The canine connection Pets: When you pick a pooch, choose one whose personality will suit your own.

May 03, 1998

A wrong number was listed for the American Kennel Club's Customer Service line in Sunday's Home & Family section. The correct phone number is 919-233-9767.

The Sun regrets the errors.

So you've made the decision to add a canine friend to your household. How do you choose the perfect companion, the dog who will fit seamlessly into your life, delighting you with its antics, barking ferociously at strangers, enchanting the children, intimidating the neighbors - or whatever else it is you wish your doggie buddy to do?

From affenpinscher, basset and Chihuahua to wolfhound, xoloitzicuintli and Yorkshire, the world of dogs is one of immense diversity.

There are dogs that stand as high as a tall man's waist, and dogs that will fit in a teacup. There are dogs with masses of hair, and dogs that are nearly bald. There are dogs that bay and dogs that yodel, dogs that defend and dogs that cuddle. There are tiny dogs with the hearts of lions, and big dogs with the temerity of bunny rabbits.

With 400 different breeds of dogs registered with kennel clubs worldwide, there is bound to be a dog for you - though there is more to finding the perfect pet than a simple wag of the tail.

"Most people pick a pet they way they pick their spouse - and you know how that works out," jokes Deborah Thomas, executive director of the Maryland SPCA.

In fact, it is very much the same qualities that allow compatible marriages that promote happy dog-owning: similar outlooks, similar lifestyles, shared values.

When people ask the SPCA for advice on what dog to choose, Thomas said, they respond with a series of questions about what sort of schedule the prospective owners keep, whether they are socialites or homebodies, whether they have kids, and whether the kids are very active.

Even though most SPCA dogs are mixed breeds, they tend to resemble the breed that seems dominant in their makeup, Thomas said. For an active family with active leisure time, a good choice might be a Labrador type. For a stay-at-home family whose main activity is television, one of the toy breeds, such as a Pomeranian or Yorkshire terrier, would be a better choice.

"The lifestyle question is the key" to a happy adoption, Thomas said.

The worst thing one can do is fall in love with a particular breed for its look, she said. "A dog may be beautiful to look at, and people are drawn to it for that," but they don't realize its needs may be more than they're ready to fill, or its personality may not be suited to their temperament.

Of course, predicting exactly what a young dog will be like as it grows up is not an exact science. The American Kennel Club, an organization that maintains a registry for purebred dogs and supports the "sport" of breeding and showing dogs, recently withdrew the latest edition of its dog bible, "The Compleat Dog Book," when breeders objected strongly to characterization of several dozen dogs as unsuitable for children.

Yorkies, dalmatians, Scottish terriers, Rottweilers and dachshunds were among the breeds deemed "not good" for children - even though the same dogs were described as "loving," "trustworthy" and "gentle with people." The AKC says the book will be revised and reissued.

Thomas said that in determining whether a dog will be compatible with children, it helps to know something of the dog's natural history.

Dogs bred to be herders, such as Australian shepherds, border collies and corgis, tend to nip. "They're not being mean," Thomas said. "That's what they do to the sheep - and that's what they do to kids." Retrievers of all types can take more of a rough-and-tumble life than tiny Maltese, but they're big, and can easily knock children over, she noted.

In general, the AKC recommends starting the search for a perfect dog by visiting dog shows. You can get a good idea of what breeds appeal to you, and can talk to owners and breeders about the dogs' personalities and needs.

Some other things you need to know are what sort of health problems the dog might be subject to (hip problems in shepherds, for instance, or eye problems in pugs or Shih Tzus), how much grooming is needed - and how much shedding is to be expected.

Pet stores offer books and videos on how to choose a dog, and there are also CDs and Web sites for the computer-interactive. A surprising number of dogs have their own home pages.

Of course, if you'd like to inject some regimen into your dog-selection process, you can study the work of Canadian psychologist and dog breeder Stanley Coren. In his new book, "Why We Love the Dogs We Do" (Free Press, June 1998, $24), Coren offers a system that matches human personality traits with selected groups of dogs.

By taking a test that measures your personality in terms of extroversion, dominance, trust and warmth, you can determine what category suits you best: protective dogs, clever dogs, friendly dogs, independent dogs, self-assured dogs, consistent dogs and steady dogs.

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