How to Choose the Right Dog for Your Family

How to Choose the Right Dog for Your Family

I once had an 85 year old man come to me because his niece gave him a Jack Russell puppy because he had had a Jack Russell before. This match was difficult from the start.

Jack Russell’s tend to be intelligent and highly active. They usually need lots of exercise and mental stimulation. This dog was no exception. The man did not have the skills or the desire to teach this puppy. He tried to keep her for a year but had to finally find another home for her. This was devastating for the man and the puppy.

I often get calls from people to help them train their new dog or puppies to do a specific skill. Some people just want a family pet but others are looking for a service dog or therapy dog. Most of the time, the people have gone out and adopted a dog without considering what personality or breed would be best to meet their goals.

Just like people, dogs have a variety of personalities, skills, likes and dislikes. Sometimes the dog’s personality just doesn’t fit the expectations of the owners. If the match is not perfect and the family is not willing or able to change their goals for the dog, the human- dog bond may be permanently broken.

One of the harder issues I run into relates to people wanting to train their pet to become a service dog. Service dogs are animals that help people that have a specific disability. Not all dogs can become service dogs. They must be literally the best of the best when it comes to calm behavior and socialization. I often compare a service dog to an Olympic Athlete. Many parents dream that their child will make it to the Olympics but no amount of training can send a person to the Olympics who does not have some natural gifts.

I also like to remind people that less than 50% of the dogs that are raised by service dog organizations actually become service dogs. Those organizations specifically bred the dogs for the right attributes to succeed and start the training when the dogs are still puppies. Being a service dog is a tough job and not all dogs can do it.

Next time you are considering getting a new dog, take into consideration what your goals are with the dog.

Make sure you read up on the personality traits of the breed of dog you are considering to see if they match. If you are unsure on what breed, age or personality of a dog that would be best for your family, ask a qualified training and/or veterinarian to help you decide what dog would be best for your family.

Another important thing to consider when adopting a new dog, especially when you are adopting a puppy, is to meet the parents!

The personality of the parents will give you a good idea of how the puppy will be as an adult. If a breeder will not let you meet the parents and will not let you see the whole litter – WALK AWAY! It can be hard to walk away from a cute puppy but if you cannot see the parents and the litter, you may be adopting a dog that will have lifelong issues.

Remember that every dog is an individual, just like humans, so have compassion and consider what their gifts are rather than trying to make them fit into a mold.

Shannon CoynerShannon Coyner

Shannon has been a pet lover all her life and a dog trainer for over 20 years. She has spent her life observing, caring for and training animals of all kinds. She has worked in the Bird Department at Marine World Africa USA, and worked as an handler and trainer for an African Serval Cat at Safari West, a private zoo in Santa Rosa, California. She has participated in behavior studies including observations of bald eagles and addax antelope through the San Francisco Zoo and Safari West.

Her education includes a Biology Degree, specializing in Zoology from Sonoma State. She is a Registered Veterinary Technician, Certified Professional Dog Trainer (Knowledge Assessed), a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner, a member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers and a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants.

Shannon is currently serving as President for the Society of Veterinary Behavior Technicians.

Shannon’s dog training philosophy revolves around force free, positive reinforcement, however, her ultimate goal is for healthy happy relationship between pets and their people. Diet, exercise, environment and training all play a significant role in achieving this goal.

Shannon is currently the owner of Ventura Pet Wellness and Dog Training Center in Ventura, CA where she works with anxious and fearful dogs privately as well as teaching agility classes ( Shannon has also started a training website called Truly Force Free Animal Training (

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