Making the right choice when choosing your next dog or puppy can predict 50 percent of the success you will have with your pet over the next eight to 15 years.
Considering that proper socialization, training, and practice makes up the other 50 percent, the dog which you select as your next canine companion should not be a decision that is taken lightly, but rather one that is made with much forethought and preparation.
There are several factors one must consider when deciding to adopt a new dog. This is a subject I have become intimate with in the past few years, as I have been through no less than four different demo dogs for various reasons.
One, a German Shepherd dog, was a gift, but did not possess the proper working temperament for the type of protection sport (Schutzhund) I wanted to practice.
The second dog was a Rottweiler puppy who, at 9 months of age, developed some sort of genetic kidney failure and had to be put to sleep. The dog after him was a rare breed called a Bantam Bulldog. While “Gizmo ” was a great little dog, I felt that with my life style, and the dog spending so much time in the back of my truck… it would only be a matter of time before he got “ripped off”. So I decided to sell him back to the breeder, who is now using him as a stud dog.
After “Gizmo,” I purchased a dog from a highly respected working dog breeder in Wisconsin. This ended up being a wonderful dog… everything a German Shepherd dog should be. The only problem was that, at 10 months of age, he began limping on one of his back legs. Subsequent X-rays showed that the dog had severe hip dsyplasia.
There are several important factors to be considered before making your decision.
This article will explore these different factors and help you make a more educated decision about the type of dog which will fit best into your lifestyle. It will also strive to debunk many of the common wives tales and myths put forth about how conventional wisdom has always suggested you should select a dog.
CHOOSING FOR TEMPERAMENT VS. CHOOSING BY BREED
The temperament of the individual dog you choose is far more important than the breed in which your specific dog may be a part of. In many cases, it is easier to find one Australian Shepherd who is much more similar in disposition to a St. Bernard, than to a second Australian Shepherd. However, choosing a breed is still very important because the breed of dog which your individual puppy is a member can give us general clues as to certain traits he may likely possess.
As with any topic, we can only talk about generalizations… and there are always exceptions to every rule.
GENERAL RULES ABOUT SPECIFIC BREEDS
The following advice applies specifically to the potential pet owner, and should not be interpreted as a prescription for the individual who may be looking for a dog to participate in working or competition trials. So the question which always comes up is,
“Which are the worst breeds, and what kind of dogs should I stay away from if my goal is to obtain a good house pet.”
The Pros and Cons of the Different Breeds
TERRIERS: The terrier breeds are incredibly popular. They present a hardy little package which usually provides a very easy to maintain coat and are frequently small dogs which fit well into apartment living. What many people fail to recognize in the terrier breeds is that these are tough little dogs that have been bred for tens of years to work independently and to be hard enough in character to burrow down holes and rat out rodents and other subterranean beasties. As animals bred to have a lot of fight in them, these dogs tend to be very dominant.
If you are a weak handler, these dogs will walk all over you. They are feisty, but if you demonstrate yourself to be on top of the ball game with these dogs, they will work very quickly and with much spirit. Definitely not an easy category of dog to train, however highly intelligent.
HERDING BREEDS: The herding breeds are usually highly intelligent. When selecting a dog from this group, recognize that these are generally dogs that have been bred to run around all day and chase sheep, cattle, ducks, or other livestock. And this means they are usually high energy, ants-in-the-pants kinds of animals. They tend to be fairly easy to train, compliant, and mostly forgiving.
But the key thing to remember is that these are dogs that have been bred to do a job. In other words, they’re highly intelligent dogs with a lot of energy. If you don’t stimulate a dog like this–both mentally, and physically–you’re going to end up with problems. In other words, a dog like this is going to stimulate himself… by barking, chewing, hyperactivity, jumping, self-mutilation… you get the picture. If you keep these dogs busy with an active, adventuresome life, you will have a great pet.
WORKING BREEDS: The working breeds can be similar to the herding breeds, with the exception of two differences in temperament. The working breeds tend to be more dominant, but are usually less energetic. Less energy is (for most pet owners) a good thing. It means that, as an owner, you won’t generally have to spend as much time burning off your dog’s excess energy. The flip side of the coin is that, with a more dominant temperament, you’ll probably have to spend more time training, as to constantly assert and reassert your position in the “pack” as the alpha dog.
HUNTING/SPORTING BREEDS: There are two types of hunting dogs. Those bred for the show ring, and those bred for work (hunting and field work). While I generally recommend against adopting a puppy or older dog from a show breeder, the hunting breeds offer the unusual exception to the rule. The show people have (as usual) done an excessively good job of “breeding out” the working drive in most of the hunting breeds. Most notably, the Labrador Retriever, which has become an extremely popular dog as of late.
HOUNDS: The Hounds are similar in many respects to the hunting breeds, except that, being less popular, you will be more likely to purchase an individual dog which is close to it’s working lines. It has been my experience that the typical ‘hound dogs’ are quite stubborn and energetic when young, but as they grow older, become less demanding of the boundless need for exercise as is required in their more youthful years. With the exception of the Basset Hound, and a few others, this is not a category of dog for the sedentary or those who like to spend countless hours taking afternoon naps or Sunday snoozes.
TOY BREEDS: In general, the toy breeds were DESIGNED to be good companion pets. However, I have found that the smaller breeds have a tendency to be harder to housebreak. In addition, it seems that many have a tendency to be very ‘yippie’, with barking problems being the second most common behavior problem for this group. Some tend to be dominant toward their owners, but this may be more of a reflection of the owner’s handling of these dogs.
It is common for a toy breed owner to see his dog as a baby, or small child, and with this, comes the need to excessively spoil and cater to the dog’s every whim. It is much more common to see toy breed owners with dominance and aggression problems created as a result of this attitude. But since the dogs are of such a diminutive size, they are usually not in a position to cause lasting damage or hospitalization… at least not on the same scale as a larger dog such as a Pit Bull or Rottweiler.
NORTHERN BREEDS: Unless you’ve located an exceptional specimen of one of these breeds, my recommendation is to stay away from the Northern Breeds. Consisting of dogs such as the Akita, Husky, Malamute, Shiba Inu, Samoyed, Jindo, American Eskimo, etc…, these breeds were generally bred for one purpose… to run! They tend to be very air-headed and stubborn, and are not easy dogs to train. Unfortunately, they are some of the most beautiful of dogs. With long, thick hair and beautiful faces and tails, they are hard to resist.
This is not to suggest that I have not encountered individual dogs from this category that have not been easy to train, but instead to point out the many more times I have run into these dogs which have been a real pain-in-the- neck. Some of these breeds (most notably the Akita) have strains of handler aggression (which means they tend to want to eat their owners), but at the same time rarely have the requisite drives and temperament to do police work, or for that matter, even personal protection.
NON-SPORTING BREEDS: It’s hard to make generalizations about the non-sporting breeds. With this category, probably as much as any other, it is the individual dog that must be taken in to consideration. When I fist began training, I had felt that the Dalmatian was a breed which was consistently a waste of good dog food. However, in recent months, I’ve worked with several who have had fairly decent working temperaments and were very willing to please.
On a similar note, conventional wisdom suggests that Chow Chows are nearly impossible to train. Yet, I have found them to be very intelligent and showing of a strong bond with their owners. The Shar-pei, too, has been a surprise. The few which I have worked with have been amazingly willing to please their owners (upon being taught proper technique), and very happy to be trained.
While I am certainly not offering an endorsement of either the Chow Chow or the Shar-pei, I am saying that each of these has definitely surprised me in their willingness and appropriateness as a house pet in contrast to the conventional wisdom that is so commonly expressed about these breeds.