So you know what you need to know, you know your life is suitable for a dog, and you’ve decided how you’ll get your dog. Now you need to select the dog you are interested in getting.
First, let me clarify that when we speak of dog breeds, we’re not necessarily speaking about purebred dogs. We’re talking about dogs that appear to be predominantly one breed. We’re also talking about breed characteristics, but there is no substitute for meeting these dogs in person and, ideally, talking to people who know these dogs.
Things to Consider When You’re Picking a Breed
- What were they originally bred to do? Many small breeds were originally vermin hunters, and they have the energy that job takes. If you’re a true couch potato, stick to older or companion breed dogs. That might mean a bigger dog than your originally envisioned.
- What’s your home like? What’s your home going to be like in 5-10 years? A mastiff may be incredibly low energy, but that doesn’t mean that a 100+ lb dog isn’t going to make your tiny apartment feel crowded. Many breed information sites list the ideal type of home for that breed, and you should try not to deviate too much. If you’re planning some big life changes, think about that, too. Don’t adopt a Chihuahua right before you decide to have kids.
- How expressive is this breed? If you’re a novice dog owner, dogs with characteristics that limit their ability to communicate, such as docked or corkscrew tails, fluffiness, extremely floppy ears, or brachycephalic (flat faced) characteristics may not be the best choice. If they have many of these characteristics, you’ll have to work hard to quickly learn your dog’s most obvious body language cues, and if they’re forced to deviate from normal body language in many ways, it can get tricky. Long hair can effectively hide a silent snarl, and raised hackles aren’t even an option. Basset ears are basically useless for communication. If you’re still looking at parts individually to make a body language call, make things easy on yourself.
- How much grooming am I willing to do? Groomers are expensive, and shaving your own dog is a pain. Training an adult dog to tolerate brushing can be a pain, too. All coat types require some grooming, but there is a big difference between a wash now and then, and professional hair cuts more regular than yours.
- What type of health problems is this breed prone to, and can I handle them? This is especially true of dogs with breed characteristics that are essentially deformities. Dachshunds are incredibly prone to disk disease and partial paralysis due to their elongated spines. Those goofy looking smushed-faced breeds are dangerously intolerant of temperature extremes and prone to breathing, eye, and dental issues. All dogs may develop health issues, but it’s good to know what you’re likely to encounter before you adopt.
- Are there insurance concerns or breed-specific legislation in your community? Some insurance companies won’t insure certain breeds. You can’t skip these steps.
Sites Where You Can Research Dog Breeds
Unfortunately, a lot of the sites where you research breeds have an underlying sales component, so keep that in mind. Also, we do NOT recommend the training tips on any of these sites. We haven’t reviewed them all, and we have seen some things we don’t agree with. This recommendation is just for breed research.
- We’re…not fans of the AKC, but they do have a very extensive list of breeds.
- DogBreedInfo is very complete, but keep in mind that they have some sales bias (as indicated by the ridiculous number of designer hybrid breeds they have listed).
- DogTime has a really fantastic amount of info on this. I spot checked it (get it?) using the Chow Chow description and thought it was very realistic.
- Once you’ve picked a few breeds to focus on, breed specific rescue sites will usually be more honest about their potential downsides than a breeder’s site or other places breed lovers might go to fan girl . Do a Google search for these phrases: “reasons why people give up (breed name),” “so you want to adopt a (breed name),” and “so you want to get a (breed name).” Those phrases are the most frequently used. When I typed in “reasons people give up German Shepherds,” I found this beautiful, beautiful resource.
Breed Cheat Sheet
Here is a cheat sheet of dogs as a rule of thumb. Again, these are no substitute for meeting a dog in person.
- If you have kids, steer away from: Chihuahuas, cocker spaniels, chow chows, Shiba Inus, toy dogs*
- If you don’t like loud noise, steer away from: hounds, beagles, pomeranians
- If you are a couch potato, avoid: Siberian huskies, border collies, collies, Jack Russell terriers
- If you want an affectionate dog, steer away from: chow chows, Shiba Inus, akitas
*When it comes to the toy dogs, I am begging you — PLEASE don’t get one if you have kids. Most toy breeds are fragile, and even if your children are special, special snowflakes who are gentle and thoughtful at all times, their friends aren’t going to be. I get the need for a small dog, I do. But you want a small dog, NOT a tiny one. Toy breeds have tiny, thin, bones that are prone to breaking, tend to burrow underneath blankets and get sat on and injured without constant checking, and are small enough for very small children to pick up, drop, or otherwise injure very innocently. If you must have a smaller dog, there are some tougher mixes of more sturdily built small hunting breeds with lower energy lap dogs that may possibly be a better fit with children, depending on which characteristics the dog got and her individual temperament. If a dog is prone to broken bones from normal play behavior, it is absolutely 100% inappropriate for a home with children.
Finally, A Note
So many people do this that I’m going to cut to the chase. I don’t care where you are in your life, but if there is REMOTELY a possibility that you are going to have a baby in your life in the next decade, BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF AND GET A CHILD-FRIENDLY DOG BREED. Too many people select a challenging dog breed and then find themselves having enormous problems a few years down the road when they have children. When that happens, you’d be amazed at how many people cut loose their dog without trying ANYTHING. Not one damn thing. PLEASE don’t be one of those people. It is immensely selfish and cruel. And honestly, we do get it that some dogs are bad risks with children despite your best efforts. But try to reduce that risk, PLEASE.