Marty Becker's Advice to Understanding 'Your Dog'

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If you want a dog who needs more than you can give him in terms of time or exercise, do you have or can you afford to pay for a support system? Do you hate dog hair or are you good with picking the occasional strand off the butter or business suit without a flinch? Are you, personally, ready to take on the care of another living being, or is getting your own self fed and dressed about as much as you can handle? (I throw that one in for those Paris Hilton wannabes who forget that dogs aren't fashion statements or canine accoutrements, and they do need to get out of those designer handbags to do their business.)

In other words, figure out who you are, and you'll be better able to make a good match. Owning a dog is a lot like finding a mate, after all— except that odds are for many people that their dogs will live longer than their marriages last. Take your time and know yourself. (Not bad advice for that marriage thing, too.)

Think Twice about That New "Hot" Dog

How do dogs go from "What on earth is that?" to "I gotta have one, too"? Publicity, of course. A breed or mix turns up in a popular movie (like Disney's Dalmatian movies), on a hot advertisement (think the Taco Bell Chihuahua), or a long- running TV series (Frasier, whose cast included a Jack Russell Terrier) and suddenly you have a new "it" dog.

There are two problems with choosing the popular dog of the year. First, the breed may not be right for you. Canine actors are well-trained and never reveal the true characteristics of a breed, such as high-energy (Dalmatian), barkiness and pushiness (Chihuahua), and high-energy barkiness, pushiness, and an unstoppable desire to dig (Jack Russell). While every breed is right for someone, no breed is right for everyone. If you're thinking of a breed that's suddenly popular because of a turn in the spotlight, make sure you're not being swayed by a passing trend.

The second problem: When a breed becomes hot, it tends to encourage people who should not be breeding dogs at all to jump into the market. The resulting puppies are more likely to have health problems or be poorly socialized because of the corners cut getting puppies produced and sold before the next star dog starts rising.

The Cost of Having a Dog

Once you've figured out the kind of person you are and will be in the lifetime of your prospective dog, it's time to look at the life you lead. After all, the fact that you love to run, and would love running even more if you had a dog with you, doesn't mean a thing if you can't fit running into your schedule. And while there are lots of ways to save money on caring for your dog while not scrimping on the necessities, if you're really struggling to make ends meet you might need to put off owning a pet until things are going better for you.

Money is an issue with all dogs—small dogs aren't all that much less expensive to care for than large ones, except in the category of food. They still need regular veterinary care, and many have health issues that are related to their size, especially the tiniest of dogs. And lots of smaller dogs need professional grooming that big dogs don't.

Doggie Details

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