by Cheryl Smith, DVM
For Part 1, see here
People need help figuring out what dog is going to be best for them. If they have never owned or lived with a dog, it is even more important that the potential new owner be very critical about what their expectations for a puppy/dog are going to be.
Without a doubt, individuals are attracted to certain breeds by their appearance. Size, shape and fur coat types are a big part of this initial appeal.
A breed’s general character is generally uniform within a certain variation for that particular breed and specific genetic line. Like the physical characteristics, underlying character breeds fairly true as well. Where things get tricky with temperament and behavior is that dogs raised and trained with experienced owners suited for a particular breed will have dogs that appear very well behaved, very biddable and desirable; the same dog with an inexperienced owner who doesn’t understand the breed’s needs will probably turn out very differently. Finding out before acquiring a dog how much training, exercise and discipline it takes to develop the desired resultant dog is very important.
As a dog person who loves a good dog of almost any breed or type, the only reason I would not have an extremely large dog is that I want to be able to physically pick up my sick or hurt dog to get them treated without having to wait for assistance. A well-behaved large dog has a bigger food bill, larger size medication needs, and takes up more room on the bed and couch, but usually is not more difficult to live with.
A tiny dog is more prone to injury around the house (e.g. getting tripped over, injuring itself jumping down from too high a perch) and may be at risk of injury from other dogs and animals. Special attention to protect the little ones is important.
Extreme sizes in either direction also have their own health challenges. The giants can suffer from catastrophic cancers at an early age as well as structural challenges with early degenerative joint disease (DJD) in major joints. The toy breeds have dental health challenges, as well as their own orthopedic problems (like luxating patella), but generally with less detriment to overall quality of life.
Dogs come with a variety of coverings. There are some “hairless breeds” that often require special skin care needs. On the other end of the spectrum are breeds that have profuse, continuously growing hair that requires periodic professional grooming (optionally, you will need to be trained and take the time to groom the dog yourself to maintain a nice healthy hair coat).
More common hair coat types include:
Short double hair coat of “fur”: grows to a certain length and sheds
- Examples include the German Shepherd Dog, Corgis, Belgian Malinois, Labrador Retrievers, most of the Spitz or Nordic sled dog types (Husky, Malamutes, Elkhounds).
- This coat type sheds quite a bit and consistently, usually having a twice a year big shed and coat change. This is close to the “wild type” coat that would be naturally selected for in climates with true winters.
Retriever/setter coat with “furnishings”: flat, mostly short coat on face, head, and over body, with longer hair on ears, legs and tail.
- Examples include the Setters, Golden and Flat-coated Retrievers, many of the true “spaniels”.
- In its original form, this a fairly low maintenance coat; however, we humans have selected for exaggeration and end up with the hairier end of the spectrum with coat as seen on the show American Cocker Spaniel, show Golden Retrievers, and the Newfoundland.
Slick, short coated breeds:
- Dobermans, Boston terriers, German Shorthaired Pointers, Weimaraners Vislas, Boxers, sight hounds (Whippets, Greyhounds and Italian Greyhounds), Great Danes, Staffordshire and Bull Terriers. Then there are most of the true hounds whose coat is a little bit longer and with a little more natural oils, like the Beagle and Bloodhound .
- These coat types leave short stiff hairs in every fabric in the dog’s environment. They tend to constantly shed a little, with less noticeable true shedding periods. Dirt and debris mostly fall off this coat when it dries.
“Hair” breeds: dogs whose hair continually grows and will get very long unless it is kept trimmed.
- These include the Poodles, Portuguese Water dogs, Puli, Old English Sheepdogs, Kerry Blue and Wheaten Terriers, Maltese, Yorkshire Terriers, and most of the “Doodles”.
- All of these dogs require regular grooming in order to have healthy skin and a dog you can stand to have in your home as a companion.
DOGS NEED A JOB!
Dogs that have a purpose have an enriched life. If you do not choose and direct the activities, they may come up with ones that are not especially appreciated by you or the structures in your home and yard. A tired dog is more likely to sleep in the back yard on a nice day; an energetic, bored dog is likely to excavate a den or dig out imaginary vermin. A dog that can count on an interactive play period on a daily basis is likely to be happy to see you when you get home, and not have tried to redecorate your home using their teeth and feet while you were working.
Needs vary from type of dog to type of dog. A Clumber spaniel would love to do things with his owner daily, but less than vigorous activity every day would not have the same consequences as the more active hunting dog deprived of exercise and mental fulfillment.
If you want a running companion, do not choose a breed type that has exaggerated conformation. The average chondrodyplastic dog (short legged with long body) is unlikely to hold up long term.
If you are thinking you would be happy with a shelter dog, really investigate what any individual is like before you take it home– size, hair, activity level, temperament and reactivity.
In conclusion, do your homework. Research breeds and types of dog. Once you pick a breed, talk to owners of that breed and their breeders. Find a line of dogs which you like and are likely to do well with you and your lifestyle.