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

No muzzle to hold me

Kino at White Sands, NM, by moominsean. Creative Commons license.
Kino at White Sands, NM, by moominsean. Creative Commons license.

Retired Greyhound, I
Natalie Kusz

Nights, the house grows larger, open
floor widening toward gray
indistinct walls. Here, then, I find
the cotton rabbit lying still—
one plush foot stretching long on the carpet.
I leap in, bite, fling it wide
and follow, pursuing now,
no muzzle to hold me
from catching it, catching it.

One reason for dressing well

Theda Bara with a dog, c. 1915. Click for source.
Theda Bara with a dog, c. 1915. Click for source.

“There is one other reason for dressing well, namely that dogs respect it, and will not attack you in good clothes.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Happy Friday!

I think this quote is hilarious, even if it’s definitely untrue in my experience! Eden always seems to know when I’m in my (finally pressed and lint/fur-rolled) work clothes and sees that as a great time to pounce.

For a season last year, I went through a fleeting obsession with fashion and dressing well. But then we got a second German shepherd, and all style aspirations went out the window. I recently canceled my Vogue subscription, finally realizing, “This publication is NOT for me. I come home from work and put on my ‘dog jeans’ and a flannel shirt. I’ve never worn a single designer dress and probably never will.” Maybe people who have tiny dogs can be fashionable, but I don’t think it’s in the cards for me.

1926: Mrs H Bebbington and her Great Dane Hereward of Cubourough at the Croydon Dog Show.
Mrs. H. Bebbington and her Great Dane at the Croydon Dog Show, c. 1926. Click for source.

What do you think? Are fashion sense and dog ownership at odds with one another?

Next dog daydreaming…

Beautiful Australian shepherd with a tail. Click for source.

Do you ever daydream about your “next dog”? I admit that I do, every now and then… Disclaimer: Pyrrha is perfect for us right now. I can’t imagine a better dog for us. Seriously. We will not get another dog for a long time, but I’m obsessed, so of course I think about the next canine addition to the pack from time to time.

Here’s my shortlist of dogs I’d consider bringing home, in the distant future:

  • A happy GSD male from Southeast German Shepherd Rescue who was good with small children. (This is probably our most likely second addition, only because I still follow SGSR’s rescue page with avid interest and want every third dog they post…)
  • Any ol’ rescue puppy! Preferably with a shepherd or collie heritage.
  • An English shepherd. I met a photographer here in town who has one and he’s crazy about her; got his puppy from a breeder in North Carolina. They appeal to me because of the way they are bred, their comparative rarity (leading to better health lines), their energy level being a notch down from an Aussie, and the fact that they have tails.
  • An Australian shepherd with a tail. As mentioned above, I’ve come to the conclusion that tails are really important and that it’s unfair to rob a dog of a tail purely for looks, particularly since our future Aussie would not be working cattle. Where do people find Aussies with tails, though??
  • A Large Munsterlander. My husband fell in love with one of these when he was farming in Europe and has been hankering after one ever since. They are rather hard to come by in the U.S., however.
  • An English setter. I’ve always liked the look of English setters, for whatever reason. They’re also apparently becoming rather rare as well. We have friends here who have a very sweet Llewellin setter whom I’m also quite fond of (you could mistake him for an English setter, were it not for his smaller size).
  • A Belgian sheepdog or Belgian tervuren. Are they a little more low-key than the malinois? I don’t actually know. I do know that I could never handle a malinois, but I love the look of these Belgians particularly.

I’ve already decided that I want to rescue some greyhounds when we’re older, too, maybe once our future and non-existent children are out of the house. (In my wildest daydreams, I also have a borzoi, but I don’t think I’d ever actually get one…)

An English shepherd. Click for source.

I am so ridiculous. Does anyone else have a similar “next dog” shortlist?

Pup links!

“A Woman with Dog under a Tree,” Picasso. See the Afghan hound?

Dog-related links from around the Web this week:

12 Simple Rules for Dining Out with Your Dog. Pamela’s great list of tips for those who want to dine out with the pooch. We’ve taken Pyrrha out to eat with us twice now, and she’s done very well, but I think that was purely out of luck. We could certainly use these bits of advice and work on training her in that environment. (Something Wagging This Way Comes)

Ready to eat. Bowdu sings for his supper! This is adorable. Now only if I can get Princess Pyrrha to act with similar enthusiasm at meal-time… (The House of Two Bows)

Chix-A-Lot Friday: How Play Changed My Life. A great post from Chix about how lots of play and lots of exercise transformed his behavior. A good reminder. (Love and a Six-Foot Leash)

Sometimes Dogs Aren’t Sad. Karen London points out that we often misinterpret dogs’ body language as indicating that they are “sad,” when in fact, they’re just calm or checking everything out. (The Bark blog)

The Adventures of Jack and Samantha. A guest post from two hiking greyhounds on Tinkerwolf. Beautiful photos and beautiful dogs. (Tinkerwolf)

The Responsibility of Rescues/Shelters. Tena reflects on the duty that rescues have to make sure that dogs are going to homes that are well-suited for them, e.g., don’t send a young Jack Russell terrier to an elderly couple. What do you think about this? Do you think the majority of rescues do an adequate job of matching dogs with compatible homes? (Success Just Clicks)

Which Type of Player Would Your Dog Be? Do you love or hate dog parks? I’m on the fence about them; I know we won’t be taking Pyrrha to any dog parks anytime soon. Maybe one day. How do you feel about them? (Dog Obedience Training Blog)

Rescue Me. My husband’s cousin is a great blogger and mom to sweet Jack, who is on the autism spectrum. Here, she reflects on their dog Mason and how much he’s meant to their family and to Jack. Really touching. (Reinventing Mommy)

To Be What They Are. I loved this post by Louise, about letting our dogs just BE what they are, permitting that expression of their lovely personality, however strange or exhausting it might be. Such a great exhortation for us as we raise our dogs. (Raising Ivy)

20 Most Adorable Animal Lists of All Time. It’s time to laugh now. Some of my favorite lists in this well-curated collection: 50 Corgis Super-Psyched about Halloween and, of course, 50 Photos of Basset Hounds Running. (Best Week Ever)

Dogs with bad manners

Dogs in flight. Click for source.

(So, I couldn’t find a photo illustrating dogs with bad manners. These two are just REALLY excited to go outside…)

On Tuesday, I read the article “He Just Wants to Say ‘Hi’!” by Suzanne Clothier, who wrote one of my favorite books about human-dog relationships. Clothier’s basic premise is that we, as dog guardians, often misinterpret canine behavior and are frequently slow to recognize dogs with bad manners–especially if it’s our dog who is the rude one.

As Clothier says:

It never fails to amaze me how willing humans are to excuse and rationalize a dog’s rude behavior instead of teaching them good manners. Part of developing appropriate social behavior is learning that no matter how excited you may be, there are other folks in the world and certain basic rules of politeness still apply no matter how excited you may be.

I realized I had totally seen this in action when I was walking Bo at the park some months ago–and I was definitely the one at fault. While we were walking in the park, we passed a big cluster of dogs on leashes with their people. Bo happily bounded up to the group and was wagging all over the place. A woman with a pair of greyhounds walked over to let her dogs join the circle. Bo went over to greet the pair, and the senior male greyhound growled and snapped at him. His woman instantly jerked the dog’s collar and reprimanded him, saying to me, apologetically, “Sorry, he’s just a grumpy old man.”

But after reading Clothier’s article, I realized that I was the one who should have been apologizing. The old grey was just trying to teach the over-exuberant Bo some manners. Instead, we humans interpreted the greyhound as reacting “aggressively,” where it was Bo who was at fault. Bo listened closely to the greyhound’s reprimand, however, and immediately backed off. It was just us humans who didn’t understand what was going on. I wish I could see that woman again and tell her that her genteel old boy wasn’t the one to be scolded.

Clothier suggests that we need to pay more careful attention to the ways that our dogs interact with other dogs. We should be able to recognize when our own dogs are being rude AND when other dogs are approaching our own with impoliteness. While we can’t control other people’s dogs, we can be advocates for our own–and that sometimes involves physical action. Clothier writes:

I encourage handlers to be quite active in protecting their dog – whether that means quietly walking away to a safer area, or, when that’s not possible, literally stepping in physically to present the first line of defense. Stepping in between two dogs is a classic act of leadership. Dogs do it with other dogs all the time, so this same gesture coming from a human leader is understood and appreciated.

This simple act of stepping between an approaching rude dog can do a lot to defuse the situation, if you know your dog isn’t one to tolerate impoliteness. Finally, as she says, we have to remember that we are responsible for our dogs and we cannot expect perfection:

We cannot expect our dogs to be saints – at least not until we can rise to that level of tolerance ourselves. And that’s unlikely to happen any time soon. We can expect our dogs to be tolerant to the degree that we educate them, socialize them and protect them – with respect to their individual needs and boundaries.

I’m glad I read Clothier’s article and glad to have had my eyes opened to a particular aspect of canine behavior that I had previously misinterpreted.

How about you? How does your dog handle rudeness? Do you feel like you’re able to detect when your dog is being the impolite one? How do you defuse building tension between dogs?

Pup links!

A weathered shepherd and his rough collie. Source: LIFE Magazine archives.

Dog-related links from around the Web this past week:

Life Without a Dog Is No Life for Me. Kristine reflects on the various sacrifices she’s made, welcoming Shiva into her life, and concludes that they were all more than worth it. An encouraging and insightful post for the currently dog-less, like myself. (Rescued Insanity)

April Is Adopt-a-Greyhound Month. Bunny the greyhound gives a very convincing case as to why adopted greyhounds make wonderful companions. I’m finding myself increasingly convinced! (Maybe greyhoundafterthis first dog?) (Tales and Tails)

UKC Leads the Way in the U.S. with Breed Standard Revisions. The United Kennel Club is revising some of its standards for breeds with more apparent health problems, including the basset hound, the German shepherd, and the pekingese. It’s a start! (Pedigree Dogs Exposed)

The Trouble with Puddles. Veterinarian Shea Cox gives some helpful advice about how to prevent your dog from contracting diarrhea. One easy way? Don’t let them drink out of stagnant pools of water, especially at the dog park. (The Bark blog)

Say Kibble! 10 Tips for the Perfect Pet Portrait. Wonderful pet photographer Kira DeDecker gives some practical tips about how to perfectly capture your pooch on camera. (Pawesome)

Dogs. Just a nice collection of vintage dog photographs and other canine-centric artwork. (Gems)

Warby Barker Turns the Four-Legged into the Four-Eyed. Warby Parker, my favorite source for eyeglasses (I’m wearing their Webb pair right now), released its new line of glasses for dogs, Warby Barker, aka a great April Fool’s joke. (Pawesome)

Hey, Look, a Water Noodle. The caption is just… too much. Goofy Boston terriers frolicking in a summer lawn. (Animals Talking in All Caps)