Choosing the right breed is critical for the whole family. This expert walks you through purebred dog options to prevent pet ownership problems before they occur.
CHOOSING A FAMILY DOG
E. Katie Gammill, AKC Multi-Group Judge
Big dog, small dog, watchdog, short coat or profusely coated, hyper-active breeds, or the latest marketing ploy, Designer Dogs?
Think about what attracts you in the adult dog and be logical. It’s worrisome to see a Neapolitan Mastiff dragging along a petite person or an elderly owner walking a rambunctious pitbull puppy. A dog is for a lifetime and plays a major part in the family dynamics. All puppies are cute but hugging an eight week old Cane Corso puppy is a far reach from controlling the adult.
There IS a breed for everyone. Note I said BREED. Most pure bred dogs, when grown, tend to look like the picture that caught your eye. Consistency of size, coat, personality, activity level; these things reflect selective breeding. There is no consistency in a mutt, mongrel, cross-bred, or “designer dog”. With such a mixed up gene package, what the mongrel is like at maturity is a “crap shoot”.
Small Breeds: Although they come with long life spans, Toy breed dogs come with issues also. They can be nervous, shy, sensitive to heat or cold, yappy, clingy, stubborn, aggressive, bed hogs, couch potatoes, and lazy dogs. The flat faced breeds snore. Others are prone to back injuries, and hairless dogs require special skin care. Small dogs double as a door bell, which can be useful if you are hard of hearing, or very annoying.
Chihuahuas, Yorkies, French bulldogs, Maltese, Papillons, Cavalier and Toy Spaniels, are among breeds that do well as apartment dogs as they can play and exercise indoors.
Big Breeds: Some newly recognized (but very old) breeds are the Leonberger, Dogue De Bordeaux, and the Tibetan Mastiff. Large dogs have a shorter life span, take time to mature and often present a different picture than the cuddly puppy you fell in love with. When first time owners purchase such powerful breeds because they are “different”, they often find themselves in over their heads and the dogs wind up in shelters.
It takes physical and mental strength to handle a large breed such as a Rottweiler, Bullmastiff, Malamute, or the Tibetan Mastiff shown at left.
Molosser Breeds: New owners who want something “different” may find Molosser breeds enchanting but beyond their expertise. Being drug around by 200 pounds of muscle is NOT a good experience. Neither is picking up big dog “land mines” deposited in your yard or during a walk. Well forget the walk part, unless YOU quickly become trained, you won’t be walking the neighborhood with your impressive Molosser breed. Unless the dog is well trained you should prepare for a lonely existence and few visitors.
Herding and Working breeds need a job or they become neurotic and destructive. Regardless of what a breeder may tell you, Border Collies and Australian Cattle Dogs do not make apartment dogs; Toy breeds are a better choice for high-rise dwellers. Terriers are active, rugged, and may not get along with other dogs.
One characteristic not usually evident in a puppy is the “wet mouth.” Meet adults of these breeds and decide if you really want to be “slimed”. This category includes the Saint Bernard, Neapolitan Mastiff, and Newfoundland. A shake of the head showers everything. A “dry mouth” breed such as the greyhound, whippet, or saluki might be preferable for you. Retrieving breeds love water - and water bowls. Do your research.
Personality: But it’s not just size and coat type, temperament should be a deciding factor in your choice. Purebred dogs are bred to behave in a way "characteristic" of their breed. For example, the spaniel breeds are loving, gentle and not barkers.
Personality is described in every AKC Breed Standard, which is what they are judged by. Crossing two purebred dogs may produce a so-called Designer Dog, but in reality, it is a "MUTT". Due to expert marketing and uneducated buyers, the public can be duped into believing the dog that will bite your grandchild has a "great personality".
Behavior Traits: Observe play behavior; some breeds pounce, chase, run, bite, and herd, depending upon what the breed was bred to do. Failing to research temperament and play behavior causes injuries to other family dogs and children. Owners ARE responsible for any damage their dog does to person or property. Check with your insurance company as your desired breed may be on a “black list” which could make your home uninsurable.
Coat Type: Anyone under the impression a short haired dog sheds less than a long haired dog is in for a surprise. The shorter coats shed year around and hair weaves itself into furniture and carpets. Long haired dogs tend to “blow coat” twice a year and that can be encouraged by warm baths and raking. Within a month or so, the hair is gone and new growth starts. Some coats grow continuously. Some cord like a mop. Hairy breeds require constant upkeep. Hygienic trimming around the anus and privates is important. Are you up for that? How much professional grooming can you afford? Do you want your dog to look like the one in the breed example? Then think twice about a Poodle or Old English sheepdog.
Exercise Requirements: Beagles, Bassets, and other hounds do best with large fenced areas. Hunters by nature, confinement keeps their noses from getting them into trouble. Terriers also require ample space as they are active varmint dogs. Parson Russell terriers fit little boys as they are tough and non stop. Wolfhounds and Mastiffs are fireside buddies, low key and calm. Afghans, like all coursing breeds, offer elegance but they need space to stretch their long legs. Think about your living arrangements before purchasing a dog. Breeds such as Goldens, German Shepherds, and Labradors do well as house dogs if they are given a good daily run. Perhaps you ride a bicycle?
Housebreaking can be an issue with Toy dogs due to the way the breeder raised them. Some toy dogs wear “belly bands” to protect carpets and furniture. Constant monitoring and a regular feeding schedule facilitate housebreaking. Dogs won’t soil where they sleep unless there is no alternative. Toy puppies may have been forced to live in their own filth by the breeder and learned to tolerate it may develop stool eating. Cleanliness encourages them to “hold” until its time to go outside.
House Training: Puppies need boundaries. You must be the ALPHA dog. Your guidance is the difference between an enjoyable pet and a nuisance. Whether your puppy is large or small, remember this. “Buy in haste, repent in leisure.” It isn’t the puppy’s fault if it doesn’t fit your lifestyle, but it IS the puppy that suffers the consequences.
Dogs and children require care and attention. A good fit makes for household harmony. It’s up to the owner to encourage the dog to learn what is, and what is not acceptable. And to protect the child and puppy from each other’s antics!
Where, When, How To Buy? Buy only from an established breeder who has an invested interest in their breed. Puppies come equipped with loyalty, and friendship. Not all breeders have those qualities. Don’t let a lolling tongue and pleading eyes make the decision for you. Don’t take your children with you to see puppies until the breed has been determined and the price met. Don’t take a puppy under eight weeks of age as they need their mother’s discipline and nurturing.
Don’t be affronted when a breeder asks questions about your facilities, fencing, and children in the home. Be prepared to explain what happened to your last pet. Established breeders ask you to contact them first if it’s impossible to keep a puppy or older dog purchased from them. Spay and neuter your pet. If you are interested in breeding, buy from a show breeder who will mentor you.
Take the opportunity to research over 150 breeds before your making a purchase. Go to AKC and read about your breed of choice. Check temperament, care, longevity, health problems, character, and personality.
I hope this information has helped you to make a knowledgeable choice to insure happiness for both parties concerned. Don’t confine your quest to a familiar breed, be open minded. A breed never before considered may become your “hidden treasure”.
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