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Choosing the Right Breed Dog for You & Your Family

With more than 150 dog breeds to select from, choosing a dog is not an easy task, nor should it be. The more time you take learning about dog breeds and considering your own needs and personality traits (thinking of this as your breeding!), the better match you’ll make.


Dogs have been bred for hundreds of years—or in the cases of several breeds, such as the New Guinea singing dog, for thousands of years—for specific purposes and demeanors. You can take a dog away from its ancestral “job,” but you often can’t take the job out of the dog. A herder will always herd, even if it’s rounding up toddlers and has never seen a sheep in its life.

When considering a new dog, I always consider my lifestyle first and then find breeds that fit well with it. Is your home spacious or the size of a postage stamp? Do you have a yard or is the closest park blocks away? Do you imagine jogging with your dog, or is curling up in front of the TV more your idea of perfect companionship? Would black fur on a white rug horrify or endear you? And what will your siamese cat think when you bring Buddy home?

Following are some of the issues to take into consideration and some potential breeds, though they represent just a few choices among many.

Hot and Cold: Breeds for Extreme Climates
Not surprisingly, dogs with thick or long hair are best suited for colder climates and fare less well in hot or humid ones. St. Bernards, Newfoundlands, akitas, Samoyeds, Siberian huskies, German shepherds, Bernese mountain dogs, and Old English sheepdogs are all excellent choices if you’re moving to Juneau or Buffalo.

For hot weather, look not only for dogs with shorter hair, but also those with longer faces. Dogs with short faces, such as the pug, have a more difficult time panting, the method used by dogs to get rid of excess body heat. Good choices for subtropical climes include schnauzers, beagles, weimaraners, dobermans, chihuahuas, and greyhounds.

Big or Small? Size Matters
Many people think of themselves as big-dog people because small dogs have a reputation for being yappy, demanding, and more territorial than larger breeds. Much of this has to do with the way in which smaller breeds are allowed to behave. After all, letting an eighty-pound retriever jump up on guests is a good way to scare friends away from your house for good; letting a five-pound dachshund jump up is an annoyance at worst, or considered cute at best. Other than behavior—much of which can be controlled with proper training—however, there are pros and cons to a dog’s size.

  • Smaller dogs cost less to feed, crate, and provide for medically
  • Smaller dogs are more welcome by rentals or at hotels
  • Smaller dogs live longer
  • Large breeds, such as great danes and Newfoundlands, are among the most mellow
  • Large and medium dogs are better as exercise partners

How to Find Your Child’s Best Friend
Some breeds tolerate the noise and erratic behavior of children better than others do. Although I got my dog, a labrador retriever-Australian shepherd mix, before having children, it turns out that both breeds are known for their gentleness with kids. Over the years, she has tolerated “rides” on her back, being dressed up in hats, and having toddler mosh pits with Buddha-like equanimity. Other breeds to consider if small children are in your life include beagles, golden retrievers, Newfoundlands (the dog on which the writer J.M. Barrie based Peter Pan’s Nana), schnauzers, pugs, and, of course, border collies. Ironically, two of the worst breeds for young children have also been the stars of children’s blockbusters: dalmatians and chihuahuas. Both can be skittish with kids, and it doesn’t help that dalmatians are often hard of hearing. The breeds with the highest incidents of biting children are rottweilers, pit bulls, and chow chows.

City Dog
If you’re a city dweller who rents, you may want to go with a small-sized breed to please your landlord. Even if you own your place, small dogs are often preferred by urbanites because they are perceived to need less exercise and roaming space. A less common breed that has gained popularity among apartment dwellers is the basenji, which is easily trained and doesn’t bark. Other popular options are pugs, whippets, West Highland terriers, and toy poodles. Big breeds aren’t unheard of in cities, of course. Despite their size, mastiffs and Newfoundlands are both relatively sedentary breeds, although they do tend to drool!

Run, Dog, Run!
Some breeds need to play hard several times a day to be happy members of your family. If you’re looking for a running or cycling buddy, consider these high-octane breeds: all shepherd types, Siberian huskies, and German shorthair pointers. You don’t need to be a triathlete to exercise your dog, however. Any retriever breed will happily chase balls or sticks for hours. And dog parks allow animals to wear each other out while you watch proudly. If you’re less active, you might consider an older dog. Adopting a midlife or senior dog is a wonderful act of kindness and can provide you with a mellow friend. Surprisingly, greyhounds, a common rescue dog, can be very placid, content to have their running days behind them.

While it’s tempting just to pick a dog on its cute looks or big stature, taking a practical look at how the pooch will fit into your life and environment will make sure everyone is at ease.


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