I’m somewhat of a breed snob. I prefer a purebred over a mixed breed, although I have shared my life with several mixed breeds that I loved deeply. There are so many interesting and intelligent breeds and I wish I could own them all! But how do you figure out how to pick a dog breed that’s right for your family?
I have a special way of going about finding a dog, when I’m in the market, which happens about every seven to ten years. We like to keep two dogs, an older one and a younger one, and right now we have a Miniature Pinscher and a Toy Australian Shepherd, respectively. Mac, the Pinscher, is a rescue that we got when we came back from living in Ukraine a little over seven years ago. We originally rescued a pair; our older female, Tosh, passed on two years ago. (Did you notice their names were Mac and Tosh?) We bought Bella, the Aussie, when she was just eight weeks old. (Update: Bella went on to the great beyond in 2016. She was just three years old, and died from lymphoma. I really miss her!)
Here’s how we go about it when we want to pick a dog breed we’d like to own.
First we spend a lot of time just looking at different breeds on the Internet or in books, and if possible, take in a dog show or (preferably) an agility trial or two. The shows allow us to see many dogs close up and talk to their owners about the breeds. Then we make a list. Here are the questions you want to know:
1. How does this breed do with kids (if you have them in your life)?
2. How much room does this breed require? Could it live in an apartment if that’s where you live?
3. How much exercise does it need? Are a couple of daily walks enough? Daily runs?
4. How destructive is the breed when left alone? Does it need companionship, and if so, could a cat work?
5. How is the dog with other animals?
6. How is the dog with strangers? Is it protective of its family? Would it be likely to bite a stranger?
7. Does this breed bark a lot? Dig? Climb fences (yes, some breeds are champion climbers!)?
8. How much grooming is involved, and could you do it, or would a professional be necessary?
9. What and how often does the breed need to be fed? Twice a day? Three times?
10. How easily is this breed trained? Would it require a professional trainer?
Make a list.
Now, armed with the answers to the breeds you liked most, make a new list. On this one, you are going to rank those factors in terms of importance to you, and assign each a value. For instance, if you have children in your life, being good with kids will rank higher than grooming. Give double points for those things you will not compromise on. For me, it’s biting. I will not own a dog that bites, no matter what the provocation. I have grandchildren, and my dogs must be willing to tolerate little ones poking and prodding, as small children invariably do.
Once you’ve tallied up the points on each breed, you can begin to see which one is more likely to fit within your lifestyle. As we’ve gotten older and no longer have kids at home, I have more time for grooming and training, so those elements are not as important as they were when my kids still lived at home.
Follow this method and you can be sure that the breed you pick will be one you can live with. Disclaimer: individual dogs within a breed are different from each other, and there is always the off chance that you might get a dog that doesn’t fit the stereotype of his breed. So remember: when you get a dog, you are making a commitment to him for his lifetime, not just until you lose interest or he becomes more of a chore than you expected. If that’s where you are, please… Get a hobby instead!