Sunday, November 14, 2010

On Choosing a Dog Breed

All puppies are cute!  But they are not all equal.
I often hear about people looking to get a dog that don't know where to start.  It is all too common for people to gravitate towards certain breeds based on appearance alone (which is only natural) but when that is the your main goal in your search, you'll wind up all over the board in terms of temperament, activity level, and grooming requirements.  At best, you'll make your search take 20 times as long because as you research each breed, you'll come across aspects that won't fit with your lifestyle.  At worst, you'll jump the gun and get a cute dog or puppy that is completely wrong for you.

The key is to learn about TYPES of dogs, as opposed to specific breeds early on in your search. Breed selector quizes that you'll commonly find on-line on websites such as Animal Planet are pretty bogus because they condense the breeds' characteristics down to about 4 or 5 categories without taking into account specifics. Primitive breeds (such as huskies, akitas, and shiba inu) and Herding breeds (such as border collies, australian shepherds, and corgis) are all super smart, but in completely different ways.  Where Herding dogs will listen well and want to obey, Primitive dogs will learn what you want, but only obey if it's in their best interest.  Both breeds are smart, but must be handled differently.  Even when talking about Primitive breeds, Sledding breeds are still going to differ greatly from Japanese breeds, since the former are bred to work well together so are naturally friendly, but the later are more aloof and more likely to be dog aggressive. What you need to do is critically think about what you're looking for in a dog, COMPLETELY ignoring what said dog is going to look like. That is the LAST thing you tackle on the list.

The absolute best thing you can do for yourself if you're contemplating getting a dog is to critically think about your lifestyle, routine, experience, and what you feel you can handle.  The following questions are meant to give you a starting point that you can work off of to figure out what breeds will meet your needs.  Once you discover that, you can take more aesthetic things into account.

*What do you want your dog to be like around the house? Do you want a dog that's in your face and raring to go all the time, or do you want a dog that's just going to want to lay on the couch? Or do you want a dog in the middle that'll be happy to play a round of fetch but will just chill after that?

*Do you want a dog that's going to constantly follow you from room to room, or do you want your dog to give you more space?

*Do you want a dog that's going to be friendly and outgoing with everyone it meets, or do you want more of a one-person/family type dog? (I should note that you need to be careful with "one-person dogs" because a lot of them can easily turn aggressive with strangers if not properly trained and socialized.)

*How much time do you have to exercise your dog? Do you want to go for multiple daily walks/runs/trips to the dog park? Or do you want to be able to get away with only walking your dog once or twice a day?

*What sort of training do you feel you can handle? Have you owned dogs, on your own, not family pets, and what breeds are you accustomed to dealing with? Do you want a highly biddable dog, or can you handle your dog choosing when to listen? Do you want a dog that trains quickly, or can you handle a dog that will take a few repetitions to get it right? I think this is one of the most important aspects to consider, and why you should get first hand experience with a lot of dogs before getting one of your own, so you know you'll get a personality you can mesh with. It's a good idea to volunteer at a shelter for awhile so you can get more experience.

*What level of grooming can you manage? Do you want a dog that you don't have to brush often, or can you deal not only with mounds of hair, but the dedication it takes to brush and comb your dog at least once a week while not blowing coat, and multiple times a week when it is? Would you be ok (financially and time-wise) bringing your dog to the groomer if necessary? The larger the dog, and the more coat it has, the more expensive grooming is going to be.

It's my hope that people seriously consider these things before jumping in to getting a dog (no one word answers, the more detailed you get, the better).  If nothing else, doing so will give you a better understanding of what to look for, and what questions to ask about a breed when doing your research.


  1. Let me know when they invent a dog who can walk itself.

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