Choosing a Dog: Why Breed Matters
Puppy Love: We've All Felt It
You're all ready to bring home your new family member, but before you get too carried away, ask yourself how much research you've done into the kind of dog you're adopting. It can matter a lot, even when adopting a mixed breed. Dog breeds have been developed over hundreds or even thousands of years to do very specific things, and this can dramatically affect their behavior. It's best to know what you are getting into and researching breeds can help shape your expectations so that problems are minimized or avoided. For example, if you want a dog that is low energy, a working breed is not for you. He will require more exercise and stimulation than you can give him, and this will eventually become an issue.
Regardless of what we might hear from well-meaning but misinformed people, no dog breed is "one size fits all" and different breeds are best for different people. Below are a few key questions you should ask yourself before deciding which breed of dog is best for you.
What is Your Energy Level?
Different dogs have different energy levels, just like people. A fat, sleepy puppy can become a nonstop dynamo of energy very quickly, and depending on the breed, this can spell problems for you if you are not expecting it. As stated above, if you are looking for a couch buddy, it's probably best to avoid the working and terrier breeds. These include German Shepherds, the Doberman Pinscher, the Weimeraner and American Pit Bull Terriers. Boxers, another popular working breed, can become problematic if they are not exercised properly; they become destructive and often engage in excessive barking because they are bored.
The working and terrier breeds are intelligent, high energy, very focused and they need a family that can provide the type of stimulation and activity they require to be happy and well-adjusted. If they don't get it, it can result in problem behaviors such as chewing, hyperactivity, aggression and general unhappiness. Terriers in particular usually have a very high prey drive. They are very intelligent and need a lot of exercise in order to be content and well-behaved. If you are active and enjoy lots of outdoor time, one of the terrier or working breeds could be perfect for you.
Good couch buddies might include the low energy Basset Hound, Pekingese, Pug and the Shih Tzu. Do some research to find out what breed(s) will fit your lifestyle.
Do You Have Kids or Are You Planning a Family?
If you are planning a family or are expecting a baby, realistically examine if you will have time for a dog once your baby comes. Many, many dogs are sitting in shelters because their family expanded and their owners found that they just did not want the responsibility of a dog on top of a child. Adopting a dog is a lifetime commitment and so is having a child. Are you going to be able to walk your dog at 6 AM after being up all night with a screaming baby? Do you have a plan in place in case you cannot walk him so that he does not go to the bathroom in the house? Will you still be able to give your dog the attention he needs so that he does not become destructive in your home? Do you know how to socialize a dog with a baby? These are all very important things to consider.
If you already have children, it's very important to pick a dog that will get along well with your children. Many dogs end up in shelters because they cannot put up with the antics of young children. Not all dogs get on well with children, and some that match your energy level may not fit into this category. For example, a Chow Chow may be your athletic match but he is not a good choice for a home with children. He is large, aloof and dominant, a guarding breed. He does not endure eye poking or hair pulling kindly, and he is too reserved to be comfortable around young children.
Other dogs have become popular because of movies or television but they are not a good fit with a family that has small children. This was the case with the Dalmatian and the Chihuahua; television commercials and movies made the breeds' popularity explode, but they are generally not suitable companions for children. If people had researched the breeds before bringing one of these dogs into their homes, many unfortunate incidents would not have happened.
Dogs that are good for families include the Labrador, the Golden Retriever, the Beagle and the Newfoundland. Terriers are often great companions for younger children as well. However, no dog is a good companion for a very small child that has not been taught how to respect animals. No dog, no matter how small, well-trained or gentle he may seem, should be left alone with a child - ever. Children should not be allowed to hang on dogs or get in the dog's face. Dogs are not people and they can become nervous, confused or afraid of the things people do because they don't always understand our intentions. This can result in a bite, or worse. If you have small children, you should learn how to recognize when your dog has had enough or is becoming uncomfortable and wants to be left alone.
Do You Have Allergies?
Many people don't realize they have allergies until they bring a pet home. The result is a beloved family member who must leave, and a family of broken hearts. Don't let that happen to you! Find out before you get a pet if you are allergic. If you are, don't despair. There are a few breeds that you may be able to coexist with, even if you have allergies. These include the Bedlington Terrier, the Chinese Crested (mostly hairless), the Wheaten Terrier, the Schnauzer and the Poodle. Do some research and expose yourself to a few of them before you make a decision.
How Much Experience Do You Have With Dogs?
This is an important one. All breeds are not created equal, and some breeds are simply not recommended for someone with no previous experience dealing with them. For instance, it is not a good idea for a first-time owner or a person with no experience dealing with power breeds to have a Rottweiler. These dogs require a certain type of personality in their handler and a certain type of treatment from their handler in order to become well-adjusted. If they do not have this specific environment, they can become maladjusted and even dangerous. Many types of bulldog are the same, including the American Pit Bull Terrier. Bulldogs are wonderful family pets and they are fantastic companions but they require a certain type of handling because they are stubborn, dominant and intelligent. They are not for everybody.
If you don't have a lot of experience dealing with dogs, you want a breed that is people-oriented with a low incidence of aggression, no dominance problems and few temperament issues. Some recommended breeds might be the Labrador Retriever, the Golden Retriever, the Pomeranian, the Pug and the Poodle.
What is The Dog Expected to Do?
Most dog breeds have been very specifically developed to do one thing and do it very well. You wouldn't choose a Greyhound to pull a sled in Alaska. That isn't what he was created to do and he wouldn't be very good at it. A Malamute would be excellent for this, though. In the same way, what you want to do with your dog matters a lot when deciding what breed will suit your needs. If you want a dog to take on lots of hikes and climbs, an English Bulldog is not a good choice. He gets very tired, his respiration becomes labored because of his short muzzle and his legs are too short. However, his distant cousin the super-athletic Dogo Argentino might be perfect for this.
If you want a dog to guard your property and not be too much of a family pet, a German Shepherd or a Cane Corso would be a great choice. However, if you want a dog to participate in family outings and go to the park, you need a more social and people-oriented breed. We often hear that any dog can be socialized, and this is definitely true but it is much easier with breeds that already possess these qualities. You can socialize a guarding breed, but you cannot train his natural suspicion out of him. It will always be there.
So Which Breed is Best For You?
Research and a realistic examination of your expectations is the best way to answer this question. This way, you can be sure of a lasting partnership for your dog's entire life. Breed specifications apply to mixed breeds as well, so try to be as sure as you can what breeds the parents were. It is worth it to remember that regardless of breed, all dogs have their own personalities, histories and experiences and that plays a part in how they act as well. Age does, too, so if you love working breeds, for example, but you just don't have the energy to keep up with one, senior dogs make great companions. Above all, the dog you pick must be able to fit into your family, whatever his breed(s).
Things like size, coat length and if a breed drools are important considerations as well, and please don't forget, there are many wonderful dogs waiting at the shelter - including purebred dogs! Don't shop, adopt!
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