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8 things to consider when choosing a dog for your family

Are you planning on bringing a dog into your life? If so, you may be wondering what kind of dog is best for you. This is an important question because including a dog in your family should be a lifetime commitment, and he or she will be completely dependent on you to meet their every need. It’s essential that you find a dog who is suited to your lifestyle, housing and family situation, so use the following considerations as a guide to help to make the best choice and to keep your new furry friend healthy and happy.


Like us, dogs vary widely in personality and this is influenced by both their genetics and early life experiences. Think about what’s important to you – a dog who is affectionate, friendly, cheerful, spirited, independent, devoted, playful, loyal, obedient, gentle, calm, intelligent, protective, brave, alert, curious and good with other pets?

To find out what it may be like to live with a particular dog, consider their type – for example, herding dog types are renowned for being intelligent, easily trained and great companions but they need lots of mental and physical stimulation; terriers are often feisty and energetic, keen to explore but can be somewhat stubborn; and small dogs are popular for their affectionate and sociable natures, but can be especially prone to feeling anxious when left alone. Whatever the type of dog, they are all individuals, so be advised by the shelter staff who are familiar with the dog’s unique personality and if you buy from a breeder, be sure to meet the dog’s parents.

Exercise requirements

All dogs require daily exercise, so before considering any dog, make sure you are up to the commitment of at least one (but preferably more) daily walk. Beyond this, a dog’s particular exercise requirements vary according to their type and energy levels, so make sure you can accommodate these. Some dogs are highly energetic and need off-leash exercise as well as daily walks, others are happy with daily walks and a game, and some enjoy lounging around in between outings. Examples of high energy dogs are Border Collies and Kelpies, whereas Maltese and Shih-tzus have lower energy levels.


The size of dog you choose is important for several reasons. The larger the dog, the more indoor and outdoor space they will need, the more exercise and the more food! Smaller, quiet dogs are often ideal companions for seniors because they are easier to handle and don’t require as much exercise, although they still need their daily walk. Dogs suited to young children are often larger dogs who like children, whereas small breeds can be nervous around them, and may be injured by inappropriate handling. Where children are concerned, however, the main factor is whether the dog is comfortable around them, regardless of the dog’s type, and supervising dogs around children is always essential.

Living conditions

All dogs must be securely contained within their properties. When considering the kind of dog you are interested in, think about how you could meet their needs for space, exercise and stimulation within your home environment, whether this is an apartment or house and whether you have a courtyard, large backyard, acreage or access to a local park or other area for exercising nearby.

Grooming requirements

Pet grooming is an essential part of health care. It keeps their coats shiny, removes dirt, debris and loose hair, prevents matts and provides the opportunity to check for lumps or parasites such as fleas and ticks. If you are unable to groom your dog more than once per week, a short-haired dog would be the best choice, as those with medium or long hair, or dogs who shed a lot, need daily brushing.

Health problems

Just like people, all dogs will need medical care throughout their lives, but dogs who have been bred to have exaggerated features are prone to serious health problems that reduce their lifespan and quality of life. Examples include flat-faced dogs such as Pugs and Bulldogs, who have serious difficulty breathing, along with other health issues, and require more daily care and often expensive specialist treatments. Owners who buy dogs with exaggerated physical features need to be aware of the potential health problems their pets will most likely develop and of the high cost of treatments to keep them comfortable.

Puppy or adult?

Puppies are adorable but if you’re considering buying a puppy, be prepared for the time and effort it takes to socialise and train them. The other important consideration is whether you can commit to caring for a dog for up to 15 years or more. If not, there are many adult and older dogs needing homes.

Adopt or buy from a breeder?

There are many advantages to finding the right puppy or dog for your family by visiting a reputable animal welfare or rescue organisation such as the RSPCA. You will have the assurance that every dog has been vet checked and assessed as suitable for rehoming, and the staff can advise you on each dog’s personality health needs and requirements for a forever home.

There are dogs of all types (including purebreds and cross-breeds), sizes and personalities, with a choice between puppies and adult dogs. If you are still unable to find the dog you are looking for, use the RSPCA’s Smart Puppy and Dog Buyer’s Guide to be sure you are dealing with a good breeder and are not unwittingly supporting the puppy farming industry.

Remember, providing vet care is essential

Bringing a dog into your home is a joyful experience when you’ve found that special one whose needs you can meet within your family’s lifestyle. To give them the best start, you should visit your veterinarian shortly after bringing your new friend home so they can have an initial full health check and get used to vet visits. And remember that providing veterinary care is a huge part of the responsibility of being a pet owner, including regular vet checks, preventative treatments and emergency care for accidents or illnesses.

One way to help make sure you can meet your dog’s needs for veterinary care, particularly after an accident or illness, is to consider RSPCA Pet Insurance.

Image of Dr Rosemary Elliot

Dr Rosemary Elliot 

Dr Rosemary studied veterinary science at the University of Sydney after having established her career as a clinical psychologist, and has qualifications of BVSc (Hons), MANZCVS (Animal Welfare), MPsych (Clin), BA (Hons) as well as previously establishing her career as a clinical psychologist. Her experiences during veterinary training fostered an ambition to focus directly on animal welfare and ethics, with a particular interest in animal sentience and the human-animal bond. Currently working in small animal practice, Dr Rosemary combines her psychology background and veterinary skills to contribute to and promote animal welfare, and regularly contributes quality content to RSPCA Pet Insurance's Pet Care blog.