How to Choose a Great Dog for YOU

Many pet owners say, “I didn’t find him. He found me!”

I believe that there is a lot of truth in this.

Every one of my dogs has been incredible.  We’ve been totally “in-sync” in our daily lives.  I don’t think this is an accident.  I think we chose one another to spend many great years together.  My personal experiences include having had 17 dogs for life, breeding/showing Siberian Huskies, training dogs and being a part-time dog catcher!  My German Shepherd, Annie, and I found one another at Orphans of the Storm, and we did everything together for 14-1/2 years.

So, how can you choose YOUR dog?  Well, in fairness to the dog, you must realize that it will come to you with a lot more than just size and color.  Each dog has inbred characteristics that are difficult to overlook/overcome.  These characteristics make the dog who he is.

I’d like to share my secrets of successfully matching myself with the rescue dog I brought to its forever home.

First, I think about what I am looking for in a dog before I begin to search.



  • Will I be able to handle the strength of this dog?
  • Do I want a dog that barks A LOT?
  • Do I want this dog to be on my furniture? It’s extra hard to keep the little ones off of a couch.
  • Do I have enough room in my home for this size?



    • Will the dog be frustrated and too high strung if she doesn’t get to burn off a lot of energy daily?
    • Will I have to force my dog to go on a run with me each morning?
    • Will my dog and I love to spend the day watching a movie?



    • Will this dog tolerate children climbing on it, or is it typically a more nervous breed?
    • Will my dog accept the company of my friends bringing their dogs to my home?
    • Can I take this dog to Home Depot for a shopping trip without an incident?
    • Will this dog want to eat the mailman when he comes to the front door?



    • What was this dog bred to do? These traits are bred into hundreds of years of their lineage.
    • What are typical for this breed, such as length of life and genetic physical problems?


GENDER (Just my experience.)

    • My females have been more intent on checking out everything around them.
    • My males may look around but they stay with me.
    • My females look out the door to watch to see who is coming.
    • My males lie beside me and sleep, but they are protective of me.
    • My females showed jealousy. Two females together can fight if they are jealous of their owner paying more attention to the other female dog.  Males don’t seem to show jealousy.

I think about how lions behave – females hunt, males just puff out their chests and eat what the females have killed.


    • Puppies are a lot of fun AND a lot of work. A LOT of work.  But they are special.
    • A dog in the shelter that is “about a year old” is a teenager. That is the time when they believe they are old enough to explore the world on their own, make their own rules, forget what you have taught them …  (just like kids, right?).  This is why there are so many energetic one-year-olds in the shelters.  Their owners were overwhelmed and gave up on them.  You should not necessarily walk past this age.  But if this is your first dog, it may not be the best choice.

Understand where the dog is in his life when you choose this age.  I personally have found that my dogs became perfect when they reached the age of a-year-and-a-half-and-a-day (549 days old).  Worth the wait.


  • You can teach an old dog new tricks! So any age is a great choice.  You don’t need to think that you don’t want an older dog because it might come with bad habits.  Just believe that it will come with habits that may not be what you want, and you will need to redirect the dog.   Almost every dog can be housebroken.  If you get a dog that is 4 years old and “not housebroken”, you will train it the same way you would a small puppy.  Consistency.  Teach this dog the potty rules until she understands.  Be vigilant in the rules and don’t let your new dog get into trouble by thinking she can go whenever, wherever.  Same as a puppy.  And by the way, even if you get a dog that someone tells you “is housebroken”, don’t be fooled.  The dog may be housebroken – for that owner – in that setting.  You and your house are new to her.


  • Consider a senior dog. Yes, you won’t have them as long because dogs don’t live as long as we want them to live.  And yes, there will be extra visits to the vet at some point.   But, think about this.  This dog most likely lived in a home for multiple years.  Now, for whatever reason, it has been taken from its home to be put in a cage.  We know how smart dogs are.  This must be mind-boggling for the dog.  This is your opportunity to do a good deed, and this pup will certainly appreciate you.


  1. Think very seriously about who else will share the house with your new dog.
    • Children
    • Frail family members
    • Other pets – dogs, cats, birds, bunnies, etc.
  2. Make sure that every inhabitant agrees with adding a dog.


Second, ONLY look for the dog that fits the criteria that you have selected.  This is really, really important.  Notice that I did not include “CUTE” in the above list.  Many, many dogs are cute and all puppies are cute.  Focus.  You can find the perfect dog for yourself if you use your list.

  • You’ve done your research. You know the dog that would be a great fit for YOU.  Time to look for THAT dog.
  • Find the dogs that — on paper –- look like the dogs you want.

Now is the tricky part.  Dogs in shelters do not always act the way they would outside of a shelter.  It’s difficult to determine the dog’s real temperament when he is in a cage. You need to take the time to meet one-on-one.

Shelter personnel will tell you that they can’t believe the difference in a dog’s personality when it is able to get outside and feel like it is leaving the shelter.  (The same way we would feel.)

  • Meet the dogs that fit your criteria. (Remember, forget “cute”.) Evaluate the FIT between you and the dog.
  • When you go to the cage, is the dog making eye contact with you or just looking around and wanting to get out?
  • The shelters will give you an opportunity to have individual time with each dog. Take a deep breath and be as calm as you can.  In the room, close your eyes and see what happens.  Does he come to you or scratch at the door?  Does he want your attention or does he want to get out?
  • When you touch the dog, does it make both of you happy? This will happen with the right dog.
  • Is the energy right between you and the dog?

I remember being at the shelter one day and watching a potential adoption.  A family with 2 kids were chasing a little brown dog around the fenced area.  The dog couldn’t run away fast enough but the family was not giving up.  Not sure how that ended.

  • Committing for LIFE to a dog isn’t a 5 minute process. Take your time.  Be sure.  You should be making a LIFETIME COMMITMENT, and this takes time.  You don’t want to select the wrong dog for you, and send it back to the shelter.  Not fair!
  • Time. Time. Really important.  Think.  Research.  Search carefully.  Choose for life.  Be fair to yourself and the dog.
  • Then, the ultimate test. Can THIS dog integrate well with the people and pets already living in your home?

 The shelter will help you with all of the items in this article.  Don’t hesitate to ask for help.  The shelter’s mission is to find forever homes for their animals.

I hope this has helped you in planning for your next lifetime companion.  Believe in him or her choosing you.  It’s the perfect way to begin a bond.

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