Watch Tip: Select Pets for Temperament

Posted on February 12th, 2012 by Anna Nirva

Watch Tip LogoAdvocate for choosing a canine companion based on rational criteria, not size or cuteness. Large dogs and little dogs generally take the same amount of daily care and training time. Learn the advantages of keeping large dogs in the family; they are often overlooked in shelters by would-be adopters, more of whom prefer small dogs.

Every dog and cat is an individual

If we could influence more adopters to select a pet based on temperament and lifestyle considerations, more large dogs and adult dogs might be chosen. Today there is more demand for small dogs and puppies. In some areas of the country, there are not enough small dogs in shelters and rescues to satisfy demand so would-be adopters purchase small-breed puppies instead of adopting. Also, purchasing puppies is often faster and easier than adopting.

At the shelter where I volunteer in Wisconsin, little and medium-size adult dogs are adopted at a significantly faster rate compared to large adult dogs. We see a sad phenomenon. Small dog adopters often appear to be more concerned about size, breed, color, and hair length before temperament. It’s almost a caricature; we observe this frequently. One  comment made by small dog adopters is that small dogs are easier to care for. Many dog lovers who have broad experience with many breeds find that assertion truly puzzling.

Adopters of adult cats are different. Cat adopters appear to be more concerned with temperament when making an adoption choice. Color and hair length are not mentioned as concerns as often, in my experience. Ease of care isn’t mentioned.

But small dogs adopters do mention ease of care as a primary consideration—and that is an important misconception that we must try to correct. Dogs of all sizes need daily exercise, scheduled mealtimes and potty trips, and consistent training to become good family citizens. Dogs of all sizes have grooming needs such as nail trims and ear and teeth cleaning. All of that takes time.

The truth is that dog size and time needed for daily care does not correlate. It may just be easier to ignore the needs of small dogs! Some who acquire small dogs believing they require less care might become benignly neglectful, especially as regards training and exercise, which is sad.

Food purchase totals are increased for large dogs but many would argue that if this is a consideration, the adopter should volunteer to be a foster home for a rescue or shelter instead.  If an adopter can’t afford good food for a large dog, it follows that the adopter could not afford medical care for the pet, no matter the size. Too many pets are relinquished to shelters because of medical expense today; many homeless pets are euthanized for preventable and treatable ailments. Pet owners should have a contingency fund for emergencies and plan for annual expenses. Some experts advise that pet owners should plan on spending over $500 annually for a small dog. See this cost chart prepared by the ASPCA.

Large dogs are excellent companions and some small dog adopters might do well to consider the benefits of bringing large dogs into the family.

  • Large dogs are considered to be easier to house train as a general rule. Some trainers believe large dogs tend to be more trainable overall as they were bred to work and follow commands.
  • They provide more of a protective and imposing presence by their size alone. I take comfort in knowing my three large dogs would defend us effectively if needed.
  • They are less likely to be injured around the house. Small dogs are fragile and some bones may break if dropped or stepped on by accident.
  • Large dogs can pull wagons or carry parcels which can be occasionally very useful. They can trail, hunt, retrieve, herd, or otherwise work with their humans on goal-directed tasks.

Advocate for using objective criteria for selecting a canine companion and be sure to point out the advantages of adopting large adult dogs, many of whom are ideal for first-time owners.

One Response to “Watch Tip: Select Pets for Temperament”

  1. Angela Faeth says:

    Great article, thank you for sharing!


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