Selecting a Dog Breed

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.
Brachycephalic pug. (Photo credit: Pleple2000 via Wikimedia Commons)
Brachycephalic pug (Photo credit: Pleple2000 via Wikimedia Commons)
  • 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.
Can you tell what this dog is feeling? (Photo credit: Nikki68 via Wikimedia Commons)
Can you tell what this dog is feeling? (Photo credit: Nikki68 via Wikimedia Commons)

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*
Yes, these toy dogs are adorable, but if you have kids, you shouldn't be havin' ese. (Get it? Havanese.) (Photo by Cartman0052007 via Wikimedia Commons)
Yes, these toy dogs are adorable, but if you have kids, you shouldn’t be havin’ ’em. (Get it? Havanese.) (Photo by Cartman0052007 via Wikimedia Commons)
  • 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.

By Moretta

Moretta will take that applause. Her Twitter is

18 replies on “Selecting a Dog Breed”

Yeah, as much as I love German Shepherds and Corgis, they’re both known for being energetic and smart. Great for youtoobs, but not so great for moderately-active people. BUT greyhounds show up on several “companion” breed lists, so if I can afford a rescue, I’ll look into one of those fast lazy bums (especially if I have a fenced-in yard). Otherwise, SPCA personality matching service! (Yep, mine does that — it’s neat:

Will you do a post about what to expect with puppies? We have Bassets, and I can’t tell you how many people with Basset puppies have asked us when the puppy will start sleeping all day. I would imagine that many dogs end up in shelters or with problem behaviors because people don’t understand that puppies are, well, puppies. Or have you already done this and I forgot?

I agree with every word, but I would go a step further with regard to babies and dogs. If there is any remote chance in the universe that you might have a baby within the next few years, DO NOT GET A DOG! At all! Just don’t do it. I know you see all those cute pictures of babies cuddled up with cute doggies and think how cute it is that they will grow up together. The reality is that rescue groups constantly see wonderful, loving dogs tossed aside in the most callous manner by new parents who suddenly develop fictional allergies, or imagine that their baby has an allergy, or might inhale a dog hair and die, or whatever. However much they loved their dog before, suddenly that dog is treated like garbage. Don’t be one of these people.

I hate people like this. I see it all the time, and it infuriates me. Shit happens, and sometimes you have to make terrible choices, but the fact that there are people out there (and I have met them) who are like, “Well, I have a baby now, so I don’t want/need/have time for the dog. Bye Dog!” make me feel sick. I fully agree with your general sentiment, but I would modify it a little bit, to say that you really need to take a serious look at yourself and your life if you’re thinking about having a kid in the couple years. Are you devoted to the management that kid + dog requires? If not or if you’re unsure, then rethink your puppy/kitty plan. And if you do end up having to make that choice, do the right thing. You got a pet, presumably to love it, care for it, and give it the best home possible. Don’t just dump it, find a good home for your furball, at least out of respect for the commitment you’ve failed to live up to.

This is such great advice, especially the idea of planning for a dog and a baby if you’re going to have both. The shelter where I volunteer gets SO MANY good dogs whose people dump them because they’re “too busy” with kids to care for them.

I had serious doggy-fever about a year before I was able to adopt one, so I applied my reference librarian skillz to doing a mountain of breed research. Of course, when the time came we found a complete grab-bag of a mutt who the shelter had next to no information on, only that he was brought in because “he keeps escaping”. They called him a Lab/Husky mix, and then we tried a DNA test, but all we got was a report of “Ehh… he’s a Lab/Chow/Golden Retriever/Samoyed… probably?”. Thankfully for us as new dog owners, the only Chow-ish parts of him are a blue-spotted tongue and a curly tail, temperament-wise he’s all Lab/Golden lovebug (yes, this is just an excuse to post a picture of the best puppy in the world).

I picked out a smaller cute one who seemed quiet, and never thought to do breed research. (That’s a thing?) I definitely wish I had because the more I learn about the breed she’s suspected to be, the more I realize that she was not meant to be an apartment dog. Looking at major life changes to keep her happy. (But I love her, so forget ALL THE HATERS.) Sorry. I had a moment.

At any rate, a pregnant friend went out and got two dachshunds from a single litter (which, bad idea there) but the dogs are VERY undersocialized, plus new baby. It makes me really, really nervous.

Awwwwwwwwwwww *blushes* Fenced in backyard is a huge consideration. I really think that having space + not being able to see people coming into her building constantly would help her get off the drugs, because she wouldn’t be constantly nervous and creating “anxiety paths” to run when she freaks out.

I honestly don’t know how people have apartment dogs. People obviously can do it, and I’ve adopted out to people in apartments, but a fenced yard and limited noise from the neighbors is magical. I’m way too lazy to be an apartment dog owner.
Good luck finding somewhere awesome!

Leave a Reply