Looking and Learning
The only way to get a realistic grasp of what a specific dog is like is to actually see the dog in action. From veterinarians to breeders to trainers, there are numerous professionals who are usually more than willing to share their wisdom. Asking knowledgeable people will lead you to information you may not have considered, which could help you avoid getting into a bad situation.
The best way to find out about the idiosyncrasies of various breeds, and to really get a good look at them, is to go to dog shows. You'll find representatives of just about all the AKC breeds at a dog show and, best of all, you'll find their breeders — the people who understand them best. Not only that, because you'll get to look around and talk to so many people, you may leave with a completely different idea about what kind of dog you want than you had before you went to the show.
Are all breeders the same?
In general, most breeders are reputable and helpful. However, there are some in the business only for the money. You should try to check as many references as you can about the breeder. Ask for several references, and see what types of responses you get.
For example, you may think a Beagle will suit everyone in your family. He'll be small enough for the kids, solid enough to be played with, active enough to go on family outings, and not so big you feel he'll take over your small house.
When you go to the dog show intent on meeting some local breeders and finding out if they have puppies available, you may see the Beagles in the ring and decide that something about them doesn't appeal to you at all. They always have their noses to the ground; they bark at other dogs too often; they seem aloof. And just as you feel your heart sink, your son tugs your sleeve and says, “Look, what's that?” and you fall in love with a West Highland White Terrier.
How do you find dog shows to attend? It's easier than ever with the Internet. Just go to the American Kennel Club's website, click on Events, and search for Conformation Events in your state. Or you could call the American Kennel Club and ask for show information. The AKC's customer service number is (919) 233-9767.
Seeing is believing, and being able to talk to breeders is invaluable. Breeders are used to dealing with people in the same situation as you. Also, they want to find the right homes for the dogs they breed. A Husky breeder would not recommend that one of her pups go to a home in which the primary caretaker was wheelchair-bound. That wouldn't be fair to the person, and it wouldn't be fair to the dog.
Many dog shows will feature puppy sweepstakes. No, you won't win a puppy. These are competitions for breeders to show some of their younger dogs. The puppies will be six to eighteen months old. This is an excellent opportunity for prospective dog buyers to see their breed of choice up close. It's also an excellent way to see what these dogs are like as puppies.