All Things Dog

Always research a breed that interests you

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Before you decide to get a breed of dog based on its look or image, you need to think about what it was originally bred for. For instance, can you handle a terrier digging in your garden, or an Australian Cattle Dog chasing other animals? This article gives you some guidance.

When choosing a dog, there are several questions any future owners must ask themselves: "Do I have time in my busy schedule for daily walks?" or "Will my new dog get along with the children?"

The next step usually involves looking for the type of dog you'd like to own. But how many people, when looking for a particular breed, ask why a dog was bred and what genetic traits that breed will inherit. These important questions are often neglected until the dog develops behavior we humans would class as undesirable.

Take Megan, for example, a purebred Australian Cattle Dog who at 12 years of age was taken to an animal shelter because her behavior was completely unacceptable. She was on "death row" for the "crime" of chasing livestock-a task that she was genetically designed to do.

In the world of canines, this scenario is common. Many dogs are unfairly classified as behavioral "misfits" when they reveal the qualities they were designed to carry out. Terriers that dig holes, Beagles that howl at the moon, and Retrievers that catch birds are all good examples of dogs that are condemned for displaying perfectly normal, but often unacceptable, behavior.

Prized and despised
Ironically, most of these behaviors are prized and despised by humans. A terrier, living on a farm, that kills small animals is highly valued, while the same breed of dog, living in the city, embracing the same actions, may be branded as "vicious." Beagles whose howling can be heard for miles earn praise for a hunter and a criminal citation for the urban pet owner. Though simple ignorance is usually blamed for this paradox, the facts do not support that assumption. A person who buys an Alaskan Malamute invariably brags about the fact that they are used as sled dogs. This claim is usually left unfinished as their dog drags them briskly down the street like a sack of potatoes.

Fantasy
The real culprit in this dilemma is probably not ignorance, but fantasy. A common reason for choosing a particular breed is not the reality of the animal's behavioral traits, but the image it will project to others. Books about various breeds and species of pets cater to this process. Giant breeds are often described in terms such as, "powerful" and "fiercely loyal". Border Collies are reputed to be "intelligent" and "obedient." The animal is selected because of the slogans attached to it, not because of any actual knowledge of the breed.

Most often, basing the selection of a dog based on reputation leads to problems. The regal looking Mastiff may eventually weigh in the region of 170 pounds, and splatter long tendrils of drool on the walls and sofas while casually eyeing the neighbor's cat as his next meal. The Border Collie, without daily opportunities to chase sheep, may keep himself amused with irregular activities such as chasing shadows or nipping the heels of small children. Each animal will offer perfectly normal behavior that represents the reality behind its image. The unprepared owner will be frustrated and disappointed that the dog does not live up to unrealistic expectations.

Factors to consider
Selecting a dog based on real, rather than imagined, qualities is the first step toward building a successful relationship. There are factors that every owner should consider, such as matching the breed of dog to your lifestyle. Think about your lifestyle objectively, considering physical aspects such as space, and emotional aspects such as how you will keep your dog mentally stimulated.

Research the type of pet you want before you buy or adopt. Speak to other owners and breeders rather than automatically trusting books or magazines that are written by enthusiasts. Even the most objective person may unintentionally exaggerate a dog's good points while minimizing the bad. Go back to the history books and study the purpose of the breed to understand the genetic traits you may have to put up with in the future. If there is a local club or organization for the breed you want, see if you can attend a meeting or get to know some of the members.

It's all about awareness
Owning a pet is all about awareness, so as a future pet owner it is your duty to find out about the dog you are going to own. This does not mean you should put up with dangerous behavior from your dog, but it does mean that by being aware of their breeding and personality traits, you can keep them on the straight and narrow. So next time you find your Terrier digging a hole in your garden, don't punish him-find something else to occupy his mind, and remember it's in his genes!

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