Dogs come in all shapes and sizes. As of now, there are 340 recognized breeds worldwide. But why so many? Because we use them for so many things – from sledding and water rescue to companionship. So how do you go about choosing the right breed for you and your family?
Too often, people look for the wrong qualities in dogs. A mismatch between dogs and their people ultimately puts the dog in a bad situation where their needs are ignored or they’re given up to a shelter.
Some dogs look like teddy bears while others can only be described as regal. Some dogs can outweigh your sixth grader while others can fit in your purse, but size and looks are no way to judge which kind of dog you should bring home. Instead, you should focus on getting to know as much as you can about the breed you’re interested in.
Breed Function and Instincts
Each breed has a natural repertoire of behaviors we usually refer to as instincts. No amount of training can override an instinct, so what you have is what you’ll get. In this way, you’ll want to be sure that you become as informed as you can with the breed’s intended function so that you can get a sense of what their instinctive behaviors will be.
Herding dogs will readily herd, water dogs will readily swim, companion dogs will readily cuddle and so on. This is not to say that dogs don’t have plenty of overlap in these abilities, but in most breeds, one of these abilities has been greatly magnified through artificial selection. There are also secondary instincts you should consider. A dog’s instinct to bark, for instance, is no accident. Barking (or not barking) serves an important role in the jobs each breed was created to do. Digging is another instinct many dogs have either been bred to do and in some breeds, it’s a form of self-preservation. An example of this is most vermin hunting dogs – including dachshunds and many terriers – were bred to dig into burrows to hunt down vermin and small animals, while huskies and chow chows will dig to find cooler dirt to lay in when it’s hot. Both barking and digging can be deal breakers that you’ll want to know about before making the decision to bring one of these breeds home.
Instinct Specific Stimulation
Knowing what instincts have been bred into your dog will not only help you decide if they are a fit for your lifestyle but will also help you understand what kind of stimulation they’ll need. Every dog needs stimulation to ensure mental and emotional well-being. Each breed will need function specific games and activities. For instance, herding dogs who are trained to execute herding commands will excel in a home where they are taught a wide range of commands and signals. A scent hound will excel in a home where they are given the opportunity to track, even if it’s just finding your kindergartener’s lost left shoe. Cart and sledding dogs will be happiest if given the opportunity to pull, even if it’s just their owner on a pair of roller blades.
No dog is born perfectly able to complete these tasks, instinct or not. You’ll still need to train them to focus on commands, to track what you want them to track, and to keep the cart on the path. When choosing a dog breed that’s right for you, you’ll not only need to understand what their breed function is but also if you are willing and able to stimulate them properly.