WHICH BREED DOG OR CROSSBREED IS RIGHT FOR US
Well the list here is long and I would need a huge web site to cover just this subject so I will endeavour to cover the more common breeds and give you as much general help and advice with this as possible.
What I would firstly like to say is that all dogs no matter what breed do have many of the same canine issues that are common to all of the canine species and these need to be addressed for all concerned, where you get your dog from will have great influence on their outcome. There are however many pedigree dogs that do have a genetic predisposition to certain behaviours and traits that might make them harder to train for the new or inexperienced owner (but also easier for certain tasks). Also, some breeds might have a genetic predisposition to certain physical and health issues, all of these are down to the thousands of years of selective breeding by us, and really it is the duty of the breeders to ensure these health problems don't show. As I have explained in other sections these genetic predispositions to certain things do not always show themselves in the adult dog as they are predominantly affected by the environment and early learning the dog experiences; but they will often drive the dog in certain behaviours.
Put behaviourally this means that these genetic predispositions are hard wired into the dogs DNA and are part of the dogs genotype yet how they eventually express themselves in the adult dog, known as the phenotype, is profoundly affected by the dogs early environment and learning. Some phenotypes (physical appearances, behaviours, traits) can be controlled entirely by the individuals genes. A good everyday example of the above would be that almost all humans inherit the capacity to speak and understand language, but which language is entirely an environmental matter (where they happen to live).
As I have said earlier in my site if you are a first time dog owner and indeed an experienced but not so knowledgeable owner then there are some of the more common breeds that I wouldn't recommend for you. This is my opinion based on what I have learnt, experienced and witnessed for myself. If you do decide on a crossbreed dog that is predominantly one of the following breeds then the chances are that they too might have a genetic predisposition to some of the relevant traits and behaviours for that breed and they might be or become apparent. Its probably best to list the breeds with a short note why I wouldn't recommend them for a first time/inexperienced owner. I must add that all the following possible behaviours or traits could appear in any dog but are more prevalent in the following breeds. Also I would add that in the right experienced hands and homes, doing what these dogs are made for, the following breeds can be great dogs.
So from the more common breeds that I would say not suitable for a first time/inexperienced and indeed some experienced dog owners are;
The HUSKY and MALAMUTE.
Beautiful dogs (why most people get one) but they have a very high prey drive instinct (genetic predisposition to killing small furry animals). Many (not all) can never be let of lead as they will take off for hours at a time due to the hereditary drive for exploring and running being so strong and may well turn to hunting when free. These dogs are the escape artists of the dog world, and if allowed to escape from your home they will become habitual escapees, fencing for these dogs really needs to be six foot high with an inward pointing top rail and the bottom of the fence or kick/gravel boards need to be dug at least a foot into the ground. This prey drive and roaming instinct is genetically driven and for many dogs is self rewarding as it satisfies the genetic urge. Often no external stimulus is required to motivate these behaviours as the genetic drive is so strong. I have personally come across young Huskies and Malamutes that were fine as puppies and juveniles but when mature (2-3yrs old) their prey drive instinct has really kicked in, so as an owner you must be aware.
Bred for sledging in artic conditions these dogs are vulnerable to overheating if you don't keep a close eye on things, serious overheating can cause serious consequences, as for all dogs.
They need lots of exercise of a structured nature. Can have a predisposition to being a bit dominant, especially males, with other male dogs and sometimes people, especially if you are scared of them (which I have come across). Need to work, pull sledges etc (that’s what they were originally breed for) or you need to provide a similar substitute. Strong dogs that need firm fair (not aggressive) handling from day one with lots of early socialisation with other dogs, people and animals (beware older ones that haven’t had this). Generally not a good house dog (some are), many prefer to sleep outside, if outside you will need to provide decent accomodation for them with somewhere to get out of the sun and rain. Will be an only dog but not good for them. Needs lots of grooming. The rescue centre that I volunteer at and others throughout the country are being swamped with Husky and Malamute dogs and crosses because owners are taking them on because they look lovely but soon (in the juvenile to adult period) realise they cannot cope with their behaviour (which happens because the dogs are bored and frustrated; not getting what they need).
I have personally seen rescue huskies and Malamutes rehomed to a life of sledge racing as part of a proper team, what a joy to see.
The GERMAN SHEPARD.
Has a tendency to want to be a high status dog, needs firm fair (not aggressive) handling from day one. Has a genetic predisposition to nervousness (common to all the herding breeds) which can manifest itself badly if handled wrongly. This breed can often be dominated by an owner (not the way to do it though) but serious problems can arise when owners who do this have taken on a dog that will not be dominated so easily leading to big problems as the dog matures. Has a genetic predisposition to guarding which combined with nervousness can be a problem in the wrong hands. Really should be a working dog. Can be over protective of family, (bad when there is really no real threat). Suffers all to often from back leg/hip problems sometimes from a young age due to selective breeding influences.
I know good dog people with GSD's, they are lovely dogs.
The STAFFORDSHIRE BULL TERRIER.
Loves people and is a world class attention seeker which when not handled properly can easily lead to behaviour problems like severe attention seeking, separation anxiety, barking to excess, house destruction, house soiling, chewing etc. If you are not at home for much of the time and cannot take your dog with you or cannot employ help in the form of walkers/sitters etc then a Staffie or Staffie cross is probably not for you as you will probably have some of the above problems. Hard to train for new inexperienced owners with a very strong will due to previous selective breeding, giving them a focused, determined outlook in most situations. Older Staffies and Staffie crosses with aggression problems or separation anxiety problems will be very difficult to sort out. Generally good with older children but can be prone to jealousy (human term) of babies and younger children as they get more attention from owners than themselves. Put behaviourally your attention is seen as an important resource to these dogs and they may guard against losing it, using any attention seeking behaviour or more to get you away from whatever is threatening that resource (your attention). Sadly there are lots of Staffie's in the rescue centre's because of the above reasons and they do not do well in kennels.
In the right hands/home Staffies make a lovely family dog.
The BORDER COLLIE.
A strong genetic drive to work. A dog that really needs to work or have a good substitute that not many get as pets and so undesirable behaviours driven by boredom and frustration come out, even more so when the dog comes from a working line and from a working environment like a farm. Has a strong genetic predisposition to nervousness (as do all the herding breeds) which when combined with owner being unaware and reacting incorrectly can easily lead to nervous/fear issues. Needs lots of mental stimulation just as much as lots of exercise. Mental stimulation is very important for sanity in this breed and if they do not get it through working or structured play they might easily become nippy and unpredictable and a bit wayward. If you are not willing or do not have the time to spend working on mentally stimulating play/games/agilty etc then do not get a collie. A shepherd once told me that the collie was the most neurotic of breeds, I know this is a human term but I could see where he was coming from. Many collies out there can be seen running around completely obsessed by a ball or similar giving no attention to anything else, especially other dogs, this is not a healthy trait as long term it could lead to other social and mental problems, though some fair amount of fetch type play is required to satisfy the quite strong prey drive instinct in this breed.
To see a working collie is an amazing thing.
A dog that has a genetic predisposition to be a high status dog which can easily lead to aggression if handled wrongly. There is a difference between a higher status dog (or one that thinks it is) and a fighting dog, but it can easily become a fighting dog if the owner is inexperienced/not aware and the end result can be dangerous. Large powerful dog that needs firm fair (not aggressive) handling from day one. Genetic predisposition to guarding which again needs correct handling from day one to ensure good outcome. Good with children generally but can be over protective. Needs to be well socialised with other dogs when young (like all dogs) beware older dogs that have not had this.
Personally I love these dogs but they are not for the new or inexperienced owner.
Why the Beagle ? Really because it is a highly driven scent hound which will follow any scent it comes across with more than great enthusiasm while ignoring all else (including the owner) much to the despair of unwitting owners. The same could be said of other scent hounds too (bloodhound, foxhound, basset). This ignoring the owner behaviour if left unanswered by the owner will lead to other dog/owner issues.
The AKITA, JAPANESE AND AMERICAN.
Beautiful dog (why most people get one) but is a naturally dominant dog (inherent genes), especially the males with other male dogs, not for the faint hearted. Large powerful dog that needs firm, fair (not aggressive) handling from day one (beware older ones that haven’t had this), you have to be the boss or they will. Will push the boundaries all the time. Most are not seen off the lead so not a dog for long walks off lead if this is what you want. Strong prey drive instinct like the Husky; many are not good with other dogs/animals. Needs lots of grooming.
An excellent guard/watch dog with vintage hereditary genes for such which makes it a bad choice for a new or inexperienced owner. Vintage genes for guarding and watch-dogging mean this breed needs firm fair (not aggressive) consistent handling from day one to become a good family member. Some will not tolerate young children pestering them and can become over protective of family if allowed. Needs (like all dogs) early socialisation with other dogs and people. Needs above average mental stimulation too or will become bored/frustrated and misbehave.
I would like to add here again that in the right experienced hands and homes all of the above breeds can be a great dog but not in the hands of most new/inexperienced owners.
On a more general note :-
If you are thinking of taking on any large breed like the Leonberger, Mastiffs, Mountain dogs, Great Dane and others then you need to be aware that much time will be needed to properly socialise these dogs as when they are fully grown they may be more than a handful, they need (as do all dogs really) early socialisation with people, dogs and other novel day to day noises and things. You will need lots of time to devote to these sorts of dogs, if you don’t have it don’t get one. Extra care must be taken with the large breeds when they are puppies for fear of damaging the pups growth plates leading to joint problems later in life, sometimes early on, so be careful with stairs, in and out cars, jumping up and down from high things etc; this care should be taken with all puppies but more so with any large breed dogs. Take care for at least the first 18 months, REALLY UP TO TWO YEARS.
Training needs to be fair, firm and consistent, many don’t respond well to aggressive techniques which should not be used anyway. They will eat a lot and the food needs to be of a good quality to keep the huge body and all its parts well, especially when growing. They can make great dogs with the right input but an out of control large dog is a serious problem for all concerned. Beware taking on an adult very large breed dog (or any dog for that matter) that has not been properly socialised. Some of these breeds have a higher than normal predisposition to people/flock guarding (vintage hereditary genes) and so care must be taken and again proper socialisation is a must to avoid later protection/guarding problems.
If you are getting a dog to keep as a family pet then you do not want to take on puppies that come from a strong working line, working environment or have working parents.
I have personally come across collies, spaniels and other breeds taken as pets from a working dog parentage/line and many have had to be rehomed later in a working environment like farm, gundog, sniffer dog, search dog and others as they were far too driven to be happy in most inexperienced pet homes.
Personally I think that the thousands of years of selective breeding for certain traits, behaviours and physical attributes has lead to the groups of dogs like scent dogs, sight hounds, retrievers, herding dogs, hunting dogs, lap dogs, fighting dogs, etc, being affected in their behaviours today due to their strong vintage genetic heritage. Some breeds are affected more so than others and can easily lead to undesirable behaviour in our human environment. Mostly people today want a new four legged furry, calm, laid back, social member of the family and selection for attributes like hunting, guarding and scenting are not a factor but I do think that these ancient inherited genes from selectively breeding for the aforementioned behaviours can have a big affect on the modern dog; for the first time owner and also some experienced owners this can be a problem.
The following is a generalisation of each of the breed groups but will hopefully give you an idea of what to expect if you go for a dog from a particular group. I would stress again here that your dogs early learning and environment will have a huge affect on its eventual outcome whatever the breed or group that they come from, and this is in the breeder and your hands .If you handle things correctly from the start then most pups and dogs should be fine (don't forget all the above specific breed advice though for new owners). It will be easiest I think to look at the groups as defined by the kennel club though personally I think that many breeds could belong in several groups here so the following is a basic guide and the environment and learning that a pup or dog has been through or goes through is just or sometimes more important. The groups are Gundog, Hound, Pastoral,Terrier, Toy, Utility, Working.
This group pretty much includes the Retrievers, Setters, Spaniels and Pointers. Breed over thousands of years for specific purpose and more so if coming from a working line/parentage they will need lots of appropriate mental stimulation and exercise if they are not to work. It would be good to centre some play around what they are good at, retrieving, sniffing out, flushing, finding things etc. Normally of good temperament and easy to train though can easily become bored and frustrated if needs not taken care of leading to a hyper, uncontrollable dog. Retrievers generally more laid back, Spaniels more energetic and prone to hyper activity if needs not met; Setters too in wrong hands.
This group includes breeds like the Beagle, Bloodhound, Basset, Greyhound, Dachshund and Whippet.The scent hounds among this group are all driven dogs, driven to follow the scent and will be hard to control when on the scent, you probably will be in the park on your own with lead in hand while the dog is off on the scent. This behaviour also gives them a headstrong character making them quite hard to train well.The sight hounds if allowed from young may well develop a killing instinct with small animals though this is not a problem if not allowed too, they have to be taught what is acceptable behaviour. Beware for instance taking on a greyhound or lurcher that has been abandoned by travellers as it will probably have this killing instinct already and might well cause you heartache, (I have seen this). As they have been breed over centuries for this purpose they will often show interest in moving objects at a fair distance of, generally though they have a good temperament. Like other breeds some structured play around the breeds talents (scenting etc) would be good.
As the name says, this includes most breeds that end in the word terrier and some of the Spitz breeds. Bred for hunting above and below ground they mostly have a tenacious and sometimes noisy attitude. Not ones to give up easily and to them size often does not matter. If you take on a terrier with aggression problems it will be hard to correct (dependent on how it learnt it of course). An out of control terrier may not be as powerful as an out of control Rottwieler for instance but it is still a frightening and dangerous experience for some. With a high prey drive if they are allowed to exercise this from a young age then be prepared to wait by a rabbit hole for their return until they have finished their business. Pet owners should be wary of carrying out constant very aggressive play with terriers for fear of it becoming habit in all play and causing concern. Also be wary of reinforcing predatory behaviour when out (like encouraging killing rabbits etc) as this behaviour might develop into a more generalised problem.
Includes breeds like the Rottwieler, Husky, Bullmastiff, Boxer and Great Dane. Many other breeds in the other groups could also reside in this group, ones like the German Shepard, Springer Spaniel and Collie. As the group name suggests these dogs were breed to work, nowadays most owners want them as pure pets and their vintage genetic heritability can cause problems if you handle it wrong. Some of the bigger more powerful dogs are in this group and they need a strong fair and consistent hand from day one. An out of control aggressive Jack russell is bad enough but a ten stone Rottweiler is another thing. If the dog you chose as a pet comes from this group then early socialisation with people and other dogs is paramount (as it is for all dogs). Be advised that Boxers are generally lifelong mad things, and maybe not a good dog for the novice owner, but generally lovely with it. Boxers are miss understood often by other dogs as they don’t have tails or much ears to signal with, a problem for other docked breeds too, and so are misread as they are approached. As a behaviourist I have found this too when initially trying to fathom one out. Try to have some structured play with these working breeds that allow them to use their genetic talents; they and you will be happier.
Includes breeds like the Pug, Pekingnese, King Charles spaniel, Chihuahua and Yorkshire terrier. These are the dogs breed really as the quintessential lap dog, often with small round faces and big eyes to pull at the maternal heart strings like infants. Don’t be mislead into thinking smaller means easier for the same canine issues apply here as they do to all dogs, I have seen many households being run to the whim of a pint size terror. If you are looking at one of the flat nosed breeds like the pug, be aware of bad breeding practices that often lead to breathing and mouth (palate) problems.
Includes breeds like the Akita, Bulldog, Dalmatian and Poodle. This group is a mix of dog breeds with some being at home in other groups. Some have strong working heritage like the Dalmation and Akita and so their needs are as working dogs. Some are bred for the satisfaction of our appearance whims like the Bulldog and other flat nosed breeds, often resulting in inherent health problems like breathing problems, mouth (palate) problems, so expect some health issues throughout life.
Includes breeds like the German Shepard, Belgian Shepard, Collies, Samoyed and Mountain Dogs. Most dogs in this group are working dogs and if not used as such require lots of appropriate exercise and just as importantly mental stimulation especially the collie and Shepard dogs. All the herding dogs have a genetic predisposition to nervousness which doesn’t mean they will be, just that it is in their genetic make up and could present itself if environment, learning and you the owner allow it too.The Mountain dogs, Leonbergers and the like are large powerful dogs generally of a good temperament but with some having a high protective disposition which needs care handling (vintage hereditary genes for flock/people guarding).
All of the above is as previously stated a general overview of the breeds with particular attention drawn to breeds that I believe would not be suitable for the first time dog owner, however, as I have said on many occasions, the environment and early learning that a dog goes through combined with any breed specific traits and behaviours that present themselves will have a huge effect on how the adult dog turns out. Have said the following before but it is of huge importance, so.
THE FIRST FOUR MONTHS OF A DOGS LIFE IS A CRITICAL LEARNING PERIOD AND WILL EFFECT THE REST OF THEIR LIVES.
Myself I have always had crossbreed dogs, A German shepherd cross rough collie (lassie dog) called Leo, a Spaniel cross collie cross Rottwieler called Max and the latest (whom I lost recently) a Labrador cross Rhodesian ridgeback called Buster. All have been lovely dogs of sound temperament and broke my heart every time I lost one of them but what they give to you throughout their life is a great thing.
If you decide on a crossbreed dog that is primarily one breed more than any other then it will probably be safe to assume that that breeds traits and behaviours might be influential. For instance I have seen many Staffie crosses that behaved just like pure bred Staffies, so, as in the above pedigree dogs not for the first time or inexperienced owners section I would not recommend taking on a cross that is largely one of the same breeds of dog (Husky, Malamute,Doberman, Rottwieler, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, German Shepherd, Beagle, Border Collie) if indeed you are a new or inexperienced owner. That leaves you though with many crosses to choose from.
Have a look at my /where-do-i-get-my-dog-from and /high-drive-dogs pages for more relevant information to help you.
Why not take a look at my first novel - Elmer no ordinary wolf, about a wolf called Elmer, his family and their life. My hope is that if you read this you will learn much about wolves and mother nature, coming to understand why man first thought about domesticating these amazing animals to give us out best friend, the dog.
copyright 2013-22 Paul lindley