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A paw-fect match - How to choose the best dog to bring joy and more to your family

Koda, a rescue husky from the PEI Humane Society, perfectly fits Megan Livingstone's family.
Koda, a rescue husky from the P.E.I. Humane Society, perfectly fits Megan Livingstone's family. - SaltWire Network

With a gentle nudge of her wet nose or lick on the hand, Koda demonstrates her unconditional love.

Huskies are not on the Canadian Kennel Club's (CKC) top 10 lists for most popular breeds in the country, with Labrador retrievers maintaining the pack leaders' record. Still, when it comes to a family match – lists are irrelevant.

"Koda (previously named Angel) is doing great. My husband and I have four kids between the ages of one and 10, and each one has their special bond with the dog. Koda is sweet and gentle with the two youngest, and excitable and playful with the two oldest," said Megan Livingstone.

In November 2019, Koda was one of 17 husky puppies seized from an Island dog breeder because of mistreatment.

The dogs were cared for by the P.E.I. Humane Society until ready for adoption.

"She is mostly calm and easy now but has that 'husky spunk' at times. Koda loves people, other dogs, chewing anything and everything, and being outside. She is well-loved and adds so much to our family," said Livingstone.

Like Koda, Huskies are good-natured, affectionate dogs that generally do well with children but need plenty of exercise since they are working dogs. - SaltWire Network
Like Koda, Huskies are good-natured, affectionate dogs that generally do well with children but need plenty of exercise since they are working dogs. - SaltWire Network

Getting a dog

Jennifer Harkness, development manager at the P.E.I. Humane Society, says before adding any pet to your home, it is essential to consider all the reasons for doing so.

"Every dog has a unique personality but is influenced by breed traits and socialization while young. Research different breeds to get an idea of the match for you based on the breed's characteristics, not just their appearance," said Harkness.

"Ask yourself if you can meet all of the breed's needs. If you have an infant or small child, an extra-large breed puppy might be hard to control from jumping and knocking over your little ones. If you have mobility issues, a small-size dog might be more appropriate for walking. If a specific breed is well-known for barking, then apartment living is a no go."

Harkness added, "Dogs have similar needs, but some need more engagement or exercise than others. Your pet will need exercising, proper nutrition, enrichment through games, play, puzzles or smelling, and most of all, love. So, what can you provide for your future dog?"

Toy breeds, such as pugs, are social animals that require lots of cuddles and attention. - Desiree Anstey
Toy breeds, such as pugs, are social animals that require lots of cuddles and attention. - Desiree Anstey

When finding a home for a rescue dog, Harkness said the P.E.I. Humane Society looks at the environment for the dog's personality and special needs.

"We consider what other people or pets live in the home. Can the potential owner provide the right training, guidance, and exercise the dog requires? Our adoption coordinator looks at each pet as an individual, so many factors need consideration. Ultimately, a decision is always based on what is best for the dog."

For purebred dogs, Harkness says potential owners should research before purchasing a dog from a breeder.

"Ask for the parent's veterinarian records and insist on meeting the mother and father in their housing area. A puppy whelping area should provide adequate space, be clean, warm, and the animals should appear in good health with a clean coat. Reputable breeders must adhere to all regulations under the Canadian Kennel code."

Dog temperament

A seven-week-old mixed breed puppy (boxer, shepherd, pitbull from the mother's side) in training at a Nova Scotia puppy shelter run by Christina Spencer.  - SaltWire Network
A seven-week-old mixed breed puppy (boxer, shepherd, pitbull from the mother's side) in training at a Nova Scotia puppy shelter run by Christina Spencer. - SaltWire Network

Christina Spencer, owner of a Nova Scotia puppy shelter called Oops! Puppies, based in the Annapolis Valley, said the dog's temperament should be a primary consideration.

"Temperament determines things like sound sensitivity (vital if you work on Harley's from home or have loud little people). Stress for dogs, like humans, builds over time. To be comfortable knowing they are a good fit is a big part of finding the right dog," said Spencer.

"Before getting a dog, I think families should consider how much time they have daily to teach a dog to get along in a home. Most families believe they are getting a dog for the right reasons, but it doesn't work out long-term due to temperament, money, or time."

Christina Spencer has her dog teach puppies such as bite inhibition, resilience, climbing, and running skills. - SaltWire Network
Christina Spencer has her dog teach puppies such as bite inhibition, resilience, climbing, and running skills. - SaltWire Network

Spencer, who works primarily with mutts, acknowledged dogs that match energy levels, training skills, and general tolerances would be her preference. But companion dogs are the easiest to live with, requiring minimal exercise or mental stimulation.

"On the other hand," she said, "working or sporting dogs can become destructive if their needs are not met."

Spencer began Oops! Puppies eight years ago to curb overpopulation by spaying mother dogs and providing confident, friendly, and well-adjusted puppies to families.

"I felt that if I could assist families with their decision, and use a science-based approach, pups would stay in families more permanently. I pay the vet bill when the momma's (of litters) get spayed. I am a small scale, one-person operation. The focus is still on those pups and momma dogs. But I do work with adults when I have the space and time."

Puppies receive the benefits of early neurological stimulation, motion sickness training, and a wide variety of socializing with textures underfoot and in the mouth.

"They are truly ready to go out into the world after training, and I share their strengths and weaknesses with the potential family."

Things to consider

A Siberian husky is an intelligent, independent breed of dog that rarely barks but needs lots of exercise. - SaltWire Network
A Siberian husky is an intelligent, independent breed of dog that rarely barks but needs lots of exercise. - SaltWire Network

Ken Reid, a dog trainer and behaviour consultant at NL Dog Whisperer, agrees that adopting a dog is a decision not to be taken lightly.

"Potential owners think of a cute dog to add to the family pictures, walking on sunny days, playing fetch in the fields, cuddling around a fireplace – all of which are great activities enjoyed with a dog,” he said.

"However, many people do not consider the other side of things. Peeing and pooping in the house, mouthing, destruction of furniture, walking in rain, snow, sleet, hail.”

Consider the costs of training classes, vet bills, and boarding when going on vacation, warned Reid.

"Owning a dog is a 15- to 20-year responsibility both in terms of financial and physical family resources. When the family gets home from school and work, there is the fixing of supper, homework, kids' activities, and the dog still needs a walk and to be worked."

Reid said a dog's disposition and personality should match that of its owner.

"While the breed is a contributing factor to predicting personality and temperament, it is only one factor. Individual characteristics within a breed can be diverse. You can have members of the same litter with opposite personalities. A good quality reputable breeder can help guide their clients to make the right choice for their families."

But a wealth of research shows that people who own dogs receive multiple health benefits.

"Lower blood pressure and stress, higher reported happiness levels, participation in the community, group classes, group sports, meeting like-minded individuals, are just some of the advantages of owning a dog. Plus, they usually give unconditional love," Reid added.

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1 being least likely, and 10 being most likely

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