Choosing the Right Dog Breed

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Dr Donna Spector

Congratulations…you have made the decision to bring a dog into your life! In doing so, you realize the commitment you are making and are willing to invest the time, energy, and finances necessary to make this a wonderful loving and rewarding relationship!

Now for the fun stuff!

What dog breed is best for you and your family? The American Kennel Club recognizes over 150 breeds and there are crazy numbers of mix breeds; so the choice may seem daunting…but answering a few basic questions will help you narrow down your best choices. When planning for a new dog, you must consider your specific needs, lifestyle, activity level and the amount of space you have. You also need to think about if you want a purebred or a mutt; a male or a female dog; a puppy or an adult.

First, why are you getting a dog? Is Fido coming into your home to be your loving companion or is there another intended purpose? Some breeds are better suited to the role of playmate versus protector. It is important to think about what roles your dog will play in the life of your family before selecting the breed for you. For example, will your new dog…

  • Be a playmate and learning experience for children?
  • Be a working dog (field trial, agility, etc)?
  • Be a hunting partner?
  • Guard or protect the home through barking, appearance or behavior?

If your new dog is to be strictly a companion, choose several breeds that appeal to you in physical appearance (including coat type, size and shape) and then research the other breed characteristics. One of the most important factors to consider is the origin of the breed. If a dog was originally bred to herd and protect, these behaviors are the most strongly inherited and you may find your family being herded through your own home like sheep! Although that is a funny picture, if this natural instinct is left unsatisfied, some dogs will become frustrated and develop bad behaviors.

Another important factor in selecting the right breed is to determine how much "dog space" you have. As 90% of American dogs spend the majority of their life within the owner’s home and yard, you must be realistic about the amount of exercise your pet can achieve within those confines. For example,

  • Do you live in an apartment or house? Is it large or small?
  • Is your yard fenced?
  • Do you live in the country or an urban area? What are local dog laws?
  • Where will you exercise your dog? What are local leash laws?

Often people assume that large dogs need large spaces and that small dogs are fine in small spaces….this is not true! The Saint Bernard is a huge dog that will sleep most of the day so a small space is just fine…as long as he gets out for walks and some moderate exercise. In contrast, a Jack Russell Terrier is a small 15 pound bundle of energy that requires a large space and a lot of outdoor exercise to keep him manageable!

Which brings us to the topic of activity and time. Dogs require different amounts of training, exercise, housetraining and outdoor activities depending on breed. You must determine how much time and personal energy you can devote to these activities.

  • If you are a runner or hope your new dog will accompany you on long hikes, then a Chihuahua may be adorable…but probably not the best dog for you!
  • If you are a couch potato an athletic Labrador Retriever would not be a match made in heaven!

A few more considerations:

  • Grooming: How much do you want to do? Longer haired dogs require more daily care to keep tangles and mats under control. Some dogs require frequent visits to the groomer for hair cuts. How much shedding is acceptable for you? If you are a neat freak, you may not want a dog that sheds a great deal.
  • Size: Larger dogs are just BIGGER than smaller dogs and will require more of everything! A natural approach to nutrition is highly beneficial for your dog—so whether you are cooking for your dog or purchasing a high quality natural holistic pet food—the larger the dog, the more time-consuming and expensive excellent nutrition will be. Larger dogs also require larger crates and beds, larger toys and increased costs incurred if they require medication or other veterinary care.
  • Gender: Males tend to be slightly larger in stature than females of the same breed and somewhat more assertive.
  • Puppy or adult?: Although puppies are adorable, they are a lot more work than adults! The training, playing, feeding, and exercising a puppy requires in the first several months can feel like a full time job! Remember the more time you invest in this stage of your puppy’s life, the happier you will both be. Acquiring an adult dog may be a better choice for a family who spends most of the day away from home or doesn’t have the time required to train a puppy.
  • Purebreed or mixbreed?: With a mixed breed, some of the genetic problems associated with inbreeding (of purebreds) can be avoided and the initial cost to purchase the dog will be considerably lower. However, the best way to predict the physical attributes and behavior of an adult dog is to obtain a purebred.
  • Where should you get your new dog?: If you are purchasing a purebred puppy, a reputable breeder that allows you to visit the home or facility in order to observe the parents is recommended. Puppies from pet shops or puppy mills are often at higher risk for contracting disease and their parents cannot be observed. If you are choosing an older dog there are several breed-specific rescue groups that you can look into (akc.org). Often mixed breed puppies and dogs are purchased from shelters. Most of these dogs have insufficient history to know what they will look like or how they might behave as they age. Using proper training, most of these mutts will likely be a wonderful addition to your family!

Once you answer the above questions and have made your list of "wants", do some research to find which breeds fit that description. There are many available resources to help you identify which breed is best for you:

  • Go to your local library to look at dog breed books (American Kennel Club Complete Dog Book, The New Encyclopedia of the Dog, etc)
  • Talk to a veterinarian
  • Visit on-line resources (akc.org, ckc.ca, etc)
  • Attend a dog show

Finding the right dog is a lot of work, but it is worth it. Sharing your life with the perfect dog is pure joy for both of you! Enjoy your new dog!

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