What dog will best suit you?
Where do you start when choosing a dog for the first time? It’s such a minefield. The Kennel Club lists over 200 pedigree breeds of dog and of course these day there are numerous crossbreeds to add to the confusion. I think we should start by considering what we should NOT be thinking about.
What should you NOT consider when choosing a dog?
In my opinion (humble or otherwise) you should NOT start your search for your best friend thinking about:
- Cuteness – puppies are cute, dogs not so much
- Ugliness – oh it’s so ugly – bulgy eyes, snuffley nose, wrinkly skin; all equals unhealthy
- Cuddliness – do you want a dog, or a stuffed toy? Or a cat? Lots of dogs HATE being cuddled
- Fashion – just because everyone else has one, does NOT make it the right dog for you
Types of dog
What are the criteria for choosing a dog? The Kennel Club categorise dogs into 7 different Breed Groups. This is for showing pedigree dogs, but I think it’s an interesting place to begin.
The groups are as follows:
- Gundogs – eg Spaniels. Dogs originally trained to find and retrieve game.
- Working – eg Schnauzers. These are mainly used for guarding and include the Boxer, Great Dane and St Bernard.
- Pastoral – eg Border Collies. These are herding dogs, usually working with cattle, sheep, reindeer etc.
- Toy – eg Bichon Frise. Companion or lap dogs. Not all small dogs are toy dogs, some are terriers for example – there is a difference!
- Utility – eg Poodles. These are breeds of a ‘non-sporting origin’, including the Bulldog, Dalmatian and Akita
- Terrier – eg Bedlington. Dogs used for hunting vermin. Brave and tough
- Hound – eg Beagle. Breeds used for hunting by scent or by sights. Also includes Greyhounds.
Straight away, there are all sorts of difficulties. A breed might be small, but is not a ‘toy’ breed. It might be a terrier, but be really big, such as an Airedale terrier. The Utility group in particular is described as being a varied group of miscellaneous breeds! So it’s not really much use to us when thinking about the kind of dog we want. However, don’t dismiss it completely, as it will give you an indication of the type of work the dog was originally intended for and therefore what drives its behaviour.
Other ways of defining dogs
What kinds of criteria are we actually going to have when choosing a dog? Here are some suggestions:
- Size – definitely a key point to consider. These days, people tend to live in fairly small spaces. We usually live in a town or a city and we don’t have a big garden. That doesn’t mean we can’t have a dog, just that we need to be aware of how that animal will fit into the space available. One dog will pretty much fit anywhere though, so it does start off with your personal preference. It’s not so much about how big they are, as how active they are.
- Activity – some dogs really do need more exercise than others. Having said that, ALL dogs need exercise, just as we do ourselves. They all need to go outside to toilet, and they really do need to have the mental stimulation of a walk. Even toy dogs need this! However, toy dogs and a fair number of other breeds, manage perfectly well with a small amount of exercise, which with today’s busy lifestyles can only be a good thing. Surprisingly, Greyhounds do NOT need masses of long walks; they are sprinters, so generally spend their time pootling about. Similarly, very large dogs, such as Great Danes, do not benefit from long walks.
- Hair – a key criteria for many people. I think many people have had experience of a Labrador, where the whole house is covered in hair. They are classified as a ‘shedding’ breed, which means that their short coat is continually being replaced (and therefore ‘shed’ all over the place!) People seem to consider this to be a major drawback with having a dog. Personally, with today’s hard floors and efficient vacuum cleaners, I cannot see why it is a problem. There are many other drawbacks to dog ownership and I don’t think this is the worst! Other breeds might ‘moult’; this is when the coat comes out all at once, usually once or twice a year, eg Border Collies. You can make a replacement dog from the hair at these times, but it’s only for a few weeks.
I think it is worth highlighting here that if a dog doesn’t shed or moult, they will need to be clipped. This is a regular, lifetime requirement and costs money! Of course you can learn to do it yourself but either way, the coat requires regular maintenance. Moulting and shedding dogs’ coats are generally self-maintaining. You obviously need to check them over regularly, but you shouldn’t have to spend a great deal of time and money looking after their coat.
- Temperament – this is really the heart of you thinking about your dog and what you want from it. Do you want to cuddle it? Many breeds of dog do NOT like to be cuddled. You should find that a well-bred puppy raised in a sympathetic environment will enjoy sitting on the sofa with you, but this is by no means guaranteed. Toy dogs have been specifically designed to be picked up and carried around, but remember this does not include all small dogs. Equally, some large dogs really love a snuggle, but just because it is hairy doesn’t mean it likes you in its face. An Afghan Hound would be a good example of that kind of dog.
- Trainability – some dogs are easier to live with than others! People believe that because Border Collies are intelligent that means they are easy to train, but it is not quite that simple… If you don’t need a dog that can read :p, turn left or right on a word command or need you to do something with it for several hours a day, don’t get a collie.
- Health – it’s a bit worrying that this is so far down the list, but there you go, it’s not the most important aspect of choosing a dog, in most people’s view. People think that pedigree dogs are unhealthy compared with crossbreeds, or mongrels, but in fact the opposite can be true. Responsible, pedigree dog breeders are working extremely hard to produce the best dogs possible and to breed out anything that can be tested for.
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