How to Select the Right Breed of Dog For You
by Damien Andrews
If you want to revel in the experience of dog ownership, then you need to commit yourself to the research necessary to determine the right breed of dog for you. Failure to spend adequate time determining the best breed for your situation and intentions will almost invariably give birth to a wholly undesirable outcome – for both you and the dog.
Before proceeding, let me say two things. First of all, if you intend to go and rescue a dog from a shelter, this article will be of little help to you. The pedigree of shelter dogs is unknown, and as such, physical and personality traits cannot be reasonably predicted. Secondly, and I can’t stress this point enough, do not go to a pet store which sells dogs to pick your new dog! This is especially true if you have children with you. A few seconds of fondling a St. Bernard puppy (or any other puppy for that matter), and you’re hooked. And that may well not be the dog for you.
Make a list of the things that are important to you in a dog. Here are some excellent questions and guides to assist you in composing that all important list:
• Do you want a dog that does not shed?
A number of smaller breeds don’t shed. This is a critical issue to many people for several reasons. Shedding dogs require more brushing, and still will drop fur at what will seem to be an impossible pace. If you’re a ‘clean-freak,’ seriously consider a non-shedding breed.
• Will you expect the dog to perform a task?
“Tasks” can include anything from keeping your grandmother company to hunting. The most common task for the family dog is watch dog. Not to be confused with a guard dog, a watch dog will sound an alert when a stranger comes within its domain, or any unusual activity or noise is detected. Other tasks include hunting, guard dog, retrieving, and tracking. Determining the right breed of dog for these tasks would require research not within the bounds of this missive.
• Do you have an adequate place for the dog to exercise regularly?
Different breeds of dogs have different energy levels and exercise requirements. And obviously, larger dogs require larger spaces to move about freely. Many breeds of dog are content with little exercise, making them ideal for apartments and tiny yards. Some require moderate levels of exercise, and some, energetic breeds require intense workouts. If your dog doesn’t get enough exercise, it will show in undesirable, often destructive ways.
• Do you have any other pets?
Some breeds of dogs will adapt readily to the presence of other animals, other breeds will not. This is of particular concern if your other pet(s) is/are canines. Breeds such as the magnificent Akita will not easily accept other dogs or animals. It can be done, but it’s going to take a lot of work and time. Better to make sure the breed of dog you select will more easily adapt to his new family members.
• Do you have children? And if so, how young are they?
While the magnificent Irish Wolfhound is one of the most loving dogs, it inadvertently can step on the leg or hand of an infant and break it. Young children will often unintentionally taunt dogs. While almost no family dog will aggress a member of the family for such an incident, their mere act of escaping the torment can sometimes inflict unintentional injury – if the dog is large enough. NB: The presence of the elderly is also a concern for similar reasons.
• Will there be a person or people with the dog most of the time?
Many breeds of dogs are content being alone, while others find it quite undesirable. There are ways to deal with the latter, but it’s better to start from your most advantageous position. When selecting the breed of dog for your household, find one that fills your needs at the outset.
• Will you have to pickup after your dog frequently?
This is an issue that is almost always overlooked, unfortunately. Large, and even medium sized breeds of dogs drop formidable piles of feces at least once a day. If you must walk your dog, this is an obvious concern. It is also a noteworthy consideration in a small yard. Your yard will quickly fill with undesirable and unhealthy waste. If you have a large breed, once the dog reaches about nine months of age, disposal of this waste will become quite problematic. You can install a small (30-50 gallon) septic system in your yard, if the law allows it, but in my experience this will not be utterly inadequate for the larger breeds of dogs.
• What climate do you live in?
This is of greater concern if your dog will live outside all the time. There are excellent breeds of dogs for both extremes of climate: very hot and very cold. And if you live in an extremely hot climate and want a cold weather breed of dog, such as a Husky, you can always have the dog’s hair clipped way down during the summer months to afford it some relief. Small swimming pools will also be appreciated by such breeds.
• What is your level of experience with dogs?
Canis familiaris, a.k.a. Canis lupus familiaris, a.k.a. the family dog is a pack animal. Pack animals have leaders of the pack. In the world of dogs, this leader is referred to as the Alpha Dog or Alpha Male. Someone in the household must assume this role, or the dog might decide to take it. Many, if not most breeds of dogs will not vie for the Alpha position very adamantly. However, some breeds will – individual temperaments notwithstanding. This is particularly true of males. Be sure that the breed of dog you select is one that you are comfortable with handling in a confrontation for Alpha position. This is not to say that you will have to fight the dog physically, but rather your will MUST prevail! If your experience with dogs is limited or non-existent, then stay away from the larger, more aggressive, more dominant breeds. This list would include the Fila Brasileiro, the Akita and the Tosa Inu – to name but a few.
So as not to turn this article into a novel, I’ll just quickly list a few more items to consider. Will your dog travel with you a lot? Can you afford to feed the breed of dog you select? Will your dog be around strangers a lot? Are you prepared to have your new dog neutered? Will you be able to get the selected breed groomed regularly?
To help you with researching the right breed of dog for your wishes, start with the AKC website. This will give you sizes and types. When a breed strikes your fancy, do a search on it and peruse the results for personality traits and so forth. If you have one specific trait of great importance to you, such as non-shedding breeds of dogs, then search on that.
A call to the office of the veterinarian you intend to use will also provide a plethora of information. You won’t necessarily need to chat with the vet as most assistants have become intimately familiar with various breeds of dogs and any specific concerns – such as hip dysplasia.
I’ve been a dog owner and lover for about six decades. I’ve had the pleasure of owning many marvelous dogs of several breeds. Admittedly, a couple of my earliest dog ownership experiences were not all that great. But over time I’ve discovered that when I match my selected breed of dog with my specific needs, nothing else makes me as happy and complete. It is my hope that all of your dog ownership experiences are as wonderful as mine have become.