The following was written many years ago when I lived in town and was doing companion animal rescue...
So you want to get a dog? Do you already have a dog?
Here is my advice to you:
The short version:
1. Keep your dog inside.
2. Keep him in a crate when you're not home.
3. Keep him on a leash when you are home, until he's trained.
4. Give him lots of exercise and training.
5. Let him sleep in the bedroom with you.
6. Take him with you as much as you can.
The long version:
Congratulations on your decision! Dogs are wonderful. I have three of my own dogs and they are the light of my life. They are not perfect dogs, but then again, no dog is perfect. Two of them were even given up by their previous owners. With me, they manage to live a happy, active, stimulating life and they manage to avoid getting into trouble--not because they are perfect, but because I have given them some training and I have set up my house and my life for their success. You can do this too, and you should think about it before you get a dog so you'll be ready.
At my local pound, most dogs are given up because they are too rambunctious, jump too much, bark too much or dig up their yard. My dogs would do that stuff too if I didn't orchestrate their environment to prevent it! The thing to remember about dogs is this: Dogs are pack animals. That means they want to be with their pack. They look up to their human pack leaders and they feel insecure when their leaders are not with them. Do we want dogs to be like that? Yes! Otherwise they wouldn't be so loyal to us, so trainable, or such good companions. So let's all remember this when we think about dogs and their "unwanted" behaviors.
Don't forget that there are different groups of breeds and different breeds within groups. Try to read about all the differences before you make a decision. Mixed breed dogs are great, and they can be wonderful if you get one as an adult so you already can see his temperament. Purebred dogs can be described in general by the group to which the breed belongs. In general, herding dogs need a ton of exercise and training and appropriate stimulation and should be involved in some sort of ongoing program that provides this, sporting dogs need a lot of exercise and training and should probably be involved in some sort of ongoing program as well, working breeds need some exercise and training, hounds don't need much training to be good companions but can't usually be safely let off-leash, terriers like to bark and dig and don't need much exercise but usually enjoy trick training and games, and toy dogs need hardly any exercise.
In addition to exercise and training requirements there are also grooming and feeding requirements that will differ for the different breeds. There are also some very minimal generalizations that can be made about dominance levels and potential dog-aggression among breeds. Please read about these issues at the AKC's web site. If you really want to do this right, go to some dog shows and events and spend some time looking at breeds and talking to people. Please think about what you want to do with your eventual dog and how you want him to act, and then research the breeds before deciding. And remember that there can be huge individual differences even among a certain breed.
Once you pick your dog, you'll want him to wind up being a good companion to you. I'll tell you what I do around my house to keep my own dogs and my foster dogs safe and to keep me from getting frustrated with their "unwanted" behaviors. First of all, all the dogs are house dogs. They want to be with me, and I'm usually in the house, so they are too. I know a lot of people who have outside dogs. They say they can't let their dogs inside because they are too wild. Well, of course they are wild when they are let inside! Being inside is so exciting to them since they are never allowed in! They can't learn how to behave in the house if they are never let in the house. Lots of these outside dogs wind up at the pound. People say they can't go into their backyards because their dogs go nuts. Well, of course they go nuts! They are happy to see their owners.
So you agree that dogs should be inside the house with their pack? Good. But dogs don't come with the knowledge of how to behave in the house anymore than they come with the knowledge of how to behave in the yard. Because of this, all the dogs in my house have their own crate. By crate I mean either plastic airline carriers or wire dog kennels. If I am unsure of what a dog will do if left loose in my house, I teach him to go into his crate and to stay there until I get home. To help the foster dogs get used to their crate I do a variety of things.
I feed every meal in the crate. I give a treat each and every time I put the dog into the crate. I sometimes hide treats in the back of the crate for the dog to find while he's just running around the house with me. I also get into the big crates with the dogs and praise them for coming in with me. I ignore all barking and crying and I wait until the dog has settled down before letting him out. I don't want him to ever think I'm letting him out because he's barking. I also make sure to always give something safe to chew on. There are conflicting opinions about rawhide, but pressed rawhide and ground rawhide treats are pretty safe. I also use Kongs stuffed with peanut butter.
This strategy works well for all the dogs I've had. Some bark more than others and take longer to get used to it, but they all eventually do fine. Sure, dogs who are crated are not up walking around getting exercise. For a dog who's the only dog in the house this isn't as big of an issue, because only-dogs don't usually exercise themselves. They usually just sleep until their owner gets home. This way they can sleep safe in their crates, not getting into any trouble, until you get home. Then when you get home you and your dog can get some exercise together. If you're not up for exercise you can still exercise your dog easily by sitting in a chair and throwing a ball for him to fetch, or by biking at a slow speed with him.
While dogs living in multiple-dog homes might actually get some exercise together when you're not home, crating is still a good idea. They won't get exercise while you're gone, so you'll have to provide it when you get home. The exercise you provide and supervise is likely to be much better for them and result in more acceptable behavior than any exercise they might provide themselves with when they are home alone. My dogs like to "exercise" by each taking one corner of my bedspread and pulling until it rips. Fun for them, sure, but not so fun for me. Another consideration with multiple dogs is that they might one day have a serious fight when home alone. I do know one person whose small dog was killed out of the blue one day by her larger dog. They had always gotten along. Crating will prevent this tragedy from happening.
Do I sometimes think, "Oh, it's such a nice day, I'll just leave the dogs outside while I go out." Yes. Do I regret it? Usually. I have a wonderful dog run with a cement floor and 8' fences. I don't even have to worry about my dogs digging or jumping out (and yes, lots and lots of dogs will dig to China if you aren't there to tell them to stop, and they will try to escape.) Why do I usually regret leaving my dogs in my wonderful dog run? Because they bark. Barking annoys my neighbors and it makes people not like dogs. When people don't like dogs they create rules that ban certain breeds or that ban dogs from certain places. Some people even poison dogs who bark too much. Sure, that's illegal, but that's no consolation for the owner of the dead dog.
I have one dog that barks A LOT, and I do have one of those no-bark collars that shocks the dog if she barks. I'm pretty sure any dog would prefer wearing that than to be given up for nuisance barking, but it's not even necessary to make a dog wear a no-bark collar if the dog is kept inside, crated in a quiet room of the house away from the street.
One time I left all my dogs in the dog run with the shock collar on the one that barks. While I didn't have to worry about any barking annoying the neighbors, the wind blew a branch into the run and one of my dogs chewed it up. Luckily he didn't need to have surgery for a perforated or blocked intestine... One other time a foster dog got the tag on his collar caught in between the slats in the wood fence. Luckily I was home or he would have strangled.
My point is that it's usually not worth it, for me, to leave dogs outside alone. You might find that it's not worth it for you either. If you wind up considering giving up your dog because of his behaviors when you aren't home, please try keeping him crated inside before you get rid of him. Try the rest of these suggestions as well. You might be pleasantly surprised.
Two of my dogs can usually be trusted to be left loose in one room of the house. One of these can usually be trusted to be left loose in the entire house. I still don't usually do this, though, because you just never know. I have cats, and there might be a fight one day. I have really thin glass windows and a dog might break through the front window if somebody is at the front door. I also have a daughter, so that means there are sometimes toys or shoes laying around (and I'm sometimes pretty sloppy myself!) My dogs usually never chew things up, but occasionally they will, and it's just not worth the risk to their health (or the damage to our stuff.)
There are ways to train dogs not to chew on the wrong things. There are ways to train dogs to be reliable when left loose in the house. You can learn these techniques from reading various dog training books or from participating in the newsgroup rec.pets.dogs.behavior. I definitely recommend that you learn as much about training as you possibly can. But in the meantime, teach your dog to stay in his crate while you're not home and you'll be much happier. Your dog will be safer too, not only from what he might get into when you're not home but from your wrath if he does something "wrong."
I try to never crate my dogs for longer than 6 or 7 hours. I recognize that most people would need to crate for longer than this. Most people work 8 hour days and have an hour or so commute. If this is your situation, it definitely isn't workable for a young puppy. Puppies need to go out frequently and can only be expected to hold it for the number of months they are old in hours, plus one. So a 4 month old pup can only reasonably be expected to hold it for 5 hours, if in a crate. If loose he wouldn't even hold it that long, but when crated he's encouraged to hold it so that he doesn't soil his den. But this isn't the only reason why this situation wouldn't work for a puppy; puppies shouldn't be alone that much. It is very distressing for a pup to be alone. We know that stress affects learning, and puppies definitely need to be learning.
This situation would be fine, though, for an older pup, one who's already 9 or 10 months old. There are plenty of wonderful dogs that age and older available at the pound or through rescue groups. Many, many purebreds are available as well as mixed breeds. There are advantages to getting a dog of this age. You will already be able to tell about his personality, his adult size and his adult grooming requirements. He'll housetrain faster or might already be housetrained. And he'll be past the horrible age when parvo and other illnesses are such a threat. Plus in most cases, you'll be saving a life!
One solution to crating dogs for long periods is to bring the dog with you. If you can park in the shade and fit a kennel into your vehicle and keep your windows partially down, you can bring your dog with you when you go to work. You can come out on your breaks and walk him and play with him and run him through a few obedience exercises. You can also seek out places where dogs are welcome; some employers let their employees bring their dog to work, and lots of cafes have seating outside that accommodates dogs. There are also doggy daycares, dog sitters and neighborhood teenagers who might be looking for some extra cash for walking your dog while you are at work.
Even if you don't crate your dogs, but especially if you do, dogs need exercise and mental stimulation. Some dogs need more than others, without which they will be harder to manage and will get into more trouble around the home. My golden retriever is happiest and best behaved when I take him to obedience class at least once per week, practice on obedience with him every day for a few minutes, play ball with him twice per day, bike with him for 45 minutes every other day, and take him to the off-leash dog park every weekend. We go to Point Isabel in Richmond. My cocker spaniel does best with about half of that. My greyhound needs about 1/4 of it, but still really likes a hard run. All dogs will need some form of exercise and stimulation, and if you don't give it to them they will try to provide it for themselves--usually not in ways of which you'd approve.
My dogs also all sleep in my bedroom. I have found that this really seems to enhance their feeling of being in a pack with me. I try to have the foster dogs in the bedroom with us too. If you don't want your dog to sleep in the bed with you, train him to sleep beside your bed, or have a crate in your bedroom for him to sleep in (they make great end tables.) This is especially important for puppies; of course puppies cry when they are alone at night. All a pup knows is that his pack apparently can't find him and he's likely to die of exposure or be killed by another predator, so he cries and cries and cries so his pack can find him. Help your pup avoid this unnecessary stress by allowing him to sleep in a crate beside your bed. If you ignore his cries when he's beside you in your "den" he'll learn to take comfort in your presence and to sleep soundly within a week or so.
When I'm home and I have the dogs out, the new foster dogs who don't always do what I want get leashed up to me. This way they can be in the house with the rest of us, not in their crates, but they can't wander off into the back of the house to pee or to chew something up. Supervision is the key! When I have puppies or especially destructive or untrained dogs I also use a lot of baby gates and exercise pen panels to block off areas of the house.
As for housebreaking, we all usually go outside together for them to pee/poop. That way I can make sure they all go before letting them back in, and I can praise them and give them treats for going where I want them to--outside! I have heard from some people this complaint: "I put my dog out to pee, but when I bring him back in he pees in the house." There are three things that might be happening here. The dog might not know he's supposed to go outside, since he's never accompanied outside and praised or rewarded for going in the right spot. Or, the dog might go when he's first put out but then be left outside long enough that he has to go again. When he's let back in, he has to go again. Or, maybe he never went outside to begin with, and the owner has no way of knowing this because he didn't go outside with the dog. So, go with your dog outside! It's a nice excuse to get out and get some fresh air and move around, and your dog will be better housetrained because of it.
Well, that's about it. My dogs get supervision, confinement, exercise and training and they live in the house with us humans. My foster dogs get these things as well, and they are all as close to perfect as dogs can be. If you can provide these things for a dog, you will have a very special companion who will bring you years of joy. Please check out my page of dog-related links for more information on training, crating, housebreaking and activities that you can do with your dogs. And thanks for reading!