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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Meet Georgia, Pyrrha’s new aunt!

It is with great delight that I introduce you to Pyrrha’s new “aunt,” Georgia!

Georgia on the porch

My husband’s parents just adopted this precious puppy, their first official “foster failure.” My in-laws are generous, loving advocates of their local lab rescue and they have served as a foster home for labs in need for about a year now.

Georgia

Just about a week ago, however, little miss Georgia came tumbling into their lives and they just couldn’t say no. I mean, could you?? Look at that face!

Sweet baby Georgia

From these photos, I’d guess that Georgia was some kind of golden retriever/spaniel mix. She’s only 7 weeks old right now. What would you guess her lineage is?

We hope to take a trip to see them and meet Georgia very soon. Welcome to the family, little girl. You are one lucky pup!

Pup links!

Mmm, cherry blossoms. Click for source.

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

Friendship. Does your dog know that you love her? A thoughtful post on our relationships with our dogs. (Denise Fenzi)

Dog Scribbles. Fun, quirky doodles of dogs from one of my favorite bloggers/artists. (Ulicam)

Things I Can’t Live Without #6: Rolled Leather Collar. Do any of you use a rolled leather collar? I’ve never heard of the notion that regular, flat collars can damage the guard hairs/fur around the neck, but now I’m curious… (Batmanimal)

Thunder, Fireworks, and Noise, Oh My! An adult dog who has developed a thunderstorm phobia… How do you help them? Certainly caught my attention, because while Pyrrha isn’t bothered by storms or fireworks now, I wonder if she could be in the future? (Reactive Champion)

Focus: Riley and Lexi. Britt Croft is doing a series of photos on her two yellow labs, Riley and Lexi. I love these shoots and how often these dogs participate in mirroring behavior! They are hard to tell apart! (The Daily Dog Tag)

“Keen-see.” The sweet relationship between a toddler and her very tolerant bulldog, Kingsley. (Rockstar Diaries)

Foundation Fun. I don’t really know what these dogs are doing, but they are having so much FUN! I love it. (The Elite Forces of Fuzzy Destruction)

Catch O’ The Day. That is one BRAVE dog. I cannot believe he just plucked that awful-looking, gnarly fish out of the water. I am so impressed. And his expression looks like, “Eh, no big deal. I do this all the time.” (Wootube)

Bliss Paws Collapsible Travel Bowl. I like the look of these travel bowls (although I wonder how big they are?). I’m not overly thrilled with the ones we bought Pyrrha, as they’re crushable cloth and not nearly as waterproof as they advertised. Do you use a travel bowl that you like? (Dog Milk)

How to Make Car Rides with Dogs a Breeze. Helpful tips on car travel with dogs, which will be useful to me this weekend! (Go Pet Friendly)

Truckin’. More honest, helpful advice on taking a long road trip with one’s two beautiful, active Aussies. (Raising Ivy)

As you might have divined from those last three links, Pyrrha and I are taking our first road trip together tomorrow! We are driving the 5 hours together to my parents’ house, so I can help my sister with her wedding plans. Thankfully, Pyr rides very well in the car, but we’ve never taken her in the car for longer than 45 minutes, so this will certainly be an experience! I’m bringing lots of water and soothing music for both of us. Stories to come!