February 24, 2005

Mixed Breed Dogs

One of my favourite dogs was a mixed-breed, with a family tree that could only be guessed at. He was a real 'genteman' in every sense of the word. But I'd be the first to admit that I was lucky.

While pure bred dogs may have the breed characteristics to a greater or lesser degree, at least you have some guidelines. You can be fairly sure that your labrador is not going to chase and nip the children, that your border collie will herd, and your doberman will guard your property.

With mixed breed dogs it's more of a lottery. While the pup's owner will generally describe their poppet as a cross between two identifiable breeds, chances are that both parents were cross breeds so there are numerous unidentifiable sources of unknown characteristics. But mixed breed dogs can be wonderful pets if you have some flexibility with regard to ultimate size, coat type and herding / fetching/ guarding instincts and if they are socialized and trained as puppies to fit in with your lifestyle. Adopting an older mixed breed, rather than a puppy, might be a solution if you need specific qualities in your dog.

One thing we tend to forget when considering a mixed breed is that if you cross a black dog and a white dog you don't get a grey dog. Similarly with personality traits - you are unlikely to get a midrange blend of the parent's qualities. The puppies will most likely be like one parent or the other.

Also there is a common fallacy that a mixed breed dog is a 'hybrid' and because of 'hybrid vigour' has fewer health problems. A mixed breed dog will not be as healthy as a well bred pure-bred whose parents were selected with an eye to avoiding hereditary conditions, but will be much healthier than a poorly bred one. Again health is a bit of a lottery.

But as they say, you can find your mate regardless of genealogy, and the Heinz 57 may be just the dog for you.

February 23, 2005

Which is the Breed for You?

Web sites like Selectapet, Pooch Picker and Dog Breed Selector aim to match you with a breed that fits your lifestyle. These questionnaires have their limitations, for example, it's often impossible to know what breeds are in their database and your perfect match may be a less common breed that will never come up.

And the questions are necessarily simplistic. If you live in a townhouse in the innercity, it's not going to let you have a working dog even though you might be able to provide hours of daily exercise in the huge city park across the street.

But it does raise the questions potential dog owners need to think through.
  • Can the dog be kept secure in the yard?
  • How long will it be alone each day?
  • Will it have to get on with children or the elderly?
  • Will it need grooming?
  • How much exercise will it need?
  • What will it's job be?

I want a dog that provides an element of protection, without my having to worry about it biting people or attacking other pets. I'm in the innercity, with a small but secure yard. I can work from home most days. My dog will have regular contact with a range of people from young to old, but won't have to live with them. It will get two or more hours of exercise each day, but I couldn't be bothered with anything other than an occasional quick brush.

It's job will be to be my companion - to participate in some sort of dog sport such as agility, obedience, tracking or herding; to lie on the sofa while I sit on the floor and read; to clean up food spills; to take up the space under my desk; to wake me at first light; to greet me enthusiastically when I get home.

February 22, 2005

Why We Love the Dogs We Do

Stanley Coren’s book groups the various dog breeds by personality type, gives the reader a personality test to determine their qualities, and then matches them with breeds that would make suitable and satisfying pets for them.

Coren’s argument falls along the following lines: people have particular personalities; dog breeds have particular personalities; people with a given personality may get on better with one breed of dog than they would with another. It makes sense in a folksy sort of way. But Coren is at great lengths to convince us that there is serious scientific research behind his theory, and the evidence just doesn’t stand up to a moment’s rational thought, let alone careful scrutiny.

Coren’s classification of dog breeds in personality-based groupings are:

His clever dogs include the herding breeds plus Doberman Pinschers, Poodles and Papillons.

Coren then asks that you calculate your personality using a pared-downversion of the Interpersonal Adjective Scales--a personality test that measures in terms of extroverted/introverted, trusting/controlling, dominant/not-so-dominant, and warm/cool. The findings of this test, when coupled with Coren's new canine classification system, pinpoint the dog/dogs perfect for your personality.

By carefully choosing the answers to my personality test questions I was able to achieve a match with ‘Clever’ dogs.

The rest of the book is filled with gossipy anecdotes about famous people and their pets. And a chapter I rather enjoyed on cat people, which consists of unintentionally funny ‘data’ supporting petty stereotypes of cat owners.

February 21, 2005

Diesel, eight weeks old. Posted by Hello

Which puppy?

First step in getting a puppy is deciding on a breed. This might seem straightforward, but it’s not something I’ve had a lot of experience with. Most of my dogs I’ve sort of ended up with, rather than actually choosing. They wandered in, and stayed when no-one answered the lost dog ads; a guy left and his dog stayed; my son wanted a dog of his own, then lifestyle changes meant I got a dog of my own; or I saw a puppy in a box at the markets and lost all reason. So I’ve had a German Shepherd Dog, Samoyeds, Australian Kelpies, Australian Cattle Dogs, and various unidentifiable mixed breeds.

For my last dog I decided to choose carefully, and was in the process of interviewing breeders and inspecting kennels when a little male cattle dog came and sat beside me. Every now and again he would reach over and touch me with his nose but otherwise he was content to just sit there. He’d go off and check what his littermates were doing, or inspect a noise, but would come over to where I was and sit beside me again. I wasn’t enthusiastic about the kennels and I wanted a female, and then not for three or four months, so I drove home. About two hours into the trip, I called the breeder and told her I was coming back for him ─ so much for dispassionate, reasoned choice.

He was a wonderful dog, but he had a hereditary disease of the central nervous system, which slowly paralysed him ─ Hereditary Polioencephalomyelopathy of Australian Cattle Dogs. He was just thirteen months when I asked my vet to end his struggle. Six months on, Diesel’s death has left a huge gap in my life and my other dog Thompson misses his company. So we are starting the process over again.

February 20, 2005

Raising a Puppy I Can Live With

I have always promised myself that I would keep a puppy journal, documenting training routines, development milestones, issues that arose and their solutions, sources of information and advice, but it hasn't ever happened.

So with each new puppy added to the household I struggle to remember, what did I decide before, did the others do that? is this normal? how did a get the others to do these things? where did I find info on that? This time I'm going to keep a journal, a blog. So not only will the information be there for me, but it may be of use to someone else as well.