Basset hounds, German shepherds, and poodles sporting crazy hairdos are prancing in front of pet lovers this week at the 138th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. How do you know if a breed is right for you?
Dr. Suzanne Dempsey, a doctor of veterinary medicine from the Center for Animal Referral and Emergency Services in Langhorne, Penn., has advice for would-be dog owners.
Q: When buying a purebred pooch, what are the key considerations?
A: Do your research. The American Kennel Club's website is a good place to review breeds and their temperament. There are organizations for every breed out there. Many breed groups even have their own rescue organizations, which is a great way to help a dog. Sometimes it is simply that someone passed away or moved and couldn't take their pet – now the dog needs a home.
It's important to know common problems and breed dispositions before running out and getting a dog. Look into energy levels and behavior: is the breed territorial? If so, don't be surprised if they are protective of you or their food. Some dogs can be managed differently if you take them to training classes, but, as a whole, the breed may be inclined to be territorial.
A lot of people like French and English bulldogs but don't realize the problems that come along with their anatomic structures. They just think they are cute dogs. Many bulldogs need surgery to breathe more normally, even as puppies. They often need surgery to remove tissue because they are bred to look a certain way. If people get a squished-face dog without doing their research, they often are surprised and financially strained by the associated costs.
Q. What breed do you recommend if you live in an apartment?
A. Not a dog that's bred to be a hunting, farm, or herding dog, as they are generally very active. Smaller is probably better than bigger. But some bigger dogs are couch potatoes, including Greyhounds, surprisingly. They still like to go out and get exercise, but they like to lounge around indoors. Great Danes, in fact, also are rather mellow in the house. They definitely need their daily walks, though. Keep in mind that, as they age, a lot of dogs get quiet as they get older.
Q. What if you live in a house?
A. Most breeds are pretty good house dogs. Something people don't realize is that the smaller the dog, the more likely there will be pee-in-the-house problems. Small dogs can get overwhelmed by square-footage. That's because dogs have the area where they live, and then where they go to the bathroom. A room might be considered home to a small dog, while the next room might seem like their wilderness. Small dogs can be more prone to having difficulty when it comes to housebreaking.
Q. What breeds do you recommend if you have small kids?
A. If you have small kids, it's a good idea to get a young dog that can grow up with those kids. That's easier than an adult dog – unless the dog has proven to be good around them. Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers are generally favorites of families. A lot of people say, I'm going to get a dog when the kids can help out. Older kids certainly can walk hunting dogs like Springer Spaniels or Hungarian Vizslas. I don't really know if there are any "bad" dogs to have with older kids.
Q. Do any specific breeds blend well if you have another dog?
A. Assess your current dog's personality – is it jealous, territorial, or possessive? If it's already aggressive toward other dogs, be careful, even if you're getting a puppy. Be sure all interactions are supervised. Keeping a puppy crated when unsupervised will help an older dog get used to a puppy.
Q. Do you have any tips on investigating a breeder?
A. Ask about the entire lineage: what about the grandparents? Were they healthy and did they live to old ages? Know the breed history as well as the pet's individual history. Ask for references. If they've been breeding for 15 years, ask the breeder if you can speak with people who have adopted a few dogs. I'm sure I'll get hate mail on this, but avoid getting a dog at a pet store. The puppy mill situation encourages farming of pets. They don't necessarily come with the greatest health.
[Editor's note: This interview was edited from its original form for content and brevity.]