Basic dog facts every dog lover should know

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Most people like cuddly puppies and grown-up dogs. But before you welcome a new dog into your home, there are some things you need to think through to be sure both you and your new best friend are happy and healthy

Remember that dogs, no matter what they are today, were predators in the past. Wolves, hyenas, dingoes, and foxes are carnivorous creatures who hunt to survive. Dogs were most likely domesticated from their wolf ancestors from 20,000 to 15,000 years ago. In fact, the many dog breeds have only proliferated in the last 200-300 years. Before that, a few breeds existed to meet their masters' needs for work.

When you own a dog, remember that the wolf is somewhere in there hiding. Depending on its breed and the way you treat it, that wolf could surprise you with a quick snip or a more vicious attack. Careful selection and training of your dog will assure that your best friend remains a best friend.

Before you select a dog, do your homework. Become familiar with dog breeds and personality traits, and compare these to your personal reasons for having a dog. Do you want a cute, cuddly friend to dress up and carry around? Do you want a champion at dog agility competitions? Or a champion show dog? Do you want a companion for your children? Or do you want a body guard and home protector? Do you need support to cope with a disability?

Each breed has characteristics that indicate what your life with your new friend will be like. If you aren't very patient or don't like a lot of noise, you probably shouldn't adopt a small, energetic dog with lots of demands for attention. If you want an affectionate loyal companion, you might want to consider a Golden or Labrador Retriever or a Collie. If you want to protect your property, you might take a look at a German Shepherd, a Rottweiler, or a Doberman Pincher.

If your household includes young children, your choice should be a careful one. Your new dog will have to be patient and tolerate with kindness having its tail pulled, being jumped on, and engaged in wrestling for hours on end. Bulldogs, American Eskimo dogs, Beagles, Retrievers,

Setters, Sheepdogs, and many Terriers are among the many breeds good with children.

Want a dog you can dress up and put in cute clothes? Then look for a dog that has plenty of hair (for those fancy hair-dos) and is small enough to carry around. "Designer dogs" like

Poodles, Yorkies and Westies, Bichon Frises, Pomeranians, and the more exotic Shih Tzu are excellent candidates for this.

If you're looking for protection, be sure to look at breeds that aren't too friendly to strangers.

Great Danes are huge and intimidating, but they're likely to fall in love with the first burglar they meet! Bulldogs are another breed that look fierce but come out kissing. German Shepherds are probably the most familiar and trainable guard dogs. Other breeds also protect your home and family: Rottweilers, Boxers, Doberman Pinchers, and Giant Schnauzers are among them.

There are a few breeds that were created for their ferociousness. Rottweilers and Pit Bull

Terriers are notorious for vicious attacks. So if you are considering these breeds, you must be very clear about what to expect and very careful in training a well-behaved dog.

When you decide to bring a dog into your home, you need to be educated about what you need, what you want, and what breed will most likely fulfill your goals. When you adopt a dog, you are adding a member to your family - one for which you will be responsible for a lifetime. You should be committed to working through all the behavioral and training kinks and providing a stable, loving home. You'll not only have to train your dog, but you'll have to be trained in how to handle that dog.

A final note: Cesar Milan, the Dog Whisperer, says, "There are no bad dogs. Only bad dog owners." No matter what breed you bring into your home, in the end, you are the one responsible for your dog's behavior. Learn all you can about the dog you hope to own, and learn all you can about yourself as a pack leader. Even the feared Pit Bull is a sweet loving dog in the right hands.

No matter what breed you think you want, you should know about the specific dog's parentage, personal history, and temperament before making the commitment to be his lifetime caretaker and friend.

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