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Puppy Picker: Which Breed is Best?

One of the most important decisions you can make about your new puppy is which one to bring home with you. Whether you've decided on a breeder or a shelter, a purebred or a mixed breed, you still have many decisions to make. Do you want a male, or a female? Do you want the biggest, or the runt? What breed are you going to decide on? And can you predict the adult personality from a puppy's temperament, or are they truly "blank slates"?

Let's start first of all with the question of breed. Different breeds were designed to suit different purposes. For instance, if you want a lap dog happy to lay at your feet the entire day with a single 30 minute stroll, you do not want to be considering a border collie. Likewise, a pug is not going to be very well suited to driving cattle all day. There are several different groups of breeds, according to the American Kennel Club. These groupings are supposed to reflect the dog's original type and purpose. They are: the Herding Group, the Hound Group, the Terrier Group, the Working Group, the Sporting Group, the Non-Sporting Group, the Toy Group, and the Miscellaneous Group. Sometimes by narrowing down what category might fit your lifestyle best, you can narrow down the breeds that best suit your needs.


The Sporting Group (or the Gun Dog Group) was designed originally to hunt alongside man for food and for sport. Sight and Scent hounds were originally both included in this group, along with terriers, until the Hound group and Terrier group were seperated out. Examples of this group include the much loved Labrador Retriever and Golden Retriever, the Cocker Spaniel, and lesser known breeds such as the Sussex Spaniel, the Vizsla, the Spinone, and the Kooikerhondje from the Netherlands.

The Hound Group is often subdivided into sight-hounds and scent-hounds, with a third grouping of 'primitive dogs'. Some examples of this group inclue the Greyhound, the Afghan Hound, the Canaan dog, the New Guinea Singing dog, and the Bloodhound.

The Terrier Group was designed to 'go to ground' after their prey- and this is how they got their name as 'terriers'. Dachshunds are traditionally classified as scent hounds, but as they were designed to go to ground after badgers, I think they should be classed as terriers. Most terriers originated in Britain, bred from various hounds. Some examples are: the Airedale terrier, the Yorkshire terrier, the Cairn terrier, the Jack Russell terrier, Scottish terrier, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and the West Highland White Terrier (the Westie).

The Toy Group was bred to be companions and pets as opposed to working dogs. Even so, many toy dogs also earned their keep as pest control and watch dogs (alerting with fearsome barking as opposed to physically stopping intruders most of the time). Examples of this group include the Pekingese, the Miniature Pinscher (which is not a derivitive of the Doberman Pinscher, as Min Pins predate Dobies by some 200 years!), the Papillon, the Maltese, the Pomeranian, and the Chihuahua.

The Non-sporting Group (also known as the Utility Group) which was originally supposed to be a "catch-all" group for those breeds that didn't exactly fit the parameters of other groups. Obviously this ultimately failed, as we have the Miscellaneous group now, but it shows the ever-changing nature of the classification of breeds. Some well known members of this group at the Poodle, the Dalmatian, the Boston Terrier, the Bulldog, the French Bulldog, and the Lhasa Apso. Some rarer examples include the German Spitz, the Akita, the Schipperke, and the Tibetan Terrier. 

The Working Group was designed to classify the breeds that worked for man in other ways than Hunting. The Herding Group was split off from the Working Group. Some examples of this category include: the Bernese Mountain Dog, the Newfoundland, the Rottweiler, the Husky, the Doberman, and the Boxer.

The Herding Group is the newest group to the AKC. This group includes those breeds bred to herd animals for man, and includes: the Border Collie, German Shepherd, Swedish Vallhund, Briard, and Australian Cattle Dog.

The Miscellaneous Group was designed to categorize breeds not fully recognized by the AKC and who have not yet been categorized into a group officially. Some examples of these breeds include: the Boerboel, American English Coonhound, Pumi, Finnish Lapphund, Rat Terrier, and Dogo Argentino. 


The best thing you can do when narrowing down breeds is to do your research on breed tendencies and origins. Keep an open mind- don't get set on one particular breed, especially if it's a rare breed! Instead, try to narrow down your breeds to four or five acceptable choices. From there you can narrow down by individual, shelter, or breeder. Keep in mind your wishes- would you like a dog that practically trains itself, or one that challenges you a bit more? Do you want a dog who is stuck by your side all day, or a dog who is more independent? How about grooming requirements? How protective would you like your dog to be, and how would you like the dog to perceive children? 

If you're stuck, I would suggest taking a quiz of sorts to help narrow down your choices. If you have an iDevice (iPhone, iPod, or iPad) I would recommend DogShow from the Apple Appstore. Otherwise, you can try a breed selector on the Internet. I love Animal Planet's breed selector, because it's short, to the point, and also allows you to 'opt out' of answering questions that don't apply to you or that you have no preference on. SelectSmart's breed selector has some questionable accuracy, but could be used with other questionaires and some good old research to help suggest some breeds you many not think of. One good thing about this selector is that you can determine how important each question is to you. However, to get your results you need to scroll down a bit, and it's a little less than intuitive. Purina has a good selector (they also have a cat breed selector). I really like how you can opt out of questions and even more how it gives you immediate results an compare the breeds. 


Take a look through some of the selectors. Did the results surprise you? If you already have a dog, was that breed suggested to you by the selectors? How did you decide on a breed?


Puppy Picker: Breeders

It's definitely puppy season, full of wagging tails and wet noses, and best of all puppy grunts! Plenty of people are either purchasing or thinking about purchasing a new puppy. How do you ensure that you don't contribute to the success of a puppy mill?

The best way to ensure you are not purchasing from a puppy mill is to adopt from a shelter. There are many perfectly healthy, normal, young puppies (sometimes even purebreds!) who are waiting for their forever homes in a shelter. A shelter with a nonprofit status isn't going to be getting rich off of your adoption donation. A puppy from a shelter is also likely to be cheaper than a puppy from a breeder, and often may have the neuter or spay surgery and some shots thrown in. Sometimes, they are even microchipped already, giving you a way to permanently identify your puppy throughout their life. You should ask as many questions as you can think of about the puppies and their history, and be aware that the shelter staff may not have all the answers. They may not have gotten any information from the person who bred them. This potential lack of information is often perfectly fine for the casual owner looking for a companion. However, this is also the reason why buying from a breeder is the only thing that fits the bill for other potential owners, particularly if it is imperative to the owner to know genetic details and facts about the lineage of the puppies, and to get any sort of certifications and guarantees about the puppy. 

When looking at a breeder, do your homework. Be prepared to wait for a puppy, as some excellent breeders do not even breed the parents until they have buyers for all the potential puppies. In addition to a possible waiting list, the breeder may ask you questions about your lifestyle, your home, and your needs for the puppy. Are you planning on a family pet? Working dog? Protection? Do you intend to do a particular sport with this dog? Some breeders will match you with a puppy, rather than letting you pick. Many good breeders will be happy to sit down with you and talk about the pros and cons of the breed to help you decide whether that breed will work for you. They should be experts on ther breed and be able to answer your questions. They will also be able to discuss the pros and cons of each individual puppy with you as you decide- if they don't know each of the puppies individually, that is a red flag.

When you talk to the breeder, ask questions. Is there a guarantee if there should be a genetic defect, so that you can return the puppy for another of like quality or your money back if you needed to? If you found you could not care for the puppy, even after the puppy was grown, will the breeder take the pup back? What is the genetic history like, especially for things that the particular breed is known for: cancer in Goldens, hip and elbow displaysia in German Shepherds, etc? If the breed has a known tendency toward joint problems, have the joints been x-rayed and certified by OFA? If the breed has a known tendency toward eye problems, have the eyes been checked and certified normal (CERF exam) by an opthalmologist? Have the puppies been seen by a veterinarian, and do they have a clean bill of health? Have they been started on vaccinations?

You want to be working with a breeder who will ask you questions and interview you. A good breeder cares about their animals, and will not sell to just anyone. They know that a high-strung dog bred for strenuous work is not going to make the best pet for elderly shut-ins. They also know that a sensitive, shy dog who really just wants to lay around all day won't be the best companion for an active family with rambunctious children. Since a good breeder wants their puppies to be happy as well as for the customer to be happy, they will try to avoid those sorts of matches. The best breeders will do genetic tests on the parents (especially the mother) to be sure to minimize genetic defects, or they will have had the line for several generations so as to know the risk of genetic defects. These breeders will be working hard to keep driving the risk of genetic defects down- a breeder with a high rate of congenital problems in their puppies is a breeder to avoid buying from.

Spend time with the mother. The mother should not be too old or too young. She should not be overbred, as a good breeder will ensure that she has time to recover from each litter. She should be in good health, and she should be involved in activities she enjoys, whether those are competitions, or simply long strolls.

When you look at the puppies and meet the breeder, insist on meeting the parents and seeing the place where the puppies spend most of the time. What you are looking for is for the parents to have a temperament agreeable to what you want in the puppy and for the area where the puppies are raised to be part of the family home and clean and well kept. This is imperative, and if you cannot meet the parents (especially the mother) you shoul not buy from that breeder at that time. Pay attention to the parents' personalities. If you can't get close to them for fear of getting bitten, their puppies may not be suitable for an active family home with lots of visitors coming and going. Are the puppies well-fed and healthy, free of parasites? Have they been started on their socialization?

There should be plenty of enrichment opportunities, like toys and sticks, and outside play time. Do not buy from a breeder who urges you to meet them on the side of the road somewhere or who resists letting you meet the parents and see the puppies' room. Do not buy from a pet store, because you cannot be sure of the quality of the breeder, and may inadvertently be supporting a puppy mill. Do not buy from the internet and have the puppy shipped to you without checking out the breeder. If you don't want to spend much time in the puppies' room because of cleanliness issues, that should be a red flag.

As hard as it is to resist "rescuing" a puppy from a puppy mill, do your best to walk away empty handed. Owners of puppy mills generally do not care about their pets. They don't care about the quality of the puppy, not about the physical or emotional or social health of the animals. They only care about making the maximum amount of money, so every puppy sold is another reason to continue the abuse and neglect and churn out dozens and dozens more puppies, some of whom will be resigned to a fate of waking on wires, wading in filth, and turning out litter aft litter of puppies. Additionally, many puppy mills dogs end up having health or behavior problems stemming from their heritage as puppy mill puppies- these can be costly for you as an owner to handle appropriately. Instead, if you suspect you have seen a puppy mill, notify your local Humane Society and Animal Control.




I was asked by someone the other day, "What kind of signals do you prefer when giving a command- verbal, or visual?"

It was a great question. The short answer is: both, but visual I think is easier for the dog. People are very verbal with their dogs. You hear it all the time- maybe with yourself. "Sit, Fido, Sit. Sit. Sit! Sit Down!" We're verbal with each other, as well- verbal communication makes up a large part of how we transfer information from one to another (the deaf population and the written word being two large and important exceptions).

Dogs, on the other hand, are very visual. Most of their communication is done through body language, which is visual in nature. That is why you can talk to your dog until you're blue in the face sometimes, but once you stand in a particular way, your dog starts listening to you! Chances are, if this is you, that your dog is looking to you for cues from your body language, not your words. Try this sometime: Videotape yourself and memorize your body language when you give a simple cue your dog knows and listens to- Sit or Down being likely candidates. Then, move in that same way, but tell your dog a nonsense word: "Oogabooga," for instance. Chances are your dog will respond as if you had given your actual command- as long as your body language is consistent enough for your dog to have picked up on it.

This is why many times when someone comes to me and their dog knows a command but is not following it, I look at their body language. If they can consistently give one body language signal for each command (and it could be subtle, if you want- show dogs are often trained with subtle signals), many times their dog starts obeying like magic (so long as there isn't a motivation issue). Body language also frees you up to communicate to other humans at the same time- such as if you are on the phone. Give a signal (often this is a hand signal) and pair it with the verbal signal until you can simply give the hand signal and your dog obeys. Or better yet, if you haven't yet trained the command, give the hand signal first or right with the verbal cue while introducing the command to your dog!

Be aware of your body language, and have fun speaking Dog!


Going Slow

I want to share a short story about a friend of mine. This family owns a wonderful dog who, like many other dogs, did not get out as much as he used to in the winter (and certainly not much on concrete). Since the weather turned so wonderfully nice lately, they decided to make up for lost time and one of the family members took the dog with her on a long walk. Afterwards, they noticed bloody spots on their flooring and upon further inspection it was clear that the dog had worn right through his paw pads on both of his back feet. That well-intentioned long walk was too much too quickly for the dog!

Similarly, I have clients occasionally who want quick changes in their dogs in short time periods. Oftentimes, the problem behavior is pullng or jumping up. Expecting the dog to go from puppyish, bad manners to a perfect dog who never makes a mistake in a couple weeks is simply expecting too much. The dog is not a robot- you can't simply reprogram him, just like the poor dog in the example above could not reprogram his feet to make them tougher. I usually find that the root cause for unwanted jumping and pulling, especially if the owner has previously tried (and failed) to correct it is poor impulse control. To build up impulse control is a slow and steady thing. By all means, expect to see results. But don't expect them to be all at once. By all means, take your pooch for a walk. But gradually increase the distance and time of the walk so you dont inadvertently hurt your dog. 

The parallels here were just too much to ignore. I hope it's a good reminder for you, as it is for me!



Many things can motivate us, and likewise, many things can motivate our pets. Both sides of the relationship are important in training. If the animal is not motivated, no behavior modification plan will be successful. If the owner is not motivated, the training will not stick- it will either be abandoned prematurely before the learning has a chance to take hold, or it will be forgotten after training is 'over' and the behavior will slowly revert back to its original state. This is why I place so much emphasis on the owner side of the relationship- not because I am dismissing the importance of the pet's motivation, but because if the training is going to last, the onus is on the owner.

Cats are widely considered to be untrainable. In fact, they are very easy to train. What is hard for many people is to find a way to motivate their cat. Your cat may not be motivated by food, or perhaps he is motivated by a different kind of food than what you are offering. My cat Friendly likes cheese best, while my cat Zuggy prefers cat treats (any flavor will do, as long as it is moist). Neither of my cats enjoys dry cat treats, so I simply do not offer them as a reward. And what about play? Many young cats love to play, and play can be offered as a reward for desired behavior just as it can in dogs. How about physical affection? Most cats enjoy the tops of their heads down to the base of their tails to be rubbed. This is where their scent glands are, and cats find great satisfaction in getting their scent all over you (and the rest of your home). However, very few cats enjoy harsh rubbing or patting- these things will likely serve only to motivate your cat to get out of there!

Dogs, likewise, will work for food, play, and physical affection. Different dogs desire differ kinds of food, play, and affection, however, so it is important to know your dog. Boo loves the old chest rub and rib slapping- it gears her up and makes her so goofy happy. Lenny hates that sort of thing. He prefers gentle stroking of his face and ears or scratching of his chest. You also want to pay attention to the behavior you want out of your dog. If I am praising Boo for remaining in a stay and do not want her to break that stay, by no means am I going to gear her up! That would only get her to break and would be unfair. Instead, soothing, gentle strokes and crooning low praise lets hr know that I am pleased with what she is doing, and helps her to continue that stay.

Dogs will of course also work to avoid physical discomfort or pain, but I am of the mind that you might as well try the above first if at all possible. But this last sort of motivation is the idea behind training collars, prongs, and e-collars. It is also the idea behind pressure- gentle, steady, consistent pressure will motivate the dog to move away from said pressure without causing pain or undue discomfort. It takes practice at first, but once the dog has been taught with pressure, you can use it to communicate with your dog without the senses of hearing or sight. Lenny was taught with pressure, and he will now down almost immediately with the lightest of pressure downward on his collar (just one finger will do nicely) or sit with light pressure upward on his collar. It is a very helpful tool to use to remind him of commands when he has lost his brain.

Owners need to stay motivated themselves during the training process. That is why in some cases I will recommend keeping a log so that you can see gradual progress in your dog's behavior. This is why I spend a lot of time and energy making sure my clients are comfortable with the training and feel like they can handle it. This is also why all of my clients have unlimited access to me for questions via phone or email while in training and afterward. Having a lifeline (in this case me) and social support can often help motivate people through tough times in training, and these tough times will come up now and again! With tough or embarrassing behavior problems, owner motivation becomes critical, and thus motivation and support are central to my Feisty Fido classes. Knowledge is a great motivator, I have found, and so I find myself an educator to my clients. When I leave, I want you to feel comfortable that you can follow your training plan just as I would, and therefore receive the same results.

Keep an eye on motivation in your home for the next week or so: things that motivate you and things that motivate other members of your household. You may be surprised at what you discover! 

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