Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Finding the Right 'Wagging Tail' for Your Home

Pet Column for the week of March 15, 2011

Related information:

Related site - Primary Care at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital
Services - Human-Animal Bond

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Brittany Way
Information Specialist

According to a recent survey by the American Pet Products Association, there are 77.5 million pet dogs in the United States, and 39 percent of households own at least one dog. If your family is about to join the dog-owning crowd, how do you choose the right one for your lifestyle?

Dr. Kandice Norrell, primary care veterinarian at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana, lists a number of factors you should consider in order to select the right "wagging tail" to fit your family.

Owning a dog is a responsibility and a challenge as well as a joy. Before you take this step, ask yourself whether your family is willing to make adjustments for your new dog if your current lifestyle isn't dog-friendly.

Size is an important consideration. Small dogs tend to be more delicate and vulnerable and are often more sensitive to colder temperatures. Large dogs need a bit more space to move around in and often need what Dr. Norrell calls "wagging space" so those long, whip-like tails don't destroy your knickknacks. Also, the larger the dog, the more expensive things like food, medications, and grooming become.

"Regardless of breed or size, every dog needs routine exercise," says Dr. Norrell. "If you cannot commit to more than one or two casual walks per day, then you will be better off with a low-energy dog, such as a basset hound. If you are looking for a dog that can be a jogging partner or 'disc dog,' consider a breed like a border collie." Many behavior problems, such as digging up the yard or chewing your possessions, could be curbed by adding more exercise to your dog's daily routine to use up that excess energy.

What age of dog is right for you? Dr. Norrell says patience is a must with young puppies; they require the most attention and training. With an adult dog, you have a good idea of the energy level, attitude, and temperament. Senior dogs can make a great addition to the family, but recognize that they will require more frequent veterinary check-ups and are more likely to develop health problems.

If you decide to adopt a pure-bred dog, make sure you research the breed thoroughly. Mixed breed dogs, the combination of many breeds, tend to balance out the temperament and physical traits of the breeds they came from. For the same reason, you can't know exactly what to expect with a mixed breed.

Remember, all dogs will need training, no matter the breed, size, or age.

Dr. Norrell recommends finding your new family member at an animal shelter, rescue organization, or reputable breeder. Once you've found your perfect "wagging tail" for your family, enjoy your time together! If you have any questions about choosing a dog or your new dog, ask your local veterinarian.