by Marianne Walthier
When considering adding a canine companion to the family, it is important to find the right fit. One’s physical living space, activity level, work schedule and family unit (including other household pets) must all be considered. Furthermore, a knowledge of breed specific behaviors can be helpful. All dogs have behaviors in common, such as sniffing, barking, chasing and digging, but various breeds may have stronger inclinations towards one or another. There are several broad categories of breeds, and each group shares similar behaviors because they are bred for specific purposes. Nevertheless, regardless of breed, the most important factors in ensuring a successful partnership are socialization, regular exercise and positive reinforcement training.
General categories of breeds include working dogs (e.g., Akita, Siberian husky, malamute, Bernese mountain dog, Newfoundland, Saint Bernard, etc.) who are happiest when kept busy either with a job such as pulling sleds or on a search and rescue team or with a very active owner. If left alone for long periods of time, they may become destructive. For example, huskies require long daily walks and probably would not do well in an apartment with an owner who works all day.
Sporting breeds such as spaniels, Labradors, pointers and golden retrievers are great family companions and, for that reason, are among the most popular. They were originally bred to assist hunters in finding and retrieving game and are still widely used for that purpose. Some can be very high strung, but much has to do with socialization and breeding practices. For example, there is typically a big difference in the temperaments of field labs versus show labs.
Non-sporting breeds include any one of several breeds of different sizes, personalities and overall appearance that may have been developed to hunt or work, but today are bred for show or as pets. These breeds include, but are not limited to, the bichon frise, bulldog, dalmatian, keeshond and Boston terrier.
Terriers such as the schnauzer, Westie, Jack Russell, and wheaten are determined and tenacious as they were originally bred to hunt and kill vermin. As a result, they may harass your resident cat or bunny. Hounds like the basset, beagle, greyhound and coonhound will exhibit similar behaviors as they were bred to track prey by scent or sight. As with all breeds, consistent positive reinforcement training will help to make these breeds wonderful companions.
Herding dogs (e.g., Australian shepherds, Border collies, cattle dogs, crgis) were bred to work side by side with humans to drive cattle and sheep and keep them under control. Thus, they may do the same with small children. Because they are highly intelligent and used to working with humans, they may be easier to train but require more engagement. They need a lot of mental stimulation and physical exercise, and therefore do well in programs such as fly ball, frisbee, agility and the like.
Toys breeds (e.g., miniature poodle, Chihuahua, Maltese, dachshund, shih tzu) were bred for companionship and will likely claim your lap for long periods of time.
Some breeds are associated with protective behaviors and thus may do best in single owner homes. These include Akitas, German shepherds, rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, and even Chihuahuas. Because they have a tendency to be more fearful or guarded around strangers, it takes extra work early in life to well socialize these breeds.
Like people, dogs even of the same breed can have completely different personalities. When adopting a dog, it is often difficult to ascertain the breed. In fact, even if a dog primarily resembles a Labrador, he may have the DNA of a completely different breed(s). There are DNA tests that can identify the percentage of each breed within a specific dog, and some people find this fun and interesting. Among the most popular DNA test is the Wisdom Panel offered through Amazon for $83.00. However, oftentimes breed has very little to do with a dog’s temperament. Socialization and consistent, positive reinforcement training are the most important factors. Adoption counselors do their best to counsel prospective owners on the characteristics of the dogs at the shelter based on the dog’s history, if available, behavior at the shelter, temperament and energy level. A truthful assessment of your lifestyle will help to ensure a good match and thus a happy ending.
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