Ask the Dog Guide: Help Choosing a Breed

August 18th, 2008 by Dan

Question:I’m trying to narrow down a dog search and looking for these qualities in a breed: Medium size (25-45 lb), short hair, people-oriented, active, playful (but very trainable), friendly to small children, tolerant, robust health, lifespan 14 years or more, would thrive on farm life & not be instinctively inclined to chase livestock. I anticipate looking for a breed in a rescue or mixed dog from a

A small spaniel runs toward the camera, with a flock of sheep eyeing her from the background.

A small spaniel runs toward the camera, with a flock of sheep eyeing her from the background.

Photo by Andy Fitz

Answer: As I’m sure you know, all dogs are individuals, and a breed’s temperament is not always the same or even similar from dog to dog. However, narrowing your search down to a few possible breeds known for the characteristics you’re seeking and then looking for an individual dog who suits your needs is smart, so long as you don’t overlook mutts of no recognizable breed who fit all your requirements. That said, I have a few suggestions for you.

First, have you considered a Pit Bull? While some breeders are producing gargantuan dogs of over 100 pounds and calling them “Pit Bulls,” this breed is traditionally between 35 and 50 pounds. Responsible breeders do still produce smaller Pitties, and there is no shortage of Pit Bulls of both the inappropriately large and the traditional smaller size in shelters and breed rescues.

When the first Pit Bull type dogs were brought from England to North America, they came with pioneers who needed approximately the type of dog that you describe. Settlers in the United States, particularly the American West, valued their Pit Bulls highly for their ability to keep a man’s wife and children company while guarding the property from intruders and livestock from predators while the man of the house was away. American Pit Bull Terriers were bred to be loving and docile with children and stock, as well as easily trained and willing to protect their home and family if need be. While most people know that Pit Bulls were used for dog fighting (and, sadly, some poor Pitties still are), fewer people are aware that their primary occupation has always been “family dog.”

While I encourage you to rescue a Pit Bull Terrier, there are certainly other choices. An Australian Cattle Dog might be a great choice, provided that you select a dog toward the mellower end of the range of temperaments found in the breed, and can give the dog lots of daily exercise. Cattle dogs are naturally inclined to herd livestock, but are among the most intelligent and trainable of dogs, and with adequate exercise can be easily taught to merely keep the livestock company.

A Cardigan Welsh Corgi might also be an excellent fit for your family. Like Cattle Dogs, they’re a herding breed, but Cardigans are mellower than the very similar Pembroke Welsh Corgi. Cardigans tend to be loyal to their family but reserved with strangers, and do best with respectful children over about age five. They need a fair amount of exercise and lots of bonding time with the family. They’re quite trainable, but do have a stubborn streak, especially if they are trained only sporadically or allowed too much freedom before they have a very solid recall. The major drawbacks here are that Corgis shed a great deal, and they can also easily become problematic barkers if bored.

Good luck with your breed search! Remember, if you keep an open mind, you may just find yourself coming home with a perfect dog who looks nothing like what you thought you wanted.

One Response to “Ask the Dog Guide: Help Choosing a Breed”

  1. Garett Says:

    A pit bull is a great suggestion. A lot of people are put off because of the bad press they have received.

    The Terrier group as a whole has suffered from bad publicity lately.

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