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Choosing a Dog

  • 13/01/2011

Why are you getting a dog? The rewards from having a dog are real but hard to define. It can be for company, for exercise, to reduce stress, for security, or many other reasons. It's a bit like having a two year old child that never grows up, and if you don't like children maybe you don't like dogs either. Keeping a dog does cost a fair amount of money too (but they are far cheaper than children!)

What type of dog? Consider the following as a kind of checklist. Your answers to these questions will narrow down your choice considerably.

  • Does the dog need to get along well with children? It is often the largest dogs that are best with children; toy dogs are too delicate for small children to handle.
  • Does the dog need to get along well with other dogs and pets?
  • Is the dog easy to handle, or does it need an owner who is experienced in dog training?
  • Do you want to take your dog on trips with you? This is much easier with a small or medium sized dog.
  • How much exercise does the dog need; how much time and energy are you prepared to spend exercising the dog? Some breeds need much more exercise than others. Remember that the dog needs exercise whatever the weather.
  • Does the dog need a lot of space or is it suitable for living in an apartment?
  • Do you want a watchdog or one that is friendly to strangers?
  • Do you want to leave the dog alone during the day while you are at work?
  • Do you need a dog that is OK for people who suffer from allergies?
  • Does the dog need a lot of grooming and if so are you going to do it yourself or pay someone else to do it? Some long haired dogs need much more grooming. However, many dogs that don't need grooming do shed hair constantly.
  • Decide if you specifically want a male or female dog.

Mongrel -mixed breed They are often free or very cheap to obtain, and cheaper to insure. They are usually healthier with fewer behavioural quirks than pedigree dogs. On the other hand you won't know quite how your dog is going to turn out if you get a mongrel puppy. Be careful about getting a dog that is advertised as 'free to a good home' etc as it may be that the way it was brought up has created health or behaviour problems. Dog homes always have a supply of mixed breed dogs and can usually give you some idea of the dog's behaviour, health etc. Also they should take back a dog that turns out to have problems or is unsuitable for any reason.

Pedigree breeds If you want a pedigree dog choose a few breeds that you think may be suitable. If you are not very familiar with the breed read as much as you can about it. Consulting Breed standards is very important if you want to breed from it, or do well at dog shows, but not as helpful concerning breed health problems, character of the dog, grooming or training, but other more general books will fill the gap. If you just want a pet your priority is a healthy well behaved dog and many 'faults' relating to size, build, color and markings etc. will not concern you. If you tell the breeder this you may get offered a special price for a dog that will be a good pet but is not suitable for breeding or dog shows. According to Wikipedia the American Kennel Club recognises about 170breeds of dog, far too many even to list them all here. For convenience, it divides all dog breeds into seven groups:

Sporting Dogs e.g. pointers, setters, retrievers and many spaniels. They generally need a fair amount of exercise. Breeds that are generally good with children include Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, English Setters, English Cocker Spaniel, American Cocker Spaniel and Flat Coated Retriever.

Working Dogs e.g. guard dogs such as Rottweiler or Doberman Pinscher, and sled dogs such as Malamute or Husky. They mostly need plenty of exercise and a fair amount of space. The Newfoundlander looks like a giant teddy bear and is noted for its gentleness and good nature. It is particularly good with children and makes a great family dog. It was born to swim and does need a lot of grooming.

Toy Dogs e.g. Yorkshire Terriers, Toy Poodles, Shih Tzus, Pugs, Pomeranians, Maltese. These are suitable for city apartments and don't need much exercise so are more suitable for the elderly and housebound. However toy dogs and small children don't mix well!

Terriers e.g. Yorkshire terrier, Boston terrier, Scottish terrier, Cairn terrier. This group includes small and medium sized dogs. They generally need firm handling and are better with older children. They are energetic and enjoy games such as playing with Frisbees. Note that bull terriers, Pit bulls and Staffordshire terriers were originally bred as fighting dogs. They need an experienced owner who will ensure that they are properly socialised and trained.

Hounds - Sight hounds include Afghans, Borzoi, Greyhounds and Salukis. These are very fast and energetic. They should always be kept on a lead except in a fenced area otherwise they can run off chasing a squirrel or cat. However older greyhounds become much quieter and retired racing dogs can make excellent pets once they become accustomed to living in a house. If exercised thoroughly mornings and evenings greyhounds can adapt to being left alone all day. The Irish Wolfhound is one of the largest breeds. An adult male will weigh 120 to 160 pounds. They make good family dogs as they are reliable, patient, good-tempered and affectionate. Scent hounds include Dachshunds, Bloodhounds, Bassets and Beagles. They are much calmer than sight hounds. Beagles are very popular as they are loyal, and good with children and other pets. However they are not so easy to train as they have an independent streak and will follow a scent regardless of anything else.

Herding Dog e.g.Shetland Sheepdog, Border Collie, Collie, and German Shepherd. These breeds were originally developed to herd cattle and sheep so they are intelligent and athletic. Shetland sheepdogs and border collies do need a lot of exercise and space to run. German Shepherds are one of the most popular breeds, but have suffered from defects due to over-breeding. They should be reliable, self-confident, loyal and even-tempered, but nowadays there are some which are shy and nervous which should be avoided.

Non-sporting dog. This group includes all the breeds that don't fit into any of the other groups. A wide variety of types and sizes including the Bichon Frise, Chow Chow, Dalmatian, Bulldog, Boston Terrier and Poodle.

Designer Dogs. This is a term used for hybrid dogs which are deliberate crosses between two breeds in an attempt to get the desirable qualities of both breeds without any of the problems associated with either breed. Poodles are popular for these crosses because they have non-shedding coats which should be better for people with allergies. The non-shedding coat seems to be a dominant characteristic present in all the 1st generation crosses. E.g. a Labrador retriever crossed with a poodle is known as a Labradoodle, a cross between a pug and a beagle is a puggle, a cockapoo is a cross between a cocker spaniel and a poodle and goldendoodle is a cross between a golden retriever and a poodle. With 170 breeds to start from there are over 14,000 possible combinations of two breeds! There are already over 100 different hybrid breeds registered at the American Canine Hybrid Club.

Health Different breeds are prone to various hereditary diseases such as hip dysplasia, aortic stenosis or entropion. Before buying a pedigree dog check which diseases that breed is prone to and check with the breeder that the parents of the dog you choose have been certified free of defects.

Allergies & Hypoallergenic dogs If someone in your family suffers from allergies it would be sensible to choose a low-shedding dog such as a poodle, but all dogs produce some allergens. If you suspect an allergy to the dog you need to visit a specialist to check if the dog really is the cause. There are many ways to reduce the impact of any type of allergy e.g. hard floors instead of carpets, antihistamine treatments. Regular bathing and careful grooming for your dog should also help.

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