Take the guesswork out of choosing a dog, part 2

Posted: Friday, June 18, 2004

Doggie Do'sBy Linda Shipman

Are you thinking of adding a dog to your family? Perhaps Rover is getting on in years, or maybe you think a dog would be a good companion for the kids?

When choosing your next dog, you may want to consider breed-specific size, temperament, exercise and grooming requirements. Even if you consider a mixed breed from Gastineau Humane Society, ask its staff or your vet about the breed makeup of your potential family member. Can you meet its needs and will it be compatible with your lifestyle? A little research will save you and your future dog a lot of grief!

The American Kennel Club divides breeds into groups based on their functions. Sporting, working, hound, terrier, herding and toy dogs are some of the categories.

The sporting breeds were originally bred to serve as gundogs to point, flush, retrieve or track fowl.

They range in size. Spaniels stand about knee-height, and weigh 25 to 40 pounds. The mid-sized retrievers stand mid-thigh and weigh 55-70 pounds. The pointers and setters can stand as high as your thigh, and weigh 45-75 pounds.

Sporting dogs, as a group, are often described as intelligent, friendly, eager to please, affectionate, energetic, happy, alert, gentle, enthusiastic and good with kids.

They require daily vigorous exercise or long walks, runs or swims. While some sporting dogs can live a city life in apartments, they all need daily exercise.

With the exception of the Cocker Spaniel, most are easy to groom, though all need daily or weekly brushing.

The hound breeds' original purpose was to hunt game. They may be referred to as scent or sight hounds, depending on how they locate their prey.

Hounds vary in size from the tallest of all dogs, the hip-high Irish Wolfhound, weighing in at 105-120 pounds, to the Basenji and Dachshund, who stand at or below the knee and weigh less than 30 pounds.

Some of these breeds may appear somewhat aloof with strangers, but they are devoted, loyal and affectionate with their families. A number of these breeds were hunted in packs and are especially good around other dogs.

As a group, hound breeds should never be allowed to roam without supervision. A wise owner exercises their hound on leash and has a fenced backyard. These are natural hunters who single-mindedly follow their nose or eyes in pursuit of their prey, without regard to your pleas to return.

Other than the Borzoi, Basenji and whippet, many of these breeds are distinctively known for their baying or barking voices. Make sure you're comfortable with the sound before inviting one into your family!

Other than the Afghan hound, most of these breeds have coats that are easy to care for, though most require weekly brushing to help with shedding.

The working group dogs were originally bred to assist humankind. This included pulling into a harness; guarding home, possessions or people; herding and hunting; and in the water as lifesavers and as fish herders/boat messengers.

Breeds you might recognize are akita, malamute, Bernese mountain dog, boxer, mastiff, schnauzer, great dane, Newfoundland, rottweiler, Saint Bernard, Portuguese water dog and husky.

These breeds are generally large-sized. The largest come to hip/waist level and can weigh in between 100-150 pounds. Because of their size, weight and strength, they may not be appropriate as pets for the average family, unless the dogs are obedience trained from a very early age.

Many of the breeds in the group, because of their original purpose, are aloof and reserved with strangers, yet gentle and affectionate with their families, and especially tolerant and protective of the family's children. Common adjectives used to describe the working group breeds are: alert, dignified, courageous, fearless, calm, loyal, intelligent and self-confident.

Most of these breeds need moderate to vigorous exercise. Most should be brushed out weekly, with a few needing more extensive grooming.

A few caveats: 1) female dogs are usually smaller than male dogs; 2) genetic traits may be somewhat modified by the dam's nurturing and breeder's care; 3) poorly thought out breedings, whether pure or mixed, may result in timid, fearful, nervous, flighty or aggressive dogs and 4) individual dogs may vary considerably from the above descriptions.

If you're interested in a specific group or breed, check http://www.akc.org/breeds/recbreeds/group.cfm for more information. To do further research, conduct a web search on the breed's national club. Read these descriptions carefully, for couched within them are clues to what your potential family member will be like.

Available in our public libraries are AKC's The Complete Dog Book, Good Dog, Bad Dog by Mordecai Siegel and a video, "The Right Companion: A Guide to Choosing the Perfect Dog."

In a future column, we'll cover the terrier, toy and herding groups.

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