Choices! Help me make one.

OK, so I really don’t need to make a choice right now. Because I still have 10 months, 3 weeks, and 2 days until I can get a dog. But who’s counting?!

But today I’m caught in a tri-lemma between three beautiful breeds: the Australian shepherd, the German shepherd, and the rough collie. I want all of these dogs, of course, but I can’t determine which one is best for our lifestyle and our household. Should we try to get a purebred puppy? Should we go through a breed rescue agency? Should we just get a mutt and be done with it? I’m trying to keep feelings out of this, but that’s a silly thing to try to do when faced with puppies.

These are the unproductive thoughts that are running through my head:

A handsome Aussie in black and white. Source: Flickr user lee

PUREBRED AUSSIE PROS:

  • Raising a beautiful puppy from the ground up.
  • There are many reputable Aussie breeders in Virginia that I’ve already been in touch with and am still planning on visiting this summer and fall.
  • More solid health guarantees, if we go with one of these reputable breeders.
  • Even some temperament guarantees, if we can meet the parents.

PUREBRED AUSSIE CONS:

  • The world does not need more purebreds.
  • Expensive. We can afford one, but still: It’s a lot to pay for a companion/pet-quality dog.

RESCUE AUSSIE PROS:

  • You’re rescuing a dog who really needs a home!

RESCUE AUSSIE CONS:

  • There are rarely any purebred Aussies who need rescuing in this area. (Unless you count that handsome, small blue merle who came into CASPCA a week or so ago.)
  • You have less knowledge about the dog’s background and previous behavioral issues when adopting an adult.
  • This might be incorrect, but I feel like abandoned Aussies require a lot more rehab than other abandoned breeds. They’re usually surrendered for hyperactivity, sensitivity, or other behavioral problems, more so than other breeds (who are surrendered when owners die, move away, etc.).

General thoughts and concerns about getting an Aussie: Am I crazy to think that I could handle an Aussie? I know I grew up with one, but she didn’t have a very happy ending. My biggest fear right now is that our Aussie will be excessively barky and get us evicted from our new house. But I’ve always wanted an Aussie. This is my breed. These are my dogs. I would feel some betrayal to my life’s purpose if I didn’t get one. I know that’s totally ridiculous. Am I being too idealistic and not really thinking practically about whether I could handle this kind of dog? I need someone to tell me what to do.

A wise German shepherd. Source: Flickr, user idog~

PUREBRED GSD PROS:

  • Raising a beautiful puppy from the ground up.
  • If you can find a reputable GSD breeder, you may be able to carefully avoid a lot of the genetic health issues that plague the breed.
  • Perhaps some additional temperament guarantees.

PUREBRED GSD CONS:

  • The world does not need more purebreds.
  • A lot of the Virginian GSD breeders strike me as kind of scary and really serious.
  • Most of the reputable Virginia GSD breeders I’ve seen are breeding dogs from European lines for schutzhund competitions.
  • For the reasons above, GSDs I’ve seen in Virginia are extremely expensive (much more than reputably-bred companion-type Aussies).

RESCUE GSD PROS:

  • You’re rescuing a dog who really needs a home!
  • There are two active GSD rescue groups in Virginia that seem to have a steady supply of beautiful, healthy-looking dogs (and if they’re not healthy, they tell you so).

RESCUE GSD CONS:

  • You don’t know about the hidden health problems this dog may have. This is an especially big risk with a purebred GSD who came from who-knows-where.
  • Latent temperament or behavior problems are also more uncertain.
  • I’m inexperienced with this breed and I’m anxious about the task of rehabilitating an adult GSD.

General thoughts and concerns about getting a GSD: These dogs intimidate me, but I really want one. It’s probably not smart to go into a relationship with a dog when you’re predisposed to be intimidated by it. My life plan is to get a purebred Aussie puppy first, learn how to raise a dog in general, and then rescue an adult GSD. But is that a bad life plan? I don’t know. Should I just jump headfirst into it and adopt an adult GSD? I feel like a purebred GSD is out of our range right now. These dogs are the consummate canine athletes and brainiacs. They can do anything and I feel like they need to be taken very seriously to ensure a happy, well-adjusted life.

A tricolor rough collie. Source: Flickr, user helen246

PUREBRED COLLIE PROS:

  • Raising a beautiful puppy from the ground up.
  • Similar advantages of having a reputable breeder who has avoided passing on Collie Eye Anomaly and other serious genetic defects.
  • Better guarantees of a pup’s temperament if the parents are available.

PUREBRED COLLIE CONS:

  • The world does not need more purebreds.
  • There is only one collie breeder that I can find in Virginia and one in Maryland. They do not breed often and puppies are often very hard to come by.
  • Due to the increasing rarity of the breed, puppies will be quite expensive.

RESCUE COLLIE PROS:

  • You’re rescuing a dog who really needs a home!
  • I was thrilled to find a great collie rescue agency in Virginia. They have a lovely selection of young and adult dogs who need homes.
  • Less expensive and more readily available than a purebred puppy.

RESCUE COLLIE CONS:

  • Fear of hereditary disorders or serious health defects showing up later in life.
  • As with the other rescues, less certainty about the dog’s background and temperament.

General thoughts and concerns about getting a collie: Is it cruel to own a rough collie in the southeast? Will the dog die of heat stroke with all that hair? I think this is why I’d be inclined to get a female, if only for the lesser mane. (I did see a rough collie in Charlottesville once, though, and he looked happy.) I know even less about rough collies than I do about GSDs, having never interacted with one in person, but I’m taken with them in general appearance and temperament. They’re like the bubbly, more low-key herding dogs. The retrievers of the shepherds, if you will (and I will). I’m so generally naive about this breed that I’m not sure if it would be wise to have my first dog be a collie. But they sound very user-friendly and adaptable, much more than even an Aussie, perhaps.

OK! Help me make a decision. Go! I only have 10 months to make up my mind!

Pup links!

Matching your outfit to your dog? Awesome. Source: Miss Moss

Dog-related links that interested me on the Web this week…

All Exercise Is Equal, But Is Some More Equal than Others? Patricia McConnell, who has quickly become one of my favorites in the dog book world, reflects on the different types of exercise that we provide for our dogs and how some expeditions are more beneficial than others. Worth a look! (The Other End of the Leash)

In Defense of (Some) Breeders. As an SPCA volunteer and a part-time purebred aficionado, I have a lot of inner turmoil. There are plenty of dogs in the world; we don’t really need to breed more–and yet, I admit that I want a purebred Aussie puppy. I feel guilty about this. But this thoughtful and carefully expressed article allayed some of my anxieties. If you’re caught in this dilemma, I recommend this essay. (Pawcurious Vet Blog)

Goodnight, Sweet Blue. A sad post about a fostered pit bull who had to be euthanized; thoughtful and moving. (Love and a Six-Foot Leash)

Neighborhood Watch. Our wedding photographer’s handsome lab Orvis keeps an eye on the neighborhood. (And Unlimited)

AKC Welcomes Three New Breeds. Meet the American English coonhound, the Finnish lapphund, and the Cesky terrier! (Ohmidog)

Balls Are Overrated. Indeed! Cheeky ad campaign to urge people to neuter their dogs. (Under the Blanket)

It Literally Sucks. It’s the simple things in life, corgi. It’s the simple things. (Pawesome)

Sparks. We’re going to take portrait photos like this one day. You betcha. (Awkward Family Pet Photos)

Trick Video Reveals Happy Dog. This dog blew my mind. And its trainer, whoever he or she may be! This makes me really happy and really impressed. (The Bark Blog)

Review: The Puppy Report

The Puppy Report, by Larry Shook

I picked up this somewhat unknown little book at our local library because it sounded interesting and it was very short. It is now out of print and you can buy it on Amazon for a penny, but I think it was worth reading, even if its information is now somewhat out of date.

Shook opens with a tragic story about his misguided attempt to buy a purebred Irish terrier for his family. Those in the dog world would have seen red flags going up on all sides when he picked this puppy out (it was the most dominant in the litter; the breeder wouldn’t let him meet the mother because she was “unfriendly;” this particular breed is known for its tenacity and for not being excellent with young children). His puppy turned out to be no small terror. Despite Shook’s repeated attempts to train his dog–including an unfortunate and cringe-inducing visit to a dominance-oriented trainer who tackles the aggressive terrier to the ground and puts him in a choke hold–nothing could be done for this ill-fated puppy. The dog was eventually euthanized for its overwhelming aggression toward people.

Shook set out to write this book in an attempt to figure out what had gone wrong with his Irish terrier. His conclusion is that the purebred dog industry in America is deeply flawed. Citing examples of the rampant spread of puppy mills and the misguided rules of the American Kennel Club, Shook prevents shocking and disturbing evidence of careless breeders and the thousands of structurally and behaviorally unsound dogs they produce.

Australian Shepherds are my favorite breed, and so I was particularly interested in his brief account of the fight between Australian Shepherd breeders and the AKC. At the time Shook was writing, in 1991, the Australian Shepherd was not an AKC recognized breed and the Australian Shepherd Club of America (ASCA) wanted it to remain that way. As Shook puts it, the ASCA knew that the purity of the breed would deteriorate as soon as Aussies became a part of the AKC. Breeders would start breeding for looks only and the working and temperament characteristics would start to fall by the wayside. The AKC pulled some very shady political moves to lay claim to the Australian Shepherd and, to Shook’s and the ASCA’s apparent dismay, the breed was officially recognized by the AKC in 1992.

Overall, the book is worth reading for anyone who is considering a purebred puppy. The Puppy Report will convince you never to buy a puppy from a pet store or a puppy mill and will arm you with a series of helpful questions for any prospective breeder. A good rule of thumb is that a reputable, respected breeder will ask you just as many questions as you will ask him or her. A good breeder will also be up front about the breed’s known health and temperament issues and provide you with any necessary health documentation.

I’d recommend this book, even though it is hard to find, to anyone who is interested in a brief but important history of the decline of the purebred dog in the United States. The Puppy Report is a succinct warning for overeager people who just want that cute, glossy puppy they’ve seen in the magazines. Take it from Shook: You might be getting a whole lot more than you bargained for.