How to Choose a Dog

By: Dr. William Fortney

Adopting a Purebred Dog

Purebred means a dog whose ancestry can be traced back for generations through dogs with similar characteristics. The term "pedigreed" usually means a purebred dog has the paperwork to prove his breeding. Organizations like the American Kennel Club (AKC) run a registry of purebred dogs. If an AKC-registered male Pomeranian mates with an AKC-registered female Pomeranian, then the entire litter can be registered as purebred Pomeranians.

You might be interested in a purebred because you want a dog of a certain size or temperament, or you might have a hankering to hunt him or show him. Purebred dogs come in a variety of coat types, each of which has its own appeal. If you enjoy spending a lot of time with a dog and giving him hands-on attention, you'll probably take pleasure in a dog whose coat requires regular brushing or styling, such as the Golden Retriever, Maltese, or Poodle.


On the other hand, if you want to spend active time with your dog, you may prefer one with a short, easy-care coat. Buying a purebred dog offers you the opportunity to acquire a dog who has been bred not only for a specific look but also for health and temperament. Quite often the parents and sometimes even the grandparents of the dog can be examined for good health and compatible personalities.

A Matter of Breeding

You name the job, and dogs have probably been bred for it. Dogs have been specifically bred for dozens of tasks over thousands of years. We developed breeds to help us hunt, herd, or guard our flocks, protect our property and family, haul heavy loads, pull sleds or carts, and even do pest control duty. We even bred them tiny to be foot warmers and flea catchers. But no matter what the dog's original purpose, people soon learned a dog's number one skill is being man's best friend.

Today, it's a rare dog who fulfills his heritage as a worker, but all those generations of breeding for specific instincts still have a powerful effect on the dog's behavior. When you decide to bring a dog into your home, it's important to consider whether his instincts will match your lifestyle. For example, the Jack Russell Terrier is a cute little pooch who keeps turning up in films, TV shows, and commercials. He's a friendly and spunky little dog, but he's a terrier, a "ground dog."

Terriers were bred to dig out burrows and even go down them after critters like rabbits and foxes. If you have a prize garden, a terrier is bound to give it an unwanted relandscaping. As long as they're breathing, they'll be digging, too. Doing a little bit of homework on the original purpose of a breed will help you figure out if it fits with your home and lifestyle -- and help avoid an unhappy ending.

When you begin the quest to find just the right dog, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What size dog do you want, and is this size compatible with your living quarters?
  • How much time can you spend exercising/training/playing with a dog?
  • What types of activities will you enjoy with your dog? Is your lifestyle active or sedentary?
  • How much can you afford to budget for a good brand of dog food?
  • Do you have a yard or access to a nearby park where your dog can play?
  • How much time and effort can you devote to grooming your dog?

Which Breed is Right for You?The American Kennel Club divides dogs into seven groups: Sporting, Working, Terrier, Toy, Hound, Herding, and Non-Sporting. These divisions give you a rough idea of which breeds to consider first. For instance, if you enjoy hiking, jogging, or watersports, one of the Sporting dogs is likely to suit you best. These include well-known breeds such as Labradors and Golden Retrievers, Irish Setters, English Springer Spaniels, Cocker Spaniels, and Brittanies, as well as the lesser-known American and Irish Water Spaniels, English and Gordon Setters, the various pointing breeds, and English Cocker Spaniels.If your motivation for acquiring a dog includes protection as well as companionship, consider a Working breed such as the Doberman Pinscher, Boxer, or Standard Schnauzer. Although they tend to have gentle personalities, the size alone of a Great Dane or Newfoundland is enough to lend a feeling of security. These breeds also enjoy participating in various dog sports, such as sled-dog racing for Alaskan Malamutes, Siberian Huskies, and Samoyeds, or carting for Rottweilers, Bernese Mountain Dogs, and Saint Bernards.While Working breeds can be formidable protectors and wonderful friends, they are probably also the most independent-minded. Good, humane, consistent -- and preferably early -- obedience training is particularly important for these pooches. They are also very large dogs, so if your grocery budget is limited, you may want to consider breeds that are smaller but just as protective, such as Terriers and Toys.Terriers are well known as the farmer's best friend, keeping rats from the grain and foxes from the henhouse. These feisty dogs come in a variety of sizes, from the king-size Airedale to short-legged diggers like Cairn, Norfolk, and Norwich Terriers. The terrier propensity for barking and his protective attitude makes him a fine watchdog, but he can be a little overenthusiastic on this count, so proper training is important again. Since they come in a variety of sizes and coat types, there is a Terrier to suit just about any home.

When you think of a watchdog, a toy breed is probably the last one that leaps to mind, but size is not necessarily the only factor that qualifies a dog for this job. Toy breeds are alert, often the first to give the alarm when anyone approaches the house. Criminals admit it's a dog's bark, not his size, that deters them from breaking and entering.

Of course, the company these dogs provide is also a benefit of owning one of them. Toy dogs have been bred as companions for at least 2,000 years, and they will happily take their place in any home, large or small, as long as it contains a lap in which they can cuddle. From the Pug, a Mastiff in miniature, to the elegant Toy Poodle, it's hard to go wrong with one of these diminutive dogs.

Like the Sporting breeds, Herding breeds are suited to families with an active lifestyle. Dogs who were bred to herd are intelligent, independent, and love having a job to do. Teach them a skill, such as rounding up the family for dinner or picking up dirty laundry, and you will soon wonder how you ever did without them. Popular Herding breeds include Collies, German Shepherd Dogs, and Shetland Sheepdogs (Shelties). Because they are so smart, be aware you will need to begin training early to stay one step ahead of these dogs, but the results are well worth it.

Hounds are the classics of dogdom. Among the oldest of dog types, they include the Greyhound, the Bloodhound, and the Beagle. Hounds are divided into two groups: sighthounds and scenthounds. Sighthounds are built for speed and give chase to fleet-footed prey such as hares and antelopes. Scenthounds tend to move more slowly, using their marvelously sensitive noses to track game.

However, these defining characteristics are also the source of the major drawbacks to owning a hound. A sighthound is inclined to chase anything moving -- and not stop until it stops or the dog drops. Scenthounds will likewise follow a trail to the ends of the earth. A good fence, long walks on a leash, and patient, consistent training are absolute musts. The reward for your investment is a dog with a sweet personality and variety in appearance, from the smooth grace of the Whippet to the thick-coated Nordic look of the Norwegian Elkhound.

Finally, there are the Non-Sporting breeds. These dogs don't quite fit in any other category. While they may once have served people by guarding coaches -- like the Dalmatian -- or retrieving downed waterfowl -- like the Poodle -- today they are bred strictly as companions. The Non-Sporting breeds come in a variety of sizes, coat types, and personalities, so from the laid-back Bulldog to the proud Lhasa Apso, this group contains something for everyone.

Now let's look at the benefits of adopting a mixed breed dog. We'll tell you all you need to know in the next section.