A laid-back urban trail dog
July 11, 2011 9:44 AM   Subscribe

Help us choose the right dog, please. My wife and I live in a small condo in an industrial-type urban neighborhood but I want a trail-running buddy. Conditions and other info inside.

We lost our beloved old mutt many months ago, and we're going to be ready to get a new one soon. I'm looking for tips to help us choose the right kind. Here are the factors:

1. We live in a small condo in Oakland, and my wife and I both work 9-5ish. No kids. I am not in theory opposed to crate-training (and my wife thinks it's worth looking into) but I'll admit that it feels kind of weird to me. We have to get a dog that can handle this.
2. We can hire a dog walker for lunchtime walks a few days a week, and I can work from home or come home at lunch to walk the dog the other two. It'll be alone a lot during the day but won't have to endure too long without a pee break.
3. We don't want a little dog, and probably shouldn't get a big dog. So we're looking in the medium range (think beagle, australian shepherd, some terriers).
4. We are strongly inclined to get a dog from the pound, and have a preference for mutts. Still, I am interested in breed-specific comments or recommendations because I want to know about different characteristics.
5. This might be the most important: I run, and I want a dog that can handle going running with me pretty much daily (we'll go to the dog park on my off days), often for 5-7 miles, but then be able to chill out for the rest of the day without having a yard to patrol at home. We'll be running on trails as much as possible, and also going hiking probably 15-20 weekends/year.
6. No puppies. I'd like a younger dog with a lot miles left, but 1, 2, 3 or even older is just fine. If not for the running thing we'd probably adopt a senior dog.

So, what kind of dog should we be looking for? Size? Temperament? Breed?

I understand that dogs are a crapshoot--I've had them all my life. But I don't think it's impossible to make an educated guess. The truth is that in the Bay Area there are dozens of lovely medium-sized dogs in shelters all over. Sadly, we CAN be kind of picky.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly to Pets & Animals (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The difficult thing with running and dogs is that even within breeds, they vary quite a bit on what they can/will do. I've had a standard poodle that would run 13 miles without thinking twice and I've had a standard poodle that would run a mile and then sit down.
posted by shornco at 9:54 AM on July 11, 2011

If you are really going to take a dog on a 5-7 mile run every day then I really think you'll be fine with any high energy breed.

I've had a Border Collie and now have a German Shepherd and I'm partial to the herding types. If you do go for a high intelligence breed like those just remember that in addition to exercise they really like having a "job" to do. Obedience training isn't just for keeping them in line, it helps work out their brains too.

I also had a Beagle but we had to find her a new home when I was on bed rest with my last pregnancy. She was an absolute sweetheart, but she would get destructive if she didn't get a good 45 minute walk every day. We have a yard to run in, but she had to have that walk to wear her out. Being on bed rest I obviously couldn't do that. A 5-7 mile daily run would be a dream come true for her. Just remember with most scent hounds their nose rules. You basically can't let a Beagle off leash because they'll just follow a scent until they're completely lost. After we found a new family for our Beagle we still got calls from Animal Control saying they'd found her after one of her expeditions. The calls stopped once the new family finally switched her microchip contact information.

I don't have any personal experience, but you might want to consider a rescue Greyhound. They aren't too big and they really love to run. I've got a friend who has a couple and she says they like to run but the rest of the time they are honest to goodness couch potatoes. She works full time and they're just fine during the day. (She's got a yard though so YMMV)

Crate training really is a wonderful thing. You don't have to worry about coming home and finding any messes and in my experience once the dog gets used to it they really like it. My dogs always thought of their crates as their 'dens' and I often find they'll go there on their own to nap.
posted by TooFewShoes at 10:03 AM on July 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

My best advice would be to find some of the most informative foster associations in your area and work closely with them to find an athletic dog that fits your other criteria.

My husband and I adopted a dog in May from a local foster group and he has turned out to be (almost*) exactly what we expected after reading about him, watching a video of him on YouTube, having long conversations with his foster mom and the woman who runs the group, and then meeting him twice before deciding to adopt.

If you're working with a really cool foster, it seems reasonable they could bring the dog to your house for a visit and run. Our foster was very eager for us to have a full picture of our dog before we decided to take him.

*He's a little higher energy than we expected, partly due to successful treatment of the medical problems we knew he had.
posted by Squeak Attack at 10:03 AM on July 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Given how specific a dog you're looking for, I'd recommend talking to breed-rescue organizations in the area, since they're more likely to foster out their dogs in homes, and thus have a better handle on a dog's personality & needs. The ones we've adopted our dogs from were great about listening to our lifestyle and then suggesting dogs that they had that fit our needs.

Also, don't rule out larger dogs just because you live in a smaller condo - big dogs can be pretty chill about that sort of thing. As far as breeds are concerned, focus on the working /sporting/hound types.
posted by Gori Girl at 10:13 AM on July 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'd just head down to the shelters and see what sort of young medium-sized dogs are around.

In my experience, retriever-type dogs and other dogs bred for close work hunting with people make pretty good house dogs and trail-running buddies: They've got the endurance to handle 5-mile runs, and after their horribly destructive toddler phase, they make good house dogs. Pointers and spaniels might be a little too high-energy to tolerate a small urban condo well, though. Beagles and other smallish hounds do love to run, but be aware that they are not good off-leash trail-running companions: after all, they're bred to run away looking for game, and then make a shitload of noise until you come looking for them. Practically speaking, this means that a lot of beagles get lost every year. (Greyhounds are another dog you can never run with off-leash, by the way. I'm not saying trail running with an off-leash dog is a great idea, but sometimes it is enormously helpful to have the option of taking your dog off-leash: for instance, if the trail goes up a rock face and you want the dog to be able to find her own path without pulling you off your balance.)

I am not as much a fan of the herding breeds for the lifestyle your dog would need to have; a border collie or Australian shepherd would go nuts alone in the house, although they would like the running. I would also avoid the Nordic breeds: huskies tend to be a bit vocal, and to need more outside time than your circumstances permit, they tend to not be quite as dependable off-leash, and they tend to get bored easily and then become massively destructive.

So if I were you, I'd look for a smallish lab mix or other medium-sized mutt with some gun dog ancestry. I've seen a lot of shepherd/lab crosses in the 40-50 lb. range running with their owners in the parks here; they seem to do pretty well in the city. I think the lab genes might somehow mellow out the crazy Type A herding dog personality, too.
posted by kataclysm at 10:14 AM on July 11, 2011

Thanks for all the answers so far. Just to clear up a couple of things:

-Big dogs: I'm not just concerned about our small condo--my wife just doesn't like big dogs that much. Medium is probably just the right call.
-Distance: the 5-7 mile runs would be once or twice weekly, with 4 miles or so being more typical.

Is adopting from a breed rescue place expensive? And do they often have mixed-breed dogs?
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 10:19 AM on July 11, 2011

Not all rescues are breed-specific, at least not where I live. We worked with a group called Tucson Cold Wet Noses and all their dogs are mixed breeds that are rescued from the county animal control. I also looked at the dogs being fostered by a local rottweiler group, because most of them were mixed breed, not rottweilers, and medium-sized.

Our dog, a goofball and total clown called Shaggy, cost us about $135. $10 to the county for license, $125 to the rescue group, who had spent probably 4x that on his medical care before we got him. It seemed fully reasonable since they'd had him fixed, teeth pulled, etc.

Again, if you have specific criteria, I would look in shelters but would instead work with rescue groups that have the dogs in foster homes. It's a much better way to find out in advance how your dog will behave in your home.
posted by Squeak Attack at 10:29 AM on July 11, 2011

*I'm sorry - I meant to say "I would not look in shelters but would instead..."
posted by Squeak Attack at 10:30 AM on July 11, 2011

I agree with kataclysm with looking for a field dog/ gun dog type breed if your willing to that much excercise with your dog. I have a Vizsla and she is quite the couch potato at home as long as we excercise her (she bikes with us and hikes on trails regularly) Some dogs- I would put labs in this catagory, are not good long distance runners, so that should be considered. Perhaps a Springer Spaniel might be a option. They are medium in size, can run long distance and are happy breeds. Any dog you choose know that you can find in a breed specific rescue group. We got our Vizsla from a breeder, but if we get a 2nd one down the road we will without a doubt go through a rescue group for an adult looking for a home.
One more word of advise, training is key to any good dog. Our dog would be nuts if it wasn't for teaching her self control and how to relax when ask her to relax. Any age dog you get find a local place you can train your new friend and it will teach you all sort of wonderful ways to bond and form a positive relationship with clear rules.
Good luck!
posted by brinkzilla at 10:30 AM on July 11, 2011

It really depends on the dog. I have a Border Collie/Australian Cattle Dog mix that could run for days (we just did a run up and down the eight hundred steps at Kaymoor mines in WV), but is very mellow in the house and can be left alone for long periods of time without needing much beyond a dog walker on certain work days. He always comes when I call and never get lost or moves far from me when he's off-leash.

I was very nervous about getting a herding dog, but fell in love with my mutt at a shelter after he was let out of his cage to play with me. My criteria for a dog was that he looked into my eyes and observed me while we were playing. He was so responsive and attuned to me that I knew he wouldn't cause me much trouble or be too hyper. I think this criteria could be really important in choosing a dog.
posted by pineappleheart at 10:32 AM on July 11, 2011

nthing the smallish herding mix advice. We have a 45lb shepherd mix who lives in our small 2br house and is a perfect size. She runs with my husband 3-6 miles 2-3x a week and LOVES it, but can also be content with two 30 min walks if needed. She sleeps the rest of the day. We crate trained her but leave it open most of the time even when we aren't here as she is very well behaved. We have also done agility with her and she was great at it.

We just looked at the rescues and pounds and on Petfinder for a dog that was at least a year old, between 40 and 50 lbs, described as active, and as my husband said "looks like a dog." We found her staying at a foster house nearby and did a week trial with her. She was incredibly motivated to please us and very smart, which is what we were looking for. We just paid for her spay and registration. She's been great.

We did look at breed rescues in our area, especially for Brittany spaniels and Dutch Shepherds (there are big rescues for those breeds in the area) but found her before we put in an application. They started at 150-200 and went up from there, and had mixes as well as purebreds. Good luck!
posted by zleetle at 10:35 AM on July 11, 2011

Squeak Attack, I can't believe how huggable Shaggy is. I love my own mutt, but I think I have some dog envy.
posted by pineappleheart at 10:35 AM on July 11, 2011

Greyhounds are sprinters, not long distance runners, and cannot be run off-leash. They are wonderful dogs, but for many (not all) of them, running is a series of short and insanely fast (they can hit up near 40mpg) bursts, followed by hours of sleeping and lazing around.
posted by canine epigram at 10:38 AM on July 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Up here in Seattle our shelter has a running program with the dogs. I see them out every sat. running with the little vests on. You may be able to "test run" your potential dog or better yet see if you could talk to any other volunteers that might run with the dogs.
posted by ljesse at 10:46 AM on July 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

labradoodles are kind of perfect for these requirements -- not sure if they're too big though.
posted by sweetkid at 11:00 AM on July 11, 2011

I have a shar pei/heeler mix who weighs about 45 pounds and is knee high-ish and an Australian shepherd mix. The aussie is still a pup so not sure how big he will end up being. We got both of them from independent puppy rescues that we found on pet finder. When we were looking for dogs, we knew we wanted smart and active breeds and went from there. The most recent rescue we worked with insisted that we take the aussie puppy home for a 1 week foster since we already had a dog. I'm sure if you find a dog that you are interested in, most rescues will let you take it for a test run.

The heeler mix is a great running partner for me because she loves to be outside doing stuff and her "fast walk" matches my pace. My boyfriend says their paces don't match so he doesn't take her running much.

As for your schedule and space: I would not rule out smart, active herding breeds because it sounds like you have an active life that would include the dog. We (my boyfriend, me, the 2 dogs and a cat!) live in 635 sq feet! BUT, the key to our success is EXERCISE and training. The dogs get at a minimum 2 hours on a week day of active time (fast walking, off leash play, running when they are old enough). On the weekend they generally get 4+ hours a day (hiking, dog parks, taking them to parties, etc). They do not have access to a yard and generally chill most of the day between morning walkies and evening dog park. My boyfriend is a grad student so he can take them out in the afternoon but they don't often need it. We also did the crate training thing as a way to teach house rules. New dogs do not have access to the house when they are alone. That way, they can't get into trouble. As they learn the rules, they are left alone for trial times until they can be trusted all day. Its been pretty handy.

As for cost: the cost about $150 each and then we paid for their alterations and shots. I think the local Humane Society (which, in Boulder, is VERY good) costs a little less and the dogs come altered.
posted by rachums at 11:02 AM on July 11, 2011

Most shelters have advisers to help you pick the right animal. Go to one and ask for help. They've usually been around the animals and are familiar with their temperament and history.
posted by Raichle at 11:08 AM on July 11, 2011

I don't have any personal experience, but you might want to consider a rescue Greyhound.

I opened this thread to comment because I knew someone would post this.

You do not want a greyhound. Greyhounds are sprinters, not runners. I don't know anyone with a grey who has success with them as a running buddy, and I worked at a rescue center for greyhounds for years. They don't like sustained exercise that much. My own personal grey got to the point that she didn't even like walks longer than two miles or so - when she turned seven she would just stop in her tracks when she decided we'd been walking long enough.

I am not sure what dog would be right for you, but with the running stipulation a greyhound is emphatically the wrong breed.
posted by winna at 11:20 AM on July 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I know greyhounds are out.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 11:22 AM on July 11, 2011

If you can find one, I highly recommend soft-coated Wheaten Terriers. They are medium-sized, very energetic when allowed to be, but very chilled-out otherwise. They are great with kids and people and other dogs, in general. They are great guard dogs, but would probably lick a bad guy to death before biting them.

(Disclaimer - I own a Wheaten named Sully, and he is the bestest dog ever.)
posted by Benny Andajetz at 11:31 AM on July 11, 2011

I have a Boston Terrier who would be absolutely ecstatic to go on long runs every day, but she's also fine just chilling on her own while we're at work 9-5. Additionally, people seem to love Bostons, we often get nice comments on her when we take her for walks.

You would need to train your dog to stay by your side when you run, regardless of which breed you end up choosing.
posted by Dragonness at 11:32 AM on July 11, 2011

I've had two former running-companion beagles, and I'd say it's certainly a breed/breed mix worth investigating. I adopted both dogs through an East Coast beagle rescue organization--there appears to be one in your area as well. Ditto what was said above about beagles being good distance runners, but not reliable off-leash because of the way they will follow their nose. I used to run with my beagles about 25 miles a week.

Beagles have a reputation for being noisy when left alone, but they're not all that way. My first beagle was fairly quiet, and my second beagle was practically silent. A rescue organization can steer you toward a dog that is athletic not super vocal. You often can find purebred dogs at breed rescues. Adoption fees usually run a bit more than at the local animal shelter ($250-350 in our area, vs. $150-200 for a shelter dog) but it is a small expense compared to the long-term expense of dog upkeep, so it may be worth it to make sure you get the right companion.
posted by SomeTrickPony at 11:36 AM on July 11, 2011

I second the recommendation to go with a dog that has been in some sort of foster program, either a shelter-sponsored group or a breed specific rescue. Shelter dogs can be awesome, but since you have pretty specific wants, I think you would do better with a dog that has actually been living in someone's home for a while. The foster parent should be able to tell you lots about the dog's activity level, likes/dislikes, etc. I'd also add that some breed-specific rescues also will have adoptable mixes of that breed (ie. the Doberman Rescue Group I work with usually has at least a handful of dobe-mixes). Petfinder, as mentioned, is a great source to find both breed rescues and groups that foster dogs from you local shelter.

Regarding breed suggestions, I would just be cautious if you get a hound that it's not a huge barker, for your neighbors' sake. Beagles in particular and many terrier breeds can be nuisance barkers when they get bored. Again, a foster parent should be able to tell you if pooch is prone to making noise. I am partial to Dobermans myself, and I think the right Dobe would be a good fit for you. They are not meant to be large dogs (my female is 45 pounds), although many that you see these days are oversized. They are very much the couch potato in the house, but are very athletic dogs. They bond very closely with their family, have a short coat (less furballs to clean!), and are very, very smart. Maybe consider a Dobe or a Faux-berman.
posted by tryniti at 11:51 AM on July 11, 2011

As Raichle said, talk to some shelter employees if you can. If you can go in in the middle of the week during the day or something, they'll probably have more time to talk to you than if you showed up on a weekend when everyone else does. A lot of shelters will even do intake assessments that include the sort of information you're looking for, and even if they don't, they might be able to point you toward some good candidates just based on their own observations.

I would put pretty little stock in breed recommendations, particularly for mutts, as they're usually identified based on appearance, and that's really all a breed ID will tell you: What the dog looks like. Obviously, as you know, you don't want a dog whose legs are too small to run with you, and also avoid brachycephalic dogs as they can overheat easily. (Pugs, English bulldogs, etc.)
posted by ernielundquist at 12:19 PM on July 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Have you considered the very popular Labrador Retriever?
Not a very large dog, easy to train and very energetic.
We keep ours inside the house and has never damaged anything!
Very smart and easy to train, won't mind running around with you.....
We keep a small bell hanging by the front door, she hits it with her nose when she needs to go out.
Good luck!
posted by FLHunter3006 at 12:32 PM on July 11, 2011

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