WHAT BREED OF DOG IS FOR YOU?
You will need to make a choice as to what breed or breeds you are interested in. Included in this is the choice between a mixed breed and a pure-bred dog. You will also need to decide between a puppy and an adult dog.
Probably one of the most important decisions you will have to make is whether you want a pure-bred dog or a mixed breed. Both choices have their advantages and disadvantages. We've outlined them below and will follow with more detailed discussions.
Readily available from pounds, shelters, etc.
Purchase price usually low or not an issue.
Usually make excellent pets.
Parents are typically not screened for hereditary health problems or temperament.
Accurately identifying "breed" types is difficult at best, especially in young animals. If adult size or allergies are a potential problem you must consider the possibility that your "Beagle mix" could grow up to weigh 70 pounds and have long wavy hair.
It can sometimes be difficult to meet the mixed breed's parent(s). Viewing the parents and other adult relatives is your best indicator of how your puppy would grow up to look and act.
Consistency. If you buy a Beagle, or a Golden Retriever, etc. you know what to expect from your adult dog. This applies to temperament and the physical appearance.
If you purchase your puppy from a responsible breeder, you get someone that stands behind the dogs they breed. The breeder is available to answer training questions, provide guidance and, if necessary, take the puppy back even when it is an adult.
If you are so inclined, any number of areas of competition or interest are available. These range from obedience to field work, conformation, search and rescue, lure coursing, protection training and innumerable other areas.
Initial purchase price can be very high, depending on the breed or breeder.
AKC papers do not guarantee quality. The quality comes from the care the breeder puts into planning a breeding program and in raising their dogs and puppies. Unscrupulous and uneducated breeders abound and it may take some work on your part to find a responsible breeder.
The incidence of some hereditary health problems may be higher in some breeds or blood lines within breeds. You will want to look for breeders that have done their best to minimize the risks.
Because of the "Bad Press" that pure-bred dogs have received in recent times I would like to cover the issue of health problems.
By definition a pure-bred dog has a more limited gene pool on which to draw than a mixed breed. It is this gene pool that makes a Golden Retriever a Golden and a Poodle a Poodle. This also provides the consistency of other traits including health and temperament. In theory, a mixed breed has an unlimited gene pool on which to draw. In reality, each individual has a limited gene pool, and is the result of all its ancestors. What this means is that, pure or mixed breed, if the dog's past relatives had health or temperament problems, their progeny will as well.
The average mixed breed comes from unknown parentage that has not been screened for hereditary problems from cancer to heart defects. A pure-bred puppy purchased from a responsible breeder comes from lines that have been screened for hereditary problems known to that breed. This doesn't eliminate the risk of hereditary problems but it does minimize them. However, bear in mind that the "average" mixed breed has an average risk of developing the same hereditary problems. Buying a mixed breed doesn't mean that they cannot and will not develop some hereditary health problems.
If you decide to go with a pure-bred dog you will need to decide which breed.
This is not as easy as it sounds. The breed you pick must fit into your lifestyle. Are you active people, always off walking, jogging, hiking in the country, etc., or are you more sedentary? Are you willing to make the commitment to the grooming needs of a long or full-coated breed or would a short-haired breed work better for you? Will you be able to live with some of the physical habits some breeds are known for, such as the drooling of the St. Bernard or the barking of the Terriers? Will some of these traits create problems with your neighbors? Will you have a sense of humor about your Golden Retriever bringing a pair of your dirty underwear to the dinner table filled with guests?
We bring these issues up because in order to know which breed will fit into your lifestyle you are the only one who knows what you are and are not willing to accept. The pure-bred dog has a definite advantage in this regard, because if you go to a responsible breeder they will tell you about all of their breed's good and bad traits.
Many of these traits result from what the breed was originally bred to do. For example, Goldens were and are primarily hunting dogs. They were bred to have a strong retrieving instinct, as well as a soft mouth. As a result they tend to be very oral and always want something in their mouths. Tennis balls and bones are good, but if it smells like you, they're in heaven. Dirty socks and underwear seem to be particular favorites and we swear they hide them to bring out at the most embarrassing moment.
Some of the key points to consider in choosing a breed are:
- Adult Size
- Activity Level
- Grooming Needs
- Hair vs. Fur
We suggest you do your homework before you even start talking to breeders. There are a number of good books you might be able to find at your local library which can help narrow down your search to the breed(s) best suited to you. One of our favorites is "The Right Dog for You" by Daniel F. Tortora and published by Simon & Shuster (ISBN 0-671-24221-0). Over the years, we have lent our copy out to so many friends and relatives, that it is starting to fall apart. This book lists a variety of traits from activity level to dominance or aggressive tendencies and then rates each breed on a scale of high to low. The book also has a series of questions that you'll need to answer to determine which traits would be best suited to your lifestyle.
You can also find a copy of the AKC's "Complete Dog Book." This book lists the breed standard for each and contains a brief discussion of the background of each breed. The breed standard will tell you the approximate size of an adult. This way you'll know that adorable Great Dane puppy is actually going to grow up to be three or more feet tall (at the shoulders) and weigh over 100 pounds. From the background descriptions you can also gain insight into the breed's temperament. A breed that was bred to guard a palace is very likely to have a very dominant temperament and possibly aggressive tendencies as well.
Another good place to look for pure-bred dogs is at a dog show. Be prepared to go early and spend the day. You should be able to see a number of breeds, as well as obedience competitions, and talk to a number of enthusiasts. Most "dog people" love to talk about their dogs. However, some may not be able to talk to you until after the judging of their breed is completed. They are not trying to be rude but they are engrossed in their reason for being at the show.
If you see a dog whose physical features you particularly like, ask the person with the dog if they are the owner or breeder (some people hire professional handlers) and if they could spare a few minutes to talk to you either now, after judging or even another day and ask for one of their business cards. For some breeders/owners a show can be very hectic with last-minute grooming, exhibiting etc., so be prepared that even though you may want to talk now, they may not be able to even though they may want to. Remember, these people may have a fair amount of time and money invested in giving their best performance at the show. You wouldn't go up to an Olympic athlete moments before their event just to chat about their sport and expect their undivided attention. Show the same respect for the dog and handler. Both need to be focused on the job at hand. There is, however, no excuse for an exhibitor or spectator to be outright rude to someone who is asking about the dogs. If someone is rude to you, go to someone else and forget about their dogs even if you liked them the best. It's the breeder who is going to lose out in the long run and it behooves them to at least be gracious to the spectators.
To find a show in your area, check the local papers or call the AKC. Depending on the time of year and the area in which you live, you may need to either wait some time for one that is close, or travel some distance to find one. The AKC (American Kennel Club) is located at 51 Madison Ave. New York, New York 10010. Their telephone number is (212) 696-8200. You can also find a link to the AKC's home page on our links page, as well as the show superintendents.
PUPPY OR ADULT?
The next question you need to ask yourself is whether you want to buy or adopt an adult dog or a puppy. Again, they both have their advantages and disadvantages.
Puppies are cute, adorable and usually irresistible. They can be trained to be just the way you want them to be. They also chew, have accidents and cry. It can take many hours or even years before the dog is trained the way you want them to be, and then only if you put in the time and effort.
When you purchase or adopt (from a shelter or rescue group) an adult dog, the advantages and disadvantages are the flip sides of the same argument. You Know What You're Getting. You know how big the dog is, you know how long or short its hair is and, most importantly, you can get an idea about its temperament. If you're careful in your choices, you could end up with a loving, friendly dog that wound up in the shelter or breed rescue programs through no fault of it's own. You could also wind up with a dog that ended up in the shelter or rescue because of behavioral or temperament problems. Unfortunately, not all aggressive tendencies will be immediately obvious. Some have specific triggers which you may not find out about until weeks, months or even years later. Only you can decide whether you are willing to take the chance and have the time to devote to possibly correcting possible problem behaviors.
Another source of purebred adults is the breeders themselves. Occasionally, breeders will have to place an older puppy or adult dog because it doesn't work out in the show ring or in their breeding program for one reason or another. A responsible breeder will be honest with you as to why they are placing an older puppy or adult dog. If the dog has a medical condition, you should be told up front about it, be given copies of any medical test results and be given an opportunity to talk to your own vet about it before making a decision. Some conditions, like a mild dysplasia, will rarely have any detrimental effect on the dog's ability to be a loving, friendly companion but simply make the animal a poor choice to keep in a breeding program when you are trying to eliminate these problems. Other more serious conditions may or may not impact on the dog's ability to function in your lifestyle, or may seriously reduce the dog's expected lifespan. Again, only you can decide what risks you are willing to take.
Many people are subject to suffering from allergies to dogs. This does not necessarily rule out living with a dog but it does limit your choices. Most dogs are covered with fur and they may even have more than one kind if they are "double-coated." Some breeds of dogs have hair instead. The main difference between the two is that fur sheds, hair does not. Many people with dog allergies report having less or no reaction to dogs with hair. Therefore, you may want to investigate this possibility.
A number of the breeds fall into the category of "hair" and may be suitable for someone with allergies. The breeders will be able to tell you whether or not their breed might be suitable for your situation.
Also note that some people are more sensitive to puppy "dander" than to adult fur. So if you have a mild reaction to your new puppy, and you're willing, you might be able to wait it out, realizing that there is no way to tell for sure whether or not the condition will worsen. If ,however, there are children in the family, delaying the inevitable might only make things worse.
Be aware that taking a dog into a household with allergy problems always presents a risk. Make sure that you clearly understand the breeder's policy about taking the dog back if the problems become too much to handle. If the breeder cannot or will not take the puppy back, it may be better to keep looking. Also, you should be up-front with the breeder about the possibility of problems, if you're aware of them, at the outset. This will allow both you and the breeder to make informed choices about a particular dog or breed of dog.