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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.''

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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).

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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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