Thursday, October 29, 2009

Selecting the Right Dog

Making the decision to bring a dog into your life is a very important one. From the moment you bring your dog (or puppy) home, you are completely responsible for everything involving that dog. His training, what he eats, how much exercise he gets, how he acts in your home – all of that is up to you.

Certain traits in some breeds of dogs, however, are part of what makes that dog unique. It is extremely important to consider all traits of the breed you are considering, and make sure that breed is right for you and your family.

It is estimated that there are some 400 breeds of dog in the world, however the AKC only recognizes about 150 of them.

Listing every single breed of dog in the world would end up with an extremely long post – and I doubt I could find information on all of them, so I will narrow it down to breeds recognized by the AKC.

Dogs are split into several groups – each group lists several breeds of dog that have similar traits. By looking at the needs of your family, you can narrow your search for the dog by deciding which group of dog best fits your needs.

If you look at the sporting group, you will see pointers, spaniels, setters and retrievers. These are the types of dogs that are going to require a lot of vigorous exercise to keep them healthy and mentally stimulated. The dogs in this group range in size, coat length, and appearance – but they are all dogs with a purpose.

Dogs in the non-sporting group are fairly diverse - including Dalmatians, Chow-Chows, Shiba Inus, and the Lhasa Apso. It is the most diverse group of dogs, and it seems to be where the AKC places dogs that don't quite fit into one of the other categories. The breeds in this category should be thoroughly researched before purchase or adoption.

Dogs in the working group were all bred to perform a job, such as guarding and pulling sleds or carts. The working dog group is comprised of fairly large dogs – the Great Dane, Bullmastiff, and Saint Bernard just to name a few. These large breeds require a lot of training due to their size and may not be suitable for a lot of people.

Dogs in the hound group are largely hunting dogs. Some of them are granted with extreme scenting abilities – like the Bloodhound and the Basset Hound – and some sight-hounds are gifted with extreme speed and stamina – like the Greyhound. These dogs require a lot of care – sight-hounds can often bound out of sight in a few strides after seeing a rabbit and run so far so fast that they become lost, or a a scent-hound may follow its nose into oncoming traffic.

Terriers are a tenacious group of dogs. They are feisty, generally have low tolerance for other animals and many of them were bred specifically to hunt and kill vermin. They can be stubborn and hard-headed, and many of them have wire coats that require a special grooming technique, called stripping.

Herding dogs all contain the ability to herd other animals where the dog wants them to go. They are very intelligent dogs, and very high-energy. They vary in size from the Welsh Corgis to the Bouvier des Flandres. Most of them will never come into contact with a farm animal – but that herding instinct is hard wired. Many of them will herd children and small animals as well, and require a lot of training to handle that intelligence and energy.

The toy group contains dogs that were bred for one purpose – to be small delightful little dogs. These dogs generally do very well in apartment settings, and some people will find it is a lot easier to handle a small dog. Size does not indicate how well they will work with children, however, as they are fragile and easily injured.

Then there are mix breeds. Any time a dog is comprised of more than one breed of dog – it is considered a mutt. Mutts can be just as wonderful as purebreds, and come in many more colors, coat lengths, and sizes. With purebreds you will know what the offspring should look like, and what type of behaviors should be passed on. Occasionally, however, you also get genetic defects, such as hip displaysia. Mutts typically are healthier on the whole because they have more variety in their genetic make-up. Neither mutt nor purebred is better than the other, and each has advantages and disadvantages.

Knowing what group of dog the breed you are interested falls under can help narrow down your choices.

For example, let's say that a young couple wish to purchase a dog. This couple lives in a small, 2 bedroom apartment, upstairs. Both of them work full-time, in a 9-5 workday. They don't currently have any children, but wish to do so soon. Which breed of dog should they look for?

Most apartment complexes limit the size of the dog you can have by weight. The most common weight limit I have seen is 25 pounds, but I have seen a few going up 75 pounds.

So we'll say, in our example, that our couple has a 50 pound weight limit. This narrows our search for the right dog quite a bit – it crosses off giant breeds like the Great Dane or the St. Bernard.

Next to consider might be energy levels. Will a young couple put in the effort to keep a Border Collie content in the few hours of the evening? It can be done, of course, but will the couple want to exercise their dog three to four hours a night every day for the next 10-13 years? What about a social life, family meet ups, or vacations? Do they want a dog to be their jogging partner, a dog to perform in agility, or a couch potato to sit and cuddle with?

Grooming is a big requirement, also. Some breeds shed a lot. The German Shepherd is often referred to as the 'German Shedder' – they shed a lot, and year round. Breeds like the Shih Tzu and the Yorkshire Terrier have hair instead of fur, and it does not shed – but it must be cut back often to keep the dog from growing mats. Poodles have special grooming requirements of their own due to the unique hair they have. How much time will the young couple want to spend grooming? Someone who doesn't mind brushing out a coat for 20 minutes a day and the regular haircuts might not mind a Shih Tzu, but if they aren't going to take the time to care for the coat it's best to go with a shorter coat to trim down the grooming requirements.

How much time will the couple have to train the dog? Some dogs are remarkably easier to train than others. Housebreaking can sometimes be difficult in the toy breeds. Walking properly on a leash is essential on all dogs – but especially with large dogs. Lack of training is what leads most people to take a dog to a shelter or rehome them.

How much does the couple want to spend on the dog? The larger the dog, the higher the bill. Food and medication go up quite a big in relation to the size of the dog.

What kind of temperament are they looking for? While a personality differs in individual dogs – breed traits are a way to judge some behaviors in the dog. Herding dogs were bred to herd – they want to do it. It is part of what makes them unique. It is not uncommon for herding dogs to herd their family around by nipping at the heels. Some dogs are more aloof by nature, some bark more – others are practically silent. Some are more suited to certain types of people than others.

And one of the most important aspects – does the living situation allow for certain breeds of dog? As much as it is unfair – a lot of apartment complexes (and some homeowner's insurance companies) completely ban certain breeds. Blacklisted breeds I have seen include German Shepherds, American Staffordshire Terriers, Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, Siberian Huskies, Alaskan Malamutes, Akitas, Boxers, Great Danes, Chow-Chows – or any dog that even remotely resembles any of those breeds. It is unfair and does not take into account individual dogs – it puts a blanket over all of them. However, it is best to follow the law and try to change it rather than break it. Hiding one of these dogs illegally will add fuel to the Breed-Specific Legislation lobbyists, and could possibly end with your dog being euthanized.

There is no one fool-proof answer to which dog is best in the case of this couple – perhaps a medium-sized mix from their local animal shelter fits their needs just fine. Perhaps they want a purebred with a specific purpose to train and show. Perhaps they just want a family pet.

As long as you weigh your options carefully and take a moment to sit back and look at what kind of dog actually fits your life style instead of worrying about what it looks like – you're going to end up with a family member who will be by your side for life.

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