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Subject: rec.pets.dogs: Selecting A Dog FAQ
This article was archived around: 21 May 2006 04:22:44 GMT
Last-modified: 09 Mar 2001
There are many FAQ's available for this group. For a complete
listing of these, get the "Complete List of RPD FAQs". This article
is posted bimonthly in rec.pets.dogs, and is available via anonymous ftp
to rtfm.mit.edu under pub/usenet/news.answers/dogs-faq/faq-list, via
the Web at http://www.k9web.com/dog-faqs/lists/faq-list.html, or
via email by sending your message to email@example.com with
in the body of the message.
This article is Copyright 1997 by the Author(s) listed below.
It may be freely distributed on the Internet in its entirety without
alteration provided that this copyright notice is not removed.
It may NOT reside at another website (use links, please) other
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This article may not be sold for profit nor incorporated in other
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without express or implied warranty.
Selecting a Dog Breed
Copyright © 1996 by Amy Hendrix. Updated 2001 by Cindy Moore.
Table of Contents
* Questions to consider
+ Online Breed Resources
+ Shows, clubs, breeders
* Every dog is an individual
Whether you're thinking of getting a purebred dog or a mix, you should
take the time to do some research into dog breeds. If you're thinking
of a mix, it will make your shelter search much easier if you have in
mind "something like a lab" or "some kind of terrier." You will know
more about dogs having gone through the search. And if you think you
already know what breed you want, you may want to look at some of
these resources anyway--you may find that the perfect breed is
something you'd never considered before.
The Newsgroup rec.pets.dogs.breeds exists to discuss the many breeds
of dogs out there, and we're glad to offer suggestions when you want
to choose a breed. You can expect people in the group to take your
request seriously, and either suggest breeds or point you toward
resources which may help you choose for yourself. You can -- and
should -- also expect to hear the negatives as well as the positives
about a breed. This is not intended to scare you away, but you should
be really sure the breed you choose is the right one. There are over
400 breeds of dog in the world, and no one breed is right for
You can help people advise you effectively if you give some
Questions to consider when you're looking for a dog
* What size is right for you?
Don't just ask for a "good-sized" dog--for some people that means
25 pounds, for others it means 75. If you can't figure out weights
that exactly, are you looking for something the size of a Cocker
Spaniel or a German Shepherd Dog?
* How much space do you have?
This is related to the last question, but not really dependent on
it--it's quite possible to keep a large dog in a small space,
provided you can give it plenty of opportunities for exercise
outside the house or apartment. But keep in mind that if your
house is very small, a Newfoundland may take up all the available
floor space. On the other hand, some very large breeds are quite
inactive while their smaller cousins will be constantly on the go.
That Newf takes up the whole living room rug, but he might just do
better there than, say, a Jack Russell Terrier, an extremely
active small dog.
* How much exercise can you give this dog?
Some can get by with a short walk, others need to run for hours
every day. Take an honest look at what you're willing and able to
do with your dog. Be sure to consider both your schedule and your
athletic abilities: If you'd like an active dog but your work
schedule keeps you busy 70 hours a week, don't get an active dog.
He'd enjoy going for runs with you on weekends but he'd be
miserable (and probably destructive) during the work week when you
don't have time to exercise him.
* Where will the dog live?
A lot of people feel very strongly that all dogs should live in
the house, and just about any dog will do well inside if it's
given enough exercise. If your dog will be spending a lot of time
outside, you must consider your climate in choosing a breed--some
cannot tolerate heat, others are equally incapable of being out in
the cold. If your dog must live outside, be sure that it has
adequate (enclosed, covered, maybe even heated) shelter, and make
an extra effort to spend time with your dog. And don't expect your
big, black, heavily coated Bernese Mountain Dog to live outside in
the summer sun!
* How much grooming are you willing to do?
Are you willing to spend the time required to keep a long soft
coat free of tangles and mats? How about the money to have a dog
professionally groomed on a regular basis -- say, every 6 weeks
for non-shedding breeds which need to be clipped? Even dogs that
are fairly low-maintenance can go through periods of profuse
shedding during which their coats need extra attention. And all
dogs, even hairless ones, need to have their nails, eyes, and ears
taken care of.
* What do you plan to do with your dog?
Do you want a loyal couch potato? A jogging partner? A good
watchdog? Or do you want to start exploring the many activities
you can do with your dog--things like obedience, agility, hiking,
herding, hunting or any of the many others out there? This will
affect your breed choice because, for example, most toy breeds
just don't make very good frisbee dogs.
* What past experience do you have with dogs?
This question shouldn't be taken to suggest that you shouldn't get
a dog if you haven't already had one -- everyone has a first dog
at some point. But there are breeds that are not recommended for
first-time owners. If you have had dogs before, think about what
you liked about them -- it can be very useful information, since
nobody would recommend a Border Collie to someone who had always
loved the relaxed attitude of Mom and Dad's Basset Hound.
* If you have children, are you prepared to teach both children and
dog to co-exist peacefully?
Children and dogs can make a wonderful mix...or a very bad one.
You need to spend time training both the dog AND the children to
treat each other appropriately. A common question is "What breeds
are good with kids?" The answer is that it depends more on how the
dog is raised and trained. Supervision -- even for dogs good with
children is a must. Just because a dog is good with children is
not licence for children to abuse the dog -- every dog will have
its breaking point. If you are unsure of your ability to properly
train young puppies and/or children in this respect, you may want
to consider waiting until the children are older, or find an adult
dog known to be good with children and then supervise.
And if you already have a few breeds in mind, don't forget to think
about the job they were bred for. There are only a few breeds that
were originally developed to be pets. Most dogs were originally bred
to be hunters, herders, guards, or some other job which might be at
odds with what you expect from a pet. If your garden is very important
to you, you might not want to get a terrier; almost all of them will
dig. If you don't have the time to exercise a dog, don't get a
Dalmatian, any kind of Pointer or retriever, or most Herding breeds --
all of these dogs were bred to go for miles and miles without tiring,
and even if there are no coaches to guard, no birds to find, and no
sheep to fetch, they still crave the exercise and they'll find ways to
let you know if they aren't getting enough. (My two herding dogs are
particularly fond of loud late-night wrestling matches on any day when
they don't get an hour or two of hard exercise. I've learned to make
sure they get the exercise instead.)
An ever-increasing number of breed-specific FAQs (including most of
the breeds mentioned here) is posted in r.p.d.info. They are a very
good resource, and they all give the negatives about their breeds and
not only the positives. They are an excellent place to start
researching a specific breed, and some of them are better than some
Even if your favorite breed is not among those FAQs, you should read
the FAQ entitled "Getting a Dog." It goes into a lot more detail than
this document can about the steps you should take when you get a new
dog. Also, depending on whether you want an adult dog or a puppy, you
should check out the "Your New Dog" and/or "Your New Puppy" FAQs.
There are lots of breed books out there. Most of them are picture
books, which offer pictures and some very basic information about the
breeds, but little else. Here are three books which will give you more
direction as far as choosing a breed, with more detailed breed
descriptions including information on temperament, honest discussion
of the breed's problems, and help in making the decision.
* Hart, Lynette A. The Perfect Puppy. WH Freeman. 1987. ISBN
0-7167-1829-4. This covers only about 65 breeds' temperaments, but
makes a greater effort to be objective than some other sources.
Lists health defects in particular breeds.
* Lowell, Michele. Your Purebred Puppy: A Buyer's Guide. Holt and
Co. 1991. ISBN 0-8050-1892-1. Far more comprehensive than Hart's
book, with useful warnings about health defects to watch for in
* Tortora, Daniel F. The Right Dog For You. Fireside, Simon &
Schuster Trade Books. 1983. ISBN 0-671-47247-X. Offers a complex
decision procedure, with lots of questionnaires to alert you to
the potential significance of various features of breed behavior
and physical characteristics.
* Walkowicz, Chris. The Perfect Match. Howell Book House, 1996. This
one of the newest books on the subject, and one of the best. The
breed profiles are thorough, accurate, and up-to-date; for the
first time, every one of them is based on interviews with breeders
and rescuers involved in the breed. And unlike most of the other
books in the field, this one is written with style and a sense of
Of these books, the Tortora book has the most detailed decision
procedure -- in it, you work through a series of questionnaires,
eliminating breeds until you are left with only a few by the end of
the book. It's in need of a revision, though -- it covers only 123
breeds recognized by the AKC as of the late '70s. Since that time, the
working group has split into the working and herding groups, and over
a dozen new breeds have been recognized -- and that's only in the AKC.
There are hundreds of non-AKC breeds in the world -- some of them may
never be seen in the US, but others are very popular and they need to
More serious than the fact that Tortora leaves out breeds is the fact
that his breed profiles are badly out-of-date: Breeds rise and fall in
popularity amazingly fast, and that can seriously affect the
temperament seen by the average pet owner. There are breeds that are
dangerously popular now which were fairly rare 20 years ago, and some
breeds that were badly damaged by overbreeding then have gone a long
way toward recovery by now. In 1976, nobody had ever heard of a
puppy-mill Rottweiler; in 1996, Irish Setters are happy-go-lucky bird
dogs once again, and the sickly, unstable Setters that Tortora wrote
about are seen less and less often. Tortora also combines several
breeds into one profile whether they're truly similar breeds or not,
and he occasionally uses very dubious readings of the breed standards
to make up descriptions where he lacks personal experience: "According
to the standard, Breed X seldom does Y, from which we may infer that
they sometimes do Y" is hardly an adequate replacement for accurate
information from people who know the breed well.
In spite of all the book's faults, I still recommend using Tortora's
questionnaires to figure out what characteristics you need in a dog,
especially if you don't have a lot of experience with dogs and you
really don't know what characteristics you will be able to tolerate.
But refer to Lowell and/or Walkowicz for a more complete and accurate
set of breed descriptions.
In looking at other dog books -- and at information from breed clubs
and advice from fanciers, for that matter -- look for honest
information about activity and temperament, not just about sizes,
coats, and colors.
Online Breed Resources
There are some very good resources on the net, as well as some pretty
poor ones. Unfortunately, the best will only help you when you've
already narrowed down your list considerably: The Breed FAQs are all
written by people who know the breed in question and have written
about it honestly. They can go into much more detail than the one page
per breed in any of the all-breed dog books. And they generally point
you toward good sources of breed-specific information.
Even better are the breed e-mail lists. There are lists devoted to an
amazing number of breeds, and every one I've been on includes
breeders, exhibitors, and knowledgeable pet owners who are more than
willing to talk all day about their dogs -- in fact, that's the
biggest problem with them. Some of them can be very high-volume. For
that reason, I don't recommend subscribing to dozens of different
lists in order to choose a breed, although you may find them helpful
when you've narrowed your choice down to two or three breeds.
There are also a growing number of breed-search databases online. When
I find one that I can honestly recommend, I'll be happy to link to it.
But I've tried out every one that I've heard about, and as of now they
all have major problems: one of them recommended a toy poodle when I
asked for a medium-sized dog to compete in herding trials; another
seems to be largely based on the premise that active dogs should live
outside 24 hours a day, which is a very good way to get a bored,
destructive active dog who learns how to climb fences. Some of these
machines ask as few as 5 questions, others seem to choose among as few
as 25 breeds (although they never make it clear up-front how many dogs
are contained in the database). So here's a challenge to pet-page
developers: set up a database with hundreds of dog breeds, with
accurate profiles, and create a search form which asks a large number
of truly relevant questions, and if it passes my tests, I'll put a
link to it at the top of this page in big bold letters. Until that
link is up there, assume that online search forms are a fun toy to
play with but don't ever buy a dog based on their recommendation until
you've done a lot more research.
Dog Shows, Clubs, and Breeders
Go to a dog show in your area. You can't learn everything about a
breed when you see it at a show, but it's a good way to get a handle
on which breed is which, and a good way to meet local breeders if
you've already chosen a breed.
If you can't get to a show, try to meet some adult dogs of your breed
in the flesh -- more than one, if you can find them. Do you know
someone who has a dog of your new favorite breed? Does a friend of a
friend have a dog you can meet? Is there a dog park, dog beach, or dog
run in your area where you could meet some dogs and ask lots of
questions? Never buy a dog just because you liked its picture in a
Get in touch with the national breed clubs ("parent club") for the
breeds you like. They will send you information packets on their
breed, and they will put you in touch with local clubs and breeders.
Also, find out if there's an all-breed Kennel Club in your area (the
AKC can put you in touch) -- it's a good way to meet local breeders
and their dogs, and to find out about dog activities going on in your
area. Find out if your local club has a breeder referral service -- if
they do, the breeders they refer you to will be those who breed
according to the club's code of ethics.
Once you've found your dog
Purebred dogs certainly have temperamental as well as physical traits
that are typical of their breeds. After all, breeds were created for
specific purposes; keep the dog's original job in mind when you watch
its behavior, and don't be surprised when your new Malamute loves to
pull. But you should also remember that every dog is an individual.
When books or people on a newsgroup say "Sock Retrievers make good
hunters" or "Carolina Temple Dogs are good watchdogs", they're talking
about the average for the breed, but any individual in a breed may
vary widely from that average. Pick your individual dog carefully, and
don't be afraid to ask the breeder or rescue group or shelter staff
lots of questions about your individual dog's temperament.
Whatever breed or mix you choose, remember that no breed is perfect.
If anyone -- whether it's a book, a breeder, or a poster to a
newsgroup tells you that an entire breed has no health or temperament
problems, get a second opinion. All breeds have problems, and someone
who really cares about the improvement of their breed will be aware of
them and tell you what they're doing to ameliorate them. Do lots of
research so you can be prepared to ask about the problems specific to
your chosen breed, whatever it is. Again, these negatives are not
meant to scare you away from a breed, but to let you know what to
expect -- Akitas, for instance, are beautiful, noble, dignified
animals; but you'd be in for some trouble if you got one without
knowing that many of them tend toward aggressiveness and therefore
need a great deal of training and careful handling. This doesn't mean
that Akitas can't be wonderful pets, but only that you have to be
prepared to do the work they need and deserve when you get one.
All dogs should be trained -- the small ones as well as the big ones.
A puppy kindergarten or basic obedience class will help you socialize
your dog and teach her basic manners, it will make her a better
companion, and will help you bond better when you're first getting to
know each other.
Don't think that getting a dog with a reputation for being smart will
get you out of training, either -- highly intelligent dogs usually
need more training than the others rather than less, since they tend
to use their fuzzy brains to get themselves in trouble. All dogs
deserve training and some work to do, but the smartest ones will make
work for themselves if they aren't given any, usually at the expense
of your house and yard.
A steady, well-behaved, housebroken, quiet, loyal dog doesn't come out
of nowhere, but it can be found in any breed -- if the owner is
willing to work at developing that relationship.
Good Luck, Be a Responsible Dog Owner ... and Have Fun with your New
Selecting A Dog Breed FAQ
Copyright © 1996 by Amy Hendrix