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How to Choose the Right Dog for You

Considering adopting a dog? Check out these considerations to help choose a furry friend who is a good fit for you and your lifestyle.

Adopting a dog is an exciting and life-changing decision. Nearly anyone who has done so can vouch for the fact that they quickly become a cherished companion, often on par with family. But unlike relatives and in-laws, we get to choose our dog. So as with any successful partnership, it has to be a good fit for all parties. Taking a moment to evaluate your lifestyle, preferences, and physical surroundings can help hone your search to the most compatible breeds. Here are some key factors to consider. 

When choosing a dog, research breed characteristics and how well they fit your lifestyle

Activity level

Dogs, just like humans, vary greatly in regards to their exercise needs. Which do you identify with?

Low: You’re busy most of the day or lead a sedentary lifestyle, and are just looking for a dog that is content with walks around the block. 

Medium: Casual walks during the week, a bit of playtime at home, and then some frisbee sessions in the park on weekends.

High: A total fitness buff who wants to get out for regular runs, hikes, and perhaps even dogpacking adventures (John-and-Mira style).

Border collies have high activity and mental stimulation needs

Budget/Time considerations

What do your resources (both time and money) dictate in regards to diet, training, maintenance, and, once again, exercise? 

Tight: Smaller dogs eat less, and certain breeds are easier to manage in terms of grooming and/or training. Also consider adopting a shelter dog, rather than soliciting private breeders, as this will greatly reduce the upfront cost. 

Modest: Puppy school and professional groomers are on the table. Non-specialty bulk food purchases are also reasonable. Owners may wish to invest time into play/exercise, or recruit the neighborhood dog-walker. 

Abundant: Purebreds may be desired, despite the (sometimes) specialized diets and additional medical needs. Professionals can be recruited to help with the training/grooming/walking duties. 

Grooming considerations

While grooming needs (and therefore required time and resources) vary greatly from breed to breed, there are a few common practices to be mindful of. 

Universal: All dogs benefit from regular teeth brushing (anywhere from once a day to 2-3 times/week), ear cleaning (~once/month), bathing (regular but don’t overdo it), nail trimming (every 2 – 4 weeks depending on activity level), and paw-health checks (look for damage or excessive hair growth). You’ll most likely also find yourself randomly dabbing away eye goobers and drool. Talk to your vet and/or breeder to learn how to manage these tasks yourself, consider your local pet store (PetCo offers packages from $12 – $25 USD), or hire a professional groomer (prices range anywhere from $30 to $100+/session) if you’d rather pass off these duties. 

Some breeds such as goldendoodles require grooming every 1-2 months to prevent matting

Specialized: Along with all of the above measures, dogs with longer/thicker hair will need to be brushed several times/week, or even daily. Note that there is no one-size-fits-all brush. Different coasts require different strokes. During tick season (which in some places can be year-round) check for invaders during every grooming session. Also watch for impacted anal sacs. That sort-of-cute, sort-of-gross butt-scoot, and/or licking/scratching at the anus can be a sign from your dog that it’s time to visit the vet. 

Desire to travel

Are you a homebody, a globe-trotter, or somewhere inbetween? Different dogs are suited to each scenario. 

Homebody: Owning a dog is enough of an adventure. Hanging out at home, walking to a new park, and maybe some short car rides constitute the ideal situation. 

Sightseer: International travel might not be in the cards, but a road trip to a national park is a preferred weekend getaway. 

Globe-Trotter: Long-distance car/bus/train trips and even international flights open the door to experiences you want to share with your best friend. Well-tempered and highly-trained dogs can rise to the occasion, and smaller breeds will tend to meet transportation requirements.

Your dog should be comfortable in a busy, novel, noisy environment

For more information on how to travel with your dog, check out our travel articles.


Imagine if you were perpetually clad in a winter coat, or had to go everywhere in just a light long-sleeve. This is what many dogs experience. So considering your home climate will help keep your companion comfortable. 

Cold: Hefty, hairy dogs thrive in consistently cool conditions. 

Four-Seasons: An open-book scenario. Smaller, short-haired breeds can be dressed up during the winter, while pooches with naturally thick coats can be given a slick summer haircut, or retreat to the air-conditioned indoors during peak heat hours. 

Hot: It is easier to warm up than cool down, so smaller, slimmer, or minimally-furred dogs fare best in paradise. 

Family considerations

Are you a party of one? Do you have, or intend to have kids? How about multiple dogs under the same roof? 

Lone Wolf: Just you and your dog against the world. Take stock of your personal preferences and aim to adopt a breed that supports your lifestyle/living arrangements. Keep in mind potential dog park and playdate dynamics. A social pup may still make the most sense. 

Full House: Whether it’s young kids or other animals, incorporating a playful or passive (sometimes both), social, and gentle dog will bring even more warmth to a lively household. Just be mindful of this next variable. 


Some people are sensitive to the hair, dander, dust, and excretions that animals bring around. It’s important to assess your own health, as well as everyone else in the household – something that may not be immediately obvious until after adoption. Consider asking your doctor about skin/blood tests for allergen-specific Immunoglobulin E to crack the case in advance of adoption. 

None: No adverse reactions are experienced to any dogs. Therefore, all breeds are on the table. However, owners will likely want to increase regular cleaning practices (i.e. sweeping, vacuuming, mopping, wiping down surfaces/furniture) to ensure good general health. 

Moderate: Mild sniffles and itchy eyes can be managed by either adopting a hypoallergenic breed, or by implementing some, or all, of the following strategies: bathe the dog at least once a week, arrange separate sleeping areas, keep the dog outside as much as possible (if applicable and reasonable), vacuum frequently with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) rig, install HEPA air filters throughout the home, and talk to your doctor about allergy medications. 

Problematic: Sufferers of severe allergies (escalating to wheezing, rashes, and hives) and asthma may struggle to keep a dog in the house. Hypoallergenic breeds are not a guarantee, as even saliva and urine can be triggering, but having less hair, or at least dander (a common trigger) gives reactive owners a better chance at living comfortably with canine company. All of the previously mentioned mitigating behaviors may still need to be practiced. Unfortunately, some people have no choice but to give up their pets, or avoid adoption in the first place. 

The goldendoodle is a hypoallergenic breed but individual sensitivity by allergic humans may vary


Selecting a dog for size can overlap with several of the above factors (i.e. climate, travel, budget), but also relates to the spaciousness of your home. 

Small: A lap (or even purse) dog can easily go anywhere, or happily roam free in a small apartment. 

Medium: Can still live in modest spaces (so long as parks/walking routes are nearby), but will love a bigger house/yard. 

Large: Big dogs are great for cuddles and protection, but are best-suited for larger properties.

Emotional support

Dogs have the ability to offer an invaluable emotional boost. But the ideal scenario looks different for everyone. What kind of companion are you looking for?

Independent: Just having a dog around is comforting. The routine keeps you on track, and having a stoic protector at the foot of the bed puts your mind at ease. But playtime and cuddles aren’t necessarily your thing. 

Affectionate: Cozying up on the couch while watching Netflix and sleeping next to a soft, snoring creature makes everything feel A-OK. There are plenty of dogs who just want to chill out and give their love. 

Spirited: A smiling, playful, bouncy dog is just what’s needed to shake off those funks. Even if you’re feeling down, the infectious spirit and demands of a high-energy dog can offer a reliable, pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps solution. 

Chart your situation

Now that you’ve had a chance to review some common scenarios, let’s create a visual aid to help you on your dog-adoption quest. Print off this chart and circle/highlight what applies to you, as a guide to selecting the best-matched breeds. 

Activity LevelLowMediumHigh

Embracing the joys of dog ownership involves thoughtful consideration of your lifestyle and surroundings when selecting a breed. This deliberate approach lays the foundation for a successful and fulfilling companionship, ensuring both you and your canine friend thrive in this committed relationship.

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