Why it is a good idea to not leave a dog in the backyard

Now don’t get me wrong. I do think, most dogs love the outside – at least mine do, and I love the idea to be able to provide my dogs with some off-leash time outside, where they can run, sniff and (yes, admittedly) dig a hole to their hearts desire. But I don’t leave them outside without supervision, or at the very least, I’m always close, listening and ready to react. Here are some reasons why it is not a good idea to leave your dog outside without watching them.

Scaling the Fence

fridajump3No, of course my dogs would not scale our 6-feet fences. Or would they? Well, they have. Fortunately, they know who feeds them and who has their favorite dog bed. They did not stray far. In fact, one staid on the couch, while the other one barked at our neighbor’s door until he opened, where upon she ran past him to play with her friend, the neighbor’s dog. We have since fortified our fences, fixed the whole and now even feature double fences. Even the most balanced, exercised dogs can decide to make a go for it, when they discover a hole or a rotten piece of wooden fence.

We had a crazy person opening backyard doors in the neighborhood where we lived before. So even if your fences are bomb proof, you never know what’s going to happen. Add the hated neighbor cat down the street, a couple of fast cars and you have the recipe for a disaster.

Unwelcome visitors

I would have never thought it would be possible, but this last weekend made me realize, that I have not seen it all. I do not let our dogs lose in our backyard without being very alert to their behavior. When I heard them bark, the thought crossed my mind, that it was just our neighbor, cutting his tree next to our fence, like he did the days before. But the barks sounded different, so I went and looked. I could not see anything, but there were abnormal noises from the neighbor’s side. I decided to take the dogs inside, when all of a sudden I saw a big brown dog scale our fence, which is in itself 6 feet high and on top of that there is a big bush, which adds about another 4 feet. Well, this dog decided to work his way through the bush. Fortunately, I was able to get the dogs inside just before that visitor hit our backyard ground or it would have meant a bloodbath, as my female dog is quite territorial. Here’s the real kicker though – our neighbor does not have a dog! So I never expected danger in form of a dog from this side. A neighbor four doors (and backyards) down, dogsat for a friend, put the dog in his backyard and drove away. Fortunately, the dog had tags with phone numbers on his collar and I was not afraid of him, so the situation got resolved quickly. But I do not want to even imagine what would have happened, if I had ignored my dogs or – even worse – I would have left them outside and went away.

Now, again, I have double fences on all sides, except towards that neighbor, who does not have a dog!

Danger lurking in the backyard

Have you ever replanted something? Used a new fertilizer? Found a dead animal hidden in the bushes of your backyard? Maybe improved the looks of your garden with some fresh mulch? Found some exotic herbs or flowers? Even though your dog may have never dug a hole, ate a plant or munched on freshly added fertilizer, it may just happen. And it might have a catastrophic outcome. I know of a dog who died after drinking from water which was close to a tree, which, after an abnormal amount of rain, was dripping a lot of sap into that water. That particular tree sap was poisonous and unfortunately killed the dog.

Animals, killed by poison such as rat poison, may smell like a delicious in-between meal for our furry friends, but proof to be deadly. While you control the pesticide in your garden, your neighbor might have a different idea of getting rid of unwanted guests. Rats and/or other animals poisoned by your neighbor might end up on your lawn, being a risk for your dogs.

Poisonous risks aside – there are other dangers in your backyard. Even your dog playing with fallen branches from your trees might cause a hefty vet bill, if said branch ends up stuck in your dog’s throat. Or, if your dog wears a collar, he or she might suffocate while being hung somewhere in a bush. Yes, that is a very pessimistic way to spoil the idyllic  picture of dogs happily playing in your backyard, but it might just happen. By the way, there is an easy fix on the collar thing: the breakaway collar still gives you the safety of being able to have a collar (and tags!) on your dog while preventing suffocation accidents.

And everything else

coyoteOh, yes, if you can think of it, it can happen. A couple of months ago, I was just able to get the dogs inside before a huge swarm of bees occupied our backyard. While some of you say, that swarming bees won’t sting anyone, I was not about to try that out with our old man, who loves to snap at everything tiny that’s flying. And we don’t live out in the boonies! What if your dog turns out to be allergic to a bee sting? If you are not scared by bees, what about rattle snakes? Scorpions? Yes, I was laughing at that one, too, until I found one on a walk one day. We live in Southern California, in the suburbs, not on some sort of farm land. You know the dangers of your area best.

What can you do?

Some dogs prefer the outside. Some people prefer the dogs to be outside. It’s all legitimate, if precautions are being taken and it is clear, that there are risks, that may not necessarily be the same for a dog, who has access to the indoors. If a dog is to stay outside, I prefer a nice, safe kennel. When you build it yourself, make sure, you have a solid foundation, don’t just buy a kennel from Home Depot and put it up. Make sure, that you have an area that provides shade at all times and enough water. If your dog stays outside in all weather and day and night, make sure, you provide shelter for your dog, be that from the heat or the cold. Be certain, that the drinking water does not freeze. Personally, I prefer a kennel to be situated, where neither a neighbor nor someone from the street has access to. Yes, I’m paranoid like that.

If you don’t have space for a kennel, check your fences regularly. Make sure, that they are high enough for your dog not to be able to jump over them. Add a second fence for safety, if you think it’s necessary. Check on your dogs often. Make sure they have ample water and shade or shelter from the cold. Know their bark! Learn to distinguish their ‘it’s the mailman’ bark from the ‘there’s an intruder’ or ‘I’m hurt!’ bark. Act fast, when you think there’s something wrong. Let your vet know that your dog has been outside unsupervised if something happens and also inform him or her of any new additions to your backyard (plants, fertilizer, pest control). Use a breakaway collar for your dogs with tags. Microchip your dogs!

Finally, obedience train your dogs and exercise them daily. Tired dogs are less likely to go hunting for neighbor’s cat. They are also less likely to be anxious and scale the fence to go look for you. Obedient dogs will come when you call them and you are more likely to be able to bring them to safety, if some coyotes are wandering into your backyard.

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Heat Wave – Protect Your Dog!

Summer has finally taken a hot grip on our days – while this can mean fun in the water, surfing and chilling at the pool, it can also be potentially dangerous for our furry friends. There are the obvious lethal situations, like keeping dogs in hot cars, which by now, we should all know, can be like ovens at a moment’s notice. Only 10 minutes are enough to rise the temperature by about 20 degrees.

Provide places for your dog to cool down in your backyard

But that’s not all: dogs regulate their body temperature by panting and evaporating water. This means that they need water in the first place, and the air has to be dry and circulated enough to be more saturated with evaporated water. So it’s not just the heat, a closed environment like a crate in a car, no windows open and no water available can send a dog in heat distress even though temperatures may not be over 75 degrees. This is also the reason, why it may not be a good idea to hose down your dog before getting in a confined space like a closed car or a crate, as the wet fur acts like a sauna environment and the air around your dog will saturate with moisture almost immediately, rendering your dog unable to decrease its body temperature by panting.

But it’s also the less obvious situation which can be harmful for your dog. When walking your pooch, try to stay on cool surfaces. Hot asphalt can burn your dog’s paws in no time. Playing fetch or work in hot weather can overheat your K9 partner, seniors, puppies or overweight dogs can even show signs of hyperthermia during a walk outside. If your dog has difficulties breathing or is prone to it like some breeds (Pugs, Boxers, Bulldogs or Penkingese for example), they may not be able to control their body temperature as well as other dogs.

Take your dog swimming

If you leave your dog in your backyard during the day, make sure, there is ample shade and fresh water. When temperatures reach triple digits, your dog may be safer in an AC cooled down house – or have someone check on your dog when you are away.

Some dogs do better with their fur shaven, however, check with breed experts or your vet, as some dogs need the long fur as a protection from the sun. Some dogs who do not have fur like the Chinese Crested or the Mexican Hairless (Xoloitzcuintle) may need additional protection like a light shirt or even sunscreen.

Here are some signs your dog may display when in heat distress:

  • Very heavy panting and visible difficulties breathing
  • Because blood is flowing close to the surface to cool down, the mucous membranes appear very red
  • Possible vomiting
  • Staggering, unsteady walk
  • Anxiety
  • Dry gums and/or excessive salivating
  • Possible bloody diarrhea

When shock sets in, the dog may collapse, seizure and the mucous membranes may turn pale. This is when help may be too late and the dog is about to die. Heat distress is very serious and recognizing the signs may be life saving. Once hyperthermia hits, it may be too late.

Watch your dog for signs of heat distress

If your dog displays signs of heat distress, try to cool her down as fast as possible. Move your dog into a cool environment, use cold water on the stomach, between the legs and extremities such as outside of the ears and top of the head. Do not use ice water. Check the temperature and bring your dog to a vet as fast as possible to make sure, no permanent damage has been caused. Effects from hyperthermia can show days after the incident and can be just as life threatening.

It is important to know your dog’s normal body temperature to be able to determine when it is dangerously elevated. Take your dog’s rectal temperature once a week or more often to get your dog used to it and to find out the average level. When you go for a walk with your pooch, bring water for you and your dog. But most importantly, use common sense. If you are too hot, your dog could be uncomfortable, too.

America’s Rescue Dogs Got Talent!

Search and Rescue dog Frida at a training after finding a live ‘victim’

Watching one of the recent ‘America’s Got Talent’ and seeing the group of rescue dogs performing amazing tricks, reminded me of all the working rescue dogs out there. While we appreciate dogs, who were bred to relentlessly work on finding those roadside explosive devices or flushing out terrorists and criminals, there are more dogs coming out of a rescue situation, proving that they are just as excellent in doing their job. The National Search Dog Foundationis a non-profit organization, founded in 1996 by Wilma Melville, after she worked with her dog at the terrorist-bombed Federal Building in Oklahoma City and realized, that there are not enough search and rescue dog teams in the Nation. The organization has volunteers and staff members combing through shelters throughout the country to find canines who fulfill the extraordinary skills it takes for them to become a search dog. They train the dogs, once rescued and now to become rescuers, and their handlers. Some of their dog teams have been at the 9/11 grounds, searched areas after Hurricane Katrina, went to Haiti and Japan, working hour after hour to find any living survivors. However dire the situation, when the search dogs appear, everything just seems a little bit better and a glimpse of hope returns.

Searching for bed bugs

But the Search Dog Foundation is not the only organization who employs former shelter dogs. Many groups turn to shelters in order to find those unadoptable high drive and toy crazy dogs. Often these dogs have been turned in by their owners, because they were not able to handle them, in some cases, they may have turned aggressive over their toys. Sometimes, the dogs would jump the fence over and over again, because they were just too bored. Dogs, who need a job, cannot be tired out by a brisk walk in the morning. They need a lot of mental exercise, high drive play, strenuous physical exercise and obedience training – not necessarily something, a typical pet dog owner knows how to do.

Finding a dog at the shelter and train it for work is as rewarding as winning the lottery for me, but it is also very hard to turn away a dog, who almost has the potential and may be too much for a pet, but is not quite there. For most sad stories, there are successes though. My own personal dog, Frida, who got rescued from a shelter in Los Angeles, is a Search and Rescue dog and I have been fortunate to since find and train dogs for many other jobs, such as cellphone, explosive, narcotics and contraband detection, even e.coli and bed bug detection. With the right dog, any K9 job can be done – there are many talents and hidden treasures in our shelters!

If you are toying with the idea of rescuing a dog, here is a starter on how to find the right companion for you. And how to select a dog from a breeder vs. a rescue. Most shelters and rescue organizations are looking for volunteers to walk or foster their dogs. This may be a good idea to get started and find out more about the responsibility of what it means to own a dog!

Contraband detection K9 during a break

How to Put Together a K9 First Aid Kit

Since I mentioned the K9 First Aid kit in my blog about having an emergency plan for your dog, I have been asked, how to put one together. Putting together your own kit might be cheaper than buying one and you can add to it over time. Here are some important tips and ingredients for your K9 First Aid kit:

1) Only add tools, medications and other things you actually know how to use. While Subcutaneous Fluids look fancy and professional in a kit, it is useless, if you do not know how to actually use it.

Check for mucus membrane color and capillary refill time

2) The best kit will not help you much, if you do not know if your dog is sick or can’t diagnose what is wrong. In order to know that there is something going on with your dog, you need to know your dog. Over a course of a couple of weeks, take your dog’s vital signs every second day: temperature, heartbeat, mucus membrane color and capillary refill time. Check eyes and ears, so that you become familiar with your dog and your dog gets used to a quick health check. Write down the values on a piece of paper. For temperature and heartbeat, repeat the check after exercise and about 10 minutes after exercise to see, how much the levels rise and how fast they go down again. Knowing your dog’s regular body temperature, which can be between 100 and 103 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on breed and individual dog, can help you to quickly diagnose hyperthermia (heat distress and heat stroke) – or hypothermia (core body temperature too cold) and treat it fast. This alone can save your dog’s life! Calculate the average levels of your dog’s vital signs and write them on a piece of paper, which you will keep in your kit. It’s easy to have it laminated at a store like Kinko’s.

3) If your dog has certain conditions, like allergies, seizures, etc., make sure, you have a supply of their medication in your kit. Ask your vet to prescribe you an extra amount, so you can store it in the first aid kit.

4) Here are some basic parts of a K9 First Aid kit:

  • Saline – to wash wounds and eyes
  • Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) – 0.5 to 2mg per pound, every 8 – 12 hours, relieves allergy symptoms. If your dog suffers severe allergies (e.g. bee sting), this will NOT save your dog, but may give you additional time until you are at an emergency clinic.
  • Hydrogen Peroxide – one teaspoon per 10 pounds induces vomiting. Do NOT induce vomiting if your dog is losing consciousness or has ingested anything, that could hurt your dog when coming up (sharp objects, chemicals, etc.). Do NOT use Hydrogen Peroxide for anything else. It has been used for washing wounds in the past, but has now been proven to be ineffective. Instead use an antibacterial spray or cream.
  • Antibacterial wash, spray or cream – do not use a ‘triple antibiotic’ such as Neosporin. Although many dog owners, even veterinaries, recommend it, they can actually be poisonous to dogs. Safe antiseptics to use for dogs are for example Betagen or simply Betadine.
  • Scissors – to cut bandages
  • Bandages (non sticky)
  • Adhesive tape – band-aids won’t stick to the fur
  • Sterile pads and/or Gauze 
  • Alcohol Pads – can help disinfect a small area, but is also poisonous to the dog when ingested.
  • Digital Thermometer – non-digital thermometers contain mercury and can harm you and your dog, if they break. Digital Thermometers are safer and usually faster.
  • Non-latex Gloves
  • Water
  • Tweezers – can be used for ticks or small objects sticking in your dog (e.g. piece of glass in the paws). Do not pull out any bigger objects or objects which are deeply imbedded. Instead secure these objects with gauze or bandages around it and go to the emergency clinic as quickly as possible.
  • Hand Sanitizer
  • Chart with your dog’s normal vital signs and levels – temperature, heart rate, mucus membrane color, capillary refill time
  • List with emergency clinic contacts, Poison Center telephone number, regular veterinary contact

5) And here are some items I pack additionally:

  • White, clean towel – if I suspect my dog having a wound, but I can’t find anything, I can wipe him or her down with a white towel, to find any possible bleeding fast.
  • Muzzle – a dog in pain will bite. It does not matter, if it is your own sweet dog or not. Do NOT muzzle your dog if you induced vomiting, if your dog is losing consciousness, if your dog is in heat distress or has difficulties breathing.
  • Collapsible bowl – can be used as a water bowl
  • Additional leash – a leash can be used as a muzzle
  • Wire cutter – if the dog in distress has a choke chain and the head swells (e.g. due to allergies), the only way to get the collar off, might be the wire cutter.
  • Syringe/Pipette – makes it easier for your dog to swallow Hydrogen Peroxide or other medication.
  • Flashlight
  • Treats – to calm your dog
  • Activated Charcoal – can help with a poisoned dog. Always go to the emergency clinic as fast as you can or call the Poison Center if you suspect poisoning.
  • Styptic Powder – can stop bleeding fast. Only used on small wounds.
  • Honey – is an antibacterial substance that can seal a clean small wound and prevent infection.
  • Survival Blanket – can help a cold dog or a dog in shock
  • Instant Cold Wrap – can numb a painful area and cool down a dog. To cool down a dog in heat distress, do not place cold wrap directly on the fur. Use a towel or bandages and apply between the legs, ears or stomach area. Do not restrict the dog’s mouth or nose.

A good K9 First Aid can save your dog’s life

Check your kit regularly and have an inventory list. This helps you in case of emergency to keep track of what you have and where you have it. Check for expiration dates and replace old products. Take a First Aid class and keep current – you can also keep notes on how to perform K9 CPR, etc. in your kit.

Keep a kit in your car, if you frequently travel with your dog and check with your veterinary for more ideas on what items could be life saving. A K9 First Aid kit is just that: First Aid. Always check with your veterinary or when in doubt, go to an emergency clinic right away. Cuts, abrasions and bruises in your dog’s face may need veterinary checks because of their vicinity of the eyes. Dog bites can leave small but very deep wounds and need to be cleaned very thoroughly. Always keep a close eye to wounds and abrasions, if they do not appear to heal, if the area gets more sensitive or seems swollen, go to a veterinary or emergency clinic.

The number of the Animal Poison Control Center is: 888-4ANI-HELP (888-426-4435) – there is usually a fee for the call.

How to Train Your Dog – a Practical Short Guide

No, this is not going to turn your dog into an elite university graduate over night, but hopefully, it will help you and give you some tools to get started as your own dog’s trainer. Let’s break it down in 5 easy to follow parts:

Rewards can come in different shapes or form. This dog likes toys much better than food.

  • Motivation
  • Training Time
  • Training Plan
  • Corrections
  • Expectations

Motivation
This is both for you and your dog! You don’t like to work for free, do you? Well, neither does your dog. Find out, what makes your dog tick the most. Yes, we all think, our dogs will do anything for a pat on the shoulders, but I haven’t seen a dog turn down a tasty treat yet. For training, we want small, soft treats, like hot dog or string cheese pieces, that can be chewed fast, so the dog is ready to continue. Size matters! A German Shepherd will probably need a different size treat than a Chihuahua. Training with food reward is a good way to keep training motivational. It does not mean, that you need to keep treats in your pocket for the next 15 years. Yes, your dog should obey your commands, but he needs to learn them first! I love REI’s treat pouches– it makes carrying and dispensing treats so much easier. If your dog turns his nose on what you offer him, you’ll have to try different treats until you find that one that makes him salivate at the pure thought of it. I’ve seen people train with Cheetos or french fries!  You, on the other hand, need to be motivated as well. Don’t get frustrated, if things don’t work out right away. Be patient and have fun with it!

Training Time
Don’t drag the training out – stop while both of you still have fun! Even if it is just 5 minutes, it is valuable. The best thing is to have a couple of short and sweet trainings throughout the day. Don’t start when you just come home from work and you’re still stressed. You should train when your mindset is relaxed and stress free.

Training Plan
Always have a plan before you start your training. Know exactly what you want your dog to do, so you can teach him precisely that. If you have a big trick in mind, start slow and break it into pieces – for example, if you want to teach your dog to go hide in a box, don’t start with the whole thing. Start with rewarding him when he goes close to the box, then put his feet in the box, reward him sitting down and eventually work on him laying in the box. Do every step multiple times until he does it reliably, before you move to the next. Read up on different training methods and styles before you start. And always, always be consistent and patient.

Heeling

Corrections
Once your dog knows what you ask of him, we can talk about corrections. Know your dog. Some dogs are more sensitive than others. If you do apply corrections, they need to be fair and the timing has to be great. Use enough to get your dog’s attention but as little as necessary. Inform yourself about different correction methods and be cautious about those which promise instant results. In the end, it is better to use one good correction than 50 weak ones. A correction can be a verbal (e.g. ‘No!’) or a physical (e.g. quick tug on the leash). It can also be withholding the reward. When you train your dog for a behavior that he does not know yet, don’t correct wrong behavior. Instead make the right behavior more interesting. Give your dog a chance to offer the correct behavior. If you do use corrections, make sure that it is balanced with reward – and always, always end on a good note.

Expectations
Have realistic expectations. If you haven’t worked with your dog in two years, don’t presume that he will start heeling after a short training session. Good things take time and it is important to build a solid foundation. Start at a place where your dog is comfortable, like your home. Don’t take your dog to your friend’s house to show of tricks you’ve never done outside of your home. Once your dog applies your commands correctly, you can start adding distractions by training in your backyard, then in your neighborhood and eventually in a public park. It is not fair to expect your dog to do a roll over in a dog park, if you have not extensively trained it with many distractions around before. Set up training goals and don’t do too much at a time.

Keeping the fun working with your dog is the most important thing!

Are You Ready When Disaster Strikes?

There is an emergency scenario in almost all parts of our world: Fires, earthquakes, hurricanes… Some are more common than others, but we all live with the thought of one of those potential dangerous situations. So much so, that there are now even TV Shows about people, who prepare almost full time for emergencies, like Nat Geo’s latest hit ‘Doomsday Preppers‘. While they might take things to the extreme, we all know, that we need to be prepared in case of a situation, where food and water are not easy to come by, or evacuation is mandatory. One of the worst things about emergency situations is, that they are unpredictable. They can hit from one second to the next. Even if there is some warning, like in the case of a wild fire closing in or a weather related disaster, such as a hurricane or tornado, there may be little time to prepare. That is why it is so important to have a plan. For us dog people, we have to plan for our canine family members as well. Catastrophes like Hurricane Katrina showed us, how essential it is, to even have crates for the dogs. Most shelters will not allow dogs, unless they are crated. And that is yet another example, of why it is so important to crate train your dog.

An additional leash can be used as a muzzle

Let’s start with the obvious: food and water. Most organizations recommend a 3 day supply. Personally, I like to have enough for two weeks. Dogs need about 1.5 ounces of water per pound body weight, when they are relaxed. Be generous though. When dogs are stressed (which is likely in an emergency scenario) or active, they start panting and their need for water increases. When you store dry food, make sure, it is in a safe air tight container, to avoid any water getting in and spoil it. Change it every once in a while, so it doesn’t expire. Use the same brand you normally feed. You don’t want to change your dog’s food in an emergency situation and risk diarrhea, when you might be short on medication, veterinary access or water. If you feed raw food, you might want to think about a high quality kibble to store for emergency situations, since freezers may not be an option. If your dog food is in cans, don’t forget the can opener!

Paperwork may be more important than you think. Keep a copy of your dog’s current license, vaccination records, medical data (allergies, medication) and other information, such as name, date of birth, regular dog food, temperament (e.g. fearful of strangers) – and don’t forget a list with emergency addresses, emergency clinic and your regular veterinary. If you have to evacuate to a shelter, they will want to see your dog’s records – and if you have to leave your dog behind, you can tack a copy of all these information on your door for the rescue personnel. I recommend to have these records laminated. In case you do have to leave your dog behind, keep them safely contained inside with enough water for a couple of days and some food.

A K9 First Aid Kit can save your dog’s life

Next: Medical supplies. Prepare a K9 first aid kit – it is essential to have, not only in emergency situations. I even keep one in my car. A lot that goes into K9 first aid kit can also be used for humans – two flies with one strike. Additionally, I always store a couple of cans of pumpkin, no sugar or any other ingredients, the regular store-bought kind. It helps with diarrhea and constipation and most dogs like it enough to eat it with their regular food. Make sure, you have an adequate amount of your dog’s medication, if needed. Talk to your veterinary clinic about getting a bigger refill, so you can store some in an airtight container. They might also be able to recommend supplies for the first aid kit.

You will also need every day items, such as your dog bed, water and food bowls and pick up bags. I include some favorite toys to play and some chew toys like a Kong. Store everything in a carton box, so you can just grab it and go. An additional set of leashes is also useful.

Once you have everything organized, you need to make a list of nearby shelters, including motels, who are pet friendly. Write down the number of your local shelter – they may have more information in case of emergency. Make sure your dog’s tags are up to date and include your phone number and address.

All these steps don’t take much time. Dedicate a Sunday afternoon or Saturday morning to create an emergency preparedness kit and a plan! Enlist the help of your kids to put it together, so they are more aware, too. FEMA has some interesting and useful articles on their website, here is one specifically for pet owners:  FEMA – Information for Pet Owners.

Picking The Right Breed For Your Perfect Companion

Whether you are looking to add a four legged companion to your family, you want an active dog that helps you shed those extra pounds or a K9 with a job, the first step is always planning ahead to avoid as many surprises as possible. Here are a couple of steps that will help you to start out as a responsible dog owner.

The American Kennel Club (AKC) divides its 173 different recognized dogs into seven breed groups:

  • Sporting Group
  • Hound Group
  • Working Group
  • Terrier Group
  • Toy Group
  • Non-Sporting Group
  • Herding Group

Ask yourself a couple of question before you consider a specific breed:

Long Haired vs. Short Hair

– Do I prefer short or long hair?
Long haired fur does not necessarily mean more shedding. Some short haired dogs, like the Shar Pei, have hair which will stick to everything. Shedding sometimes is a sign of bad nutrition, but there are definitely breeds who tend to shed more than others. Dogs like poodles do not shed at all – and there are dogs who do not have fur at all, like the hairless Chinese Crested or the Xoloitzcuintli, the Mexican Hairless. A non-shedding dog does not necessarily mean, that a person who is allergic to dogs, will not react. Most people are allergic to a dog’s saliva, not the fur.
– How big of a dog do I want and am I prepared for the size?
Having a small apartment does not necessarily mean that you can only consider a chihuahua sized dog. Giant dogs like Great Danes may take up a lot of space, but they are generally also less active. If you provide enough exercise for them outside of the apartment, some bigger sized dogs are fantastic in a smaller indoor space. However, typically, bigger sized dogs tend to live a shorter life than smaller dogs. For example Great Danes or Bernese Mountain Dogs only have an average life span of about eight years. Additionally, medical attention may be more expensive as they require a bigger amount of medication. Last but not least: they most definitely take up more space on your bed!

Belgian Malinois are very active and not recommended as pet dogs

– Am I looking for a dog who is active and will require exercise and training?
Having an active dog can be both extremely fun and a curse at the same time. There are breeds who are not for the everyday pet owner. Working dogs like the Malinois or the Australian Shepherd need a lot of attention, training and exercise, physically and mentally. If you are looking for a dog who runs with you or accompanies you while  you are riding your bike, there are many active breeds who are also great pets like Dalmatians or Labradors. Maybe you are already set on a specific dog sport and are looking for a competing K9 partner. Depending on how serious you are about this sport, you might want to consider breeds who are already active in this particular sport. Some breeds are allrounders and fit many different sports or life styles like the German Shepherd or the Labrador.

– Is the dog mostly going to stay outside or in the house?
If a dog gets enough exercise and human interaction, there is nothing wrong with having a dog in the backyard, provided the climate allows it. Always make sure, your dog has shade, water (not frozen) and protection from harsh environment, like an isolated dog house. Some dogs prefer the outside to the inside. This is a good point to decide beforehand as it is more difficult to train a dog who was allowed to stay in the house, to stay outside. If you leave your dog outside, whether over night or just for short times during the day, make sure that your fences are high enough. Many dogs can jump way over 6 feet and if they are not exercised properly, they will. Some dogs are more likely to jump fences than others. Unfortunately, in today’s times, another thing to consider is how easy it is for neighbors or strangers to reach your dogs. Usually a kennel or a double fenced backyard is much safer.

– How much time can I comfortably spend with the dog every day?
Dogs should not be left alone for more than 8 hours at a time regularly. They are pack animals, bred to be human companions for thousands of years and need the human interaction. If you think, you will be out of the house longer, find out if your work place allows you to bring your new four legged friend or get a dog walker once a day.

– What kinds of traits am I looking for in a dog?
We have bred hundreds of different types of breeds for a reason: for their size, fur and looks but most importantly for their temperament and traits which make them suitable for their jobs. This is why we now have breeds with all these different quirks. Some dogs are more apt to jump, some bark more than others (fun tidbit: The Basenji, a hunting dog from central Africa, does not bark at all) and some will retrieve a tennis ball until they drop. When thinking about a dog’s temperament, it is also recommendable to think about your family’s future. Are you traveling a lot? Do you have children or are you expecting children in the near future? Are you thinking about moving soon?

Different climates for different breeds

– Is the climate I live in suitable for the dog I look at?
Having a dog who is native to colder regions may not be a good choice for the Southern California heat. On the other hand, a Mexican Hairless is probably not doing too well in Alaska. Learning about your favorite breed’s history can give you hints of whether or not this dog might be a good fit for where you live.

There are many ways to learn about different breeds. Numerous books have been written on specific or containing references to several breeds, there are TV documentaries and websites. Nothing, however, beats talking to an owner of a dog of your favorite breed, a breeder, or visiting a dog event like a dog show or a sport event where your favorite breed competes. Owners and breeders can give you first hand account on what they like about these dogs and their needs. And they can help you finding your new friend.

If you are thinking about a mix, mutt or heinz76, it is still important to do your homework and find the right breed for you. While there is no guarantee, that the mix containing your favorite breed will also show the traits you like about that breed, it may give you an idea of what’s ahead of you.

My next blog post will talk about getting a dog from a shelter or from a breeder and questions you should ask every rescue organization or breeder before you get your new friend.