Getting a dog for the kids isn't what it used to be. Fewer and fewer of us can provide a bucolic doggie setting for Fido to run and roll and dream in.
Fewer and fewer of us live in ideal Rover suburbs surrounded by large green lawns with fire hydrants at the corners - not to mention super-ideal Rover country, surrounded by farmlands, fields, and woods.
Fewer and fewer families have one spouse at home all day to housebreak and discipline a dog - not to mention showing it the kind of regular attention that will lead to its proper socialization with both human beings and dogs.
So dog experts say it's time for us to be a lot more realistic in choosing the family dog. It may also be time for some to be a lot more realistic in deciding not to have a dog at all.
``Dogs grow, they cost a lot, and they last a long time,'' says Jayne Gandrup, director of the animal shelter of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Boston.
``I'm a professional in the field, and I wouldn't get a puppy,'' she continues. ``Cats are becoming more popular in the cities because people work all day. In fact, we won't give working people in the city a puppy.
``People are interbreeding some of the popular breeds,'' Ms. Gandrup comments, ``and these breeds are getting some bad traits.''
But if you've decided to get a dog, it can be hard to pin down experts about the best breeds of dog for a family.
``A lot of it is up to the individual animal,'' says Ken White, director of education at the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
``Also, owners tend to get what they give. Nine out of 10 times problems are caused because the human animals have sent out the wrong signals.''
Experts tend to say that almost any breed can make a good family dog if:
The dog has been well bred from good stock by a breeder of quality.
Its owner's physical environment is appropriate for the breed of dog.
It is intelligently loved, well trained, watched, and properly cared for by its owner.
Nevertheless, several breeds generally tend to have the basic qualities a family might want to have around.
They include such dogs as: basset hounds, beagles, cairn terriers, Chesapeake Bay retrievers, corgis, Dandie Dinmonts, fox terriers, golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers, Norfolk terriers, Norwich terriers, and a number of others.
At the same time, several breeds may generally tend to have qualities a family might not want.
They include such dogs as bull mastiffs, Doberman pinschers, German shepherds, mastiffs, Rhodesian ridgebacks, rottweilers, St. Bernards, pit bull terriers, and some others.
Mr. White comments, ``Some dogs are used for guarding because they are easier to train for that purpose. They're more prone to be trained because of their genetic history.''
Crossbreeds (mutts) can sometimes make the nicest pets. One reason is that, by definition, they usually do not represent extensive overbreeding within one particular strain. The problem, however, is that there is little way of determining the disposition a mutt will develop. Knowing one of the parents is a help.
White says, ``I recommend mutts for two reasons: One, a lot of the bad traits, behaviorally and medically, are because of inbreeding, ... and, two, there are 15 to 17 million animals that die in shelters.'' Most of the latter, of course, are mutts.
Jayne Gandrup recommends that potential dog owners consider these points:
``The biggest thing is that you better think what you're going to be doing for the next 15 years.''
``Who's home during the day to take care of the dog?''
``You want to match the puppy with the family. For example, if you have small children and plenty of space for the dog to run, a golden or Labrador retriever would be good.''
``When you go to get a puppy, take the kids along, but take the adults into consideration.''
``I recommend going and getting a book of breeds. Pick a breed, and then get a book about that particular breed.''
For more information, read ``The Right Dog for You,'' by Daniel F. Tortora (Simon & Schuster, 1980).