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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How It Began

André Kertész, Boy Holding Puppy, 1928
André Kertész, Boy Holding Puppy, 1928

How It Began

William Stafford

They struggled their legs and blindly loved, those puppies
inside my jacket as I walked through town. They crawled
for warmth and licked each other—their poor mother
dead, and one kind boy to save them. I spread
my arms over their world and hurried along.

At Ellen’s place I knocked and waited—the tumult
invading my sleeves, all my jacket alive.
When she came to the door we tumbled—black, white
gray, hungry—all over the living room floor
together, rolling, whining, happy, and blind.

. . . . . . . . . . .

I love these images; I feel like I can see all of the scenes in this little poem so vividly in my head.

Hope you have pleasant, autumnal weekends ahead! We’re hosting my in-laws and their pup Georgia for the weekend, so there’s sure to be lots of backyard romping and afternoon walks.

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!

6 things I wish I’d been told about puppy raising

All tuckered out
Georgia, my in-laws’ puppy.

There’s a wealth of information out there about how to raise a puppy. How to pick the right puppy from a litter, how to house train, how to crate train, how to teach basic obedience commands, how to avoid bad behaviors: You name it, there’s an article or a book or a blog post about it.

Before we adopted Pyrrha, I did tons of reading about raising puppies and dogs. But it wasn’t until we started raising foster puppies myself — and now, having adopted an adolescent of our own — that I really learned what raising a puppy was all about. This, of course, is true for everyone.

Being his adorable self
Our former foster puppy Laszlo!

But here are 6 things I wish someone had told me about puppy raising in advance, 6 things that I didn’t find in all of those books:

  1. Feed your puppy out of food toys. This is a tip I first heard from our trainer, Deven Gaston. Essentially, feeding time is a wasted opportunity for stimulation and exercise if we just plunk a bowl of kibble on the floor. We now feed Pyrrha and Eden out of food toys, and it takes them about 15 to 25 minutes to eat each meal (depending on the difficulty of the toy). They have fun, they use their brains, and they get a little bit tired! We like toys from Busy Buddy, especially the Magic Mushroom. I also like the XX-large extreme Kong to start puppies out on; it’s not as intimidating as some of the more advanced toys. The only complication with food toys is that you’ll need to feed your dog in a room that doesn’t have a ton of furniture (or walls/baseboards that you mind being scratched up). We feed Pyrrha and Eden in our basement and in our large master bathroom, which have concrete and tile floors and few things that they can destroy in their urge to get their food.
  2. Have lots of old towels on hand. I don’t know why it never occurred to me that raising dogs would be really messy. Go to your local thrift store and buy up an armful of cheap, old towels before you bring your puppy home; you’ll use them all. They serve a variety of purposes: crate bedding (personally, I’m all for not continuing to waste money on expensive crate beds that my dogs are just going to turn into confetti); outdoor clean-up; drying off after baths; DIY tug ropes (rip/cut them into long strips and braid them together), etc. Stock up on old towels; you won’t regret it.
  3. Rotate their toys. I’ve written about this before, but rotating dog toys is a great strategy for both your housekeeping sanity and your puppy’s interest levels. Puppies are like little kids: Anything new is the MOST exciting! Puppies are also like little kids in that they have short memories. Putting toys away for a few weeks at a time, and then bringing them out (and rotating the old ones) will keep your puppy engaged — and keep you from spending hundreds at the pet store for more toys to keep your puppy interested.
  4. Clear the floor! (And the coffee table and the low shelves…) Puppies, like babies, like to explore with their mouths, so ensuring that they can’t get anything hazardous or breakable is essential. Don’t want your puppy to chew up your new shoes? Don’t leave your shoes lying around. Despite being general mess-makers, puppies can also encourage orderliness and organization by forcing us to put our things up and away!
  5. If you have carpet or a rug anywhere, that’s the first place a puppy is going to pee in the house. I don’t know why this is, but every puppy (and dog) that I’ve house-trained has much preferred urinating on carpet or rugs than on hardwood or tile. Maybe it simulates grass? Maybe it just feels better on their paws? But if you have an expensive Persian rug that you don’t want ruined, I’d roll it up and put it away until your puppy is reliably house-trained.
  6. For socialization, host a puppy play-date at your house. Every puppy-raising manual stresses socialization, but finding appropriate socialization for your puppy can be stressful in itself. Dog parks are overwhelming and not recommended for pups, especially if they haven’t had their full rounds of vaccines. And even just meeting other dogs out on walks isn’t ideal, since leashed greetings are difficult to negotiate properly. Instead, host a play-date at your house and invite a dog or two that you know well and trust. I’ve found this to be the great way to teach proper play, and it’s also one of the best ways to wear out your bundle of joy! We’re big advocates of hosting play-dates over here.
Sweet Vera
Vera, a foster for one day!

What are some things you wish someone had told YOU about raising a puppy? I’d love to hear what you’d say to someone who had just gotten a pup!

Puppy play-date at dusk

Last week, we had a bunch of young ‘uns come over to romp: Howie and Fiona joined Pyrrha and Trina for an early evening play session.

(It was getting dark, and I am still a bad photographer, hence all of the blurry photos. These are the best ones I got, seriously.)

Blurry puppy play-date
Meet and greet.

Pyrrha, at 2 years of age, was the oldest dog in the pack, and so there was lots of fun, floppy puppy energy!

Blurry puppy play-date

Trina was a little nervous about everyone at first, but after about 5 minutes, she warmed right up. Howie and Trina particularly seemed to enjoy each other, and Pyrrha was obsessed with Fiona. It’s funny to me how they kind of pick their “favorites.”

Blurry puppy play-date
Sharing the water bowl.
Blurry puppy play-date
Sallie goes with the puppy who matches her hair color.

Despite my poor photography skills, I think everyone had a great, tiring romp. Nothing better than an exhausted little shark (cough, cough, TRINA).

We’d love to have this bunch of puppies over again soon!

Blurry puppy play-date

Should you get a dog?

I presume many of you are like this: People in your everyday life start to figure out that you’re kind of… dog crazy. And so they ask you lots of questions (even if you’re, like me, not the most experienced dog owner). Lately, I’ve been getting lots of questions along this line: “Should I get a dog??”

Obviously, this is a big, personal decision, and it should be made with careful deliberation, but here are some of the things I tend to tell people when they say they want a dog.

Watching bugs
Baby Laszlo! Our former foster.

Instead of making a negative list (don’t get a dog if you’re X, Y, Z), here’s a positive spin on the question:

You should go ahead and adopt that dog if…

You have some ample room in your budget.

Dogs are expensive. Beyond the cost of the puppy or the adoption fee, prepare yourself for about 10–15+ years of care, including food, general accessories, routine vet care, emergency vet care, monthly preventives, boarding, grooming, etc. Seasoned dog owners can regale you with eye-popping stories of how much their dogs have cost them, and the super-organized ones can even share monthly budgets with you (e.g., the House of Two Bows). Also keep in mind that the bigger the dog, the more costly it will be.

You are OK with being (relatively) tied down.

Late nights on the town and spontaneous trips are not going to happen as much for you anymore. You have a dog that you have to get home to! Even just planning for vacations takes much more effort. If you’re like us, you will strive to mainly travel to places that are dog-friendly, and if they’re not, you’ll coerce generous family and friends to dog-sit for you (or cough up a hefty sum for a reputable, non-terrifying kennel).

Your children don’t require a ton of maintenance.

This might sound callous, but I am always a bit flabbergasted by people who adopt puppies or dogs when they have very young children at home. (I recently saw an acquaintance on Facebook announce that she was adopting a puppy, and she has three kids under the age of 5. MADNESS!) It is a pleasant, all-American image — little kids playing with a puppy who will grow up with them and be their lifelong friend — but in reality, adding a puppy to the mix is kind of like adding another baby. Are you ready for that? Granted, some people might be, and that’s great, but don’t underestimate the amount of work you are creating for yourself. And speaking from childhood experience, your cute, persuasive kids may PROMISE you that they are going to do EVERYTHING for the new puppy, but that sheen will wear off in a few weeks, and then you’ll be the one doing all the walking, feeding, training, and poop-scooping for the next 10–15 years…

You are ready and willing to spend time training (and then re-training).

Dogs aren’t born knowing what humans expect of them. They are very smart and adaptable, yes, but they have to learn what you want them to do. And this, naturally, takes LOTS of repetition and patience. Are you willing to work on teaching your dog on a daily basis? Are you willing to go to an obedience class or seek the help of a trainer or behaviorist for more serious issues?

Look at that face!
Baby Georgia, my in-laws’ puppy.

You are ready to do everything to help your dog succeed.

A dog is a serious commitment and should be treated as such. These fluffy animals see us as members of their family, and we often do the same. Don’t get a dog if you aren’t ready and willing to do everything in your power to help them have a happy, stable, and full life. Does your dog have fear issues? Leash reactivity? A seemingly insatiable desire to eat furniture? Are you ready for the patience and training that curbing these behaviors requires? Or is your instinct to return the dog to the breeder or rescue when problems arise? Think long and hard about this one. This question is one that I don’t think my husband and I were even prepared for; we assumed that dogs were dogs and that they’d be, for the most part, fairly straightforward (and then we rescued a neurotic German shepherd with a lot of background issues). Every dog is different. Know what your prepared threshold of care is.

What do you think? What would you add to this list of things to think about for the potential dog owner?

Flash attack and playing with puppies

Stressing me out

Bored, cooped up in the house while it’s so cold and snowy, and stressing her out with the flash.

Still. I think she really knows how to work her angles.

Pyr in flash

In unrelated Pyrrha news, we’ve turned our yard into quite the doggy social arena. The other day on a walk, we met a 10-week-old lab mix puppy named Nellabelle, whom we invited over for a future play-date. Pyrrha was quite polite to the tiny Nellabelle, who was gregarious and wiggly. She gave Nellabelle a few play bows and then tried to bat her over with a paw, which was a little too much for the puppy. And then Pyrrha put the puppy’s head in her mouth. Clearly, not an aggressive act, but it’s scary just the same, to see your puppy’s head in another dog’s jaws. Little Nell didn’t seem too traumatized, but I thought it was probably best to end that play session.

Pyrrha needs to learn how to accommodate her play behavior to small dogs, something we learned when Stella the Jack Russell came over and was terrorized (treated with much curiosity and occasionally as if she were prey). Pyrrha particularly needs to learn play behavior with puppies, as we are planning to go visit her new (6-lb.!) Aunt Georgia very soon!

Did your dog have to learn how to play gently with puppies or dogs smaller than itself? Any tips on that?