Occasionally, I receive emails from people who are looking for the right kind of dog for them. Sometimes they are inquiring about getting a dog for the purpose of training him or her to be a therapy dog. Sometimes they just want a dog for themselves as a companion or as the family pet. It’s neither a question to be taken lightly, nor the answer a simple one.
I’m always glad to hear that a person is thinking enough about it to email me for advice. There is nothing worse than deciding on a whim that you’d like to have a dog – for yourself, for your kids, or whatever – and run out and get one because you saw a person walking in the parking with an elegant looking Afghan Hound or watched sheep herding trials and thought those Border Collies were amazing. You didn’t stop to consult with a book on dog breeds, a website, or a knowledgeable person who deals with dogs, you just went online and found someone who had a litter ready to go.
As I sat watching the Westminster Dog Show on TV last Monday and Tuesday night listening to *David Frei, known for many years as the voice of Westminster, announce and describe each breed as dog and handler were being judged, this often neglected question came to mind. David Frei has done an excellent job each year at this show describing to viewers what each breed is like – bred to herd sheep, great family dog, makes a good therapy dog, requires a lot of grooming or a lot of exercise, and so on. If listening to David both nights of the Show, the viewer would come away with a basic knowledge on each of the 187 breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club. With David offering this information, it would be wise to keep a paper and pencil by your side taking notes. To learn even more, one can go to the American Kennel Club (akc) website: www.akc.org and check out the wealth of information there, along with a directory of breeders to contact.
Even if you’re not interested in getting a pure bred dog and want to give a good home to a mix-breed dog up for adoption at a shelter, knowing the traits of the various breeds that make up the mix in the dog can guide you in making an informed decision about your choice. Perhaps a Rottweiller/Chow mix wouldn’t be ideal for your children, or a Great Dane/Shepherd mix too large for apartment living. Size, grooming and exercise requirements should all play a part in your decision making.
Once you have read about the different breeds and narrowed the field to a few (or perhaps you are able to zero in on the exact breed for yourself), it’s a great idea to head to one of the many AKC dog shows held around the country each year. A schedule of shows can be found on the AKC website. Watch your selected breeds in the show ring and go to the grooming areas where the breeders and handlers are set up. Breeders are always happy to talk about the virtues of their breed. Be up front and tell the breeders why you want to get a dog. They will be the first to tell you their breed isn’t suitable for someone with allergies, for example. They want to be sure their dogs end up in the right home situation.
I once thought I wanted a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. I have always had medium/large dogs and decided I wanted a small dog (in addition to my beloved English Setters) to use for therapy dog work in certain environments, like hospitals. I watched the Cavaliers in the show ring and spoke with a breeder after showing was over. She invited me to visit her home and meet all her dogs. I took her up on her invitation and spent the afternoon visiting with her darling, friendly, cuddly Cavaliers, sitting out on her patio sipping iced tea and learning about the breed. She was immediately upfront in telling me about all the health problems associated with the breed. These were serious health problems not to be taken lightly. And, in short, they are not a long-lived breed. She does this because she wants people to know what they are getting into when they buy one of her precious dogs. Along with their cuteness may come, not just the regular vet bills, but some very steep medical bills, as well. I thanked her for her time and all the in-depth information she gave me and for the chance to spend several hours hanging out with the dogs. I went home and spent a lot of time thinking about what I had learned. Now, had my heart taken over in this important decision, I would have added my name to her puppy list and put down a deposit right away, but my voice of experience and wise judgment kept creeping in. We have always had at least 2-3 dogs in our household at a time. That, in itself, results in a pretty hefty annual vet tab. Our breed of the last 24 years has been English Setters that are prone to various cancers. So, to add the almost certainty of serious health issues with a Cavalier, caused me to take pause. I deliberated for several days, then made my decision not to get a Cavalier, in spite of all their marvelous personalities traits.
Now, I have three friends with Cavaliers that love the little dogs so much, that they are willing to deal – both emotionally and financially – with the downside associated with that breed. Bottom line, the decision is up to the individual, as it should be. Just a word to the wise: DO YOUR HOMEWORK before jumping into a lifelong commitment. Be fair to the dog and to yourself. Dogs don’t deserve to end up unwanted and up for adoption.
*This was David Frei’s last year as announcer of the Westminster Dog Show.