Friday, March 13, 2009

Choosing a Dog

What's your favorite dog breed?


-Do you like long haired breeds? Short haired? Wire-haired?
-Do you like big dogs? Small dogs? Medium-sized dogs?
-Do you like purebreds? Good old-fashioned American Mutts? Designer Mixes?


Unfortunately the 3 sets of questions listed above are often the only questions people ask when they are looking for a new dog. Don't get me wrong, a lot of dog owners do spend time researching different dog breeds before getting a new dog.

But too often, people go for what they think looks pretty. Or what their neighbor has. Or what they had as a kid. Or what their spouse got them as a surprise present.

I'm not joking. I see hundreds of dogs every year that don't fit into their owners' lifestyles. These unfortunate dogs are too high-energy, too low-energy, too big, require too much grooming, don't play enough, play too much, are too needy, are too independent, too aggressive, too shy...ah, the list goes on and on.

Before you set out in search of your next dog, take time to really research the different groups - the AKC has some great information on selecting a dog at their website, http://www.akc.org/. First you need to determine whether you want a terrier, a toy, a herding dog, a hound, a working dog, a sporting breed, a non-sporting, or a 'miscellaneous' (no, these aren't mutts!) type of dog. Or maybe you want a Heinz 57 mix.

Keep in mind that a purebred dog will be more predictable - in size, coat type, exercise requirements and temperament. Purebreds were created for a purpose. Once you know what job or purpose your breed was created for, you can predict quite a bit about what kind of dog it will be.

That is not to say mixed breeds don't need homes just as bad as purebreds do! Local shelters and rescues are full of wonderful dogs that will make great pets. You simply might not be able to easily judge how big a mixed-breed puppy will get, or what it's personality will be as it grows up.

When adopting an adult dog (purebred or mixed) you often won't know the dog's emotional or physical history. This can present challenges, but many of these challenges can be overcome with training, respect, and time& patience for a rescued dog.

Ultimately, the dog breed that might always catch your eye just might not fit into your lifestyle. I absolutely LOVE how rough coated collies look, but I have not an ounce of patience for grooming. So, I got a smooth collie that requires much less coat care.

I also really like huge dogs. My last German shepherd weighed 110 lbs when he was healthy. I've also owned Great Danes and Irish Wolfhounds - huge dogs! But in getting those breeds, I also was adopting a lot of health issues, shorter lifespans, and in the end - a lot of heartbreak. Having whippets gets me a similar personality to big dogs (LAZY!), but with a smaller, more manageable, healthier size....not to mention much less healthcare and feeding costs! Does this mean people shouldn't get giant breeds? Of course not! The point is that you should get a breed that fits what you like AND that fits into your lifestyle.

I still miss having giant breeds, but they don't fit into what works for me anymore (I ran out of room in the car).

So - do your research! Look into energy levels, personality types, exercise requirements, guarding habits, etc. Learn about special food requirements and diseases that run in certain breeds. Find out as much as you possibly can before getting a dog. Because if you're lucky, you'll spend the next 10 to 20 (yes, my mother just had a Yorkie live to be 19) years with that dog. It should be a wonderful 10 or so years for both of you!

That's it from this end of the leash.

Jennifer Hime is the owner of Front Range K9 Academy in Wheat Ridge, CO. She can be contacted at jennifer@k9counselor.com or 720-839-1102, or on the web at www.k9counselor.com