Choose Your Best Friend Wisely

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Choose Your Best Friend Wisely

Adopting a dog can be a joyous experience, but new owners too often become enamored with the look of a certain breed, only to learn that the chosen dog is totally incongruous with their way of life.

Before deciding on the size, breed and/or gender of this new family member, it’s important to consider exactly what role it will play in the household, and how it will spend daily life. Once these things are clear, potential owners can do the research to find the right dog for their lifestyle. Otherwise it’s very likely dog and owner will be unable to meet one another’s needs and end up aggravated and resentful. More bad behavior will follow.

Eventually, a good dog placed in the wrong home could be cast off as a “problem” pet, limiting future adoption opportunities and its chances of finding a happy home.

There are more than 300 internationally recognized dog breeds—with dozens more only regionally accepted—and each has specific character traits and innate behaviors as unique and inborn as the shape of its body and the color or quality of its coat. To organize this panoply, the American Kennel Club (AKC) has established eight categories, or canine groups: sporting, hound, working, terrier, toy, herding, non-sporting and miscellaneous. Selecting a preferred group among the eight is an excellent way to narrow things down and get closer to a well-informed choice.

It’s also important to consider what a dog was originally bred to do, what job it had. The AKC groups come in handy here, but remember, each breed within those groups also has its own set of traits and behaviors.

Demonstrating the difference between groups, a toy dog—Chihuahua, cavalier King Charles, Maltese, etc.—would be preferable for apartment living and families who have little access to wide open country, while a sporting dog would be better suited for someone with an active lifestyle or a person interested in practicing agility courses or Frisbee tricks with their four-legged friend.

Like sporting dogs, breeds in the working group are active animals requiring a good deal of training and exercise, but they are typically larger and stronger than their sporting cousins. The AKC describes working breeds such as the great Dane, Doberman pinscher and Siberian husky as being bred for guarding property, pulling sleds or doing water rescues, and they will innately crave that sort of duty and purpose, even in more domestic situations.

Another active group, herding dogs—bred to move farm animals from one place to another—were once part of the working group, but have since branched off to include corgis, German shepherds, collies and the like. These breeds are all intelligent and very responsive to training, which makes herders excellent pets, if owners can keep them active and stimulated.

Known for hunting and tracking prowess, the hound group is quite varied in appearance, though classic hounds, such as bassets, beagles, coonhounds and dachshunds, have long ears and often howl or bay instead of bark. Each breed in this group should be looked at individually because their personalities can be as varied as their appearance. Terriers, on the other hand, can vary greatly in size and look, but they are almost universally feisty and full of energy—a personality that can be a lot to handle for inexperienced or passive owners.

And while they have lots of desirable qualities, most terriers aren’t great for families with young children, especially smaller terriers, such as Jack Russels or cairn terriers. Anyone with children must be very careful to choose a breed that will tolerate kids’ behavior and endure unintentionally rough play. Small and fragile dogs, such as the dachshund or Chihuahua, are generally not good companions for children. This is also true with high strung or aggressive breeds and breeds that can cause serious injury with one reactive bite. Just because a dog appears “adorable” doesn’t mean it wants to be adored.

When kids are involved, it’s best to find a sturdy, even-tempered dog, such as a golden or Labrador retriever, British bulldog or mixed breed. Of course, some small dogs also have the constitution and personality to handle children—the bichon frise, for example—so all is not lost for families with youngsters and a small apartment.

Still, no matter how perfect a match, very young children should always be supervised when interacting with the family dog, for both their safety.

Following basic considerations like size, group and temperament, prospective dog owners should also think about the amount of grooming they can handle or afford. Most pups have fur, but many breeds—including the poodle, bichon frise, Maltese and Yorkie, among others—have hair, which doesn’t shed and is much less likely to trigger allergies in susceptible visitors or family members. The downside of hair, however, is that it requires much more attention, and regular brushing, cleaning and visits to the groomer can be costly and time consuming. A meticulous neat freak would likely choose a dog with hair, and the grooming that comes with it, over a dog that will shed all over their rugs, furniture and clothes. But a person who believes “a dog is a dog” and should require little to no pampering or maintenance would be better matched with a dog, such as a boxer or Doberman, that doesn’t need brushing or haircuts.

One should definitely understand the difference between hair and fur, and have an idea about which would be preferable before settling on a particular breed. Just as it is with behavior and temperament, a new owner shouldn’t let their love of a particular dog’s appearance overshadow more practical factors. While a breed might perfectly complement its owners’ hipster style, it’s far more important that the dog matches the way he actually lives.

Think about this: A Ferrari is a terrific looking automobile, but it won’t do a bit of good driving on the beach.

All of this should help make a well informed decision when choosing a canine companion. Adopting a dog should never been done on impulse and new owners should always consider getting their new pup from a shelter or rescue organization. Check your local listings or visit, which has dogs of nearly every breed, along with lots of wonderful mutts, available to adopt. One can still identify dominant traits from the various groups in mixed breeds, as well as important physical features such as coat and size, so it’s possible to find a good match and potentially save a dog’s life.

When owner and dog are well matched, they will enjoy years of quality companionship—and both man and dog deserve nothing less.

Photo: Nicole Jakob

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