Which is the Right Dog Breed for You?

If you have not yet picked out a puppy, I feel compelled to share a few things you may not have thought of. Your dog would have wanted it that way.

A friend of mine, Janet, struggled with the destructive behavior of her dog, Heidi. They lived in a small two-story townhouse with no backyard. Ouch! This is not a good start. But wait — cute “little” Heidi is a Norwegian Elkhound. The breed was developed to hunt elk and loves vast, unconfined areas. This is not a dog to be confined to small quarters. It is understandable, then, that this puppy was destroying things in the house.

Another client was at wits end with his Lakeland Terrier, Planty. Lakeland Terriers are small, weighing about 15 pounds. They are originally from England where they are used to hunt fox and badgers in their dens. These energetic dogs have been described as stubborn, active, and spirited. They are very good at burrowing down into small holes — and they love to burrow away. Now Planty was an incredibly sweet and affectionate Lakeland Terrier, but (no surprise) he loved to try to dig up the carpeting in his home. We were able to break him of this habit, but it was long and frustrating work, because it was in his nature to burrow.

You can see that it is very difficult for these breeds to understand that they have done something wrong when they are only doing what comes naturally to them. Behavioral traits that are in the nature of the pup can be very difficult to discourage.

When considering what breed is best for your living quarters, remember that size may be misleading. Do not assume that all small dogs will do well in an apartment or that all large dogs need lots of space. For example, Jack Russell Terriers and Beagles are two small dogs that need lots of running room, and the Neopolitan Mastiff is a large dog that is adaptable to living in an apartment – as long as there is a strong person willing to take him on long walks twice a day. There are some breeds (some of the Greyhound breeds, for example) that are not suited to apartment life because they need a great deal of daily exercise. All dogs need regular exercise.

Larry and Shelly are a very active couple. Both work long, hard hours, but they also own a sailboat and love the outdoors. A few years ago, they bought two Golden Retrievers, Barnum and Bailey. They have taught their dogs to ride in the boat (and wear life jackets). They also have trained them in basic obedience and spend a great deal of time with them. The result is two happy, well-behaved Goldens and two very happy, seemingly well-behaved people.

In addition to where and how you live, it is also important to consider timing in purchasing a pet. Many people like to get a puppy as a gift for their children, friends, or relatives during the holidays, but this can be extremely traumatic for the pup and terribly inconvenient for you and the recipient. The holidays can be very hectic and may generate too much activity for a young pup who was used to his cozy, familiar den shared with his littermates. Suddenly, the little pup is surrounded by excited children and the chaos of visiting relatives. Housebreaking at this time can be very difficult. It is always a better idea to wait for a calmer period in your life to consider getting a pet. If you are determined to get a puppy for your loved one, consider getting a picture of the pup with some puppy essentials. Explain that once the holidays are over, your loved one and you can pick up the puppy from the shelter or the breeder.

In addition, each dog breed is represented by a national breed club. Specific clubs can provide you with literature about the breed, as well as a list of breeders in your area and nationwide. These clubs may be contacted through the American Kennel Club, 51 Madison Avenue, New York, New York, 10010. Often, the names and addresses of the secretaries of breed clubs may be found in Dog World and Dog Fancy magazines. Remember, though, that as helpful as these organizations may be, they are naturally biased toward their own breed.

Years ago, I overheard a Samoyed breeder tell a client that they are stable, loving animals who adore children and are excellent watchdogs. This is true. However, they are also very stubborn and can prove to be a real challenge during training. My client was a 70-year-old woman who used a walker to get around. Images of her training a sled dog were scary.

And who ever told Nancy Reagan to get a Bouvier? I still wonder about that. Why didn’t that person just suggest that little 90-pound Nancy take up bobsledding, rather than taking on such a rambunctious and powerfully-built dog as a Bouvier? So it came as no surprise to the dog training community when Lucky was quietly sent to the family ranch, after more than once nearly pulling Mrs Reagan down a flight of stairs. I’ve always been a “the glass is half full” kind of gal, but Nancy Reagan had about as much of a chance handling a Bouvier puppy as I had of escaping Eubie, the 180-pound wonder Dane, unharmed. And in both cases, the human should have known better.

I had agreed to watch Eubie, a fellow trainer’s Great Dane pup, while the owner was out of town. Even at 180 pounds, Eubie had a real confidence problem. He was afraid of most things and, through training, we were trying to build his confidence. I had let Eubie go outside and, after some time, I went out to get him. Dusk had fallen, and Eubie bravely stood out there alone, sniffing the air. I made a noise to let him know I was there. No response. So I walked up behind him and quietly said, “Boo.” He ran off, tail tucked between his legs, yelping so loudly the neighbors probably thought fire trucks were screaming by. I, of course, being sensitive to Eubie’s feelings, burst out laughing. Eubie stopped, turned, and saw that it was me. He was so relieved that it was not some mad Great Dane serial killer that he charged happily toward me. I was too busy laughing to notice this. It had rained hard the night before, and the ground was very soft. I think, to this day, there is probably a permanent imprint of my body imbedded in the ground where I was slammed down after Eubie jumped h
appily on my chest.

I have made some unwise decisions in my dog training career. And just as the guy who instructed Nancy Reagan to get a Bouvier regrets that advice, I truly regret saying “Boo” to a skittish Great Dane puppy. Ah, well, I digress… The point is that you have to know which questions to ask when considering a specific breed. You also have to seriously examine the answers. For example, ask if it is known to be a stubborn breed. If the breeder says something like, “Well, I wouldn’t say stubborn; maybe headstrong,” that means stubborn. If you are short on patience or have little time to devote to training, stay away from that one! Beagles, too. Ask if the breed is good with children. If you are told that these dogs are “shy” or “leery of children” and you have a child, choose another breed. Ask questions that are relevant to your needs and lifestyle.

With large breeds, size is often very important to people. As far as Dobermans go, Kaiser is one of the largest, most majestic-looking Dobies I’ve had the privilege to meet. As a lean pup, he weighed 100 pounds and was not done growing. His father, Conan, was a very muscular 115 pounds. (Both are exceptionally large Dobermans.) One day, while I stood on the sidewalk holding Kaiser’s leash, a man walked up and asked about him. People always did. The man told me that he had a Dobie that weighed 160 pounds. (Believe it or not, this happened frequently when I was with Kaiser.) Really? A 160-pound Doberman? Do you fly him overhead at the Macy’s Day Parade? At 160 pounds, the only way that Dobie would be moving around would be on a gurney. But it is very common for people to size each other up by their dogs. As I write this, you can’t see me, but I am shaking my head. It never has made sense to me.

There is also the flip side. There are a lot of people who get very small dogs for social status. They aren’t looking for companions – they are looking for cute little toys. It’s no surprise that these are the dogs who never learn to walk on a leash because they are carried everywhere for the first three years of their lives. Then, when their owners get tired of carrying them, they are irritated to discover their little Fifi has no intention of walking on a leash.

Having said all of this, there are people who do choose breeds for their specific qualities. Many older, less active people choose breeds compatible to their lifestyles. Sugar and Spice, two Tea Cup Poodles, were properly trained and loved from the start. Together they weighed six pounds sopping wet. Because of their small size, their owners were able to take them everywhere with them, and they truly loved and appreciated the dogs’ true Tea Cup qualities, just as U.S. diver Greg Louganis relished the majestic, powerful qualities of his Great Danes.

Before you choose a breed, ask yourself what it is you want in a dog. Determine what qualities you are looking for and make a list of breeds that fit the bill. When I found Nala, I was looking for a pup who could tolerate two active young girls. I needed a dog who could withstand teasing and ear pulling. She had to be big enough to hold her own and possess protective and fun-loving qualities to grow up with my children. Nala, a female we found at the animal shelter, is a Shepherd/Boxer mix and she fit the bill.

by Alexandra Allred
Excerpted from Teaching Basic Obedience: Train the Owner, Train the Dog
[Teaching Basic Obedience: Train the Owner, Train the Dog by Alexandra Allred, ©2001T.F.H. Publications, ISBN 0793805244]