The question I am most asked by soon-to-be dog owners is “What breed of dog is best for me?” or “Are Staffy’s smart?”, “Are Mastiff’s aggressive?” “Are Jack Russells crazy?”
Now, before I answer these seat clenching questions I want all you soon-to-be dog owners (or multiple dog owners) to do me a HUGE favour. First, take a deep breath. Now, put your breed stereotypes on the shelf, put your rescue dog horror stories under the stairs and wrap your sunny puppy ideals back up in the glittery gift paper they came in.
Now you’ve got your research helmut on I can take you through my crash course on “How to chose your new best-friend.”
Now, be honest with yourself. If this is your first dog (and that means the first time you are solely responsible for a dog) you need to do even more work to prepare for this then someone who has a little hands on experience. Now, don’t think all you previous dog-owners get to ride the ignorance train to dog-ownership, you also need to do your research and learn how to prevent any of the mistakes you made with your last dog. (Super-dog owners BEWARE. If you put little to know effort in to training your last dog and he happened to be a superstar remember that doesn’t make you the next Victoria Stilwell, you just happened to be lucky). You may also want to look for a dog that is “easy going”, with low-medium energy levels, consider an older rescue dog that has been living in a foster home for at least a month.
I won’t pretend that you aren’t all thinking, “but, but, but…I dreamed of raising my very own puppy since I was a little kid.” So, here’s a few tips when choosing the right puppy for you:
- DO NOT buy your puppy from a pet shop unless you endorse the manufacturing of puppies in puppy mills/farms where animals are abused, inbred and disposed of when no longer needed. You are also likely to get a puppy who has learnt to toilet where he sleeps and eats and you may never be able to train that out of him (due to the altering of their natural instincts to be sanitary). Disease is another big factor in pet shop puppies, genetic mutation and the fact that your dog rarely grows up to be the dog promised on the window label.
- Look for a reputable breeder. Ask a whole bunch of questions and if there are any signs of deceit then run a mile.
- Only buy from a breeder that will let you see the puppies yourself and at least the Mother if not both parents.
- A good breeder will have the puppies in their home becoming accustomed to human life (not locked away in the garage or laundry).
- When choosing a puppy from the litter watch how they interact with each other. Look at the different energy levels. If you are a new dog owner, a relatively inactive person or one that is not committed to super-levels of training (one that will challenge their dog beyond basic training) then choose the puppy that is more relaxed, not the one jumping all over you and the other puppies.
- On the other hand, beware of the cute little “runt” in the corner who seems shy and withdrawn. These runts are not treated well by the rest of the litter and may grow up to be anxious, highly fearful and anti-social. If you have little knowledge of dog behaviour then please do not feel sorry for this dog and think you are saving it.
Now as promised, here’s my two cents on breeds. Breeds can be somewhat a predictor of how a dog will behave when he grows up. An example is, when distressed we can predict a Malamute may howl where a Maltese Terrier may yap. Genetics plays only part of the puzzle here, so in my mind, making sure your dog has been living in an environment that is socially rich (being positively exposed to a multitude of strange people, places, sounds, sights and smells) is MUCH more important than the genetic make-up of a dog. With that said, we all have a squishy part in our chests that draws us to certain breeds. My chest squishes whenever I see a Doberman gliding across the dog park like a cheeky gazelle, off whom no other dog dare steal the squeaky toy.
With that said, I wasn’t so blind sighted by my squish that I went out and bought myself a Doberman puppy. I knew that work commitments and living situations would better suit a smaller, older-less energetic rescue dog. Now, whichever way your squish takes you, the best way to understand a breed is to talk to those who own the breed, visit breeders and shows and meet as many dogs as you can. Also, beware of idealistic blurbs on Breed Specific websites and books that can have you pulling your stereotypes right back off that shelf.
When choosing a breed, you want to look at a few main points:
- Energy Levels – How active are you now and how active is the average dog in that breed? These must match or the dog must be less active than you
- Sociability – Dogs that are genetically less inclined to be social (get along with other strange humans and dogs) need extra socializing when they are puppies. A normal puppy needs to have a positive interaction with at least 100 strangers (including lots of men and children) before 14 weeks of age (before they can safely leave the house due to vaccination issues). Guard breeds and other “stand-offish” breeds will need even more effort in this department. An anti-social dog is an unsafe dog and cannot safely interact with other dogs, strangers and ESPECIALLY children. Anti-social behaviour includes, withdrawing, hiding, growling, barking and other signs of fear or uncertainty around strange people, places and dogs. Honestly ask yourself, how much time and expertise do I have in this area?
- Intelligence/Trainability – I noticed that one of the most popular dog breeds in Australia is the Labrador, chosen often for its trainability. What most people don’t know, with this intelligence comes a huge responsibility to challenge the mind. Or, you will end up with an easily bored dog who will find its own fulfilling activities (barking, digging, raiding the fridge). Usually, high intelligence comes with high energy (to result in high learning ability)
- Grooming Needs – Do you really have time to brush your dog everyday? Or are you willing to pay the weekly – 2 monthly grooming costs?
- Size – This is last on my list because I feel it is least important given all the other factors have been handled correctly. Of course, an out of control dog that is big is going to be much harder to handle than a small one. I don’t feel that big dogs can’t live in smaller places either, so long as extra effort is put in to daily outings and plenty of off-leash play time is allowed outside of the home. Who do you think is happier? A big dog in an apartment that is given 2 daily walks and 45 mins free play time with other dogs in the park, or a small dog in a big house that sleeps on the lounge 20 hours a day and is given free time in the backyard to play on his own?
And remember, within every breed and every litter there are huge variations in all of the above factors.
I won’t delve in to the world of rescue dogs here as I could go on forever. For more information or any questions please visit my website. I will say that anyone who is kind enough to rescue a dog in this ugly world makes my chest squish. If the fact that you save an innocent animal’s life isn’t enough to sway you then consider the following:
- You can visibly see how a rescue dog acts and looks (unlike a puppy who is yet to show his true colours)
- You can introduce your current pets to test for compatibility
- You can take your new friend for a test drive, with most rescues allowing a return policy if things don’t work out
- You can see any health issues with your own eyes
So now you’ve reached the end of your crash course on “How to choose the dog or puppy that’s right for you.” I hope you will leave your doggie prejudices and ideals where you stored them and continue your research in to one of the most important decisions you will make for yourself and your family. And remember, even the ugliest and wildest dog can make a wonderful pet, and even the prettiest and most obedient dog can turn in to a nightmare!
If you are ever unsure about the choice you are making, I would advise seeking the guidance of a professional dog trainer/behaviourist.
For a free breeder questionnaire then please visit my website.