Making sure you choose the right dog for you

Dogs come in all shapes and sizes and have a whole range of very different personalities and characteristics. There are literally hundreds of breeds of pedigree dogs and an infinite number of mixed breed dogs. Hopefully, when you get a dog you are about to spend the next ten to fifteen years with your new pet. So it is very important that you make a good decision in the type of dog that you choose.

You want to ensure maximum compatibility with the dog so that you have a harmonious relationship together and that the dog fits in with your lifestyle, accommodation and fulfils what it is that you want to get out of owning a dog. From all of the choice of dog breeds available then, where do you start in choosing the type of dog that is right for you? There are obviously some very basic and important considerations to start off with such as: one dog or more, size of the dog, long hair or short, character and personality type of the dog and whether it is important that the dog is good with children or not. Domestic dogs were almost certainly descended from wolves and adapted, by selective breeding, over the years to produce a much human friendlier animal, often with specific work purposes in mind. For simplicity, modern dogs are often divided up into seven broad categories based on their characteristics and what they were bred to do. When choosing a dog it can be helpful to start off with which broad group of dog is most appealing to you, before looking at the individual breeds within the group in more detail.

In order to help you do this I have summarised the seven main types of dog below. Working dogs - Dogs have been bred to perform a variety of useful working tasks including pulling heavy equipment, guarding and retrieving. Dogs in this group often have very strong instinctive characteristics, which are of benefit for the particular task that they were bred to perform, such as high activity levels and stamina, or being strong willed and protective.

These dogs are loyal and affectionate but do require a lot of exercising. Typical dog breeds within this category would include the Alaskan Malamute, Doberman, Boxer and St Bernard. Pastoral (or herding) dogs - These dogs were bred predominantly to herd domestic animals.

They have a very strong chase instinct to assist in their herding functions and need a great deal of exercise. They are generally very intelligent and enjoy challenging play with toys. They were bred to work closely with humans and will develop very strong bonds with their owners. Typical examples of breeds within this category are the Border Collie, German Shepherd and Finnish Lapphund.

Terriers - These were bred to catch and kill vermin or to help in hunting sports. They are usually fairly small and have strong predatory instincts. They can be dangerous around small pets unless they have been raised with them.

They are often fairly feisty characters but are usually affectionate and outgoing with their owners. Typical examples are the Jack Russell Terrier, Airedale Terrier and the West Highland White Terrier. Gundogs (or sporting dogs) - Gundogs were bred to help flush out game and retrieve shot animals. They are very sociable dogs that like a lot of contact with humans and often have a soft chew, so as not to damage the retrieved animals.

This means that they can be very playful dogs and enjoy lots of toy play and are good with children. Good examples within this group are the pointer, Weimeraner and Labradors. Utility dogs - These are a mixed group of dogs with various traits from each of the other groups so they really need looking at individually. Examples of utility dogs include the Dalmatian, Bulldog and Chow Chow. Hounds - Hounds were bred to track and hunt prey and work with humans in catching the animals. They have very strong chase instincts and often a very deep bark but tend not to use it unnecessarily.

They are used to living in packs and are therefore very sociable; they can appear lazy at times but will benefit from occasional long energetic runs. Typical examples include the Afghan hound, Beagle and the Bloodhound. Toy dogs - These were bred mainly for companionship and have most of the working traits bred out of them.

Most are fairly small dogs and they are usually pretty well mannered , like a lot of human contact and have a desire to please their owner. They are often well suited to those without much space but can be especially prone to ill health. Typical examples of toy dogs include the Chihuahua, King Charles Spaniel and Pekingese. These groups are obviously fairly broad and whichever breeds you are considering should be looked at and researched in more detail. Ideally, you should visit the appropriate dog breeders or rescue centres and see the dogs for yourself before making a final decision. Whatever type of dog you choose, I hope you have many happy years with your canine companion.

John McGuire is a smallholder and dog keeper who runs his own animal website dedicated to keeping dogs and a variety of other animals. For further information, pictures and videos of dogs have a look you may wish to visit his animal website.

Animal Planet

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