dog & FAMILY
By Stanley Coren
After the release of the film 101 Dalmatians, dog breeders experienced a mad rush – everyone seemed to want one of these handsome, spotted dogs.
Sadly, the Dalmatian became one of the most common breeds to be surrendered to animal shelters within two years.
As many people quickly found, the Dalmatian is not the calm, elegant dog character in the movie. Many impulsive Dalmatian owners found their dog did not seem to fit into a lifestyle involving a chaotic household filled with young, active children.
This phenomenon has been repeated many times. There was a rush to own Parson Jack Russell terriers because of the dog, Eddie, on the popular television series, Frasier. After the Beethoven movies, everyone wanted a Saint Bernard.
Choosing a dog breed in this manner is a recipe for disaster, and for many dogs, it ends with a trip to the animal shelter.
Similarly, choosing a dog breed simply because you like the way it looks in a book of dog photos will not likely end in you getting the perfect dog for you and your family.
So many choices
The Canadian Kennel Club recognizes more than 160 dog breeds, and The American Kennel Club recognizes more than 150 breeds. Each breed was designed for a purpose, and will be a wonderful companion for some people in some circumstances – but can also be a heavy burden for other people in different circumstances.
Research is key
Choosing among so many alternatives can be confusing. That’s why knowledge about the available choices is important. Most people selecting an automobile will spend a good deal of time deciding how big the car should be (given their family size and what they might need to haul around), whether it should have off-road capabilities (depending upon whether you are an outdoors person or you just drive around the city), how much power it has, how much gas it burns and more. You need to gather information about dog breeds in much the same way.
A dog’s size
The first characteristic you should consider is size.
If you live in a one-room apartment, a Great Dane or a Newfoundland is probably not appropriate, while a Papillion or a Yorkshire terrier will work quite well. For most people, living with a large dog in a small space means feeling crowded.
Another important aspect of a dog's size relates to the issue of control. This is also where your own size and strength become an issue. The smaller the dog, the easier it is to control. If a small dog gets into trouble, you can simply pick it up and move it to a safer place. A six-pound Yorkshire Terrier may have the spirit of a tiger, but if you tug on its lead – even if you weigh only 90 pounds – the dog will follow you, whether it wants to or not.
A big dog is usually considerably stronger and larger. If an 80-pound Golden Retriever decides it wants to chase a squirrel, it can hit the end of the leash hard enough to knock your 90 pounds down, and even break her hold of the lead. In a battle of wills (which is what dog obedience training often turns into, when the dog and its owner have different ideas as to who is in charge) a 160-pound Rottweiler can be a formidable opponent. Therefore, your size and strength become an issue when selecting a dog
A dog’s activity level
There are many variations in the energy and activity of different dog breeds. A dog’s activity level should be consistent with your own activity level. If you like to run and hike, a Bulldog is not for you, but a Whippet or a Borzoi might work very well.
If your physical exertion means moving change the channels on your television, a Border Collie would be a disaster – but a Pug or an English Toy Spaniel could be excellent choices. A dog that is ricocheting off the walls when you desire peace and quiet is not going to be well-loved.
Generally, if choosing between two breeds you like equally, the smaller and more docile of the two works out better for most people.
A dog’s purpose
What was the dog breed was designed to do? Terriers were bred to bark when they are excited, for example, so if you live in a noise-sensitive area, they may not be an appropriate choice.
Some dogs were bred to be suspicious guard dogs. Others were bred to be loving companions. These characteristics must be considered when choosing a breed.
Five dog breeds
Below are profiles of five randomly chosen dog breeds from different breed groups. There will be profiles of other breeds in future issues.
Labrador Retriever: This is the most popular dog in the world today. These dogs are smart, easily trained, affable, gregarious and family-loving. If you can survive the very active puppy stage, a Labrador Retriever will become calm, unflappable companions. These dogs will bark to announce the arrival of strangers, but don’t expect them to be protection dogs. Well-bred Labradors are not naturally aggressive. A Lab loves water, so if you live near ponds, rivers or streams, your dog will often be wet (the coat sheds water easily). Labs are happy indoors or outdoors, and are very focussed on their human companions.
Beagle: Another extremely popular breed, the beagle is one of the smallest of the hounds. Although Beagles are highly excitable in some situations – such as the approach of other dogs and the appearance of people – they typically spend many hours each day happily napping. They are popular because they are extremely affectionate, with a low degree of aggression. Beagles can be very independent, and are often difficult to train because their sensitive nose is always catching interesting smells which can distract them. A fenced yard is a virtual necessity for beagles, since they are apt to wander off, following some fascinating scent or trying to make new friends.
Dalmatian: The Dalmatian was bred to be a coach dog, running beside a carriage horse or under the front axle. When the coach stopped, it was supposed to guard it. This tells you that a Dalmatian is active and exuberant, and needs exercise. That also tend to be suspicious of strangers – including strange dogs. The Dalmatian is a good breed if you want a dog to sound the alarm and guard your home. This dog is friendly with people he knows, but in a house full of young children who are constantly bringing new friends home, a Dalmatian can be unpleasantly snappish. This breed is a good choice if you are athletic and want your dog to keep you company on long walks, jogs or when bicycling.
Miniature Schnauzer: Once a formidable ratter, the Miniature Schnauzer is now mostly a companion dog. It does, however, maintain many typical terrier characteristics. It is an enthusiastic barker, which makes it a good watch dog. It also can be quite independent and pushy around people and other dogs. Although not usually aggressive, a Miniature Schnauzer will snap if it feels its rights have been infringed upon. It is calmer than many of the terriers, although it would still be classified as an active dog. Typical of terriers, the Miniature Schnauzer tends to be focussed on what is going on around him, and does not need or want, lots of social attention. One of the advantages of this breed is that it is more easily trained than most terriers. Many Minature Schnauzers have become obedience competition champions.
Papillon: The name of this breed, which comes from the French word for butterfly, applies because the dog’s dramatic ears are reminiscent of the shape of a butterfly’s wings. Although their small size and fine, silky coat suggest that Papillons are the ultimate powder-puff, dainty lapdogs, content to passively observe the world go by, this not the case. These are bright, physically-fit little dogs that excel at obedience training. They comfortably fit into a small city space, and can be easily handled by small or frail people. They can also adapt to the countryside. Derived from spaniels, these dogs are generally friendly, but they can be easily intimidated or become fearful when handled roughly, maybe because of their small size.
If you don’t find a breed that appeals to you in this group, there are at least another 150 possible choices out there for you to explore. Do your research, and find out as much as possible about a dog breed before you bring it into your home. If you carefully consider your choice in advance, you won’t have to make unhappy decisions later on in your dog’s life. Remember that you are choosing a companion, friend and family member that will be a part of your life for the next 10 years or more. Choose wisely! - Stanley Coren is Professor of Psychology at the University of British Columbia and author of many books on dogs, including How to Speak Dog and How Dogs Think. His website is www.stanleycoren.com.