Picking the proper pooch: not as easy a decision as you might think

Maybe you think you know enough about dogs. But if you're in the market for a canine companion, you're well advised to follow reliable guidance.

As Benjamin and Lynette Hart say in their preface to The Perfect Puppy: How to Choose Your Dog by Its Behavior (W.H. Freeman & Co., New York, $9.95), ``The puppy you choose today will grow into the dog that will be your companion for the next ten to twenty years.''

Choosing the dog best suited to your life style can be tricky business. These authors warn against making a hasty, uninformed choice - one influenced by fond childhood memories, cute television commercials, prestige, or vague descriptions such as ``good companion'' often found in dog books.

Instead, ``The Perfect Puppy'' is a ``data-based, scientific approach to describing the behavioral differences between breeds that shows you how to evaluate these factors in selecting a puppy.''

Lest you doubt even the well-informed opinions of the authors - Dr. Benjamin Hart (DVM, PhD), a professor of animal physiology and behavior at the University of California, Davis, and Lynette Hart (PhD), director of the Human-Animal Program at the same institute - the book relies on data from 48 veterinarians and 48 obedience judges.

These experts ranked 56 of the most popular breeds according to 13 key behavioral traits ranging from ``snapping at children'' to ``dominance over owner.'' Each trait is clearly explained, and the rankings are graphed on a simple scale from 1 to 10.

For a dog to be a continual source of joy, the authors insist, ``it must be matched to its permanent household and environment.''

For example, a single career woman may want a watchdog for her city apartment. If she hopes to get married and start a family within a few years, she would want to consider a dog that will be good with kids.

Keeping in mind these priorities, she would consult the behavioral profiles and choose from a list of the breeds that rank in the upper decibels on ``watchdog barking'' and ``territorial defense'' - and low on ``snapping at children,'' ``general activity'' (small apartment), and ``demand for affection'' (she often works late).

Of course, the authors admit that dogs vary within the breeds, and that genetic makeup, training, and environment influence canine behavior.

To ease the problems of raising a dog, the Harts include tips on how to train and housebreak your pet.

They conclude: ``The most important considerations are to enjoy your dog, to have its behavior match your life style, and to do everything possible for your dog to live a happy life as your companion.''

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