I have a 13-year-old GSD (German Shepard Dog) that was an avowed cat-chaser and -hater. We got adopted last summer by a half-grown scrawny cat who hung out for weeks checking us out before finally walking in one day and letting us know that she had decided to offer us her services. Dog went half-nuts trying to warn us of the danger that was in our midst. It took a few months, but the cat has that dog completely trained. They've even been caught sleeping together. I grew up with dogs, spent a lot of time with other people's dogs, and have had three primary dogs in my life: malamute, and two GSDs. They are all high-drive dogs that took a lot of time and attention. I wouldn't have missed out on any one of them, but I wouldn't recommend any of them for `starter dogs'. I agree with the recommendations above to get a good healthy sane mutt. Look for a dog with dark skin (non-albino). It can have white fur and still not be an albino, but if it's got blue eyes, white skin, pink nose and ears, it's got a greater chance of health and neurological/behavioral problems. That's kind of a dogmatic statement, and I'm sure there are exceptions, but in general, you're better off avoiding the problems that are possible with these. Mutts have hybrid vigor, and tend to be great family dogs. Here's why, in part: if someone has a problem with a dog that they spent $1000 for, they're likely to either a) deny, or b) try to solve it. Mutts, on the other hand, if they have serious behavior or health problems, tend to get put down. Agree with statement above that larger breeds don't usually live as long as mid-sized dogs, which don't tend to live as long as small dogs. Most breeds were specialized for particular functions: herding, hunting, digging out rodents, protection, etc. That means that they will have a strong drive to work in that field, and that other characteristics were bred out in the process of specializing. The more you know about the work that your dog was bred for (even with mixed breeds), the happier you will keep them. Dogs are working animals, and happiest with a job. For some dogs, this is non-negotiable. My current dog comes from strong working lines (Schutzhund III as far back as I have records on her ancestors), but was happy with the job of helping me raise up my kids. I strongly recommend staying away from Rottweilers, Pitt Bulls, and Dobies. There are great examples of these breeds, but there can definitely be aggression problems with them, and they are not starter dogs. Same with Dalmatians, Chows, and Jack Russell Terriers. There are temperament tests that you can perform on a dog that you meet at the pound, and they're worth reading about if you want to try to screen out some issues that way. In general, with mutts, look for a calm steady dog that will come up to you and be friendly, and doesn't startle easily. Also look for a sturdy-boned animal rather than a delicate-boned one. There are connections between appearance and aggression/fear levels. Think of the difference between a high-strung Arabian and a sturdy old farm horse. The latter was the kind that will tolerate having five kids climbing on their backs, get hitched to a plow six days a week, and pull the buggy to church on Sundays. Not to say Arabians aren't great horses--they are--but not a great starter horse. Same is true with dogs. A couple of good books that are worth reading: Monks of New Skete: "How to be your Dog's Best Friend"; Temple Grandin: "Animals in Translation". There are also a lot of breed-specific books out there. It's a life-long commitment, and good for you for not taking this on lightly. Our lives would be so much less rich without these creatures, but lots of responsibility involved. Good luck in finding the right dog. And yes, even if you're the only one around with a fence, your farmer-neighbors will probably appreciate your willingness to keep a dog contained that way. In general, given the opportunity, most dogs will wander unless trained not to or prevented from doing so. If you can, wait until spring to get a dog, as it's easier to house-train them (if you're getting a puppy). Also, if you can time it so that someone is around (no school or work commitments for awhile) while they adjust, it's easier on the dogs. Also, malamutes may do fine if they completely shed their outer coats--I don't know if they'll do that in a hot climate. But keep in mind that they are bred for the cold. My dog hated the Alaskan summers, and loved playing outside in the snow and cold in the winter. Her coat was about three inches thick, and made of dense inner fur covered by long, thick guard hairs. Not built for the heat.