Dog Breed Information
If you're thinking about getting a pedigree dog, you need to do your research to make sure the breed you opt for is perfect for you.
Different dog breeds have very different characteristics and behaviour patterns, which can be traced right back to the original roles each were bred for. You can find out more about individual breeds from reputable breeders, breed associations and vets, but here's a quick guide to start you off.
Terriers were originally bred to go to ground (hence their name - terra is Latin for 'earth'). Terriers are tough and well-known for their tenacious, fiery and resilient natures. They can make very loving pets and if you like a dog with spirit, a Terrier could be the perfect choice. They can however, be a little full on for first time dog owners.
Terriers' coats are generally tough, to protect against briars, scratches from quarry and the worst of the weather. Most Terriers are fairly small (so they can squeeze into small holes). But there are also medium-sized varieties, as well as the Airedale Terrier, known as the 'king of the Terriers', which is the largest of them all.
Because of an instinctive interest in 'prey' animals, great care should be taken when introducing a Terrier into a cat household. Similarly, never trust a Terrier around the family guinea pig or rabbit.
Terriers also adore digging, so a sandpit with some hidden toys could help save your garden, while deeply buried dog run fences can help thwart a tunnelling escape!
Hounds are hunting dogs, bred to locate their food either through scent (like the Bloodhound) or by sight (the Greyhound). How Hounds hunt is the key to their character and typical behaviour, besides dictating the best way to train them. Hound breeds can often appear dignified and aloof - until you get to know them!
Hound coat-types are pretty diverse, including the smooth Beagle, the wire-haired Basset Griffon Vendeen, and the glamorous Saluki or Afghan Hound. Hounds also come in all shapes and sizes, from the Miniature Dachshund to the Whippet and one of the largest of all dog breeds, the Irish Wolfhound.
Hounds need a fair amount of prolonged exercise. Sight Hounds, bred for short, sharp bursts of activity, are happy with a series of good sprints each day. With a strongly developed chase instinct, they can be tricky with cats and should only be let them off the lead (dependant on local council laws) if they are safe around small breeds and will reliably come when called. Greyhounds may be required to be muzzled in public at all times. Check with your local council to see what is required.
Scent Hounds love putting their noses to the ground and sniffing out interesting smells, which means you will need to frequently check their ears and faces for ticks and prickles. They can often live in a world of their own, too, so when training you will have to work particularly hard on recall commands. And you should ensure your garden fencing is secure as scent Hounds will often try to follow their noses.
Gundogs were bred to be hunting companions that find, flush out and fetch game for their owners. The breed group includes:
- Spaniels (such as the Cocker Spaniel and English Springer Spaniel)
- Retrievers (such as the Labrador Retriever and Golden Retriever)
- Hunt, point and retrieve breeds (such as the German shorthaired pointer and Hungarian Vassal)
- Setters (such as the Irish Setter and English Setter)
Different Gundogs each had a specific role in the past: Setters would search for birds, 'setting' or freezing when a bird was found; Spaniels would flush out the birds to be shot; retrievers retrieved the game. Hunt, point and retrieve breeds, such as the Munster Lander, were then developed to do all three jobs, the 'multi-taskers' of the Gundog world.
Gundogs commonly have medium-length coats to protect against dense undergrowth when working. This group contains some of our most popular breeds, such as the Labrador, Golden Retriever and Cocker Spaniel, all of whom make loving, family pets, with a reputation of being great with children.
As pets, Gundogs are active and intelligent, but need lots of exercise and mental stimulation to keep them occupied. Ears tend to be long and can be prone to infection, so need to be checked regularly.
Many working dogs were developed for herding sheep, such as the Collie breeds in the UK and the Huntaway here in New Zealand. The Huntaway is also used to work cattle and larger animals. The Finnish Lapphund and Samoyed were bred to herd reindeer, and the giant Pyrenean mountain dog to protect flocks against wolves and even wild bears! Working dog breeds have had to work in all weathers and have grown a double, waterproof coat.
Working dogs are renowned for their intelligence, which means they aren't always the easiest to handle and train. So a great deal of kind, fun training is needed to keep their brains active or you may find them herding joggers, cyclists or even cars. Generally they are difficult dogs to keep in urban settings.
Many people who keep working dogs purely as pets take up a canine sport - such as agility, flyball or heelwork to music - to keep them busy and to improve their relationship. Their special coat needs regular grooming to stop it matting.
Some working dogs were originally bred for a wide range of jobs to help their owners, some of them pretty extraordinary:
- The Doberman was bred to guard its tax-collecting owner, Louis Dobermann.
- The Siberian Husky was a sled dog for the Chuckchi Arctic tribe.
- The life-saving St Bernard rescued lost travellers across the Swiss Alps.
- The Great Dane was originally bred to hunt packs of wild boar.
- The Rottweiler would drive and guard cattle.
- The Newfoundland, a fisherman's dog, was taught to look after the nets in the water.
These dogs are generally large (the smallest being the German Pinscher) though some, such as the Great Dane and the St Bernard, are real giants.
If you're interested in a more unusual breed, it's very important to research its origins first. For example, Siberian Huskies are bred to run and pull, so they take a lot of lead-training, while guard breeds need a lot of socialisation to ensure they treat people as friends and not threats.
A good breeder should tip you off about particular behavioural traits and will advise you about how to prevent any potential problems.
Not every pure breed has a working ancestry. Breeds in the toy group were predominantly best friends and companions, bred to be small so they could be carried by elegant ladies and fit easily on a lap. They were often highly prized and became a symbol of royalty and wealth, and because of these connections, their popularity grew, as companions and fashionable accessories.
The toy breeds were developed to look and feel beautiful, and to behave well for their doting owners. Some are irresistibly 'stroke able', while others look like adorable puppies well into the adulthood, which enhanced the owner's feeling of protection.
Toy breeds don't need a lot of exercise, but thrive on human companionship. They can get very upset if you leave them on their own for long periods. Their coats require some attention, too, so if you can't cope with time-consuming grooming, opt for something more manageable, like a short-coated Pug, or a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.
This is a mixed bag of breeds that don't really fit into the other pedigree groups. Utility dogs range from the small, glamorous Shih Tzu to the large, athletic, short-coated Dalmatian, and from the highly-coiffured Poodle to the bald Mexican Hairless. Some of the most popular include:
- The Akita - a large, powerful hunting and guarding dog from Japan;
- The Boston Terrier - a pit-fighting dog;
- The Bulldog - a tenacious bull-baiter;
- The Dalmatian - part of the non sporting dogs. An elegant carriage dog;
- The Lhasa Apso - a watchdog from the Buddhist monasteries of Tibet;
- The Poodle - a retriever of sorts, used for disturbing and collecting game from the water;
- The Shar-Pei - a hunting and guarding dog;
- The Shih Tzu - originally from Tibet, a symbol of Chinese royalty during the Manchu dynasty and a professional companion dog.
To choose the right utility dog for your lifestyle, it's best to consult a breeder about behaviour characteristics and needs.
There are no obvious generalities amongst utility dogs - exercise, grooming and training requirements are very diverse. The Dalmatian is a born runner that needs lots of vigorous exercise, whereas the Shih Tzu is quite happy with a potter around the garden. The Poodle is a smart, active breed that does well in the canine sports, but you wouldn't catch a Bulldog leaping around playing flyball!