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Choosing a Breed of Dog

Many people find dogs adorable, loving, fun, and sweet. Some daydream about playing fetch with Fido, staying in shape by running with Rufus, or lounging on the couch with Cooper. However, those same people may not actually realize how much work goes into owning a dog. Canine ownership is more than doing fun things and having a cute companion. Much of owning a dog is also about keeping them healthy, well-trained, and properly groomed. All dogs require brushing, occasional baths, nail trimming, and dental care in some form. Different breeds of dogs also have different exercise requirements. All things need to be considered when choosing a breed of dog to bring into your home.

One of the most important considerations in choosing a breed of dog is knowing what each breed type requires. Some may not know that all dogs fit into specific groups. These groups are the Terriers, Hounds, Working, Sporting, Non-sporting, Herding, and Toy groups. Consider the energy level of these breeds compared to your own, as well as how much training and grooming they need. Within these breed categories, you will find different sizes of dogs with different coat types. Are you willing to take your dog to the groomer every 6-8 weeks? Do you have the time and energy to run with your dog for hours, or will they be doing a job they were bred to do? Do you want a big couch potato? Can you train your dog, or are you willing to hire a trainer if you can’t? If you want a large dog, do you have the room or the income for their food? If you want a small dog, will it be handled by kids who may accidentally hurt it?

Terriers

Terriers were bred to hunt and kill pest animals and even do some guarding for owners. This created a dog with high energy, that can also be pretty feisty and strong-willed. They require an owner who can work with them to ensure they don’t become little terrors. If not trained and socialized early on, they can even become nippy and unwilling to deal with other people handling them (though that can happen with almost any breed). Terriers are smart and can easily get into trouble. They need a lot of exercise or you will find them starting destructive behaviors like digging and destroying things around the house.

Some smaller breeds that require regular grooming include the Schnauzer, Bedlington Terrier, Scottish Terrier, Wire-haired Fox Terrier, and West Highland Terrier, while some larger breeds would be the Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier, Kerry Blue Terrier, and Airedale. Some of these terriers should be hand stripped to maintain their coarse hair coat, but if the dog is not a show dog, it is up to the owner to decide. Hand-stripping done by a groomer can be expensive, but it should not be attempted by the owner without an experienced instructor. Some of these breeds do have a soft coat and the Bedlington even has a fluffy poodle-like coat. There are also some larger short-haired breeds like the Bull Terrier and American Staffordshire Terrier and smaller ones such as the Rat Terrier and Manchester Terrier. As you can see, this group of canines has quite a variety to offer if you have the type of home that works well for them.

Hounds

The vast majority of hounds were selectively bred to hunt, though their prey varies. These hunters go mainly for animals of the four-legged variety. There is quite a selection of sizes in this group. These breeds have the hunting instinct built in whether it’s to actually pursue the prey or just sniff it out for the hunter. Their training especially needs to include good recall, as their eyes and noses tend to only focus on their pursuit of prey. The majority of these breeds are very energetic, loyal, and loving.

Sight Hounds

You will find sight-hounds like the sleek Afghan Hounds, Borzoi, Greyhound, Saluki, and Pharaoh Hounds were bred to pursue smaller prey over long distances and use their eyes to keep sight of them. They are built to run, with their long legs and narrow heads for streamlined speed. You see some coat variety with these breeds, some require more grooming than others. The Afghan Hounds have flowing long hair while the Pharaoh Hounds are smooth coated.

Scent Hounds

Scent hounds like the Beagle, Plott Hound, Bloodhound, Foxhound, and Bassett Hound, feature what most people consider “typical” hound features like floppy ears, shorter legs, broad muzzles, and short somewhat coarser hair to protect from various brambles and other vegetation they may run through. These breeds you will find, as the saying goes, “shut their ears when their nose is to the ground” and may have trouble coming back when called until they have completed their job of finding the prey for the hunter.

A feature of this variety of hound is that they have a “baying” bark to alert a hunter that they picked up the scent or have found the prey. This should be kept in mind if you would like to own a hound, but live in an apartment, or with close neighbors. They get quite vocal when bored or excited, and will even try to escape fenced-in yards to track a scent they have caught. Some breeds like the Deerhound, Otterhound, Wolfhound, and Rhodesian Ridgeback were bred to take down or help hold off very specific prey. Most get their names from that prey, so because the Rhodesian Ridgeback can also be called the African Lion Dog, you know they are a brave canine. Of course, you may find that some dogs of any specific breed don’t fit with what is typical of the breed. Nowadays, fewer dogs are bred for these specific purposes.

Working

The working breed dogs in this group are large to extra large, as they are bred to assist people for a variety of purposes. Many of these breeds are highly intelligent and require ample training. These breeds have been used for guarding property and livestock, police work, pulling carts or sleds, and even rescuing people from drowning or avalanches. Most people consider several of the extra-large breeds in this group, gentle giants who are content to just spend time with their people.

You will find the Rottweiler, Giant and Standard Schnauzers, Saint Bernard, Siberian Husky, and Samoyed in this group. With a variety of coat types, you can certainly find one of these loving breeds that will fit in your home. Double-coated breeds like the Saint Bernard, Newfoundland, Leonberger, Husky, and Samoyed require a lot more grooming than the shorter-haired breeds like the Great Dane, Mastiff, Rottweiler, or Doberman Pinscher. Some of the largest breeds in this group tend to be more of the couch potato variety, but are some of the calmest, most mild-mannered dogs you will find. Unfortunately, the downside to their massive size is that they often have shorter life spans of only 9-10 years compared to the possible 15 or more years of breeds smaller than them.

Sporting

Sporting breeds are specifically bred for hunting purposes. The majority is for bird hunting. You will find a variety of retrievers, spaniels, setters, and pointers in this group. They are all fairly energetic breeds, though some may have a calmer demeanor. Some of the pointers in this group include the breed that is actually called the Pointer, German Wire-haired and Short-haired pointer, and Wire-haired Pointing Griffon. You can see these breeds tend to have short or wiry coats as they run through the brush in search of birds to point out. They tend to be very focused on the task at hand.

The Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, and Spinoni Italiano were bred to retrieve the game that hunters have shot down. They often are good swimmers and tend to be a little more “happy-go-lucky” in personality. The English and American Cocker Spaniel, Boykin Spaniel, Sussex Spaniel, and the English and Welsh Springer Spaniel, are obviously all spaniels, who either were bred to flush birds from hiding, or even flush out and retrieve downed birds. Setters are another variety that is meant to find game birds for a hunter. These may include the English, Gordon, Irish, and the Red and White setters.

Setters originally were meant to detect game birds and then “set” quietly waiting for the hunter. Some breeds like the Brittany, Vizsla, and Weimeriner are generally considered “all-purpose” breeds. The Lagotto Romagnolo may be one of the few breeds in this group that was not meant to help hunt animals, but they instead sniff out truffles. The breed is known for its keen sense of smell in detecting these “treasures”. Both setters and spaniels can have more of a flowing coat than some of the other breeds in this group (though most know that the Golden Retriever also has a beautiful flowing coat). However, the Lagotto Romagnolo has a curly coat very similar to the poodle. It is important to keep them fully brushed out to keep them happy and healthy.

Non-sporting

The majority of the non-sporting breeds most consider just pets rather than purchased or adopted for a specific job. Some may have once had jobs but either no longer are needed for that purpose or the “job” simply isn’t done anymore. Some were bred just to be companions. The Bulldog (mostly referred to as the English Bulldog) was created for bull-baiting, which is not done anymore. While they maintain some of their stubbornness, they often make great family dogs. A lot of the smaller bulldog breeds like the French bulldog and the Boston Terrier may have originated from fighting bulldog breeds, but now tend to have very sweet playful demeanors.

Two of the most distinguishable breeds in this category are the Chinese Shar-Pei, with its wrinkly skin and very broad muzzle, and the Dalmatian with its white coated spotted in black. Shar-Peis may have been used for a variety of purposes from helping farmers to dog fighting. Their coat texture is quite unique, having almost a prickly feel to it. Like any dog with wrinkles, it’s important to keep all facial wrinkles or deep body wrinkles clean so as to prevent any infections or irritations. Dalmatians used to be associated with being firefighters’ dogs, as well as trotting alongside horse-drawn coaches. The main purpose was to protect these horses when the horse-drawn coaches and fire engines were unattended. Of course, nowadays we have fire engines and dogs are not required so the Dalmatian fell into the non-sporting group.

Fluffier breeds in this group include the Chow Chow, the Bichon Frise, American Eskimo Dogs, Keeshond, and Coton de Tulear. The Poodle is also in this group, though the Standard size poodles (those over 15 inches) were actually used for retrieving downed ducks from the water, they are not any longer. The Poodle comes in three sizes, toy, miniature, and standard. The smaller size was bred for companionship and even to perform in circuses. Many of the “fancy” haircuts associated with the breed were done in order to protect the joints of the dog while they retrieved ducks from colder waters while cutting short the rest of the coat kept it out of the way. Many people also don’t realize this breed is German, they are not “French Poodles” though France has made them their national dog. It should be noted all the non-sporting breeds continue to be bred mainly for the purpose of companionship, at this point, so they tend to make great family dogs.

Herding

The Herding breeds are known for their intelligence, energy, and trainability. They were bred to herd and protect various livestock, such as sheep or cattle. Many of these breeds are often used in agility and dog sport competitions like flyball. They thrive on activity, instruction, and using their brains They can easily get destructive if bored or not exercised enough. They need proper socialization as they are protective of their family and can become very wary of strangers. Their coats can be short and coarse to resist the elements, thick to keep them warm, and even corded in a way to help them blend in with the sheep they protect. Herding breeds such as the Australian Cattle Dog (also called a red or blue Heeler), Beauceron, Berger Picard, and the Pembroke and Cardigan Welsh Corgis have shorter coats. An interesting note about the Australian Cattle Dogs is that they actually had Dingoes bred into their bloodline to create the dog we know today.

The Australian Shepherd, Border Collie, Shetland Sheepdog, German Shepherd Dog, and Collie are some of the most popular herding breeds. The Border Collie and Collie actually come in both the “rough” coat (fluffy) and smooth coat (short), the fluffier variety is just more commonly seen (Lassie was a Rough Collie). One notable breed in this group, the Puli, people often think looks like a mop when dreadlocks are grown. The cords are essentially controlled matting whose original purpose was to protect the dog from extreme winters while herding sheep. In the working group, a similar type of coat is kept on the Komondor to not only protect the dog from weather but from wolves and other predators that may attack the sheep. Komondors are also white, to blend in with the sheep. Pulik (plural for Puli) come in white, silver, and black. Either breed takes a lot of work to maintain the coat and those who keep them just as pets often keep their hair cut short for ease of control.

Toy

The Toy group includes the smallest breeds, such as the long and short-haired Chihuahua, Maltese, Japanese Chin, Miniature Pinscher, Papillon, and Yorkshire Terrier. Other breeds include the Pug, Shih Tzu, Pomeranian, Pekingese, Silky Terrier, and Toy Fox Terrier. You will see many of these breeds are some of the most common companion dogs these days, even if some may have actually had jobs in the breeds’ early years, such as killing mice and rats. Some were exclusively bred to be companions or “lap warmers”, even being used to warm up beds for their owners in the days before electricity and other forms of heating were in existence. One of the most unique of these breeds is the Chinese Crested. Most commonly known to have a hairless body, with tufts of hair on the lower legs/feet, tail, and head, they also come in a “powderpuff” variety that is fully covered in long flowing hair.

Many of these breeds are friendly if socialized early on, though they tend to act like a big dog in a little body. The unfortunate side to these breeds is that people tend to carry many of them around as “fashion accessories” or even just because they are so small, and this can make for a dog who is not comfortable in situations without their owner. They can become nippy towards strangers and not really know how to behave as regular dogs. The best bet is to give them plenty of time to play with other dogs and meet new people if you get one as a puppy. If you adopt an adult dog, work slowly on introducing other dogs and people to them so they can become accustomed to those interactions. Some of these breeds need to be groomed often, as they may have a double-coat or long flowing coat that continues to grow to the ground. Be sure you can afford to give these dogs proper grooming with a professional groomer.

Conclusion

Choosing a breed of dog is one of the most important steps when deciding to bring a dog into your home. If you make sure you can give the dog all its breed requires and take the very best care of your dog, you will have a long-time companion. The dogs who fit best in their families are those who were chosen with care, not just brought home because they were cute. Also, consider that individual dogs and mixes of different breeds may vary from what is expected. If you are looking for a canine companion, make sure you research the place you are getting them from. I wrote To Buy or Adopt A Dog, specifically to help you choose the best route.