What kind of dog should I get?

Pup friends! A visit from Georgia.
Georgia (L), my in-laws’ dog, and Eden, as puppies.

No, I’m not getting another dog. (You can keep breathing, husband.)

But I am often asked this question, and I hear people asking it all the time. So I thought I’d develop an answer for what I would say, if I had the time and leisure, to someone who asked me what kind of dog they should get.

The most important things to remember, at the start, are:

  1. Breed doesn’t matter that much. Dogs are individuals. They may bear certain traits known to their breed, but it’s not a reliable predictor of temperament, generally. We have two purebred German shepherds and they have wildly different personalities from one another.
  2. Purebred dogs are pretty screwed up, genetically, on the whole. You can find great breeders who are trying to avoid the generations of inbreeding, but be prepared to pay a pretty penny for such a puppy.
  3. Think about your lifestyle and the type of dog that would fit it. Are you a runner? Look for energetic, athletic breeds. Or do you prefer Netflix in the evenings? Look for slower-moving, less active dogs. Consider your home, your city, your work hours, and your family.

We all develop affection for certain breeds or breed types, but the more time I spend reading about and living with dogs, the more convinced I am that we should stop obsessing about breed so much.

We have two purebred German shepherds that we rescued, and while I love them, I wouldn’t recommend shepherds to many people. Our girls are very bright, but intelligent dogs are high maintenance and demanding. Shepherds don’t really let you relax a whole lot. They also have a lot of minor health issues that, although not debilitating, are certainly costly on a monthly basis.

Doggy summer camp
Georgia might be the perfect dog.

Were we to ever get another dog, I’d want one like Georgia, featured above, who is my in-laws’ dog. She looks like a miniature Golden retriever. She’s full-grown and about 40 lbs. and has such a sunny, outgoing disposition. She’s healthy and companionable and sweet and she doesn’t give anyone a moment’s anxiety.

These are the things that would be important to me in another dog, beyond breed. When you are thinking about a dog, think about the dog’s health and structure before you think about their superficial looks or breed label.

I feel like the goal is to get a healthy dog who looks as much like a generic street dog as possible.

Stray dogs in Venezuela. Wikimedia Commons.
Stray dogs in Venezuela. Wikimedia Commons.

Qualities I’d look for in a dog (purebred or no)

  • 20-70 lbs. This is a generally safe and healthy range for a dog of any breed or type. When you start straying to the extremes on either end (too tiny or too giant), you start wandering into the zone of unhealthy pups. Yes, dogs who are smaller or larger than this range can be perfectly healthy, but the good rule of thumb is: don’t get a dog who is too tiny or too enormous.
  • Functional ears (no cropped ears). Dogs’ ears should work to help them communicate.
  • Long muzzle. No brachycephalic breeds for me, ever.
  • No skin folds. Don’t get a dog who was bred to have a lot of wrinkles, which serve no purpose and just cause the dog irritation and infection. This means no pugs, no bulldogs, no shar-peis, no basset hounds, etc.
  • Full tail (no docked tails). I’ve always loved Australian shepherds, but the tail docking is totally unnecessary at this point, and it causes dogs a lot of communication issues with their fellow canines. Our Aussie was constantly getting into spats with other dogs, and I think part of it was her taillessness. (For this reason, I’m interested in English shepherds as a solid alternative to Aussies.) Dogs need tails to communicate.
  • Fur capable of hackle-raising. This is something that John Bradshaw brought up in his book In Defence of Dogs, and I admit it’s not one that I thought about before, but being able to raise one’s hackles is another really important canine communication element that we often breed out of dogs. Super-short-haired dogs (like dobermans, whippets, boxers, etc.) are often not able to raise their hackles.
  • No exotic color patterns (all white, merles). All-white dogs can often be deaf; merles and pronounced spots (e.g., Dalmatians) can be blind and deaf. Avoid purebreds that breed for these traits.
  • Proper proportions (no exaggerated limbs, head shapes, eyes, muzzles). No dachshunds, corgis, pugs, bulldogs, bull terriers, French bulldogs, Boston terriers, pekingese, etc. This criterion rules out a lot of “trendy” breeds right now.

To sum it up: Think about wolves and think about street dogs. Can your purebred puppy communicate like these dogs? Can it run and jump and breathe normally? If not, think about another breed.

There are innumerable mixed breeds that fit these qualifications, and I think we’d most likely obtain our next dog from a shelter or rescue, aiming for a mixed-breed puppy that appeared to meet this criteria.

But if I were to pick a purebred, I’d be attracted to the following breeds that meet these standards:

English shepherds. By JulieFurgason at English Wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
English shepherds. By JulieFurgason at English Wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
  • English shepherd. This is the classic British Isles sheepdog. They come in a variety of colors and they are just solid working-type dogs who are neither too large nor too small. A bit like Aussies with tails.
  • Berger picard. I love these scruffy French sheepdogs.
  • Greyhound. Greyhounds tend to be among the healthiest purebreds because they are bred for speed, not necessarily for looks, and there are always plenty in rescues who need good homes.
  • Kooikerhondje. I adore these little Dutch spaniels. Perfect size and rare enough here that they’re not unbearably over-bred.
  • Silken windhound. I’ve always loved borzois, but their look is too extreme (that needle-pointed muzzle), and so an American scientist created her own breed (albeit with the rather goofy name), which is like a mini-borzoi. Her careful genetic analysis has led to some of these dogs living to be as old as 17!
Kooikerhondje. Wikimedia Commons.
Kooikerhondje. Wikimedia Commons.

What’s on your list of qualifications for a dog, purebred or not?

Keep reading

Advertisements

A visit from Georgia

We enjoyed beautiful spring weather this weekend — and a visit from my in-laws and their pup, Georgia!

Happy George
Happy George!

Isn’t she just too cute?

She is such a precious little “pocket golden,” and it’s always fun to see what a naturally different disposition she has than our shepherds. Georgia, for instance, is SO much more interested in human beings than the GSDs. Georgia wants to be touching a person at all times. Pyrrha and Eden would prefer that you kept your hands off them, for the most part, and they are usually too busy patrolling the house and yard to worry much about deep, emotional human interaction.

Pup friends! A visit from Georgia.
Georgia and Edie!

This was Eden’s first time meeting Georgia. Their initial meeting did not go so well. Georgia showed up at 9 pm, so meeting in the dark backyard + Eden finding it all very unexpected + barking and lunging = not a great introduction. To help Eden calm down, we took all three dogs on a walk and kept Eden a fair distance from Georgia until she could calm down. The walk helped, and within about 5 minutes of returning home, the little ones were playing like best friends.

Pup friends

All three dogs were great together over the weekend, and we were thankful for our secure backyard, where they could hang out and play together while the rest of us worked in the yard and prepared our garden beds. (And planted an extra tree to continue forming a hedge/barrier from the neighbor kids!)

Tail smack
Tail smack! Makes me LOL. Pyrrha looks possessed.

I think Eden’s crazy barking freaked out my in-laws, but Georgia knew how to handle the psycho puppy, and they played nonstop all weekend. Eden’s play barking also reduced considerably over time, once she seemed to figure out that Georgia was not going to leave any time soon. Pyrrha tended to do her own thing, but all three dogs were just beat at the end of each day. Which was the best. We could have a peaceful dinner while all three fuzzy monsters slept soundly on the dining room floor.

We hope Georgia will come visit again soon!

Pyrrha’s best Christmas ever (Part I)

We had a very busy Christmas, and I’d like to say it was Pyrrha’s “best Christmas ever,” because she seemed to be so happy and confident (most of the time)!

Christmas shepherd is all tuckered out.

Part I: Visiting my in-laws and the house of three dogs (Pyrrha, Georgia, and Adelaide)

Having three young dogs in a small, one-story house lends itself to craziness, but I was proud of all three dogs: Pyrrha, Georgia (my in-laws’ 1-year-old “petite golden retriever”), and Adelaide (my brother- and sister-in-law’s 5-year-old cockapoo).

Christmas 2013
All three dogs clamoring for treats from Papa Mike.

Particularly, I was proud of how well Pyrrha and Adelaide did together.

Christmas 2013
Adelaide!
Guard dog cockapoo. #thinksshespeople @tracydare @windleypratt
Guard dog cockapoo.

Both P and Adelaide are anxious dogs, and when they first met, they seemed to make each other more anxious. Pyrrha seemed especially perturbed by Adelaide’s body language, as it is quite hard to read (her eyes are hidden by hair, her tail is docked very short, and she is quite small).

Christmas 2013
Adelaide with her grandfather.

This time around, they coexisted much more smoothly. There were a few exchanges of growls from time to time when one of them felt cornered, but overall, I felt like I was able to relax a lot more and not have to constantly keep tabs on Pyrrha during our stay.

Adelaide wore a Thundershirt during busier days, and that also seemed to help her a lot. She seems to really enjoy wearing it and even gets excited when Win (her human dad) pulls it out. Adelaide and Pyrrha figured out how to maneuver around each other, and they even laid near each other on separate occasions. They were also pals on our walks, always running to sniff the same spot.

Christmas 2013
Adelaide in her Thundershirt, checking out the presents.
Christmas 2013
Brother Win giving some love to Adelaide and Pyrrha.

Georgia and Pyrrha remain great playmates, and they wore each other out during our stay. Georgia never seems to tire of throwing herself at Pyrrha’s face and inviting a wrestling match. It’s pretty adorable.

Christmas 2013
G and P on guard.
Christmas 2013
G and A.

We also got to take the pups on lots of walks around the neighborhood, which they all very much enjoyed.

Christmas 2013

Christmas 2013

Christmas 2013
Love Georgia’s little photo-bomb here.
Christmas 2013
Her ambivalent ears.

A house full of happy, largely peaceable dogs: No better way to spend a holiday!

Coming up next: A recap of our Christmas, Part II!

A three-dog family vacation

Our Labor Day weekend was very pleasant, and we spent our days doing a lot of dog-wrangling, as we ended up with a three-dog household.

My brother-in-law and soon-to-be sister-in-law brought along their 4-year-old cockapoo Adelaide!

Adelaide
Adelaide!

Adelaide is such a sweet little thing. She has a tendency toward nervousness, and gets particularly anxious about men, but she’s very cuddly and much more willing to warm up to them over time than Pyrrha is.

Adelaide makes it hard to tell which end is which. #thisisarealdog #cockapoo
Hard to tell which end is which.

She was a bit nervous coming into the house, which is absolutely fair, seeing as it was being run by crazy-dogs Georgia and Pyrrha. Although they eventually brokered a peace (which meant just ignoring each other), Adelaide and Pyrrha continued to make each other anxious throughout our weekend visit.

I think there were a few things going on:

  1. Adelaide and Pyrrha are both anxious dogs. Anxious dogs just tend to make each other more anxious.
  2. Size differential. Pyrrha has a good 45–55 lbs. on Adelaide, and she can also been kind of pushy/gregarious in her play. This, naturally, made Adelaide pretty fearful about her.
  3. Mixed signals. Adelaide, as you can see, is hard to decipher; her eyes are not visible and she has no tail to speak of. Pyrrha was throwing play bows at her, but this usually just solicited growls from Adelaide, and Pyrrha often didn’t have the sense to back off, and instead would growl back, creating a situation that we often had to intervene in.

All of these issues aside, however, Adelaide and Pyrrha were able to coexist peacefully by calculated avoidance of one another. They could pass by each other calmly and walk around the yard together without incident, so we were all assuaged by that (even though I continued to keep a very close eye on Pyrrha).

Georgia and Pyrrha, meanwhile, continued to be bosom buddies and playmates.

Georgia dog
Georgia, that little sprite!
Girl talk
Sharing secrets.

Adelaide was happy to observe and get the lay of the land.

Adelaide

Adelaide and her dad
Adelaide and her dad.

Watching Adelaide eat

Too lazy to play? #pyrrhagram #georgiadog #puppylove

All in all, I think we’re happy that the family dogs get along, now that we have all three of them in the mix! I hope Pyrrha and Adelaide will continue to get more comfortable with each other as time goes on.

Summoning the dogs
Summoned by the Keeper of the Treats (aka my father-in-law).

Soon enough, we were on our way home, although I’m sure Pyrrha missed all the action and her playmates.

Road tripping it. #pyrrhagram

Such a good traveler. Ready to be home! #gsd #germanshepherdHope you all enjoyed equally fun and pleasant weekends!

Taking a weekend trip to see Georgia

OK, well, we’re not expressly going to see sweet baby Georgia (my in-laws’ dog), but she is a motivating factor! (In reality, my brother-in-law and his wife-to-be are having a wedding shower, and we are honored to be able to attend.)

Doggy summer camp
Georgia, the last time we saw her, in June.

It’s such a blessing that Pyrrha gets along with my in-laws’ dog and that we can take her with us when we go visit. Makes traveling that much easier!

Waiting for @guionpratt to come home. #germanshepherd #pyrrhagram
Pyrrha is ready to get on the road!

Plenty of Pyrrha/Georgia romp photos to come after the long weekend. For U.S. readers, hope you get to have a peaceful and relaxing Labor Day weekend at home with your pack!

Does your dog get along with your family members’ dog(s)?

Pyr at summer camp with Georgia

While we were at the beach this past week, Pyrrha was lucky enough to attend doggy summer camp with my in-laws and their sweet puppy Georgia.

Doggy summer camp

As you can see, Pyrrha had a great time. We are so thankful that she gets along so well with Georgia! It makes leaving her behind a whole lot less stressful on me. This was the longest we’ve ever left her for! I felt like a neurotic mother. But she was totally happy and that put me at such ease.

Doggy summer camp

Our in-laws reported that while she played happily with Georgia all week, she still didn’t really want much attention from them, which is what I more or less expected. It takes Pyrrha a LONG time to really warm up to people. She is often only able to interact with people when I am around; when I’m gone, apparently, she keeps to herself and would prefer that you did the same. Poor, weird dog. I hope that this behavior can improve in the future. Even though she continues to make a lot of progress, I am often reminded of how much more progress can still be made.

Doggy summer camp

Doggy summer camp

HUGE thanks to Mike and Windy for keeping our baby girl while we were at the beach! And thanks to Georgia, for being such a great and happy pup.

Doggy summer camp
This just makes me laugh. What a happy little thing!