Pooch finder
September 16, 2009 10:30 PM   Subscribe

Trying to find the right dog/breed for my dear mum. Should possess the following: Mid-sized, good temperament, smart, minimal exercise, barking & grooming.

My mum lives alone & recently has had a few health scares. A dog will be such a great companion. She initially wanted a lab or golden retriever but realizes that these will be too large for her. I am thinking 20lbs or lighter. She owns a nice sized house with backyard and has neighbors either side. (hence no unreasonable barkers) She can manage two 15-20 minute walks a day. She does not want a lap dog. We have looked at the local shelters (my mother lives in Ireland) in her area & unfortunately they all tend to be larger mixed breeds. Unsuitable for her age/health/physical ability. I'm a dog owner myself but not familiar with the many different breeds/ temperaments out there. She is willing to train a puppy or adopt.

Any suggestions?
posted by sequin to Pets & Animals (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Basenji or a Besenji mix!

Totally smart, cute cute cute, very affectionate... and no (pure) or little barking (mix.) Short hair means less shedding, btw.

Sweetest dog I ever owned. Miss her.

Mine was a mix and she loved to run in ginourmous circles at the local football field. I just let her off the leash and let her run! Also, there was virtually no training involved as she was super well-behaved. In fact, my little brother taught her commands in another language and she learned tricks (bang! bang! and she'd roll over, play dead. it was hilarious;)

My feeling (from my dogs and others I've known...) is a basenji will walk with your mom (but not tug unduly) and appreciate time in the yard.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 10:40 PM on September 16, 2009

If size and intellect aren't deal-breakers, I would suggest an English bulldog. They fit every other quality you've described. Well-bred females in the states can be found as small as 40 pounds, though. Ours have always been reasonably quiet, require minimal grooming, are about as sedentary as you can ask for in a dog, and they are very, very good companions.

They are also very easily "scheduled."We gave one to an elderly relative, who was able to train the dog to know almost exactly what time is bathroom time. My aunt and Lady are always side-by-side -they watch afternoon soaps together, and when my aunt fell over the holidays, Lady stayed *right there* until help arrived.
posted by honeybee413 at 11:07 PM on September 16, 2009

Best answer: Go beyond checking out the shelters - call them and tell them what you want/need - there may very well be a bigger dog that would work out great for your mother! You might also check local breeders to see if they've got older dogs that have been returned or that they no longer use for breeding. Don't get fixated on breeds, though. Mutts can be wonderful companions - it may be that you find a lab mix that would work well for her. The English bulldog (though bigger than the requested size) recommendation is good - you might also look at French bulldogs, pugs (may be too lap happy), and though this is goes way, way beyond the size request - an older mastiff may also work. They are big lumps of love!
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 11:35 PM on September 16, 2009

I have two English bulldogs, and one would fill the bill nicely. Just remember that they are not to be left outside unattended, and they do not tolerate heat over 80 degrees very well and can heatstroke in such conditions. They are absolutely wonderful companions. But if you want to go smaller, consider a French Bulldog. They are hilarious and have a lot of personality.

Adopt if at all possible, and if you do buy, do so from only a reputable breeder. If the parents are not on site, or if they are unwilling to allow you to inspect the dogs' living conditions, stay away. And for Pete's sake, do NOT buy a dog from a pet store. EVER. The conditions that the breeding dogs at the places pet store get their pups from are often atrocious, if not downright puppy mills. There may be some reputable sellers in the pet store business, but I haven't located them myself.
posted by azpenguin at 11:43 PM on September 16, 2009

two 15-20 minute walks a day

Sounds about right for a retired racing greyhound.

posted by primer_dimer at 12:53 AM on September 17, 2009 [4 favorites]

Toy poodle - or a miniature

Definitely one of the smarter dogs in my opinion.

Small and light - excellent lap dog / hot water bottle when required.

Cheap to feed.

Number One Advantage (tm) - they have hair not fur, so they don't shed everywhere, SO much less cleaning, and which also means they are low-allergenic.

Average level of barking - it depends on their upbringing. If you are around a lot of the time (as opposed to leaving them alone for hours during the middle of the day) you can train them to bark a lot less by appropriately reprimanding when they start barking.

All breeds have inherent health problems that emerge as they age, but poodles have less than the majority.
posted by trialex at 1:00 AM on September 17, 2009

Poodles don't shed, but they need to be groomed at least once a month. Ditto for all poodle mixes. The OP is looking for a breed with minimal grooming, too.
posted by misozaki at 1:16 AM on September 17, 2009

Seconding poodle. Not necessarily a toy poodle, you can get a miniature one.

Also, cockapoos are AWESOME. And maltipoos (bonus: multi-poo joke).

I'm a big fan of malteses, but that's because my precious Buffy is a maltese. They're small, non-shedding, SUPER smart, don't need much exercise (two 15-minute walks is perfect, plus some time in the yard to pee during the day). They are healthy although I know they sometimes have bladder issues, but nothing serious. And SO CUTE. Also, don't keep their hair long. It's gross. Buffy!
posted by alon at 1:22 AM on September 17, 2009

As to grooming... this may be something your mom would want to have done anyway, unless she's okay with trimming nails. This is nerve wracking to me, and something I gladly leave to the groomer. Poodle mixes are very popular these days, and I have no comment about whether this is a good or bad thing, but I will say that our dog is some kind of poodle mix, and she fits all your criteria to a tee - except she does need to be groomed about every two months because her hair will grow quite long and begin to mat.

Because she's a rescue, we don't know if she was bred as a particular mix, or was just a happy accident, but she's really perfect for us: never barks; not destructive; loves to walk, but doesn't need a tons of exercise - a walk around the neighborhood is sufficient, but she's also totally game for long walks anywhere, and because she's medium-sized her legs are long enough to tramp for miles if that's what we want to do. She can also go a couple of days without walkies if it's 110F in the shade, or pouring rain, but after that she get antsy. She's a constant companion type, never leaving my side except to hang out with my husband, sleeps by my bed, sits under my desk when I work. Plus, adorable. She's quite easy to train with positive reinforcement, loves attention but isn't pushy. She can sometimes be a bit stubborn on the leash when it comes to totally neeeeeeeeding to sniff that spot over there right now, but that's about it for negative(ish) behavior.

Naturally, you can't count on X-behavior from a mixed breed dog, but if you look at the characteristics of the two breeds, you can get a pretty good idea. Standard Poodles are super smart, loyal, calm, friendly - there's a reason they are so popular! (They are also really cute if they don't get the silly haircut.) But like all purebred dogs they can suffer from some genetic health complications, which is why a poodle mix (from a respected breeder - very important!) might be a better idea. Our girl looks almost exactly like this cute Schnoodle, except she has blue eyes and a lovely plumed tail.
posted by taz at 1:54 AM on September 17, 2009

also... I should add, I do think she could definitely be bossy/willful/insistent if the power structure were unclear, but she's very happy knowing who the boss is (that would be me). I was quite firm from the beginning about negative behavior - jumping on the bed, getting on the couch without being invited, jumping/snatching at food offered - that kind of thing - and it took her, oh ... less than a week (it seems like a couple of days, but definitely very quickly) to totally get that she had to be polite. All it really took was short, sharp, eh! noises and "no!" when she did something wrong, in combination with rewarding good behavior. She was really a dream to teach house manners to, and now all I have to do is say "no" in a conversational tone and she will back off whatever she was doing. She waits for me to say "okay" after I put her food down, and she understands when I warn her to take it "slowly" when we offer her a delicious treat (in other words, don't jump up for it; don't surge forward, don't snap it from our fingers). If your mom hasn't had a dog before, she will want to learn a bit about providing doggy guidance and structure, because it's the difference between a mutually rewarding and enjoyable relationship and a constant struggle. No swatting, spraying, yelling necessary; it's really more a matter of being firm, fair, consistent and never rewarding bad behavior with good stuff like attention, toys or food.
posted by taz at 2:49 AM on September 17, 2009

Best answer: Dogs vary from their standard breed characteristics a lot.

Just as a case in point, on paper a boxer would be the worst possible dog for your mother. Our boxer Eimear came from the Cork SPCA when she was four. They were excellent with their standards for adoption and had been holding her in a kill shelter for three months, waiting for the right home for her because she really deserved a chance. As soon as I assessed her I knew she was a good match for our household, but the shelter agreed to take her back in case her behaviour changed radically in-house.

She is 42 pounds, docile as a lamb, and it was three months before I knew she could bark (I rolled over her foot). I call her Silent O'Moyle. She gets one off-leash 10 minute romp around the park a day and basically exercises herself which is a nice bonus. She has zero prey drive, which can be an issue with many breeds. She thinks she is a lap dog, though she is obviously not, and all she wants to do is just be with me - preferably sleeping.

So, by breed, bad match. In reality, excellent match.

Ireland is a hotbed of craptastic, unregulated breeding, from uneducated backyard breeders to horrendous puppy farms. Please be very careful if you do not adopt from a shelter.

Do you want me to go out there, meet and photograph some dogs for you? I'd be more than happy to see if there's a dog or two who might suit your mum here, and I can also put you in touch with some ROI/NI/UK rehoming organisations that could help as well. MeMail me if I can help in any way - I am 100% willing.

PS: This is Eimear, curled up behind my legs. Total love muffin.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:51 AM on September 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

and, because I can't resist, I'll share this anecdote: One day my husband was outside adjusting our antenna, and I was in the living room beside the window yelling to him when the reception was good or bad, "yes! good!" or "no!" when eventually I tuned into the fact that our dog was becoming increasingly disturbed, jumping up, laying down, running around a bit, and finally whimpering and whining - and I realized that she was trying to figure out how to act from all my yes!/no! commands, which wasn't helped by the fact that I was staring at the TV, and she had been lying down just in front of the screen. I had to change my directives to my husband to "better!"/"worse!/awful!/perfect!" :)
posted by taz at 4:03 AM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Totally just signed up to say - retired greyhound!

My family had one and I still miss her - she was the most adoring, lazy and stress-free pet I ever had. I never heard her bark, she never needed grooming, she loved her 2x ten minute walks per day and she got on with *everyone*. You also have a sense of inner warmth, as most retired greyhounds are pretty unloved once their money-making days are over.

Bonus point: we once had a couple knock on the door after seeing her playing in the garden and ask if our dog was 'Apache Sue' (her racing name). They'd been regular at the local dog track and recognised her from their betting days! That was a good moment.
posted by citands at 4:18 AM on September 17, 2009 [3 favorites]

Retired greyhounds are the sweetest couch potato dogs ever, and the ones I have met are ridiculously grateful for the tiniest creature comforts of being a well-loved pet (owning a favorite toy, scratches behind the ears, etc.).
posted by availablelight at 5:50 AM on September 17, 2009

Terriers, except wire haired terriers who are yappy. Terriers are happy, frisky dogs. If you get a small one like a Scottie or West Highland, you don't have to walk them far. They're also tough and generally healthy. And they often look like they're smiling.
posted by x46 at 6:30 AM on September 17, 2009

Best answer: It sounds like a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel would be perfect for your mom. She seems to want a larger dog, and though a cavalier is a toy breed, it is the largest of that category and often described as a large dog in a small dog's body.

They range in size from 12-20 pounds, and though they have luxurious, silky coats, they really require VERY little grooming. Our cavalier is never even brushed in fact; he neither needs it nor enjoys it. Also, they don't require trimming or shaving (the breed standard actually prohibits trimming of their feathery fur). Though they are a smaller dog, they are definitely not yappy like most other small breeds. Toby rarely barks, even when every other dog on our floor is yapping away. Cavaliers are also a breed that do fine with more or less exercise: they really seem to adjust to their owners' activity level. Ours mostly sleeps all day but also enjoys walks and the occasional romp at the dog park. He does, however, always want to be around people. They're a very intelligent breed and always eager to please. They are, in short, the ultimate companion dog.

Irish Cavalier Rescue would be one option for your mom. That site also has more information about the breed, including health issues. There is also the Cavalier Talk forum, which has a lot of additional information for anyone considering a Cavalier. It is run by the same person who runs the Irish Cavalier Rescue, so a large percentage of posters on that forum tend to be from Ireland.
posted by frolic at 7:26 AM on September 17, 2009

I know greyhounds are bigger than you specify as ideal, but gosh they really fit your description, and Ireland, as I understand, is crawling with them. They are a little big, but they really do fold up small, you know? They're the most docile, tender-hearted gentle beasties I've ever known. An adoption group would set your mom up with the perfect match.
posted by Lou Stuells at 8:09 AM on September 17, 2009

Lou Stella is right - Ireland has as many greyhounds as the United States and there is a deperate need for "Irish homes for Irish greyhounds." Is your mum down south or further up? There's a very reputable rescue in Offaly (they will help your mum match a dog to her specific needs and lifestyle - if she needs a dog who walks beautifully on a lead, they'll match her to one) and could refer you more locally as well.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:33 PM on September 17, 2009

Response by poster: Thank you everyone!
Especially DarlingBri for your very generous offer. (I will definitely be in touch if unsuccessful locally, we are in the NE) I am leaning towards encouraging an adoption of an older dog again. My grandfather owned & raced Greyhounds, even engineered & built the race tracks. Funny, I never thought of them as such great pets. I was too young to appreciate them at the time. I will share all the excellent feedback with the M, see what she thinks & start the research process.
posted by sequin at 10:01 PM on September 17, 2009

They are a little big, but they really do fold up small

I am totally stealing that description.
posted by primer_dimer at 1:35 AM on September 18, 2009

Retired greyhounds are the most relaxed dogs on the planet. They've run, they're done. A medium-sized walk a day is enough, plus tend to be quiet and people-oriented without being very loud/pushy/overt about it.
posted by The Whelk at 6:27 PM on September 19, 2009

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