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Where Do You Start?
With the addition of a few new dog breeds, the American Kennel Club (AKC) now recognizes 175 breeds. There are, of course, hundreds of other breeds not recognized by the AKC, such as the many so-called designer dogs that have cropped up in recent years, but the base 175 are the ones most people know. Every year, the AKC releases a list of the most popular breed consisting of the dogs many Americans consider the best breeds available. The reality is that stereotypes play a large role in the list because a lot of people buy dogs based on familiarity. They’ve seen or heard of a particular breed a lot, so that’s the one they buy. When you’re trying to pick, do some research.
There are a lot of dogs out there that make terrific pets but because they aren’t as common, you’ve probably never heard of them. In order from number one down, the most popular dog’s are: Labrador Retrievers (#1 every year since 2002), German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers (who are really always in the top four or so), Beagles, Bulldogs (who have made a very recent jump), Yorkshire Terriers, Boxers, Poodles, Rottweilers, and Dachshunds. There isn’t typically a lot of change in the top ten, and movies and cartoons frequently influence sales, for example, “Peanuts” bolstered the Beagle’s popularity years ago and “Marley and Me” gave Labs quite a boost.
A couple of good examples are Great Danes and Pharoah Hounds. Both are terrific with kids and considered great dog breeds for families by fanciers. But Danes are number 17, which is actually a sign of annual improvement, and Pharaohs are all the way down at 158, despite being sweet, good-natured dogs. A good place to start is by buying a comprehensive dog breed book, such as this, and simply flipping through it. Read the breed description to get an idea of whether or not they’re compatible with you and if they seem right, educate yourself beyond the book. You can find websites where people who own the dogs go to talk, and they’ll happily answer your questions. Find an area breeder and talk to them as well as asking to meet the dogs. One such breeder of Shetland Sheepdogs is Yankee Shelties in Newark, Delaware.
Dog shows are another good place to interact with various breeds and meet breeders, possible even a breeder you could buy a puppy from in the future. Always use a breeder who is truly committed to bettering the breed as opposed to someone who randomly breeds their dog because puppies are cute or they wanted their kids to witness the wonder of birth.
The AKC has a database not just of dog breeds but of breeders they consider top-class, but there are breeders not on that list who are just as good if not better. Look for a breeder with multiple generations on their property for you to meet with clean conditions and a professional demeanor. They should be happy to answer questions and they should also be asking you questions about your home and your plans. Ask about their vaccination and worming schedules and, if it is appropriate, OFA certification (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, for healthy hips and joints). You should also ask when they plan to wean their puppies (never before 5 or 6 weeks) and when they plan to send them home with you (never before 8 weeks, preferably ten). And, of course, they should expect you to neuter or spay your puppy, assuming you aren’t going to show.
The best breeds out there are simply the ones that best suit your needs. When you finally decide which dog breed is the one for you, enjoy them and take pride in knowing you did the research rather than just going with the crowd.
Smaller Dog Breeds
There are many small dog breeds. Make sure you know what to look for. If you’ve decided to look at small dog breeds, there are a few things to keep in mind. Consider your reason for wanting a small dog. Just because a dog is diminutive in size does not mean they won’t need exercise or that they’ll automatically be lap dogs. Quite the opposite is often true. Of all dog breeds, smaller ones often have a hyper, tenacious attitude that is much different than the mellow, laid-back nature of larger breeds. So if you’re hoping for a lap dog, do some research first to make sure your dog breed of choice is well-suited to a more sedate life.
Dog breeds such as Yorkshire Terriers – Yorkies -were originally bred as ratters, and have the spirited, overprotective air to prove it. Not to say they won’t ever snuggle up in your lap, but their breed characteristics don’t include being calm, relaxed lap dogs. Many owners say their small dogs think they’re giants and that’s often the result of years of breeding. A lot of little dog breeds, with the exception of some such as the Bichon Frise, Pug, and Maltese, were bred small in order to fit into tiny spaces to hunt small game. This has left many small breeds with fierce, often aloof, personalities.
There are many small dog breeds that make excellent family pets. Beagles are great with kids, and miniature and toy Poodles are easily won over by just about anyone. Also, studies have proven thieves are deterred from breaking into homes that have dogs –any dogs – so even the bark of your little dog could offer your home some protection. Most small dog breeds bark at the tiniest sounds, alerting you to the possibility of danger. Barking is another trait of little dogs to consider.
Some dog breeds have specific barks. For example, Beagles are known for their characteristic bay, and Basenjis are known as the so-called barkless dog breed when, in fact, they yodel. Never assume that because a dog breed is small they behave in a certain manner. Each is unique, and if you take the time to educate yourself, you won’t be surprised by your small dog’s preference for playing or digging rather than sitting on the couch with you.
One of the nice things about small dog breeds is the ability to pick them up and cuddle, something large dog breeds lose once they leave puppyhood. Enjoy cuddling and carrying your dog, but don’t spoil them so rotten that they refuse to function. It does happen and it’s incredibly frustrating having a dog that won’t walk or stand on their own. It’s understandably tempting to carry them around, to buy the cute carriers and adorable bags, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Just remember to exercise moderation. Another thing to remember is that just because your dog can be picked up doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be taught basic obedience.
All dogs should learn manners, regardless of size. There are hundreds of dog breeds out there and small and toy dogs have a lot of great qualities. Select your dog breed carefully, and if you realize a tiny canine isn’t for you, take a look at the many large dog breeds. Little dogs are terrific companions, and their petite size shouldn’t fool you. Many small dogs are incredibly brave and protective of their families. Their loving hearts far outdo their diminutive stature, and their longer lives mean you’ll have a loyal friend for up to two decades. Whether you choose a big or little dog breed, you’ll have a friend for life.
Larger Dog Breeds
Large dog breeds are great companions. When choosing from the many large dog breeds, it helps to know what you’re looking for. Are you hoping for a hiking buddy, a family pet, or a mellow dog that sleeps all day? And, of course, when people want guard dogs they immediately consider large and giant dog breeds. Large dogs tend to be calmer, quieter, and mellower overall than small dog breeds.
Contrary to popular belief, big dogs don’t automatically need more exercise than small dogs. Size doesn’t have much to do with whether or not they need a big yard or extended play time. Some dog breeds are laid back and happy to spend their time lying around. They like to play, and they should go for walks, but as a whole, they like to rest. Golden Retrievers have more energy and like to play fetch and tussle with their owners, but even so, they know the value of being calm and obedient. When you have a big dog, you need to be sure they receive proper dog training. Their size, especially the bigger dog breeds, makes it too easy for them to knock someone over on accident.
Big dogs are more intimidating, especially breeds like Dobermans and Rottweilers. Of course, they often have goofy personalities that make them less than scary. Despite the silly smiles, the majority of large dog breeds are very protective of their families.
Long histories of being bred for hunting large, dangerous game and guarding royalty have made them concerned for their pack’s safety. Whether you have a big or small dog breed, your dog considers you and your family their pack. There’s more to your big dog than just protection. Most service dogs are large breeds, whether search and rescue, police, or seeing-eye dogs. And a big dog’s long legs make them ideal for runners and hikers because they keep up with you and enjoy themselves.
If you’re looking for an active outdoor dog, make sure you choose a dog breed suited to the joint concussion and stamina required for hikes, runs, and bike rides. Giant dog breeds are not well-suited for it, but large dog breeds like Retrievers and German Shepherds are.
A lot of big dogs actually believe themselves to be small dog breeds. They’ll try to crawl in your lap, snuggle with you in bed and generally forget their mass. If you want a devoted, often silly, dog, and don’t mind being edged off the bed at night, a big dog may be for you. Large dog breeds don’t live as long as small dogs do, sadly, but they more than make up for it with giant-sized love. When you’re looking for large or giant dog breeds, make sure the breeder has OFA-certified their parent’s hips.
The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals is a graded system for hip and joint health that helps lower the risk of serious problems like hip dysplasia. And remember, the bigger the dog breed, the larger the growth in a shorter timeframe, which means there are special food and supplement needs. Learn as much as you can about the dog breed you choose, because the bigger the dog, the more unique details there are to keeping them healthy. Where small dogs tend to be the mature, composed older sibling, big dogs are often the goofy kid with a little dignity. Choose a dog breed that fits in with your lifestyle and you’ll enjoy years of companionship with a big, lovable dog by your side whether running a 5k or sitting on the couch watching a movie.
Giant Dog Breeds
Giant dog breeds are typically gentle, family-friendly pets. Some people are interested in giant dog breeds because they want a guard dog. The reality is that most giants – Great Danes, Mastiffs, Irish Wolfhounds – have an easygoing, friendly nature rather than an aggressive one. Large dog breeds like Doberman Pinschers and German Shepherds have the sharper personalities more suited to guard dog duty. That is not to say a giant breed isn’t a good deterrent, because they are. Any dog, from the tiniest Chihuahua to the tallest Great Dane, will protect their pack. Giant breeds do have a few characteristics to keep in mind. Sadly, they don’t live as long, due in large part to the speed with which they grow. For example, Great Danes often pass away as early as six years of age.
One of the most important details of raising a giant breed is diet. Puppies grow a lot faster than small breeds do. It’s vital not to feed too high protein or too high fat to giant breed puppies. If your puppy’s food has over 23% protein, it’s too much. Giant dog breeds grow fast, so fast that they may gain five pounds in one week. So keep the protein between 21% and 23%, never more.
Many puppy foods on the market are very high protein, so you may find feeding your giant breed puppy an adult food from the start is the best way to go. Read labels. Also, inexperienced people may suggest you give your giant breed puppy a calcium supplement, but this is another bad idea. Calcium and phosphorus are vital to proper bone development, and a quality kibble is already balanced. Adding to it will throw it off. Keep your giant breed lean, not skinny, lean.
They cannot afford to be too heavy because of the strain to their joints. Also, make sure your veterinarian is truly knowledgeable about giants. With their fast growth, specific disease processes, shorter lifespan, and other issues, they will flat-out survive longer if the vet treating them knows what they’re doing.
Giant dog breeds are often mellow, laid-back dogs. Although each breed has its own unique traits, many of the true giants share the same sweet disposition. They’re also playful, energetic, and downright goofy. Just like with any dog, educate yourself before choosing a specific breed. Keep in mind that just because they’re big does not mean they need extra room to run or huge portions of food.
Actually, a medium-sized dog like the high-energy, inquisitive Border Collie needs more room to run than a slow-moving Newfoundland does. Giant breeds also usually have slower metabolisms, so the feeding instructions on the labels of most dog foods are incredibly inaccurate in their suggestions. Above all, enjoy your giant. They have a great deal to offer, from their lumbering bulk to the ropes of drool some of them produce in copious amounts to their big hearts. Many of them make excellent family pets because their calmer natures are well-suited to children. And although their shorter lifespan is an unfortunate aspect of their giant size, the time you do have with them is well worth it. Check out our exhaustive full dog breed post here.
Which Dog Is Best For You?
There really aren’t best dog breeds overall. It’s more accurate to say there are breeds best suited to particular people. Of course, there are some breeds that are more popular than others, just like there are some that have laid-back characteristics that suit a wider range of owners. Educating yourself about the various dog breeds will help you decide which is best for you. So, what personality traits should you be looking for when choosing a dog? If you’re a quiet person, one of the larger, mellow breeds may be a good fit for you. Conversely, if you’re energetic and active, a quick-witted, perky dog like a Border Collie might be right. Also, keep in mind that how much space you have does not have much to do with the size of your dog.
A lot of giant breeds don’t require nearly as much room to run as some small dog breeds do. When you’re trying to narrow down the best breeds, don’t choose according to size, choose according to breed traits. Otherwise, you could end up with what you think is the perfect size dog for your apartment when in reality you have a small Australian Cattle Dog that really needs a big yard to run.
Consider what you want to be able to do with your dog. If you want to hike and run, Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and German Shepherds are a few popular dog breeds that may be a good fit. If you just want a little lap dog, a Yorkshire Terrier, Poodle, Pug, or Boston Terrier may be right. And if you’re looking for a great family dog, there are countless dog breeds that qualify. You simply have to do research, thoroughly educating yourself so you know which ones are the best dog breeds, and which is specifically best for you. Do take into consideration things like hair, because if you cannot handle cleaning up a lot of hair, a Golden Retriever wouldn’t be a good choice. And if you don’t want to spend time or money on grooming, dog breeds like Poodles won’t work well.
The best dog breeds for families are dogs with patience. High-strung dogs, which many small dog breeds are, are a poor choice, and some breeds have specific traits that make them a less-than-perfect fit. For example, Border Collies, for all their wonderful qualities, have an inbred desire to herd. This often equals herding the kids, which may sound entertaining but is not something to encourage.
Whether you want a dog that can keep up with constant playing and running around or one willing to lay down and be calm for hours on end, patience is key. Dog training has a lot to do with it. Many dog breeds are great, and the right training helps them fit in. And, of course, no dog should have to put up with having their ears and tail pulled. Kids should receive their own training so they know how to properly and kindly interact with dogs. Searching for the best breeds among the hundreds available may seem overwhelming at first, but with a little time and effort, you’ll have it narrowed down in no time.
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