There comes a time (sometimes more than once) in every dog lover’s life where you’ll find yourself wondering, “what kind of dog should I get?”. This simple question can immediately fill you up with excitement and anticipation, but it also comes with a touch of overwhelm. With over 200 dog breeds to choose from, and an infinite number of mixes, how do you figure out the best breed for you? As with most things in life, you start by educating yourself.
Why it’s a great idea to research breeds beforehand
Way back when, before they were our lovable companions and bed warmers, dogs had jobs. As peoples’ livelihoods often depended on it, it was essential that these dogs performed their jobs well.
Examples included herding the flock, guarding livestock, calming the horses, finding game, pulling carts, protecting the family, retrieving downed fowl, flushing rodents, killing vermin and much more.
For any given job, there would have been a particular set of attributes most beneficial for the dog to have in order to excel at their task. As a result, particular traits were intentionally bred for and over time, different breeds of dog developed.
You might be wondering why this all matters. Perhaps you’re planning on picking up your new best friend from a shelter instead of a breeder? Regardless of where your dog comes from, it’s useful to know what their heritage is (even if all that is, is a guess at their breed). It’s not easy to breed out hundreds of years of selective breeding, so while ‘working dogs’ are not as widespread as they were before, many dogs still have the innate tendencies of their ancestors. Due to the diverse nature of jobs that different breeds performed, breed sizes, coat types and natures too can vary dramatically.
You’ll thank yourself later, I promise
By familiarising yourself with dog breeds and breed groups, your are able to predict with more accuracy:
- How big your dog will get
- What sort of temperament your dog will have
- The coat type, length, colours and patterns
- How much exercise your dog will require
To maximise your chances of choosing the right dog for you, one who fits your lifestyle and preferences, it’s worthwhile familiarising yourself with at least the most common dog breeds. By doing this, you’ll be better prepared for what to expect, helping make the adoption process, and subsequent years, as smooth and delightful as you’ve envisioned.
Still not convinced? Imagine we’re talking about cars instead of dogs – would you recommend a Ferrari to someone who needs to transport cargo on a regular basis, or perhaps an 18-wheeler for a friend who needs a reliable commuter vehicle? Choosing a dog breed can be seen in a similar way – all car types have a suited purpose and ideal owner, and dogs breeds are no different.
What’s the best dog breed for me?
To start, ask yourself a few key questions (and do try to be honest, no one’s judging!)
- Have you had a dog before? While there’s no rule saying who’s allowed which breed, some dogs are better suited to inexperienced owners than others.
- How much do you currently exercise? Energetic dogs can become miserable and destructive with a sedentary owner. At the same time, you may not enjoy a couch potato for a dog if you want an active partner. As a word of caution, try not to tell yourself that you’ll exercise more when you get a dog. Rather prove it to yourself beforehand!
- How much free time do you have? While all dogs need ample attention, some are certainly needier than others, or more sensitive to being left alone.
- How much spare cash do you have? Sure all dogs cost money, but unfortunately, some breeds can be sicklier, and therefore more costly, than others. Stick with hardy breeds if you’d prefer to avoid vet visits.
Picture your ideal dog
Close your eyes and see yourself with your future pet, and then make a mental note on the following:
Your ideal dog’s size
A dog’s height is often given as a measurement to the top of their shoulder (referred to as the withers) and tends to range from 2.5 inches to 44 (6cm – 110cm). Their weight can range from 3lbs – 350+lbs (1.35kg-159+kg). The larger the dog, they more you end up paying for food, vet treatment, tools, accessories and grooming. Unfortunately, large dogs also tend to have shorter lifespans.
Your ideal dog’s coat
Dogs coats come in a wonderful variety of types, lengths, colours and patterns. Coats are available as smooth, curly, wiry, or corded and come single or double-coated. Fur lengths vary from none at all to floor length tresses. Colours range from solid white to silvers, blues, fawns, yellows, golds and reds right through to very dark browns and black. The different coats produce varying amounts of dander and loose fur throughout the day and require vastly different amounts of attention and maintenance.
Your ideal dog’s temperament, or personality
How would you like your dog to feel around strangers? Social and bouncy? Accepting, but otherwise neutral? Reserved? Suspicious?
How about children? Would you prefer a breed known for their patience and tolerance of small kids?
What about other dogs? Do you want a dog who loves all other dogs or one who’d rather ignore them and enjoy the company of humans?
Do you have other small pets? While many breeds can be trained to accept the family cat and other small furry critters, some dogs’ intense prey drives could make acclimation a real challenge.
How do you want your dog to interact with you? Do you want a dog who constantly wants to be near you, and watches your every move, or would you prefer a dog with more of an independent streak? Keep in mind, the more independent the breed, the more creatively you need to approach training. Often these dogs are labelled as less intelligent or stubborn, but that’s hardly fair – they’re just less interested in pleasing you! Alternatively, a Velcro-dog may really suffer if you spend many hours away from home (potentially taking it out on your house, or even himself).
How you do you envision spending time with your dog?
Do you see yourselves running, biking, hiking or swimming together? Perhaps you like the idea of participating in dogs sports like agility or flyball? On the other hand, maybe you’d rather have a willing partner for your evening strolls, followed my movies and cuddles.
How much exercise does your ideal dog need?
Similarly, how much time do you want to spend exercising your dog each day? All dogs need a chance to let off steam on a daily basis, but the amount and intensity vary dramatically. Some breeds were built to run, and become frustrated when they’re not given an outlet, causing them to make their own fun. Others are happy with a couple of hours of running and play before they’re ready to snooze. A few breeds out there love nothing more than relaxing and get their kicks from a mere stroll to the couch.
How do you feel about barking? What about slobber, howling, digging, yodelling or nipping? Many dog breeds come with their own idiosyncrasies, at times they can be entertaining, but it can also become a nuisance that requires dedication to train out or manage.
So what kind of dog should I get?
If you’re completely new to dog breeds, familiarise yourself with the different dog breed groups. Within each group you will find breeds that vary somewhat in size, temperament, coat, energy levels and trainability, however, they still tend to follow similar patterns of behaviour due to the nature of their shared history.
Start with breed groups
Terriers are powerful, sturdy dogs originally bred to pursue small animals like rabbits, rats and foxes, driving them out of their burrows.
Modern terriers are tenacious, fearless, intelligent and strong-willed. They tend to have high prey drive due to their history of hunting and killing vermin, and often require plenty of exercise and opportunities for mental release. Terriers are generally affectionate with their family, great fun for kids, and accepting of strangers, but can be combative with other dogs. These dogs are known to dig and bark if understimulated, and homes with small animals may require a careful introduction. With enough mental and physical stimulation, many terriers can do fine in an apartment, but nuisance barking can pose a problem.
Popular examples of terriers include Jack Russell Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers and Airedale Terriers.
Hounds are said to be the original hunting dogs and are home to some of the oldest dog breeds in recorded history.
Scenthounds live by their nose, always following a new odour. They can be harder to train and are easily distracted by rich odours in their environment, but they are often sweet with people, including children, friendly with other dogs and have plenty of stamina. Many are considered unreliable off-lead due to their tendency to blindly follow scents. Known for their iconic ‘bay’, some scenthounds can make challenging apartment dogs. Examples of scenthounds include Beagles, Bloodhounds, and Black and Tan Coonhounds.
Sighthounds are sleek, dignified and fast. Very independent in nature, sighthounds can be a challenge to train and are generally not reliable off-leash. On the other hand, they are often gentle and make clean, quiet companions requiring less exercise than many expect – their style is sudden sprints followed by a snooze on the sofa. Sighthounds tend to be reserved with strangers, but should not be hostile. They can make excellent apartment dogs. Examples include Greyhounds, Whippets and Afghan Hounds.
Through manipulation of dogs’ innate prey drive and ambushing capabilities, breeders of yore were able to develop capable shepherding partners in the form of a humble herding dog. Effectively, the desire to kill ambushed prey had to be bred out, to prevent mauling of valuable livestock, while the urge to chase had to remain strongly embedded.
Herding breeds show remarkable intelligence and trainability and are often the star performers in dog sports and working avenues.
Breeds found within this group tend to have high exercise needs and crave mental stimulation to keep their sharp minds satisfied. While temperaments do vary, herding dog breeds are loyal toward their families, often singling out one person in particular whom they look to the most, and do well with children if raised with them. However, they can be reserved with strangers and stand-offish with other dogs. It is highly recommended that new owners socialise their puppies well with outsiders and stable dogs in order to prevent shyness, fear or aggression later on.
Due to their high prey drive, herding breeds are known to chase anything that moves including cats, joggers, cyclists, skateboarders, cars and buses. In addition, nipping family members and visitors as a means of ‘herding’ shows up often if left unchecked. As a result, solid training and consistent rules from an early age are essential.
Popular examples of herding dogs include Border Collies, German Shepherds and Corgis.
Sporting dogs encompass to a diverse group of hunting dogs who aid gunmen in finding, flushing and retrieving birds and small game.
The sporting group is home to some of the most popular dog breeds around including setters, pointers, retrievers and spaniels. Highly intelligent and notoriously amiable, many sporting breeds make excellent first-time and family dogs to those who do their homework. In addition, a number of sporting breeds are social with strangers and other dogs, as aggression is largely bred against. In some cases, a high prey drive may require careful introduction with small, resident pets, however.
Sporting breeds tend to have high energy and ample stamina. Many require more than 2 hours of exercise per day, especially when young. Destructive chewing is a common characteristic in these dogs, so appropriate chewing outlets and plenty of physical and mental stimulation are crucial to a happy home. Fair and consistent training is highly recommended in order to manage and prevent roaming after wildlife. With enough mental and physical stimulation, many sporting breeds can do fine in an apartment. Like their herding counterparts, sporting breeds are no stranger to success in dogs sports and working roles.
Popular examples of sporting breeds include Labrador Retrievers, Cocker Spaniels and Vizslas.
Working group breeds were bred to perform important jobs like personal protection, sled pulling, water & mountain rescue work and property guarding. The roles themselves were diverse, and as a result, the dog breeds found within the working group are equally varied.
Many working group breeds are powerful, independent, intelligent and assertive, and thus widely considered unsuitable for inexperienced owners. Taking the time to socialise and train and these dogs is imperative, to prevent aggression and endangerment of others.
When well-bred, trained and socialised, working group dogs make outstanding family pets, and should accept strangers and other dogs without hostility, but don’t expect the warmth of a sporting dog. Working dogs are generally not social butterflies, preferring instead the attention and approval of their loved ones.
With enough mental and physical stimulation, many working breeds can do fine in an apartment, however, it’s advised that you avoid breeds originating from guarding and protection work, as the close the proximity of your neighbours may cause unnecessary headaches.
Popular examples of the working group include Rottweilers, Boxers and Siberian Huskies.
Dogs found in the toy group are iconic for their small size.
The history of toy breeds ranges from companion dogs bred over the ages to warm the hearts and laps of their owners to dogs bred down in size from their larger counterparts found in other breed groups including Poodles, Pinschers and Spitz. As a result, temperaments do vary wildly between toy breeds, but their size alone generally makes them ideal dogs for first-time owners and apartment dwellers.
Exercise needs tend to be low to moderate, and there are personalities and coat types to suit every potential owner, including those with allergies. Toy breeds often make excellent watchdogs due to their bright, alert dispositions. Some are prone to nuisance barking, but proper socialisation and training can keep this to a minimum. The small size means the cost of upkeep, boarding and veterinary care are but a fraction of what an owner of medium or large breed dog pays.
Popular examples of toy breeds include Chihuahuas, Papillons and Pugs.
Non-sporting breeds are especially diverse. It wouldn’t be fair to make any sweeping generalisations for this group at all, as their histories and temperaments do vary dramatically. Your best bet is to glance at a few breed profiles and familiarise yourself with breeds’ pasts, to make inferences on how they may behave in today’s world.
Popular non-sporting breeds include Dalmatians, Bulldogs and Chow Chows.
Which of these breed groups appeal to you the most?
Admittedly, the breed group summaries are just that – summaries. As a result, they do no justice to some of the truly remarkable breeds hidden within them.
That being said, based on the general traits of each group above, did you find any that jumped out at you? Perhaps one or two groups, in particular, appealed to you the most. If so, consider looking up individual breeds found within the group(s), to seek the dog who most fits the mould of your ideal companion.
A few breed suggestions to help you get started
If you still feel yourself asking the question “what kind of dog should I get?”, we’ve gotten the ball rolling below by suggesting a few breeds to suit a handful of common lifestyle situations. While there are often plenty of suitable breeds for any given person, wherever possible we’ve opted to make suggestions of dog breeds that are easier to find.
The best dog breeds for apartments
Look for breeds who tend to be quiet, and accepting of strangers so as to avoid territorial behaviour and complaints from neighbours. Greyhounds can make excellent apartment dogs due to their gentle, quiet natures and low aggression. Low exercise needs also make them a convenient apartment companion. Toy breeds, like Yorkshire Terriers, are ideal for apartment living due to their small size and relatively low exercise needs, but be sure to stay on top of nuisance barking. If you’re not put off by high energy breeds, sporting dogs like Labrador Retrievers can do fine too with physical outlets.
The best dog breeds for cat homes
The main thing to focus on if you have other small pets is breeds with low prey drives. Many toy breeds like Shih Tzus fit the bill, and make ideal companions for homes with cats. Bulldogs are often nonchalant about most animals they encounter and many of the herding breeds can be taught to accept cats without too much trouble if the cats are stoic – that is, the dogs won’t chase if the cat doesn’t run. Alternatively, you could get your new dog as a puppy and acclimate it to your resident cat if you’re concerned about an adult dog rescue hurting your beloved pet. Many breeds should be able to accept resident cats as part of the family if properly introduced and raised with them, barring those with the highest prey drives like Siberian Huskies and Alaskan Malamutes.
The best dog breeds for kids and families
Bomb-proof temperaments are the name of the game for families with children because while most dogs love kids they’ve been raised with, not all will accept your children’s friends! Look for breeds who are friendly with strangers and notoriously patient, like Golden Retrievers. Beagles are a great size for kids, as well as being sweet-tempered, with plenty of energy to keep up with their antics. Collies (not to be confused with Border Collies) are larger dogs but tend to have gentle, sensitive dispositions. They are less intense than other herding breeds, while still being easy to train. Like most herding dogs, Collies like to keep a watchful eye over their loved ones.
While breeds and breed groups go a long way to providing predictability, every individual dog still has their own nature, traits and quirks. In addition, your ability and dedication as a dog owner will dramatically influence how the story unfolds. It’s completely plausible for a novice to flawlessly raise and train a powerful working breed if they’ve properly educated themselves and taken the necessary precautions.
At the same time, some dogs seem to have missed the memo on how the rest of their kind behaves – you can find lazy Siberian Huskies, German Shepherds who love strangers, and Golden Retrievers who hate swimming. Instead of relying on the breed itself, work on observing the dogs and puppies you meet, and if possible, the parents of the dogs you meet, as parents are the strongest predictor of who your future dog will become. Good breeders only breed healthy, stable dogs that epitomise their breed, so be sure to only look at top-notch breeder if you’re dead set on getting a purebred puppy.
This has only been a taste of the many weird and wonderful dog breeds out there. If you’re interested in learning more, be sure to see our related posts.
- FEATURED IMAGE KRISTINE PAULUS/CC
- IMAGE OF BT COONHOUND STEFFAN HEINZ/CC
References and recommended reading:
- Goddard, M. E., Beilharz, R. G. (1986). Early prediction of adult behaviour in potential guide dogs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 15(3), 247-260.
- Gerstenfeld, S.L. (1999). Complete Guide To Dogs. Vancouver, BC: Chronicle.
- 6 Coat Types and How to Groom Them. Cowboy Magic. Retrieved from http://cowboymagic.com/
- Breed Information Centre. The Kennel Club. Retrieved from http://www.thekennelclub.org.uk/
- Dog Breeds. The American Kennel Club. Retrieved from http://www.akc.org/