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?

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Purebred puppy daydreams

Disclaimer: We have NO plans to get another dog any time soon. And if we did get another dog, we’d opt for a mixed breed from a shelter.

But sometimes I daydream about purebred puppies anyway. It’s only natural, right? If we were going to get a purebred puppy from a conscientious breeder, these are the breeds I’d be interested in:

Australian shepherd with a tail

Australian shepherd with a tail. Creative Commons license.

If I ever got an Aussie, the “with a tail” part would be important to me. I don’t know how people find Aussies with tails, since the AKC breed standard is for the dogs to be tailless, but I know that tailed Aussies exists. There’s no point for most Aussies to be tailless, since the majority of show/companion dogs are not going to be trampled by a cow in their lifetimes. And I believe that tails are an important part of canine communication. I grew up with an Aussie, and I have a deep-seated fondness for the breed.

Belgian shepherds (groendael or tervuren)

belgian1

terv

The malinois variety is definitely too much for me, but I hear tell that the groenendael (all-black) and tervuren (“charcoaled” tan) are the more laid-back varieties of the Belgian shepherd. They’re like slightly more unusual-looking and better bred German shepherds. My dad also grew up with a groenendael father/daughter pair named Satan and Satin. Yep. Interestingly enough, Satin was the foul-tempered one.

Berger picard

berger

Ever since I saw a Picardy shepherd in real life, I’ve been intrigued by them. I really don’t know anything much about their temperaments, but I love their scruffy, earnest look. They also look like this mysterious mixed-breed, but they are actually one of the oldest French herding breeds. The breed was almost wiped out in WWII, apparently, and they are still very rare, even in France.

English shepherd

english

I have a friend in town who has an English shepherd, and the breed really appeals to me. They are not recognized by the AKC, which is how they have been able to survive in such a healthy and working breeding pool. English shepherds have been described to me as a more low-key Aussie, and they all come with tails! You can see that the breeds look very similar, though, especially if you can find a tailed Aussie.

Kooikerhondje

kooiker

I am a quarter Dutch, and so I love that the kooikerhondje has been used since the 17th century in the Netherlands as a duck hunting companion. Kooikers are also a very rare breed in the United States, and there are only a handful of breeders. They are also not recognized by the AKC, so they have that in their favor. I think they are just too cute, and I love those wispy little earlocks that all of them have. Pronunciation guide: COY-ker-HOND-ja.

Silken windhound

silken

A silken windhound is essentially a miniature borzoi. The breed was invented by an American woman who disliked what was happening to purebred borzoi and decided to make her own breed. (It also probably goes without saying that they are not recognized by the AKC, but they were recently recognized by the UKC.) Silken windhounds have been praised by canine geneticists for their health and extraordinary longevity; some silkens have been reported to live to 17 or 18 years. I also have a weakness for sighthounds. If we did go the sighthound route, though, we’d most likely adopt a retired racing greyhound.

Clearly, I have a thing for herding dogs and unusual breeds. Which is kind of funny, seeing as I have one of the most common breeds in the United States (GSDs are no. 3 in AKC registrations, I think). And I guess they’re in the herding group, although it is rare to find a herding German shepherd (unless you have a pup from Blackthorn!).

What about you? Do you ever daydream about purebred puppies, those expensive, magical little beings? What breeds would you go for, if not your current breed?

All photos sourced from photopin.com and used under the Creative Commons license.

How well do you know your dog breeds? Rare dog breed quiz

As a child, I studied the dog breed encyclopedia with great fervor, and I still like to think I have a pretty decent identification skills of rare breeds.

How about you?

Here are some photos of (relatively) rare breeds. Do you know what they are? (Answers at the bottom of the post!)

#1
#2
#3
#4
#5
#6
#7
#8
#9
#10
#11
#12

How did you do?

ANSWERS

(1: leonberger; 2: Norwegian lundehund; 3: kuvasz; 4: Pyrenean shepherds; 5: large munsterlander; 6: spinone Italiano; 7: kooikerhondje; 8: beauceron; 9: jindo; 10: otterhound; 11: sloughi; 12: xoloitzcuintli)

What’s your favorite rare dog breed?