There are many different TRAITS or CHARACTERISTICS that a dog might have.
- He might be small, medium-sized, or large.
- He might need lots of brushing, or not much brushing.
- He might shed a lot, or hardly at all
- He might need two hours of daily exercise, or only a couple of short walks.
- He might be a peaceful dog, or more on the pushy or aggressive side.
- He might be easy to train, or more stubborn.
Which dog breed traits are right for YOU?
Which dog breed traits would be best for you depends partly on which ones you find most appealing.
But only partly!
Which traits would be best for you also depends on whether you're able to DO whatever those traits require you to do.
For example, you might admire the athleticism and high energy of a Border Collie. But athleticism and high energy are only a good match for you if you can DO all the activities and exercise that athleticism and high energy requires.
Don't have the time? Then athleticism and high energy aren't good matches for you – and you're not a good match for an athletic, high-energy dog – no matter how "appealing" you find him.
People often make the mistake of thinking that the only thing that counts when choosing a dog is whether he meets THEIR needs. And that's simply not fair.
You also have to consider the DOG'S needs, and whether you're able to provide for those needs or not. Every dog has different needs.
- Some dogs need a home without children or cats.
- Some dogs need an extra high fence to keep them confined.
- Some dogs need rigorous socialization and training to prevent aggression.
- Some dogs need an experienced owner who knows how to handle dominance or stubbornness.
So for each dog breed trait, don't just ask yourself if you LIKE that trait. Also ask yourself: "What does this trait REQUIRE from me....and can I do that?"
Dog breed traits to consider, when choosing a dog
You shouldn't choose the size of dog you "want" – you should choose the size of dog you're sure you can provide for. For example:
- TINY dogs are difficult to keep safe. The leading cause of death in tiny dogs is accidents. They get stepped on, sat on, squeezed too tightly, or hit on the head by a falling object. They fall or jump from too high. They're injured by larger dogs playing too rough. They squeeze through the narrowest openings and are lost forever.
- TINY dogs can be difficult to raise and train. You have to walk a fine line being extra-careful about their safety, yet requiring them to stand on their own four feet and be as polite and well-behaved as a larger dog. Spoiling a tiny dog (carrying him around like a doll or baby, making excuses for him if he acts rudely or defiantly) will turn him into a yappy, neurotic, nasty little creature.
- TINY dogs are hard to housebreak. Their miniaturized organs make it hard for them to last very long without needing to go to the bathroom, and often the urge comes on them so quickly that they can't make it to their potty area. In addition, their "mistakes" are hard to see. If they can sneak behind a chair or under the coffee table to "go", they quickly develop the bad habit of "going" in the house. Some tiny dogs are never fully housebroken.
Can you provide the safety, caution, discipline, and patience that TINY dogs need? If not, you might be better off with a dog who is a little bit larger – SMALL instead of TINY.
At the other extreme, GIANT dogs are impressive companions IF you have enough space for them to move around comfortably, IF you can physically handle a huge dog, and IF you have plenty of patience, because Giant dogs take a very long time to grow up. They act like puppies and teenagers for 2 or 3 years, which means they're bouncy and clumsy and tend to knock things over. They settle into calm, mature adults for another 2 or 3 years, and then develop serious health problems such as cancer or heart disease. They age rapidly, and pass on at 6 to 10 years old.
Can you provide the space, control, and patience that GIANT dogs need? Can you deal with (and pay for) their health problems as they mature? Are you prepared for their short lifespan?
With some dog breeds, like Beagles, you need only brush dirt and loose hair from their short coat.
Other breeds, like Golden Retrievers, require brushing and combing every week to prevent mats and tangles, plus some trimming.
Dog breeds with a long coat, like a Maltese, require a dedicated brushing and combing routine every other day or so, else their coat will be a painful matted mess. Alternatively, you can have long coats sheared short every few months so they're easy to brush – but you must commit to having this done.
And some coats (like Poodles, Bichons, Cocker Spaniels, Miniature Schnauzers) require significant trimming and clipping multiple times a year.
Again, this is an example of how you shouldn't choose a coat just because it appeals to you. Ask yourself: "Can I really commit to the amount of care it's going to need?"
Wouldn't most of us prefer a non-shedding dog? For many years I had German Shepherds, one of the worst shedding breeds of all. Although I loved them dearly, I must admit that I don't want that much shedding now. In fact, I'd like no shedding at all, but the only breeds that don't shed at all are hairless breeds.
Every other breed sheds. Yes, every breed. If a dog has any hair or fur at all, that hair or fur has a life cycle where it grows, dies, falls out, and is replaced with new growth. The same thing happens with your own hair. So unless you're willing to get a hairless dog, stop looking for a non-shedding dog. There aren't any.
But some breeds definitely shed more or less than other breeds! Unfortunately, there are only about a half dozen dog breeds that shed very lightly – these are the best breeds for allergy sufferers. Then there are about two dozen breeds that shed lightly – some allergy sufferers do okay with these breeds, too, while other allergy sufferers don't.....sorry.
The majority of dog breeds are average shedders, which means that in our temperature-controlled houses, they shed very small amounts of hair all through the year PLUS a heavier 3-week shedding period each spring and fall.
Finally, some breeds are heavy shedders. These fall into two categories: constant heavy shedders who shed a moderate amount 365 days a year, and seasonal heavy shedders, who shed small amounts of hair throughout the year, and then so much hair during their spring and fall shedding seasons that the chunks need to be raked out with a dedicated shedding brush.
More dog breed traits...
Amount of exercise required – this is where so many owners make a bad choice....some breeds absolutely must have a great deal of exercise, else they will be impossible to live with
Recommended fence height – some breeds are athletic jumpers or climbers and require a 6-foot (or higher) fence
Attitude toward strangers – breeds who tend to be suspicious, aloof, or introverted require more socialization than outgoing breeds
Attitude toward other dogs
Attitude toward cats and other small creatures
Trainability – many owners overestimate their training skills and find themselves with a breed who is "too much dog" for them to handle, i.e. too dominant or stubborn
There are about 200 purebred dog breeds in the United States, plus lots of crossbreeds and mixes. As you research each breed, you should compare how well the breed seems to match you – and how well YOU match the breed – in the traits listed above.
If you don't want to do all of this research on your own, if you want some assistance....
I do offer a Dog Breed Consulting Service, where you answer questions about the characteristics you're looking for in a dog and I'll recommend suitable breeds for you.