Make sure you choose the right breed, or your loving family companion could turn out to be the Hound of the Baskervilles, says Joe Inglis

With spring in the air, it’s that time of year when many people start to think about adding to their families. Don’t worry – I’m not talking about making babies, I’m thinking puppies. As the days get longer and the weather warmer, the romance of the dog-owning lifestyle can seem irresistible. After all, what could be better, especially here in the beautiful Cotswolds, than long walks in the country with a loyal dog at your heels? And it’s oh so easy to picture yourself back from the walk, curled up on the sofa by the open fire with the dog sleeping contentedly at your feet.

However, at risk of popping this lovely dream, it’s very rarely quite as straightforward as many people expect. Dogs are amazing, wonderful companions, but they don’t always fit into our lives as we hope (and sometimes expect) they should. For every well-adjusted dog trotting happily at his master or mistress’s heels there are many who are most definitely not living the canine dream.

Over my many years as a vet, I’ve seen too many sad cases of dogs who, through no fault of their own, make their owner’s lives a misery. Far from the dream lifestyle their owners had envisaged, owning a dog has become a nightmare. The dog howls day and night, chews the sofa when left alone, attacks the postman, or simply disappears into the distance whenever let off the lead. Those relaxing, romantic strolls through the woods with the dog have become gruelling nerve-wracking expeditions, the peaceful evenings by the fire interrupted by howling and annoyed neighbours.

However, before I depress any prospective new dog owners too much, the doggie dream can come true, and the nightmares can be avoided, but it takes some careful planning. Most dog owning disasters are completely avoidable and probably the most issue is people taking on dogs when their lifestyles just don’t allow them the time and energy required. If you work all day and there’s no-one at home from morning to night, or if your lifestyle revolves around regular foreign holidays, or if you are passionate about the cleanliness of your house then you should definitely think twice about introducing a dog into your life.

The second crucial issue is the choice of dog. So many behaviour and quality of life issues are caused by people taking on breeds of dog that just don’t suit their circumstances. For example, the Border collie could be the most wonderful dog in the world – if you are a Welsh hill farmer or agility enthusiast. If you’re a little old lady living in a small flat in the centre of town however, the same dog would be likely to suffer from a range of behavioural and physical problems related to its unsuitability to the environment and lifestyle imposed on it.

Understanding the nature, both physical and mental, of different dogs is crucial if you are going to choose the right dog – and build a happy and healthy relationship with your pet. On the physical side, there is the very obvious issue of size – big dogs do need more space than small ones – but also physical nature. Some dogs are much more active than others and need more time out and about burning off their energy, whereas some breeds are more sedentary and are happy pottering about in the garden. And on the mental side of things, there are massive differences in character between breeds, from the laid back Labrador to the vigilant terrier or workaholic springer spaniel.

Once you’ve made the decision to bring a dog into your family, and thought about the breed, there are still many decisions to make that will have a major bearing on how successfully your new companion fits into the family. Do you get a puppy, or rehome a rescue adult dog? Do you train them yourself, or go to classes? Are you planning to breed from them or have them neutered? All these questions and many more need answering, and getting the answers right is crucial for the long term happiness of the whole family.

Unless you’re an experienced dog owner, my advice would be a to talk to your vet from day one. They can help you navigate this minefield of doggie dilemmas and guide you to the promised land of dog-owning utopia, where your new dog becomes the wonderful family companion you’ve always dreamed of – and not the next Hound of the Baskervilles.