Cheryl Fleming - RE/MAX Executive Realty

While the majority of U.S. households do not have a dog, that's not to say that "man's best friend" is losing ground in the pet popularity contest. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, 36.5% of households own a dog, while 30.4% own a cat.

Since both animals can be found in tens of millions of homes throughout the country (43 million households vs 36 million), it's fair to say that there is a strong and continuous demand for both felines and canines.

As a side note, those numbers are noticeably higher (and the margin narrower) in statistics from the American Pet Products Association. The APPA says more than 54 million households have dogs and nearly 43 million U.S. homes have cats.

The Popularity of Dogs and Cats

Although there does appear to be a statistical preference for dogs over cats, one thing's for certain -- both types of animals have exceptionally strong fan bases! Part of the reason is that cats and dogs both rank high in categories that matter most to pet owners, such as cuteness, affection, and training ability.

A big advantage of cats over dogs is that they're very clean by nature and are able to adapt quickly to litterbox use. For puppies, the learning curve for housebreaking is typically a lot steeper. Cats generally don't have the patience or interest in other types of training, but there are exceptions. They can be taught to come when called, for example, as long as they're not busy doing something they consider to be more important! Training a cat to respond to their name can be as simple as calling their name at the same time you're pouring food in their dish.

As is the case with all training situations, repetition and positive reinforcement are the keys to success. Surprisingly, cats can also be taught to walk on a leash (or harness), shake hands (or some reasonable facsimile), and relieve themselves on a toilet. Whether you'd actually want your cat to use the same bathroom facilities as you and your family is another question, entirely!

For dog and cat owners alike, it pays to gain an understanding of your pet's behavioral patterns, natural instincts, and health needs -- both physical and psychological. Dog owners, in particular, can benefit quite a bit from enrolling their pet in obedience classes. When a dog knows what to expect and what is expected of him, he tends to bond better with his human family, feel more secure, and fit in better with your lifestyle and daily routines. There are, of course, many variables which could affect a dog's temperament, behavior, trainability, and psychological health, but providing them with a loving environment and consistent, compassionate training is a good foundation for a positive and satisfying relationship.

Although owning one or more dogs involves a long-term commitment of time, energy, and money, the vast majority of dog owners would have it no other way! While dog ownership isn't for everyone, few people can resist the unconditional love, playfulness, and companionship that dogs offer. If you grew up with dogs in your household and feel comfortable with them, chances are high that your home is never complete without one. Some people even get a second dog so that their first pet isn't lonely when the family is at work and school. Besides the joy of having an affectionate, four-legged companion in the house, the advantages of bringing a dog into the family are practically innumerable.
  1. Exercise: We all need regular physical activity to look and feel our best, but it's all too easy to come up with excuses for skipping a day or two. As most of us can attest to, a few days of exercise avoidance can easily turn into weeks or more of inactivity. However, since dogs require daily walks to relieve themselves and expend pent up energy, you're less likely to have a sedentary lifestyle when there's a dog in the family. Motivating us to take them for a walk and play with them, every day, is one of the countless ways dogs enhance our lives. They may even help us live longer and be healthier.
  2. Home security: Whether a dog is an intimidating German Shepherd or a fluffy, white Bichon Frise, they're still going to bark when they sense a stranger on your property. While small dogs aren't going to inspire terror in the hearts of would-be burglars, their barking has a similar effect to that of a security alarm or a motion-sensor floodlight. It's going to call attention to the potential intruder. Since one of a burglar's main objectives is to not be noticed, a barking dog -- of any size -- can be an effective deterrent.
  3. Benefits to kids: If you had a dog when you were growing up, you know what a source of joy and companionship they can be to a child. Dogs not only create fond memories for children, but they can also help teach responsibility, empathy, and compassion for other living beings.
Although dogs can bring a lot of joy to you and your family, they can also be potentially destructive, overly aggressive, and noisy. If you've ever watched the TV show The Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan, you know how troublesome some dogs with behavioral problems can be. That's why it's important to select your dog from a reputable breeder, rather than a so-called "puppy mill," and train them properly, from day one. It also pays to research the temperament of different breeds before you decide which one would be the best match for you and your family. Some breeds are known to be high strung, while others tend to be more mellow and gentle -- a trait that's especially important with young children. It's also helpful to know in advance whether a dog sheds, whether it's prone to any medical conditions, and how much exercise it needs on a daily basis. If you don't have experience training or house breaking a dog, there are plenty of videos, books, and articles available on the Internet to provide you with the knowledge and skills to be a successful dog owner. Dog training classes are also available in most communities.