Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Know Thy Breed

As Part II from last weeks Know Thy Breed and Breeder, I will discuss a little bit more about picking the right dog breed for your family.  A bit of full disclosure here:  Out of the past 5 dogs my family has had, only one has been a purebred.  The purebred (who even had AKC papers) was what I would affectionately call a genetic disaster.  He had congenital neurological issues (issues with his brain and spinal cord).  He was very cute and he walked like a dressage horse, but he he was definitely not the picture of good genetics.

Not only am I somewhat biased towards mixed breeds based on my family pet experience, just looking at the dogs I see coming into the clinic, the mixed breeds often fare better than the purebreds in that they tend to not get as many diseases (their diseases are also not as predictable) and they are almost all dogs who have been saved from a bad fate.  Now as stated in the last post, there are some great breeders who do everything they can to help the breed avoid health problems and carry on the standards of breeds.  I do have some breeds that I really do like and could imagine owning someday (although most likely if I do, they will have some type of special need, that's just kind of how I roll as a vet).  Who better to rescue the special needs dog than a veterinary health professional?

So some breeds I would like to bring to your attention: large breeds, such as Dobermans, Rotties, German Shepherds, Great Danes, Cane Corsos to name a few are best owned by people who can train dogs and can be strict.  A Chihuahua jumping on your lap- not a big deal; a 100 pound dog mowing you down = big deal.  I will confess that jumping is the one thing I have been unable to cure my own dog of even with the assistance of professional trainers.  But I have trained him to be ok to go in a crate, or I put him in a different room, etc so when company comes they are hopefully not knocked down.  Any type of aggression in the above breeds needs to be carefully monitored and managed as these dogs are powerful.

Mastiffs are also another large dog and they can be aggressive in some cases, but they can also be great with small dogs and in apartment situations.  These dogs, though they are big, do not need a lot of exercise.  They are kind of like giant couch potatoes.

Weimeraners, Vislas, Dalmations, German Short-Haired Pointers- these are all breeds that are bred to run.  If you can't give these dogs adequate exercise (and we are talking somewhere around a 3-5 mile run equivalent) then you may end up with some behavioral problems.  They are meant to be active and they only do well with people who are equally active.  (Running and dogs may be another topic for another post, I'm not advocating training for a marathon with these dogs, dogs are best served by having free space to run and not get pavement injuries).

Terriers- oh terriers.  Sometimes in the veterinary community their nickname is "terrorist".  Some are sweet and small and wonderful.  My favorite among the terrier breeds are Rat Terriers.  They just seem to have one of the better temperaments.  But they are still terriers.  This means that they bark and hunt small prey.  I had someone once that I casually met say they wanted to get a terrier (it was a pre-teen).  I mentioned to the Mom that they can bark.  Apparently the family lived in a townhouse.  Perhaps not the best breed for neighbors who don't like dogs...  They also can be nippy.  I would say the nippiest and most energetic and terrier that I would only recommend for experienced people would be a Wheaton Terrier.  They are one of the larger dogs in the Terrier group and they require a lot of exercise and attention.  I would get a Terrier with caution around small children.

Dachshunds and Chihuahuas.  Ok.  A little backstory here.  In my over 20 years in the veterinary profession, I've been bitten (broke the flesh) by 3 dogs.  I've been nipped at by probably somewhere in the 4 figures.  What has kept the number at only 3 dogs?  I don't trust certain breeds, and that is why I have not had a significant bite in 8 years.  Out of those 3 dogs, 2 were Dachshunds.  One of which also bits its owner (There's nothing like being in the ER and the client is also there with a bite from the same dog).  The other dog was a Schnauzer.  All 3 of the dogs were likely painful.  As a rule, I am cautious around all Dachshunds and Chihuahuas.  I try not to put myself in a position where I will be bit.  I handle these situations by either using a muzzle, pharmaceuticals or just telling the owner I can not safely do an exam on their dog without safety precautions.  I do not put a muzzle or drug up every Chihuahua or Dachshund I see, but I am leary if I see one and make sure I have the most experienced and trustworthy people helping me.  These small dogs do not make the bite list of "most dog bites" but they are more feared in the veterinary profession than Pit Bulls are.  Pit Bulls are a breed that really gets a bad rap.  Most Pit Bulls, especially with good owners, are wonderful dogs.  Most of the time if they want to bite you, they will let you know well in advance.  Chihuahuas and Dachshunds will  seem like they like you are doing fine and then they crunch on your fingers.

Small dogs in general can have something I call "Napoleon Complex".  They can have fear anxiety and if they are fearful, they will bite.  They know they only have one shot at getting out of the situation.  Larger dogs- they basically know that if they need to, they can kill you, so they aren't as threatened most of the time.  I don't think most Chihuahua and small dog bites get reported because most of the time it doesn't do enough damage to go to the hospital, or their bites are seen as small annoyances.  We had one client once who had a small dog who bit kids and the owner didn't seem to have a problem with it.  She was told that it was unacceptable and she needed to keep the dog separated.  Bites can become a big problem.

Goldens and Labradors are classic "family" dogs.  They need exercise an

d attention but they are generally happy and go lucky.  Chocolate labradors can sometimes have a unique personality, so I would only recommend a Chocolate lab to a more experienced person, same with Chesapeake Bay Retrievers.

English Setters and Irish Setters I generally like (may be biased because our first family dog had Setter in her).  They, as well as Border Collies and Australian Shepherds, are all very smart breeds, but they are hunting breeds.  They need "work".  When I say that, I mean they need to be properly stimulated through exercise and attention.  These dogs are prone to get Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Separation Anxiety or other issues if they are bored, even to the point where they can become destructive.  These breeds would not be good in a household that's gone most of the day.

Please let me know if there's any other breeds you would like to hear about, but I thought I'd give just a brief summary of what we observe as veterinarians.  You can understand that if you have a mix of a couple of breeds you can sometimes get the best of each : )

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