Help us choose a dog breed!
February 26, 2011 12:22 AM   Subscribe

My girlfriend and I are interested in getting a dog. We've talked about getting a Golden Retriever, which is the breed of dog I grew up with. We're interested in recommendations for breeds we may not have considered.

Obviously all dogs have different personalities, and we don't expect that all dogs of a certain breed will act the same. We would love some general breed suggestions to narrow our search. We plan to adopt from a shelter or breed rescue. We want a female dog that is fully grown and out of the puppy stage--at least two or three years old.

Me: Grew up with a Golden Retriever (love the breed), love large dogs, not a huge fan of small dogs, willing to spend time training and exercising, less willing to spend time grooming--I know Goldens are high-maintenance. I would be the person taking primary responsibility for the dog.

Girlfriend: No experience with dogs, but excited about the idea, likes the idea of a smaller dog (but willing to get a Golden), doesn't like breeds that drool a lot.

Our home/lifestyle: we have an 850 square foot cottage, fenced in patio in the back with a small grass strip the dog could use as a toilet, about 50 square feet of grass yard in the front (no fence, so dog would be let out on a leash to do its business), willing to walk the dog at least 30 minutes twice a day (maybe more), a park to walk in is just three blocks away, there are pedestrian-friendly streets, and two dog parks are within two miles we could take the dog to on weekends. We have different schedules. The dog might be left alone with the cats (after we trust them all together) for a maximum of 7 hours a day during a week, but we would check in on it, so the maximum time would be 4 or 5 hours at a stretch. We have no shared walls, but neighbors are located very close to us. We don't want a dog that barks while we aren't home.

We are looking for: low to medium prey drive (we have two cats), good with young children (we plan to have a baby in a few years), friendly, okay with strangers, intelligent & eager to please, easily trainable, not very aggressive or protective.

We are currently considering Golden Retrievers and Labs. We don't want anything larger than that. We have also ruled out pugs, chihuahuas, and bulldogs.

Thank you for any advice!
posted by studioaudience to Pets & Animals (52 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I loved my Siberian Husky and she was very patient with kids. (Unless they crawled in her crate, at which point she cried until we got the kid out!) Also, another benefit was that she never barked - though she occasionally made some... I don't even know how to describe it, not a howl but a quieter noise like she was talking... "ow wow wow!" She was a beautiful dog as well, gray and white with one brown and one blue eye, such a common feature in the breed that it's acceptable at dog shows.

As much as I loved her, may I suggest that you also consider mixed breeds? Purebred dogs often suffer from conditions (like hip problems) that mixed breeds don't.
posted by IndigoRain at 1:23 AM on February 26, 2011

We have a Golden Retriever and we love the old boy dearly. So I'm biased. But we did way back then consider a spaniel - same gentle manners and smaller.
posted by the noob at 2:33 AM on February 26, 2011

Regarding IndigoRain's Husky suggestion... they are great dogs, loyal, friendly, playful, and, in my case at least, require little grooming most of the time (although, when they shed it's a couple months of brushing and cleaning up dog hair!). One drawback is the prey-drive aspect, especially if you're getting an older dog. I brought my Husky into the house when she was 8 weeks old, and the cats were bigger than she was... she learned quickly that, although she wants to play with them, they are in charge. However, an older Husky with no experience with cats may be agressive towards the cats.

Huskies also require a lot of activity, a bored Husky is a naughty Husky.
posted by tomswift at 3:01 AM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

Tell the shelter/breed rescue what you are looking for - they know the dogs. I got my dog when I was volunteering at a service dog organization (he flunked out). He is a Coonhound mix, not a breed I had ever heard of or would have chosen, but he's turned out to be the best dog I've ever had. You might try checking out service dog organizations too. They often have dogs who aren't suitable for that kind of work but have been chosen for their temperment by people who are very dog savvy. Sometimes they would bring dogs they had found at the shelter that couldn't be service dogs but were too good to pass up.
Get chummy with some people who work with the dogs and let them introduce you to some animals you may not have considered if you were just looking through the cages or at pictures. Good luck!
posted by BoscosMom at 3:14 AM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

Personally, I think you should relax your dislike of small dogs. Your apartment is 850 square feet; a Golden is going to take up at least nine square feet just lying there in a heap in the middle of the floor where everyone needs to walk. It's just the nature of the beast.

I'm in a small apartment and have a Yorkie/Shih Tzu mix. He's high energy, but not "yappy," very trainable, and does not shed. His biggest flaw is that if you're not paying him attention when he thinks you should be, he will lie down next to your chair and sigh repeatedly. He definitely doesn't fit the mold of a "small dog" that I had in my mind before we got him.

Failing that, remember that there are a ton of medium-sized mutts and mixes that can be just as beautiful as purebreds. In my experience, they also have better personalities (on average). Just avoid border collies and other high-energy working dog mixes, they will go stir crazy in your apartment and eat the carpet because they hate you.
posted by sonic meat machine at 4:08 AM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

Yes, St. Bernards do have a tendency to drool a lot. A breed that is similar and wonderful is the Bernese Mountain Dog. I have had two of them. They are great with children, very clever, and don't shed nearly as much as golden retrievers or labs.
posted by beisny at 4:10 AM on February 26, 2011

Two "Shorkie" pictures, in case you can't imagine the mix.
posted by sonic meat machine at 4:11 AM on February 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

Greyhound! Vizsla! Or some sort of mixed breed that has Golden/Lab/Vizsla in it. They're all really good dogs.
posted by cooker girl at 4:29 AM on February 26, 2011

If you want a specific size of dog with a specific personality, your best bet is to get a teenage or adult dog from a shelter or breed rescue. Its size will be determined, its personality and health problems will be evident, everyone knows what they're getting in to. If you get a puppy, even if it's the most purebred puppy ever (hell, especially if its purebred) you may very well end up with an unpleasant or untrainable dog. And if you get a puppy, unless you meet both parents, you have no real way to know what size dog you'll end up with. Even then, it's a crapshoot, because two medium-sized parent dogs may have some giant dog genes just waiting to manifest in your little pup.

Generally, you should be thinking not about breeds, except in the most general sense - like, you want a dog with the general size and stereotypical temperament of a retriever, not "I must have a retriever". You should look for the specific dog that fits with you and your girlfriend.

Also, you will be an awesome person and everyone will love you if you make a point not to support the completely unethical purebred dog breeding industry.
posted by Wroksie at 5:53 AM on February 26, 2011 [4 favorites]

I have to agree with sonic meat machine on considering a small dog. 850 sq feet is going to be extremely small with 2 people, a dog and a possible child. That being said:

I grew up with two different Brittany spaniels; I would recommend them as wonderful dogs. They tend to be on the bigger side of medium dogs. I'd recommend getting a female over a male dog; neutering and spaying is a good idea as well.

They are bred for pointing, but both of mine ended up being house pets. The most either of my dogs did was point at birds or squirrels. They actually did this naturally without training. While all dogs have different dispositions, Brittany's tend to be extremely nice dogs. The second Brittany, Lady (we were really inventive in naming) was particularly sweet and was very good with people. I would note however, that neither of them where very good with other dogs.

In Ohio, we ended up having Lady's coat cut down in the summer. This drastically reduced any shedding and was far more comfortable for her. The health problems she had included periodic ear mites (its the flappy ears) and as she got older she had significant problems with her legs.

I've been consistently wanting to get another dog; if I got a Brittany, I'm fairly sure I would never have any other type of dog for the rest of my life. However, a one bedroom apartment kind of prevents having a dog.

Enjoy getting a dog! I envy you.
posted by graxe at 5:54 AM on February 26, 2011

There's some questionable advice in here. There's no way I could recommend a high-energy dog to you in a house that small with such a little yard. High energy dogs being ones like huskies/viszlas/greyhounds---who are all fabulous dogs in their own right, but who ABSOLUTELY require massive amounts of steam-letting-off that are more than you can do with a leash, because you can't keep up.

I've got a golden, and they aren't really high maintenance. Females tend to be more clingy than males, most folks prefer males. FWIW, if you feed a very high quality food and keep clean water available, you really don't have to do much with a Golden's hair, besides vacuum it.

Do you want to play with this dog? Fetch? Hide and seek? Do you want an ornamental in-home dog who won't do much but lay around and be awesome?

I always kind of recommend the same core breeds of dogs, I guess I'll do the same here. Note that I've trained dogs for agility, search and rescue / cadaver, personal protection, and therapy/personal assistance.

--If you want a fruitcake dog who will challenge you and always keep you entertained, but who will love you endlessly and do things you never thought a dog could learn to do---look towards a Border Collie, or a border-mutt, or a small Australian Shepherd, although I personally prefer Borders. (disclosure, I have one.)

--If you want a middle-to-large sized dog who has very little coat-maintenance, is very very loyal, and who will adore your walks and be lovable---look towards the hound group. I am personally very fond of Redbone's, but many in that same size range are quite similar. Hounds can be quite stubborn. (Disclosure: had one, worked with many.)

--If you're looking for a larger sized dog (65-100lbs) go Golden, especially in a house with someone w/o a ton of dog experience. As long as you provide a comfortable bed, there shouldn't be any space concerns. Be advised that it's difficult to get a golden that isn't very very inbred, and many have health issues. (Disclosure: have one) A second option would be a typical German Shepherd.

--If you're looking for midsized -40-60lbs and a dog that doesn't really much ever want to do anything but maybe chew on rawhide and be loved, look Bassett. Again, lots of inbreeding and lots of ankle problems.

--If you're looking for midsized, hopefully devoted, high energy, look toward the english bird-dog group, dogs like Brittany's/Springers/etc. Very low coat maintenance, but these dogs like to work. (Disclosure: have one)

--If you want very large, very low energy, look Mastiff or Great Dane, however I wouldn't really recommend a huge dog to you right now, although it can certainly be done in a small house.

That's just my 2 cents. I would advise that you steer away from Labs, because I've met very few people who were equipped to handle the psychosis that is the Lab puppy and/or the untrained lab adult. I wouldn't recommend that you necessarily buy anything, go to the pound and let a dog choose you---just keep in mind what it is that you're looking for. If you DO actually PAY for a dog, demand 3 generations of parental history for both Sire and Dam, and make sure there are no simlar names. Don't worry about a health warranty---if a dog gets sick they just destroy it and give you a new puppy.

Really though, go to the pound. Your new dog will choose you, whether or not you know it at the time.
posted by TomMelee at 6:12 AM on February 26, 2011 [8 favorites]

Goldens are the best. Go with your gut. Ours is smaller, 55lbs, and super sweet. We were lucky enough to get her as a rescue when she was an adult so we knew we'd be a good match.
posted by sulaine at 6:30 AM on February 26, 2011

Possibly too small, but my answer is always a Sheltie, great with kids, fine in small spaces as long as exercise is adequate, eager to be trained, frighteningly intelligent, typically good with cats, and will helpfully herd all your party guests into one room. Fit Shelties can be good "jog-along" dogs for shorter jogs, though not for marathoners-in-training. Grooming is necessary but not too excessive.

(When I was growing up we had a puppy sheltie at the same time as we had a toddler learning to walk, so we'd loose them both in the backyard and the toddler would make a shrieking, giggling break for it, and the puppy would go berserk trying to herd him back to the people herd, succeed, and then the toddler would make another break for it. They both thought this was pretty much the best game EVER and would just EXHAUST one another playing it.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:38 AM on February 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

"And if you get a puppy, unless you meet both parents, you have no real way to know what size dog you'll end up with. Even then, it's a crapshoot, because two medium-sized parent dogs may have some giant dog genes just waiting to manifest in your little pup. "

Yes. My parents' purebred Sheltie with impressive papers going way back and tiny little perfect-Sheltie parents grew to be almost the size of a Border Collie. All her littermates were normal Sheltie size. MUUUUUUTAAAAAAANT.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:40 AM on February 26, 2011

Not sure where you live, but I'd go to your local humane society and some rescue groups with those criteria, ask for a dog that's a few years old since that's something you mentioned. The rescue groups will especially have an idea of the dog's personality since the dog is probably living as a foster and they'd have gotten the opportunity to observe the dog interacting with other animals, kids, etc. I've had pure-bred akc dogs from very reputable breeders (usually you get a puppy unless you're getting a rescue through them, though), and also dogs from the humane society. All have been great. I think you might be surprised to find a wonderful mixed-breed dog, maybe something like this sweet girl, or this goofy guy.
posted by belau at 6:44 AM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Personally, I think you should relax your dislike of small dogs. Your apartment is 850 square feet; a Golden is going to take up at least nine square feet just lying there in a heap in the middle of the floor where everyone needs to walk. It's just the nature of the beast.

I have to agree with sonic meat machine on considering a small dog. 850 sq feet is going to be extremely small with 2 people, a dog and a possible child. That being said:

No, dammit, no. As someone who's volunteered at local shelters in NYC for years, this is the biggest misconception about dogs among people who live in limited spaces. Smaller dogs tend to be far more high-energy, especially breeds of small dogs (as opposed to small mutts). Big dogs are generally lazy cough potatoes, with the exception of all herding dogs. Don't get a small dog simply because it'll take up less space than a big dog, because a small hyperactive dog cooped up in a tiny place with two adults, cats and a potential baby will make you feel like your apartment shrank several hundred cubic feet. Add that to the tendency of small dogs to be barkers, jumpers, skittering across the floors, YIP YIP YIP, oh my god, it's a nightmare. A Golden Retriever or Lab or big mutt will spend lots of her day sleeping on the couch with the cats like an overgrown feline - many small breeds will entertain themselves barking at every sudden movement and running the entire length of the house.

Would you consider a pit bull mix? At least in New York City, something like 60% of big dogs in shelters have pit bull in them. Lots of people are initially terrified of pit bulls because of their bad reputation, but most are the sweet love bugs you've ever met. You'd have to make sure an adult pit mix won't chase the cats, so talk to the shelter people in advance.

Another option is to foster a dog and see how she shakes out with the family dynamic. It's a good way to meet a dog without necessarily committing to caring for her for life.
posted by Viola at 6:48 AM on February 26, 2011 [9 favorites]

Also, just chiming in that if you're already committed to getting an adult dog (which, seriously, thank you for doing that), don't feel like you necessarily need to look for a breed, per se. An adult dog will already have her personality set in stone, so talk to the shelter people about what you want in a pet. It's totally fine to tell them that you want a dog suited for small living quarters, good with cats and kids, etc. Breeds are helpful when you're picking a random puppy out of a litter and you have no idea who the hell you're getting, so at least you'll know your Akita puppy will be loyal or your Dalmation will be psyched to go on long jogging outings when she gets older. But if you're already into the idea of skipping the cute puppy stage, just show up at the shelter, talk to volunteers, walk a few dogs around the block, and see who pulls at the heartstrings.
posted by Viola at 6:57 AM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

Consider adopting a Greyhound. They're large, affectionate, well-behaved, and two 30 minute walks a day should be fine for them. Some people call them "60 mph couch potatoes".
posted by Lieber Frau at 6:59 AM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

Please consider pit bulls. I lived with a lot of different dogs growing up - labs, goldens, jack russells, shiba inus, setters, and a few mixed breeds -- and the sweetest, friendliest, most entertaining ones were all pit bulls. There are too many of them being looked over in shelters because of an untrue reputation of violence (violence is trained into dogs - it's not a breed characteristic). Just go to your local shelter and meet one. They're some of the best dogs on earth. And they're healthy because they haven't been overbred (most pit bulls are actually mixed).
posted by Bunge at 7:07 AM on February 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

I was going to make a post recommending you look at pit mixes, but it seems to have disappeared and in the meanwhile a couple others have chimed in. Esp. if you're in an urban area, the shelters will be bursting with them, and while not all pit mixes are good with small children or cats (usually because they are too exuberant, not because they're mean), others will be just fine. Typically super friendly and people oriented, medium-sized (averaging around 35-50 lbs depending on the mix), not super barky, smart and playful and goofy, very minimal grooming requirements.
posted by drlith at 7:24 AM on February 26, 2011

As a former foster for an all-breed rescue, I agree that the best thing you can do is to go to a rescue and tell them what you want in terms of size, energy level, barkiness, and so on. Particularly a rescue that has dogs fostered out in homes; these foster homes know the dogs well. They may be indeterminate mixes but wonderful dogs with the ideal personality, or they may be dogs that have a very unusual temperament for their apparent breed, or they may be absolutely typical of their apparent breed. The foster homes will know.
posted by galadriel at 7:33 AM on February 26, 2011

Smaller dogs tend to be VERY high energy. End of story.

Honestly, a Golden or a Lab would be a very good dog for you. I personally love Lab/Shepard mixes, and they are very good with children if raised with them as young dogs.

Pit mixes are wonderful dogs as well, and very well mannered if socialized well at an early age.

My advice is to go to a rescue, especially one that fosters their dogs first, and explain what you are looking for. They can help, and know the personalities of their dogs quite well.
posted by strixus at 7:47 AM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

We have a basset hound, who is gentle, a super snuggler and loves kids. He's 50 pounds, but his legs are short so he doesn't need a lot of space to run. Also, whenever we walk him, people want to come talk to him, so there's a nice social component. He's a hound, though, so there is the baying.
posted by thinkingwoman at 7:51 AM on February 26, 2011

Consider an Airedale.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:06 AM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Wire Fox Terrier. Up to about 18-20 pounds. No shedding. No yapping. High energy. Smart. Stubborn. Aloof, but responds to persistent training. Adorable.
posted by notyou at 8:12 AM on February 26, 2011

Consider adopting a Greyhound. They're large, affectionate, well-behaved, and two 30 minute walks a day should be fine for them. Some people call them "60 mph couch potatoes".

While, as a greyhound owner, I want to cheerlead this suggestion, let me point out that most greyhounds are not defined by being eager to please or easily trainable, which the OP wants. There are absolutely exceptions, but most greyhounds are of the "what's in it for me?" mindset with regard to training, not the "ooh let me please my human!" mindset. You would also have to specify to your rescue that you're looking for a low-prey-drive grey, since not all of them are.

That said, they're fantastically low-energy (people who say greyhounds need a lot of exercise are SO. WRONG.), low-shedding, chill dogs who love people, and if the training part is negotiable, I'd wholeheartedly endorse a greyhound for the OP.
posted by badgermushroomSNAKE at 8:23 AM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Have you thought of a beagle? Loads of them in shelters, and some of them get along okay with cats.
posted by dilettante at 8:25 AM on February 26, 2011

Just chiming in to nth the people telling you to go to the shelter and see who needs a home. Mixed breeds are, to my mind, always the best dogs. The most wonderful dog I have ever had was a shepherd mix from the Baltimore Humane Society who was 4 months old when I adopted him. I now have three dogs, none of whom were planned and all of whom would fit your criteria, although the collie mix is too barky for any sane family. The third one, who literally arrived at my front door one morning, is a Heinz 57 to such an extent that the vet threw up her hands and said she would not even begin to guess her breed. We think there's some hound in there although she doesn't bay but for the rest of her delightful, beautiful, roughly 70 pound self, who can tell and who cares? She's mellow, loving, smart and just great.

I will also say that your dog will adapt to the cats probably faster than the cats will to the dog. As far as that goes, too, you're in the perfect situation: it is easier to introduce a new dog to a resident cat than vice versa although both are perfectly possible.
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:47 AM on February 26, 2011

First, I am delighted for you that you are planning to adopt an adult dog from a shelter or adoption group. And your cottage is plenty roomy for any dog (or pair of dogs) you bring home.

Goldens are wonderful dogs; Golden mixes often are as well (the best dog I ever had was a Golden/St. Bernard mix who was incredibly smart and sweet). I'm not sure you need to second guess your initial inclination, but in case you do...

I am glad to see greyhounds being recommended here, though the poster above who refered to them as high energy dogs is way, way off the mark -- the couch potato comment is far more accurate. They are some of the most underrated companion animals out there. Mine are lounging next to me right now, and lounging is how they spend the majority of their days. Mine also live with two cats; as few as 20% of greyhounds can't live with cats or small dogs, and most adoption groups test their adoptables to see where on the spectrum they are. They are definitely trainable with positive methods which is typical of most hound breeds, though they are not as biddable as a retriever -- they are independent thinkers and you do actually need to be able to have a good answer when they want to know what's in it for them. But they are peaceful, loving, sweet dogs, and far and away the "easiest" dogs I've ever had. Can't imagine life without them now.

As much as I'd like to endorse pit-type dogs, they are as the saying goes, a lot of dog. They are very affectionate with people, but the myth/spin that violence to other dogs hasn't been bred into the pitties just isn't true.

You are going about this in a smart way, and whoever you bring home will be a lucky pup.
posted by vers at 8:52 AM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

Wow, lots of advice, some conflicting. I will chime in with 8+ years of humane society volunteer experience, for whatever that is worth.

Many of my favorite dogs from the various shelters I've worked at have been pit bulls. Sweet, funny, and all the rest. But I would not recommend one to someone planning to have children. Ever. But here is the rub. The last shelter I worked at had a poster with something like 20 dogs that all looked like pit bull mixes. Blood tests were performed on all, and only one came back with any meaningful amount of pit/staffordshire blood, and two came back with a very small amount. So it is hard to tell!

Smaller dogs come in super high energy, but they also come in super laid back. My own insanely laid-back beast is a Lhasa-King Charles mix. He is not the smartest dog in the universe, but he is the super coolest. When I think high energy, barky, irritating, I think jack russells and most other terriers, pomeranians and often Yorkies, so I would avoid those. Beagles are super barky too, in my experience.

I have to nth the shelter and/or breed rescue adoption route, which is sounds like you would be aiming for anyway (getting an older dog). Goldens and labs are awesome. Maybe a golden or lab mix would be a good bet. As for greys, I have a sister-in-law who has five of her own (and with 3 cats) and does greyhound rescue. I can confirm the above posters who said they are actually mainly low energy couch potatoes. They can be very shy, and as mentioned above, less biddable than a retriever. But really great dogs.

Good luck with whatever you choose, and thank you for informing yourself before jumping into the deep end. If only more people would think before they choose.
posted by Glinn at 8:57 AM on February 26, 2011

Gah! Don't get a Beagle or a Husky!!! Those are incredibly high energy dogs who need LOTS of exercise and LOTS of attention! 850 square feet is not enough and leaving one of those alone that long would mean coming home to a destroyed house.

Golden Retrievers are just about the sweetest dogs ever. My SIL has one who I often dog sit. She just awesome. I've never met a Golden who wasn't completely mellow and totally easy going. The dog will want to be with you where ever you are. If you're watching TV the dog will want to be in your lap, if you're eating the dog will be under the table (probably trying to put their head in your lap), if you're on the computer the dog will be sitting on your feet wishing it could put it's head in your lap, if you're on the toilet the dog will want to...You get the picture. My SIL has a son who is constantly 'wrestling' with the dog and if it ever gets to be too much the dog just gets up and walks away. I've never heard her growl, and she barks very rarely. She's eight years old now and you can still wear your arm out throwing a tennis ball for her.

I second the recommendations to go to your local Animal Shelter. Golden Doodles are Golden Retrievers mixed with Poodles, still sweet but much less shedding. When I was a teenager we had a Golden/Cocker mix who was much smaller and just as sweet. A Golden mix might just be exactly what you need
posted by TooFewShoes at 9:00 AM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do be aware that purebred/pedigree dogs are riddled with weakness, disease, and deformity due to untold generations of inbreeding [BBC docu on the subject behind the link]. Even if you're not breeding parents to children & nieces to nephews (which they are), breeding dogs that based on physical similarity means you're drawing from a gene pool that by definition can't be particularly diverse. Look at European aristocrats if you want to see how weakness, disease, and insanity sets in with too much inbreeding. And over their lifetime a purebred ANYTHING will have massively increasec veterinary bills due to being genetically weaker..

If you do go with an inbred purebred, look into what kind of genetic diseases and problems the breed is prone to so you'll know what to expect. Sometimes it's hip dysplasia. King Charles Spaniels have been bred to the point where their skulls are too small for their brains and they live in agony. Bulldogs can barely breathe. Here's the list of what diseases and deformities GR's are prone to due to inbreeding.

I recommend you get a rescue dog and a mixed-breed mutt. Let the shelter folk know what kind of characteristics you're looking for, and let them point you towards some choices.

Best of luck.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:01 AM on February 26, 2011

I want to chime in with "get a rescue dog." My caveat is - not all shelters and rescues are created equal. You want to find one that fosters dogs out or at least keeps them underfoot in someone's home. These places will actually test a dog for temperament, compatibility with cats, and so on. Most of these people will actually keep a cat-friendly dog in a home with cats, a child-friendly one in a home with kids, etc.

The problem, in my experience, with getting a dog (or cat for that matter) from a place which only ever had the dog in a kennel, is that they might not know what the dog is really like, or the volunteers or staff might be well-meaning but clueless - "well, he hasn't chased or killed a cat yet, so he's probably good with cats" - and adopting an animal from a "kennel only" situation might be more of a gamble.

There are great shelters and rescues and crummy ones - in your situation, with your very specific requirements AND your g/f has no experience with dogs - you want a knowledgeable, supportive rescue or shelter which knows what it's doing. Good, experienced shelters and rescues are real dog people who know their dogs backwards and forwards and the placements are far more likely to work out.

Mixed-breeds can be as great as purebreds, and an adult dog is often a safer bet than a puppy - its size and temperament are already set. You won't get a surprise like the cute little puppy growing up to be the size of a barn and full of boundless energy. A medium-sized, placid adult dog will stay medium-sized and placid.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 9:36 AM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Consider adopting a Greyhound. They're large, affectionate, well-behaved, and two 30 minute walks a day should be fine for them. Some people call them "60 mph couch potatoes".
I love greys and had one myself, so first I must nth this suggestion. However, some greys are more like overgrown housecats than like faithful, bringing-in-the-newspaper dogs, so it depends upon what type of temperament you're looking for. However, their fur is low-dander and they meet the "no icky drool" requirement.

My in-laws had a black lab and my sister-in-law a golden. Both were loveable, loyal dogly dogs (as in "manly man"). They learned tricks like giving a paw and fetching slippers with ease, and were gentle around the kids (no jumping and knocking them over). I can still see Shawnee, the black Lab, picking up his huge silver food dish (a la Snoopy) and trotting over to my mother-in-law with it every evening when feeding time was nigh. (As if she'd forget - he was her baby.) But the best thing to do if you're searching for a young adult dog is to visit some local rescues or shelters and discuss your preferences with the workers there. Chances are there is a mixed breed that meets all your criteria looking for a nice home and family.
posted by Oriole Adams at 9:52 AM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

TomMelee: "There's some questionable advice in here. There's no way I could recommend a high-energy dog to you in a house that small with such a little yard.


look towards a Border Collie, or a border-mutt, or a small Australian Shepherd,

Border collies and Aussies are also very high energy dogs. That's one reason why they are often the breed of choice for agility competitions, because they are always going-going-going (in addition to being two of the smartest breeds).

OP, definitely consider just asking a few rescue groups what kinds of dogs they currently have that would fit your needs and wants regarding temperament and size. I have a Golden mix, who exhibits most of the qualities (good and bad) of Goldens, but is much smaller and has much less fur to brush. But I wasn't really looking for her - she kind of found me.

Have you tried browsing
posted by SuperSquirrel at 9:58 AM on February 26, 2011

What is the best breed to get? A Mutt.

(I noticed that Cesar the Whisperer confirmed this comment in a recent newspaper article).
posted by ovvl at 10:20 AM on February 26, 2011

Poodles! Amazing dogs, beautiful, smart, good with kids, don't shed (though high-maintenance in grooming), and you can get them small or large. Highly, highly recommended. Poodle-crosses too might be good -- they tend to get the hypo-allergenic-ness and the smarts of the poodle.
posted by pised at 10:44 AM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Okay, let me dispel the myth that mutts are going to be sounder than purebreds. That's not how inheritance works. Sometimes it does; sometimes it does not; usually the answer is somewhere in the middle. Unless a particular disorder is identified with a single gene and the gene is definitely dominant or definitely recessive, it's not that simple. Even with 'simple' genetic disorders like that, many genetic disorders have multiple mutant alleles, so you can get two different types of the 'wrong' gene, and sometimes inheriting two different screwed-up copies gives you the recessive phenotype anyway. (Cystic fibrosis in humans is like this--there is the 'common' mutation, and then a bunch of other, much less common mutations that have the same effect. Receive one common mutant allele and one uncommon mutant allele from your parents, and you'll have CF. Even then there are other genes in play when it comes to how the disorder is expressed, but that's not the point.)

I have a collection of hip dysplasia (which is not a simple pattern of inheritance--it's polygenic and other factors are involved in the outcome) radiographs from mixed-breed dogs to prove it.

Mixes are great in that they're often rescue dogs who need homes, and many people overlook them for purebred dogs. And there's no reason NOT to own a mix if you're not attached to the idea of a specific breed and showing, etcetera. Still, do not count on 'mix' coding for 'healthier,' unless you're comparing to an English Bulldog...even then, you don't know for sure. That's putting a lot of expectation on an animal, and a recipe for disappointment if the dog does develop signs of a condition that conventional wisdom says 'mutts' don't get.
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 11:39 AM on February 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

If you want a quiet dog, think twice about getting a hound - a redbone coonhound I once knew was the noisiest dog I've ever met - baying overnight, all night, etc. Gorgeous dog, lovely personality, but noisy noisy noisy.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:44 AM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

A quiet rebuttal to a couple of statements above, specifically about greyhounds. Most of them have not been in a home environment after retiring from racing, but they don't need to be fostered to have a successful life as a pet. Yes, a fostered dog may be your ideal one, but it isn't requisite for many dogs. And most greyhounds, while in the hound family, rarely bark. If they speak, it's usually a roo, and it's happy singing.
posted by vers at 12:00 PM on February 26, 2011

Also, even for the 'middle' cases, here is a not-uncommon scenario: take the faddish 'puggle.' You often get a stubbier but not totally brachycephalic (short-face) dog. Yay, because you avoid many of the problems of a true brachycephalic breed. Right?

Unless the dog has a good amount of the scenting and tracking instincts from the Beagle side. Then you may have an animal that has a drive that can outpace its respiratory apparatus. For example, it may still have a modified soft palate, though not one that would cause clinical issues in a less-tracking-oriented or active individual animal.

Mixes are awesome...but it is much more complicated than getting the 'average' or 'the best of multiple worlds.' It is a bummer to see people frustrated with lovely mixed-breed animals who are not the archetypal hardy mutt. Evaluate them as individuals. (Which you should do with all dogs, mutts or purebred.)

FTR: one of my favorite dogs in the world is a chihuahua/terrier/overwashed dustmop mix. That dog is hilarious. In theory, I shouldn't like her mix of breeds. In practice, I love that ridiculous dog, because of who she is as an individual.
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 12:05 PM on February 26, 2011

Here's another enthusiastic vote for a poodle. Not a fussy little toy poodle, but a nice medium size standard poodle. They are mellow, extremely smart, loyal, not aggressive, and don't need extreme amounts of running or hard exercise. The grooming can actually be quite low-maintenance, if you keep the dog in sort of a short afro clip instead of all the pom-pom stuff. A nice bonus--the grooming of your living space will be much lower maintenance than with most other dogs, since poodles shed even less than humans.
posted by Corvid at 1:01 PM on February 26, 2011

I think it's great that you want a "secondhand" adult dog.

I've had and known plenty of purebred dogs whose personalities bore no resemblance to their supposed breed traits.

You'll certainly find that people put a lot of energy into defending and promoting "their" breeds. But I think focusing on which breed is a waste of time.

Our dog, a tweedy-looking 50-pounder of indeterminate ancestry, came from a shelter, and is the smartest, most affectionate dog I've ever known.
posted by Lizzle at 4:50 PM on February 26, 2011

I know two bassets, both named Frank, and while both lovely dogs I am very very fond of, I would not remotely describe them as "low-energy". Both also hate being left alone and will eat the house.
posted by sepviva at 10:06 PM on February 26, 2011

I have young German Shepherd. She is nice but curious of cats and good with kids. She does need your attention and moderate exercise daily. A sweet and intelligent breed!
posted by natasha_k at 10:36 PM on February 26, 2011

Check Dogs 101 videos.
posted by leigh1 at 10:40 AM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do not get a Husky. They SHED and shed and shed. Awful mess. You will be vacuuming all the time. The hair gets everywhere.

My vote is for Boxer. Wonderful personality, and a good medium size.
posted by cass at 9:06 AM on February 28, 2011

Many of my favorite dogs from the various shelters I've worked at have been pit bulls.

Why are so many of the dogs in shelters pit bulls, anyways? Is that something you need to consider as a new owner?
posted by smackfu at 2:07 PM on February 28, 2011

There are so many fantastic answers here that it was hard to choose best answers--I may have missed a few. Thank you to everyone for your input. I read everyone's answers & checked out every breed mentioned. I particularly liked the suggestions of a Brittany or a poodle mix. Goldens are still high on our list, and so are Golden mixes. We are not considering any type of pit bull or pit bull mix, but appreciate the recommendations. Pits may well be unfairly maligned, but we rent, not own, and are at the mercy of landlord preferences. Perhaps at another point we will be able to reconsider the breed.

We are definitely going with an older rescue dog, so we have an idea of the personality. Before this post, I saw my choices as going to a county rescue (without fostering) or to a breed rescue (that fostered and had a better idea of the dog personalities). That's why I asked for breed recommendations--so I could then check out the available dogs at that breed's rescue organization. As a result of your comments, I have looked more at what is out there, and I found at least one nearby active all-breed rescue organization that fosters. I will see if there are more out there, and talk to them to see what dogs they have that might fit our requirements.

We aren't in a big rush to get a dog (but we both want one so badly!), but if we do so before the post is closed, we'll come back with pictures of our new dog. And if anyone else has any suggestions, we'll listen to them and research them too.

Thanks again.
posted by studioaudience at 3:47 PM on February 28, 2011

I just want to thank you all again for your recommendations. After much discussion and searching on every night, we adopted a standard poodle/cocker spaniel mix. He's about 33 pounds, 3-4 years old, well-behaved, and a sweet little gentleman. He met all of our requirements: his prey drive appears nonexistent, good with kids, friendly, okay with strangers, intelligent & eager to please, easily trainable, not aggressive or protective. We love him. Our landlord put a weight restriction of 40 pounds on our new dog, so maybe next time around we'll be able to look at a larger breed. Thanks again--we researched everything you mentioned.
posted by studioaudience at 7:22 PM on June 9, 2011

What an adorable fluffmonster.
posted by galadriel at 8:40 PM on June 9, 2011

I am so glad that it worked out for you! He sounds perfect!
posted by SuperSquirrel at 5:34 PM on June 10, 2011

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