How to select a dog

Part 2 of 3 part series.

dog mix breed
What breed am I?

When families start to look for a dog they often hear sage advice to “do your homework on dogs first – research breeds you think you want to make sure they are a good fit for you and your family”. It sounds like fantastic advice, right?

If you are planning to add a pure bred dog from a reputable breeder to your family, you can and should do your dog breed research as advised. But what if you are planning to adopt a rescue dog? How do you research a “lab/shepherd mix”? What

kind of shepherd is in the mix? What the lab part of the mix an American lab, an English lab, or is the lab mix mixed with another breed as well? What if the vet who examined the “lab/shepherd mix” for the rescue guessed wrong all together? (spoiled alert: not many rescues or shelters do DNA tests to determine the exact “mix” of a dog, vets use their experience, judgment, and knowledge of breeds to assign a breed to a dog). But what if they did? Wouldn’t a DNA test solve the riddle of what breed(s) the dog is? Well, sort of, maybe?

DNA test?

Patricia McConnell, a world-renowned zoologist PhD and Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist recently wrote an article that casts a different light on dog DNA testing. She and a friend compared results from a Wisdom panel, an established DNA test

for dogs, against a newer DNA test put out by Embark. The article can be found here: The most prominent breed identified in both sets of results was the same, the remaining breeds were completely different. In the case of Dr. McConnell’s article, about 1/3 of the dog was a Siberian Husky (maybe 1/3 in both tests – this wasn’t completely clear in the results presented), the other 2/3 of the dog was different breeds. The article goes on to offer explanations from the manufacturers about why and how they arrived at their results if you want to learn more. Note: this post is in no way intended to be an indictment of DNA test manufacturers. DNA testing for dogs is new and evolving science that will no doubt improve over time.

So the conundrum for would-be dog adopters remains: if I am supposed to do my homework and research breeds, but I can’t be certain that breed listed on the adoption paperwork matches the dog DNA inside, what should I do?

Go with the same breed you had last time?

As a dog trainer, I often get questions from people about how to select a dog. My best advice is not technical or flashy. The first thing I suggest is that people don’t follow the strategy of “I want a that I grew up with, or just had to put to sleep at 15, or that my best friend has so I get a dog just like him/her”. Thinking that if you adopt a specific breed because you had a great experience with this breed in the past can be a disaster waiting to happen. Why? Because dogs are individuals with personalities and every dog – even dogs of the same breed – is unique. If you have just lost a dog this is ever more important. Trying to replace your dog who just died with the same breed in hopes that it will be the same dog usually results in disappointment and frustration. So again, what is a would-be adopter to do?

Personality test?

Instead of focusing on the breed of a dog you loved in the past, focus on what the dog did that you loved. (If this is your first dog, think about what characters and personality you want in your 1st dog). How much energy did he have? How old was he when you met him and how did his exercise needs change over time? (Your 14-year golden that just died wasn’t always a couch potato – I bet he had a lot of pep in his step for the majority of his life – remember that part too!) Do you like to hike with your dog? Do you like to take your dog to public places? Do you want a social butterfly of a dog, or one who is content to hang back and be calm? Do you want a dog that will play fetch for hours with you? A dog you can take swimming? Do you want to take your dog to friends’ houses? To be able to board your dog at a daycare when you go on a cruise next year? Do you want to spend a lot of time training and exercising your dog, or would you prefer to just do the basics for training and have a family dog? Do you have the time to house train a puppy (meaning you or someone is home the majoring of the day)?


By honestly answering all of these questions honestly, and then interviewing potential dogs and adoption organizations, you just may find the dog of your dreams who is a completely different breed than you thought you wanted, and be happier than you imagined. Reputable rescues and shelters will help you find dogs who are a good fit, and they will allow you to spend as much time with a dog as you need to make your selection (don’t expect them to “hold” a dog for you though, most will not because more than half of the “holds” fall through, leaving dogs in kennels and foster homes longer than necessary). Take your time, meet lots of potential dogs, and go with instinct if you see something you do or don’t like in potential dog for your family. Your are making a commitment for the life of the dog you are bringing home – it may take a while to find “the one”, but it is time well spent.

Our next post will provide specific tips and suggestions for working with rescues to adopt the dog of your dreams.

4 Things to Consider Before Adding a 2nd Dog to Your Family

If you are thinking of adding a second dog to your family there are a lot of things to consider. Many times families focus on things like what a new pups’s name will be, what breed do they want, how old, where will go to get it; however, there are some more important considerations and decisions to make before embarking on your search for a new 4 legged friend.

[Full disclosure: the author is a proud dog mom to 4 great dogs]

  1. Does your current dog want a buddy? Not all dogs like other dogs. Some pups like to walk with other dogs but not play with them. Some like to romp and wrestle with their canine buddies. If your dog does not enjoy playing with other 4 legged buddies, Dogwhether in your neighborhood or in a daycare setting, there is a good chance he won’t like it in his home either. When considering adding a second canine, make sure to factor in your current dog’s sex (male-male and male female pairs tend to do better than female-female pairs), your current dog’s energy level (a senior dog may not see a puppy as a good couch buddy), and tolerance for other dogs (if your dog does not like other dogs, adding a second dog could be disastrous for both dogs).
  2. Time commitment – Put simply, two pups require twice the care and attention. Many times, pup number two is added to a family to keep pup number one occupied. Sometimes this results not in two well-exercised and happy dogs. Many times the result is two pups who chew shoes, dig holes in the yard, and get into other creative mischief. Don’t get me wrong, the pups have a blast together, but the owner now has twice the issues to deal with. You also need to factor in time to work on training both dogs (dog trainer secret: What is the best way to train two dogs? One at a time.) Is everyone in the family on board with helping with a second dog (or are at least enough family members on board so that the responsibility doesn’t fall to one person)?
  3. Financial considerations – Food bills, vet bills, and all other costs are close to double the amount for two canines versus one dog. Budgeting and planning, not to mention realistic expectation for this can prevent adopter’s remorse when it is time for annual wellness visits at the vet and it’s time to refill preventative flea, tick, and heart worm medications.
  4. Why do you want two dogs? – This is a personal question each family should ask itself. My best advice is to consider this carefully, along with the considerations above. Adding a second dog is a big decision. If your answer to this question is solely “to occupy my other dog”, I strongly suggest you reconsider your plan.

If you have really gotten to know your current pup’s likes and dislikes in terms of other four legged friends, are honest about how much time you have to give to two pups, come up with a budget, and do that gut check about why you want a second pup, and all signs point to “yes, the entire family would love a second dog” – go for it! A future post will offer some tips and things to consider in selecting your second pup and also so great resources for finding great dogs. Thinking of adding a new puppy to your pack? Check out our article Starting out Right with Your New Puppy!

Pepper’s Paws, LLC provides in home training in Rehoboth Beach DE and surrounding communities. We also Zoom dog training lessons for people who do not live in our private lessons service area of the Delaware Beaches.

Head trainer Deb Murray, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA is certified by the Certification Council of Professional Dog Trainers, an AKC CGC Evaluator, and a Distinguished Graduate and Mentor Trainer for the Catch Canine Academy.