Who’s who in the dog world?

No matter what your style, a dog is a dog, whether it’s a purebred from champion lines or a mixed breed of unknown heritage (also known as a mutt). They all have the same needs – companionship, exercise, good food, health, comfort and a safe place to live.

Some people have their hearts set on a certain breed, while others cherish mutts or mixes with no pedigree but plenty of love to give. Regardless of which you choose, the most important thing is that you select a dog that suits you and the members of your household, your lifestyle and living situation.

dreamstime mutt pupCross-breeds and mixed breeds

Cross-breeds are a mix of two purebreds. Mixed breeds, also known as mutts or “Heinz 57s”, are of mostly unknown heritage. Mixes and crosses are generally considered healthier than purebreds because they have greater genetic diversity. If a lovable mutt is your style, there are lots of them waiting for you at humane societies, SPCAs, rescues, and municipal pounds.

The term “designer dog” refers to cross-breeds with catchy names that become all the rage, such as Labradoodle (Labrador Retriever crossed with Standard Poodle), Puggle (pug/beagle), and Schnoodle (Schnauzer/miniature poodle). There has been an explosion of designer dogs in recent years, largely fueled by media attention at the catchy names and the celebrities acquiring them. With the popularity and intrigue come ridiculously inflated prices. Why pay thousands of dollars for a “designer” cross breed when you can adopt from a shelter and save a life at the same time?

The purebred option

If you have your heart set on a particular breed, please do your research to make sure this breed is a good fit for you, your lifestyle and your household.   Like many things in life, looks can be deceiving, so don’t make your decision based on appearance alone. Consider energy levels, behaviour traits and personalities and be sure to meet several dogs of the breed before making a final decision.

Buying from a breeder? Be careful!

If you plan to buy from a breeder rather than adopting from a shelter or rescue, proceed with caution. There are many shoddy breeders out there who don't bother to screen dogs for common genetic disorders before breeding them, keep them in substandard or downright filthy living conditions, or neglect their dogs terribly.

Click here to learn what really good breeders do.

A good place to start is to learn about the different groups of dog breeds established by the kennel club. The breeds in each group have been bred for a similar purpose, so they will have somewhat similar personalities and behaviours. Learning about each group will help you narrow down your choice by identifying which groups of breeds would be best for you, and which would be better to steer clear of.

Here’s a description of the seven breed groups recognized by the Canadian Kennel Club, adapted from the CanaDogs.com website:

Bob and CopperSporting Dogs: Sporting dogs were originally bred to find, flush out and retrieve game birds on land and in water. This group is mostly made up of the pointer, setter, spaniel, and retriever families of dogs. They are intelligent hunting companions that are usually willing, trainable, playful, and very energetic. Some have been used as guide dogs.  Sporting dogs vary in size with spaniels being the smallest, and are generally popular with children as pets. Most of these dogs need a lot of exercise and human companionship and may not be suitable in households where the people are gone all day.

Hounds: Hounds were bred for hunting/tracking people or game ranging from badgers, foxes, and rabbits to wolves and lions using their eyesight or sense of smell. They are independent characters used to working alone. Easily distracted by movement or interesting scents, they may be a training challenge as they are keen hunters. Sighthounds follow their prey by sight and can run like the wind. Scenthounds use their noses to track their prey. Hounds range in size from the tiny Dachshund to the massive Irish Wolfhound. Some of these dogs require minimal exercise while others need a large, enclosed running space.

Working Dogs: Working dogs are the guard and draft workers, originally bred to work alongside their humans. They have been used as sled dogs, guarding and protection dogs for livestock and people, and guiding and rescuing dogs. These dogs are territorial, strong, and confident and require a similarly strong-willed master.  The dogs in this group were bred to work and they are happiest when they’ve got a job to do. This group of dogs includes many of the large and giant breeds. Many make excellent pets, being fiercely loyal and intelligent. However, for some, the demands of their size, strength and protective instincts require careful consideration and experienced owners. Some may not be suitable with young children.

terrier w. collarTerriers: Independent, spunky, tough, and determined, the terriers were bred to hunt rats and other vermin by going into their burrows after them. Tenacious terriers have also been used for guarding, pit fighting, and especially hunting small predators such as badgers, foxes, and rabbits. They are relentless and know no fear or pain when on the job. Terriers have been described as having “a big dog personality in a small dog body”. They are a high-activity dog and are therefore not for everyone.  Terriers can be a great match for those with allergies as many of these dogs have wiry but non-shedding coats.  Properly trained and socialized, they can make good house pets, but remember, they love to dig – and bark!

Toys: Miniature or “toy”dogs were bred by people as pets, to be companions and lap dogs. Due to their small size, they are sensitive to extremes of heat and cold and rely on human care to survive. Toys require less exercise than most other breeds and tend to be long lived, affectionate and adaptable. They make an ideal pet in situations where keeping any other dog would seem impossible. Toys range in size from approximately one pound to eighteen pounds. They can be very high-strung and may not be suitable in households with boisterous young children.

Herding Dogs: Developed mainly as sheep and cattle herders (who keep the flock together) or drovers (who drive them to market), the dogs in this group have worked alongside their humans for centuries. Breeds in this group include collies, shepherds and corgis. They are very intelligent and make natural watchdogs. They vary in size from small to large and many have thick, double coats that protect them in all sorts of weather. These breeds are popular as pets because of their obedience and willingness to work. These animals are active dogs that love to work and are eager to please. Owners must be prepared to find channels for their abundant energy. Remember, these dogs will herd anything — even the kids — if they have nothing else to do.

Non-Sporting Dogs: This group has the largest variety of dogs as it functions as a collection of breeds that are hard to classify in one of the other groups. They may be dogs that used to perform vital tasks that are no longer required such as the Dalmatian. They may be dogs like the Bulldog used years ago in the now-illegal game of bull-baiting. Many of these dogs were companions or watch dogs. With such a variety of animals, this group has likely got something for everyone.

Here are some links to learn more about specific breeds and which ones would be a good match for you:

Bred to the extreme

Humans created the many breeds of dogs we now have, and each breed has a “breed standard” that describes the breed’s appearance, inherent characteristics and temperament. Unfortunately, some breed standards are so extreme and unnatural that they actually cause significant health problems.

For example, Bassett Hounds and Dachsunds have such long bodies and short legs that they are prone to back problems. The wrinkled Shar Pei might look cute, but is prone to chronic skin problems.

One of the most extreme cases is the English Bulldog, which suffers from a condition called “Brachycephalic syndrome”. Their massive head, very short muzzle and pushed-in face (as described in the breed standard) causes obstruction to their airways, resulting in breathing problems, especially when it’s hot or when they exercise.  To learn more about this and other genetic disorders, click here.

PugOther Brachycephalic breeds include the pug, Boston terrier, Pekingese, Cavalier King Charles spaniel, Chinese Shar Pei, French Bulldog, Lhasa Apso, and Shih Tzu.

Brachycephalic syndrome causes these dogs to snuffle and snort, but can also cause gagging, fainting, sleep disorders, heart troubles, and gastrointestinal problems. English Bulldogs in particular also have great difficulty breeding naturally, and whelping puppies usually requires a caesarian delivery due to the extreme head size.

> Next up: Finding your Fido

 

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