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Choosing a Dog

Updated on April 23, 2011

What Kind of Dog Should I Get?

Most of America's sixty-one million dogs and their owners came together by chance.

All puppies are appealing, and it is all too easy to succumb to the wiles of the first puppy that snuggles up against you and licks your face with his pink tongue.

But for the best dog-human relationship, you should try to select a type of dog that will meet your needs and that will fit in with your way of life and living conditions. The various breeds of dogs differ as much in temperament and behavior as they do in appearance.


Purebred, Mixed Breed or Mongrel?

A recent survey shows that about 61 per cent of dog owners received their dogs from neighbors, relatives or friends; about 14 per cent bought theirs from dog breeders; about 8 1/2 percent bred the dogs themselves. The rest were obtained from pet shops, from a dog pound, or from a veterinarian. If you receive a gift dog, you will find that, like all dogs, he is basically friendly, faithful and protective.

But the advantage in selecting the dog you want, and in selecting a purebred dog, is that you can be reasonably sure of what he will look like when he grows up. Also, the different breeds have been standardized for special abilities and characteristics.

If the dog you select or receive is the offspring of two different types of purebred dog, he is called a "mixed breed" or "crossbreed". He will probably have some of the characteristics of each parent, although it is almost impossible to foresee just how the mixture will turn out; and he will usually be intermediate in size.

The "mongrel" or "mutt" is the dog whose parentage is unknown, or who is a combination of various breeds over many generations. The problem with a mongrel, if you acquire him as a puppy, is that you are never sure how he will turn out as an adult. A tiny puppy can grow into a big dog, and the common idea that you can anticipate the size of the adult dog by the size of the puppy's feet and legs doesn't always work out. Taking the "runt" of a litter on the theory that he will be smaller at maturity is not a safe guide either.


The Various Types of Dogs

There is really little known about the origin of the dog, although one accepted theory is that all dogs came from a common ancestor millions of years ago. It is known that man and dog have been companions from the earliest times. Throughout the ages dogs have changed first into different types and then into different breeds to suit the different climates in which they lived and the occupations into which man placed them.

The collie and shepherd-type herd dogs were selected for their weather-resistant coats and their cleverness and endurance. The sled dogs of the frozen north developed heavy coats and hairy, curled tails to protect their noses while they slept in the snow. Their powerful muscles made them useful for sleigh and draft work.

The sporting dogs helped early man in his quest for food and retained their characteristics in hunting as a sport. Most dogs hunt by air-borne scent; some are sight hunters; and others retrieve game on land and from the water.

The sporting hounds are of two types. Those that hunt by sight are tall, speedy dogs, whereas the scent hunters are usually smooth-coated, slower-moving dogs.

The terriers and dachshund were bred as vermin catchers and diggers, with strong shoulders and forelegs and powerful jaws. The guard dogs are descended from the mastiff types of ancient Greece and Rome and probably carry the blood of the breed which fought in the Roman arenas and served as war dogs.

The tiny "toy" breeds originated for the most part in countries that had reached the stage of luxury which could support dogs as pets for women.


Large or Small Dog?

Inclination toward a large or small dog is a matter of individual preference.

Although many feel that their choice is limited to a small dog because they live in an apartment or small house, this is not necessarily so. Many of the larger, quiet breeds are better adapted to apartment living than the smaller, livelier breeds. However, for the person who lives in a city apartment or travels considerably, the tiny toy breeds are ideal. They adapt themselves easily to restricted quarters, can get almost all the exercise they need indoors, and can even be toilet-trained on paper or use a litter tray as cats do. Also, the toy dog can be put in a traveling case and carried around where larger dogs would be "verboten".

The sporting breeds-spaniels, setters, pointers, beagles and other dogs of the hound family are for the active, outdoors type of dog owner. With plenty of outdoor space and a liking for really big dogs, you have a choice among the great Dane, Irish wolfhound, great Pyrenees, Newfoundland, St. Bernard, and others. But keep in mind that the food bill for a 150 pound dog can mount up over the years.


Male of Female?

Dog owners may be divided into two groups: One would not have a female dog as a gift; the other would not have a male dog in the house. Actually, there is very little difference between the male and female of any breed as pets or as working dogs. Generally, the female is somewhat less inclined to wander away from home than the male. With a female, you have the twice-yearly problem of her "season" when you may have to keep her confined or board her out, unless you want a litter of pups. Having the female spayed will cost around a hundred dollars, and will not affect the disposition or physical condition of the animal. However, spaying does slow down the rate of metabolism slightly so that you must watch the spayed female's diet to keep her from putting on too much weight. Also, some spayed bitches find it difficult to control their urination, but this can be remedied by inoculation or by feeding the hormone drug suggested by your veterinarian.

Among the larger, more powerful breeds, females are usually a bit smaller in size and structure than the males and may be easier to handle on lead. Some females are easier to train and housebreak than males. Also, walking a female dog is simpler than walking the male. The female gets her business over with quickly. The male likes to prolong his outings with numerous stops at trees, bushes, hydrants, and places that other dogs have visited.


Matching Dogs and Children

One of the leading excuses for buying a dog is that it is good for the children in the family to have a pet. However, for best results, the dog and the child or children must be well matched and the parents must face the grim fact that children's promises to "take care of the dog and walk him" are hardly ever fulfilled.

The first concern in obtaining a dog for a child is to get one that will be a good playmate. Very young puppies want to eat and sleep and very young children tend to treat a puppy as a plaything. A large and energetic dog or older puppy may unintentionally knock a child down and destroy their relationship at the start. Some of the terrier breeds and other smaller dogs are inclined to be "snappy" and may bite back at the child in self-defense.

The puppy must be protected against very young children. A puppy is as fragile as an infant, and being dropped, poked, pulled and teased may wreak havoc with him physically and emotionally.

For younger children of about two to six years old, choose one of the larger herding breeds, such as the collie, old English sheepdog. And start off with an older puppy or a young adult dog. These breeds have an ingrained herding instinct which makes them good caretakers for young children. In addition, they are easygoing dogs and sturdy enough to take childish mauling without offense.

If you have active boys in your family, a boxer or Dalmatian or one of the larger terriers may be a good choice, or any of the sporting dogs. If you do get a young puppy, teach the children how to support him with both hands when they hold him, so that his hindquarters are not dangling; to respect his privacy; and to give him time to grow up before they can expect him to be an active playmate.


What To Pay For Your Dog?

In many ways, buying a dog is like buying a car. If you are a status seeker, and want a flashy, outstanding specimen of the currently popular breed, you can pay well into the hundreds of dollars for a puppy or older dog. If you are willing to settle for a sturdy, secondhand model, you can get a dog that will give you affection and companionship for the price of the license fee from the S.P.C.A. the local Humane Society or the nearest dog pound.

If you want a purebred dog, the price depends on a number of factors. Females of the same quality are usually a bit cheaper than males; on the other hand, in many areas the license fee for an unspayed female is three times as much as for a male. Breeders generally prefer to sell their puppies at about eight weeks old, as they are weaned at that time and have had their puppy shots. Keeping them long means additional veterinary expense and care and feeding so that the price for older puppies goes up. Also, in a better quality dog, bred for show prospects, the older the dog, the more evident are its characteristics as a potential champion, so that, too, increases the price.

If you have no intention of showing your dog in breed shows or in breeding the female and selling the litters, it is unnecessary to spend the top price for a dog with the best bloodlines and champions in its background. A puppy that is not close to the standard of perfection for its breed as its littermates will cost far less and be just as good as a pet and companion. Many breeders set aside such puppies and sell them without "papers" at bargain prices.

If you are interested in a high-quality dog of a specific breed, your best source is probably a breeding kennel, although here the price includes the kennel's overhead, advertising, and the cost of attending shows and exhibiting the dogs. You can probably get a good dog from a private breeder who will be able to provide a pedigree and registration papers.

Watch the dog advertising section of your local newspapers, where breeders usually advertise, or write to the secretary of the breed club for a list of breeders.

Department stores and pet shops usually offer both purebred and mongrel dogs at fairly reasonable prices, and most of the larger mail-order houses have gone into the dog business in recent years and will deliver purebred, registered dogs by express.

One way to meet people who breed dogs is to attend a dog show and visit among the exhibitors' benches; also watch the advertisements in the dog magazines and sporting journals.

Or give an abandoned dog a second chance at life. Various groups (some specializing in specific breeds) rescue unwanted dogs of all ages from the pound who are on death row and will be put to sleep. Some are already trained, and all respond to kindness and love.

Whichever you choose, as they say, a pet is for life. And when you take on the responsibility of dog ownership you don't just get a pet, you get a best friend forever.



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    • Longtail profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      I could see Miss Simone going for either extreme. Either a Great Dane or a Chihuahua.

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      8 years ago from San Francisco

      If I ever come to own a dog, it shall be by complete chance, but you've provided a bunch of useful information on choosing a pet dog that I had never even considered before. What a useful guide! Thanks for writing it :D


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