the money and does not care about the dog’s health or well-being. Remember, often they are having a litter in the first place due to their negligence and irresponsibility. So go to a shelter or a rescue organization. These people truly care about dogs and want to ensure their dogs have a good home. Once you find a good, reputable, nonprofit shelter or rescue organization, you can apply the same guidance for picking a happy, confident, and friendly dog.
Now that you have found a great breeder or shelter, you need to pick the perfect pup from that litter. No matter what any breeder tells you, you cannot pick a pup that is right for you online or through a photo. Actually go to their location and choose a dog, even if it’s out of state. If you talk to anyone who has picked pups out of a litter, they will usually tell you the pup picked them. I am not saying you will get a horrible dog if you pick one online, I am just saying you will feel much more comfortable and confident about your choice if you go see them in person. Generally, at eight weeks, you can tell a lot about the pup. If they are shy, skittish, and hanging out away from everyone in the litter at eight weeks, there is a great chance that’s how they will be when they are older. However, if they are confident, very open and affectionate, and love to play tug at eight weeks, there is a great chance that’s how they will be when they are older. These are things you would know only by actually going and observing the litter for yourself. Then, based on what you are looking for, you can pick the pup that you think best suits your needs.
When picking dogs for personal protection, we use a breeder who breeds specifically for that type of work, as I stated above. Once we identify a reputable breeder, we go to their location and put their litter of puppies through a series of tests. Even if you are just looking for a regular household pet, this is still a great test to ensure your dog has an overall good temperament. First, you do not want a puppy who is away from the litter; meaning, off by itself and not socializing or playing with the others. We are looking for the puppies jumping at their gate in order to great us; this shows they are happy to socialize with people. Second, we will test their “drive,” in other words, how motivated are they to go after something? We are looking for dogs that have a great prey drive, so when we roll a ball, we want a puppy that will chase after it and preferably bring it back. This shows they have a high drive, which is essential. Additionally, we are looking for that same level of motivation when they play tug; for protection, your dog must have a great tug drive. As we go through these steps, we are slowly eliminating the pups that do not have these characteristics.
For their second phase of testing, we will take one-on-one the pups who have passed the prior steps in order to evaluate them further. One of the things we do is get them really excited by playing with them and then rolling them over to their backs to see how easily they submit. Ideally, you want a puppy that is fighting to get up. This shows they are not very quick to submit. We follow that with a drop test, which involves us playing with the pup and then dropping something loud beside it or making a loud noise (dropping a metal bowl, a loud clap, etc.). Ideally, you are looking for a puppy that does not overreact to a loud noise. If they do overreact, we are looking for a quick recovery, meaning, you can quickly get them to come back and engage them back into the play. One of the final things we do is the pinch test. While playing with the dog, we give them a pinch on the side until they give a little whimper. This is done to test their ability to forgive the handler for giving them a correction, meaning, how they react when the handler gives them an unpleasant feeling. Do they shut down and run away or do they quickly forgive and come back? We are looking for a puppy that does not immediately run away from us. For those that do run away, we want one that we can quickly get to come back.
If you are getting a dog from a shelter or rescue organization, add in the additional step of taking the dog out and around other dogs, people, and kids in order to see how they behave with them. This is done to ensure you are not getting a people- or dog-aggressive dog before you take him home. Often, people get a dog from a shelter or rescue organization and a week later they have their first encounter with another dog or child and find their dog is aggressive. An additional step you may want to take is seeing how the dog from the shelter is with food and toys. While the dog is eating and playing with toys, touch the dog, the food, and the toy to determine if there is any possible food or toy aggression. Be proactive and find all of this out before you choose a dog.
This is the basic guideline we use in order to find a good, well-balanced, good-tempered, happy, and friendly dog. Just to clarify, there are no guarantees in dogs, however, we have found that this is a great process to follow and it is generally very accurate when trying to predict how a dog will be as it gets older.
Then, once you find the perfect dog, start looking at training options for your puppy.