If the dog's breed is not important to you, you should still consider the above list when choosing the dog. You do face a few more unknowns since a mixed-breed puppy (e.g., a "mutt") may or may not clearly exhibit what its adult characteristics will be.
Many people have strong feelings about purebred dogs, especially the characteristics of the breed. Other people feel that the "stereotypes" are overrated. Jon Pastor made some nice comments about the usefulness and caveats of typical breed behaviors:
Typical means "characteristic of the type," and is a statistical abstraction; it does not have any normative implications -- i.e., there is no claim that all (or even most) examples of the type in question have the characteristics that are stated to be typical. One of the ways in which people make sense of the world is by comparing entities they encounter with the types they've stored in their memories in order to identify them; it's a remarkably effective way of compiling knowledge about an infinitely complex environment so that it can be accessed quickly enough to (in the extreme) save one's life.
Thus "typical" is a largely ad-hoc, somewhat personal label, until it is agreed-upon by some number of people who share the same notion of what common characteristics identify the "typical" object of a particular kind. If we could eliminate the biases that have been identified in such behavior (e.g., if the last 20 dogs you've seen have been Borzois, you will most likely over-estimate the true number of Borzois in the dog population), we would find that "typical" approximated some statistical tendency in the population we're addressing, typically the mean (average) or mode (most common).
If you pick some characteristic and look in a particular population to see how many individuals have different levels of that characteristic, you'll find that when you graph the results they look like this (more or less):
For example, let's say that you want to plot the aggressiveness of various breeds. First, you have to come up with a way of ranking dogs on aggressiveness [an exercise left to the reader ;-)], and then for each breed you score a large number of dogs on aggressiveness and plot the results:
Now, by doing this in N dimensions you can play the same game on as many characteristics as you wish, and make statistically meaningful statements about tendencies of one particular breed or typical differences between breeds.
By doing so, you are *NOT* saying that
A big caveat: breed traits are not computed scientifically, and are thus not quite subject to the laws of Statistics. However, they do reflect the cumulative wisdom of hundreds (thousands?) of years of human observation and active breeding of dogs.
The bottom line is that if you get an Newfoundland, it is highly likely that it will be a good lifesaving dog; it is possible, although less likely, that it will be a *great* lifesaving dog; and it is also possible, although also less likely, that it will show no aptitude for lifesaving. Similar statements hold for "typical" traits of sight hounds, Rotts, Poodles, GSDs, Goldens, Irish Setters, and any other breed you can think of.
If you use this "stereotype" information to inform your choice of a dog, and make some effort to determine how "typical" a given dog is likely to be of its breed (by looking at parents and siblings, by observing the dog, by asking the owner, etc., etc.), it's innocuous and can be quite useful. If you use it blindly to make blanket judgements of breeds, use of stereotypes can be foolish. In the extreme, if you don't understand the meaning of the characteristics, or have mis-identified or mis-measured them, use of stereotypes can be positively evil, such as when "all Pitbulls" are identified as dangerous and banned.
The only conclusion that this discussion licenses with respect to the purebred-vs.-mixed-breed question is that prediction is easier with a purebred because the number of purebreds is (relatively) small and (relatively) fixed, while the number of possible mixes is essentially infinite; as a result, there has been more observation of individual "pure" breeds, and there is consequently more data to support generalizations about breed characteristics. This is not, by any means, to say that purebreds are necessarily better or worse; they're just more predictable.
So if you want a dog with a particular set of characteristics, you will be more likely to get such a dog if you find a breed that typically has those characteristics and choose a dog of that breed *intelligently* than if you choose a dog of mixed breeds (unless, of course, you're talking about an older dog whose behavioral characteristics are already obvious and therefore observable). This is a statement about probability, not about quality, and anyone who attempts to apply an absolute value-scheme to it is making unwarranted and unjustifiable extrapolations.
Statistics is a powerful weapon. As with any other such weapon, use it ignorantly or indiscriminately at your peril...
One word of warning on breed specific books. In general, avoid the TFH "KW" series readily available in most pet stores. These are small books, about 150 pages. Most of them recommend pet stores as a source for puppies, blithely talk of the "joys" of breeding, and contain very little actual breed-specific information. Instead there is a large amount of general information repeated from book to book, and what amounts to advertising for a number of brands of dog products. Leaf through the book carefully before deciding (or not) to buy it.
De Prisco, Andrew and James B. Johnson. The Mini-Atlas of Dog Breeds. TFH Publications, One TFH Plaza, Neptune City, NJ 07753 1990.
This book lists and describes over 500 breeds from around the world. Abundantly illustrated with color drawings and photos. Includes a short forward on what criteria you should consider in choosing a breed, and a short description of the categories it chose to group dogs in (slightly different from, eg. AKC groupings).Mandeville, John J., and Ab Sidewater, eds. The Complete Dog Book: official publication of the American Kennel Club. Eighteenth edition. Howell Book House, Macmillan Publishing Company, New York. 1992.
This is the reference for the AKC breed standards, each of which covers several pages and includes a black and white photograph and text on the breed's history, characteristics, and nature. Newly admitted breeds, such as the Shar-Pei, have been added to this edition.Sylvester, Patricia, ed. The Reader's Digest Illustrated Book of Dogs. 2nd edition. The Reader's Digest Association, Inc., Pleasantville, NY. 1994
Besides the excellent text and illustrations in the album, which cover 2 pages for each breed (175 total), the informative sections are also well-written and illustrated and include many color photographs as well.Tortora, Daniel F. The Right Dog For You. Fireside, Simon & Schuster Trade Books. 1983.
Offers a complex decision procedure, with lots of questionnaires to alert you to the potential significance of various features of breed behavior and physical characteristics. One of the few that lists potential problems of each breed rather than giving a glowingly positive one for each.Wilcox, Bonnie and Chris Walkowicz. Atlas of Dog Breeds. TFH Publications. 5th ed, 1994.
Over 900 pages long in large format. The authors are top notch writers and did extensive research to compile this comprehensive resource of the world's dog breeds. The book is profusely illustrated with excellent quality photographs and a 3-5 page article. This book makes a good effort to show every color and every coat type of each breed in the various photos. Expensive. The latest edition is out in two volumes.Project BREED Directory. Network for Ani-Males and Females, 18707 Curry Powder Lane, Germantown, MD 20874, 301-428-3675. 1993.
There is a section on each breed (over 100 listed) listing specific breed rescue organizations and individuals throughout the US. It also describes each breed's appearance, origins, traits, and the most common hereditary health problems for that breed. No pictures. Check or money order ($15.95 plus $1.50 s/h) for a copy.
Some breed clubs have much better videos describing their breeds. They are expensive enough that it's probably not worth getting them if you're still "browsing," but if you have a dog of that breed, they're often quite nice to get ahold of.
Milani, Myrna M., DVM. The Weekend Dog. Signet (Penguin Books USA, Inc.) (1985). ISBN: 0-451-15731-1 (paperback).
This book outlines practical solutions for working people with dogs. It has excellent suggestions for understanding dog behavior, particularly destructive or unwanted behavior. Gives all kinds of practical solutions to the problems of adequate exercise, adequate training, housetraining, and so forth.Miller, Harry. The Common Sense Book of Puppy and Dog Care. Bantam Books, Third Edition (revised) (1987). ISBN: 0-553-27789-8 (paperback).
This small book provides a surprising amount of useful information. A little on the "lightweight" side, nevertheless, it gives a good outline of what you should know about your puppy or dog. You can use this to decide how much you do know and where you need to brush up on what you don't. Besides sections on how to select the right dog, it covers basic puppy needs (housetraining, feeding, illnesses), basic training, basic pet care, and a complete list of AKC breeds.Monks of New Skete, The. How To Be Your Dog's Best Friend. Little, Brown & Company. 1978. ISBN: 0-316-60491-7 (hardback).
A monastery in upstate New York breeds, raises, and trains German Shepherd Dogs. On the basis of their considerable experience, they offer troubleshooting guides, discuss discipline, environmental restrictions, basic and puppy training, and much more. Extensive bibliography. The emphasis is on understanding the dog in order to communicate with it or to solve problem behavior. An excellent, well written classic, although becoming a little dated.Spadafori, Gina. Dogs for Dummies, IDE Press, 1996.
This book is my current favorite and most up-to-date volume on dog ownership, especially for the novice owner, although there is something for everyone here. The author writes a newspaper column and has been answering basic questions every day for years, the same type that show up in rec.pets.dogs. This experience and helpful advice comes through in every page on this book.Taylor, David. You and Your Dog. Alfred A. Knopf, New York (1991). ISBN:0-394-72983-8 (trade paperback).
This useful book is an overall guide to the health and care of dogs. It includes a basic listing of dog breeds (AKC). This is a good general purpose book that gives you an idea of what all is involved in owning and caring for a dog.
The best thing to do is to go the animal shelter every weekend and spend time with the dogs. Try to put their plight out of your mind for the moment--it would be nice to save them all, but you can't. Instead, you should get to know the dogs on an individual basis.
Read the tags on each cage and see whether the dog was a stray, or whether its owner turned it in for some reason. There are some beautiful adult dogs in the pound that have been given up reluctantly by ill or elderly, or even deceased, owners. Don't overlook these!
Ask to see the dog in the holding area most shelters have. You'll be able to check for signs of hostility, see if the dog knows anything, and in general how it reacts to you. Expect some fear and nervousness! A few doggy treats may help calm it. If things seem to be going well, ask if you can take it on a walk, even just around the compound. If you are curious to know its reaction to cats, take it by the cat compound.
Finally, don't be afraid to say "not this dog," and walk away. It is hard, hard, hard to walk away from a sweet dog, but you are looking for a companion for life, so you will have to be honest with yourself about what you want. There are heartbreaking stories from people who made an impulsive decision in the pound and lived to regret it. Bring along a friend who can help you look at the dog more objectively.
Remember, though no breeder is *automatically* responsible or ethical just from the source you were referred from. You must determine whether a particular breeder is suitable for your needs, and the more time and research you put into this, the better your results will be.
A responsible breeder should have some history of breeding animals. They may be breeding for show or field work or just plain good pets. They should be able to tell you about some of their previous puppies. They should be able and willing to discuss the health and well being of the parents of your puppy including: eye conditions, hip dysplasia, etc. In general, be suspicious of puppies from anyone who has not had the parents at minimum x-rayed for hip dysplasia and had the eyes checked by a veterinarian, or for other problems associated with the breed. Not all breeds have the same problems, but breeders should know what they are and be able to tell you which ones they've tested for. And if you've done your homework beforehand, you'll know if they're checking the right things.
Here are some red flags that should make you wary. The presence of any one of them is not necessarily an indication that something IS wrong, but you should definitely check further if you see any of these:
Expect to be shown the paperwork on the parents: OFA hip certificates are printed on heavy stock, white paper with a blue background; elbow certificates are similar but with a green background (and no grade is given). ACVO (eye examination) paperwork is on light tissue apper and will be a carbon copy; if they have the CERF paperwork, that will be a narrow computer printout with some blue lettering (and they will no longer have the original ACVO paper but a copy as the original is turned in when requesting a CERF number). Take note of the numbers assigned and CALL OFA and/or CERF and verify them. The sire's paperwork will probably all be photocopied unless the breeder owns the sire as well. If you would like to see what the certificates would look like, check http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/Plains/5404/ofa.html.
Here are additional things you can do to verify the information the breeder gives you.
Get references of previous clients and call them up and ask them how they liked their dog. Don't overlook this step, you can learn a lot about what the puppies are like and how well they did this way. A responsible breeder should have no problem supplying you with such references.
You should be able to see the mother of your puppy; her temperament will give you a good idea of your puppy's adult temperament. Obedience and temperament titles can indicate good temperament. Being unable to see the sire is not uncommon, picky breeders will often ship their bitch cross-country to a good prospect. If you've done your homework, though, chances are you are already familiar with the sire and know that he has the qualities you want. If both parents are owned by the breeder (and those are the only two), chances are this breeder is not responsible: what are the chances you'd own the perfect stud dog for your bitch? On the other hand, many long term breeders have developed distinct lines and will have breed two dogs of their breeding (whether they own both or not) for the puppies. So consider the big picture as well.
Check for some basic health problems: a litter that was larger than the breed average may mean that the puppies are smaller and not as healthy, a small litter might indicate trouble during pregnancy. A litter of size one or two means that the puppies are getting little or no socialization with littermates, regardless of health. The puppies should look vigorous and be strongly sucking, beware of listless (though sleeping is OK) puppies and indifferent suckling. Try to see the puppies when they're likely to be active.
"Runts" are puppies that are significantly smaller than their littermates. If they are otherwise healthy (actively rooting and sucking, playing with littermates, etc.), then they are probably simply younger than their siblings. When dogs are bred, they mate over a period of several days, and it's possible for some of the puppies to be concieved on the first mating and others on subsequent matings. Over a period of four days, this can make the youngest puppy significantly smaller. These puppies frequently catch up several months later, and it's not uncommon for such a pup to turn out to be the largest one in the litter! Puppies that are runts due to health problems should be avoided. A responsible breeder will let you know which kind of runt the pup is.
Puppies should be at minimum dewormed by eight weeks of age. The first set of puppy shots is desireable as well. Beware of breeders who have not had a vet see the puppies (or mother) at all.
Many responsible breeders only guarantee the general health of a pup for a limited time (e.g. 48 hours). This is not a rip-off. The breeder has no control over the pup once the new owner takes it. Reputable breeders will stand by that guarantee *if* the new owner takes the pup to a vet who finds something wrong (e.g. a communicable disease) within that period but the breeder can hardly be held responsible for a disease contracted after the pup is in its new home. Thus, such an early trip to the vet is for the protection of all concerned.
Guaranteeing against genetic defects is common: such a guarantee generally means a refund or replacement in the case of a defect occurring; it does NOT mean that the puppy will "never" develop a genetic defect. Be wary of breeders that claim their puppies can never develop some defect that does occur in the breed.
The breeder should also guarantee to take the puppy back if you are unable to keep it rather than having it go to the pound. The breeder should also be concerned about your living conditions and what you plan to use the dog for before they allow their puppy to go live with you. Many breeders will want to know what you plan to do about reproduction. Many will require that a pet quality puppy be neutered, and withhold registry papers until receipt of proof of neutering (thus making any puppies from that dog unregisterable).
If guarantees or other contracts (such as spay/neuter) are involved, get it all down in writing. A responsible breeder will not be offended by such a step. If something goes wrong, you have no legal recourse if there is nothing in writing, verbal contract laws in some states to the contrary.
If you're planning on a puppy for show (conformation or hunting or whatever else your breed does) and possible breeding, look for a breeder that is very picky about selling such puppies. If this is your first such puppy, expect an offer of co-ownership if they think you're serious. At the minimum, the breeder should be discussing how they'll remain involved with the puppy. This is a valuable resource, by the way, the breeder will be able to explain what the puppy's pedigree means, what other dogs it should be bred to, how to show it, and so on. Moreover, if you are planning something like this, definitely take your time and get to know several breeders doing the same things you are interested in. This will give you contacts, information, and a break when a good litter comes along and the breeders know you or you are vouched for by another breeder. It can be hard to "break into" showing and breeding, but a little patience on your part will give better results.
Good breeders often have a waiting list of potential puppy buyers and often will not breed until they know they can place all the resulting puppies. If you find a breeder you like, do not be surprised if you are placed on a waiting list for a puppy. The wait will be worth it!
Approach getting a puppy as if you were adopting a child. Expect a lot of questions and ASK a lot of questions! A responsible breeder is also looking for a responsible owner.
A better way to select a pup from a litter is to do a little temperament testing and pick the dog with the temperament that best meets you and your family's needs. The Monks of New Skete's book, "The Art of Raising a Puppy," discusses the Puppy Aptitude Test developed by Joachim and Wendy Volhard. They indicate the degree of social compatability and how readily a pup will accept human leadership.
If the breeder picks a puppy out for you, that's also normal: responsible ones will have evaluated their puppies and match one to you based on what you've indicated you want.
For addresses of rescue services for various breeds, call the American Kennel Club library, 212-696-8348, or check the breed-specific FAQ, if one exists for your breed. You can also check the BREED book (listed above); it contains over 1500 sources for rescue assistance for 72 breeds throughout the US. Breed clubs often run a rescue program; try contacting the local breed club for the breed you're interested in.
There also exist all-breed and mixed-breed rescue groups; this is another source besides the shelter to obtain a dog.
You should try to spend some time with each dog you consider adopting, as recommended and described for shelter dogs. Talk to the people who are fostering the prospective dog for a better idea of the particular dog's temperament. Ask questions like you would with a breeder; expect a good outfit to screen you as well. Expect them to ask for a donation and require that the animal is neutered, if it isn't already.
Further breed-rescue resources: The newsgroup rec.pets.dogs.rescue; the mailing list dog-rescue (see the Email List FAQ); the November 1994 issue of the AKC Gazette.
It is not impossible that you will find a conscientious breeder through the newspaper. Just check them carefully when you go and visit them, like you would any other breeder.
Don't make the mistake of thinking that because you "only" want a nice pet, there is no reason for you to look for a high quality breeder. On the contrary, no litter is 100% up to the criteria the breeder is looking for...and the pup that doesn't quite meet the expectations of the breeder in ability or looks will make an excellent pet as he will otherwise be healthy and good tempered...just what you want in your new companion.
A graphic article in LIFE Magazine (Sept. 1992) illustrates the kinds of problems with puppy mills.
Many pet stores have been instructing their employees to tell prospective clients that all the animals in the store are from local breeders. In many cases, this is simply not true. Other stores will have pictures and commentaries on their walls to inform you how clean and sanitary THEIR puppy mills are -- but "clean and sanitary" still does not obviate the problems with socialization and bloodlines. Don't be fooled! And you may not even want to patronize the stores for pet supplies as this will indirectly support the mills, too.
Asking other pet owners isn't always effective because they may not have had any unusual or challenging health problems with their pets, and vets that can be okay for routine stuff often are less impressive with unusal stuff.
Call vets in your area and ask the vet techs, not the vets themselves, who they would recommend other than their own current employer. Another good source is groomers, as they tend to hear a lot of stories from their clients.
If you find the recommended vet is very expensive, he probably owns the practice. Try one of the associates. They tend not to run up the bills so much, and a good vet will usually hire good associates as well.
Look for a vet who is willing to refer you elsewhere if they don't know the answers rather then saying something like "It must be an allergy", etc.
Check to see if the vet is licensed by the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association). They do extensive and picky inspections of the facilities.
Try an ordinary sandwich bag (e.g. a "Baggie" -- ziplock is convenient but not necessary) and turn it inside out over your hand like a rubber glove. Then simply pick up the stool with your covered hand, turn the bag right-side out, enclosing the sample. Zip if ziplock otherwise use a twist tie. This is perfectly sanitary (and you can use the same procedure to clean up after your dog on walks).
Creating A Peaceable Kingdom: How to live with more than one pet by Cynthia D. Miller. Animalia Publishing Co., 1997. 1-888-755-1318. It includes dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, children, and any combination thereof.When you get your new dog, you might already have pets that you will need to introduce the new dog to. Exactly what you will need to do depends on the kinds and temperaments of the animals involved.
Introducing a puppy to an older dog is probably the easiest combination. If the older dog is properly socialized with other dogs, you will not have problems. If the older dog is not, you may have to keep the dogs separated until you're more confident about their getting along. (In any case, a puppy will often be restrained as per housetraining efforts when you are not at home.)
If you are introducing a puppy to a cat, you will probably have some trouble for a few months. Older cats, unless they've dealt well with dogs before will probably hiss and spit at the puppy or avoid it for a long time. As long as the cat has a place to retreat to and you teach the puppy to leave the cat alone (granted, easier said than done), you will work through problems eventually.
Puppies and kittens tend to get along just fine. Watch out for possible accidental injuries if the puppy is (or will become) much bigger than the cats.
If you are introducing an adult dog to an adult dog, it will depend on their temperament and how well they get along with other dogs. You might have some scuffles to establish a hierarchy -- keep an eye on it but don't forbid it unless things get out of hand. If one dog reacts very poorly to the other, you will have to separate them for a while and work on introducing them slowly. You may have to keep them separate when you are gone.
An adult dog with a cat can present problems if the dog thinks cats make tasty snacks, or if the cat takes a dim view of dogs. You may have to keep them separated, or expect a longer period of adjustement. If the dog is fine with cats, introducing it to a kitten is easy.
In sum, it depends on the temperament and ages of the animals involved. In most cases, you can simply introduce them, let them work it out, and after a week to a month or so, things are fine. However, sometimes this is a lengthy process that you will have to work through, especially if it is cross-species. In general, this will work:
Put the dog in its own room, where the original pet can smell it, but not see it. After a day or so of this, remove the dog from the room and let the original pet smell and explore the room thoroughly. Put the dog back in. Depending on the reactions involved, let the pets meet under supervision. If there is some hostility, separate them while you are gone until you are certain that they get along. It is best if you can arrange a "retreat" for each animal.Meeting first in a neutral area such as someone else's house or in a park, if possible, may help.
Arrange a retreat for a cat by blocking off entrance to a room with a child's gate that the cat can jump over but the dog cannot.
Be sure that the original pet gets plenty of attention after the arrival of the new pet. Resentment at loss of attention and change in routine can exacerbate the problems with the two getting along.
Finally, remember that it can take several weeks to a year for the animals to adjust. Don't rush things. Your best resource is patience.