What kind of dog should I get?
April 15, 2012 5:17 PM   Subscribe

Im in the process of getting a new dog, and Im at a loss when it comes to breed, training, just overall care. Help?

So let me start by explaining my situation:
-1,000ft duplex (bottom floor)
-Large, un-fenced backyard
-No busy streets for 5 blocks
-1 Dog and 1 Cat (the dog is small and slightly aggressive towards other animals, but she and the cat, or a stranger dog learn to coexist quickly.)
-50-ish year old mom and dad, and I'm 16
-She/he would be home alone for about 6 hours tops, and when I get home, I can do whatever it needs like walking or grooming.

Im looking for a dog that can play fetch, catch a frisbee, play, swim with me, and go on hikes etc. I would prefer a larger dog such as a golden retriever or an Australian cattle dog. Mostly I want something that is easy to train and super smart. I would prefer to go through a shelter, will that affect how they react to training if someone else has already house broken them or played etc.? Also, how would I go about training it to play fetch and catch frisbees? I want a man dog, and I'm willing to put in whatever is necessary to teach it and be my new best companion and go everywhere with me.
posted by sizzil34 to Pets & Animals (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Get a rescue. Adopt young, if you have the patience to deal with 1-1.5 years of rambunctiousness; you'll want and need to both go through basic obedience training (such as at a PetSmart or other chain store) and then spend the many, many hour reinforcing that training (always, always, always patiently and calmly) with treats and positive reinforcement.

It's worth it, but please make certain that you walk this dog for 30-45 minutes/day, play with it, be patient with it, and train it well before you adopt a large, likely highly energetic animal. Books and DVDs can help to get you to a point where you know what to do, but doing it can be difficult when it's your Favorite Slippers in the pooch's mouth, or the middle of the night bark that you're trying to break.
posted by ellF at 5:34 PM on April 15, 2012

A friend rescued a dog that is a german shepperd/lab mix. She is an AWESOME dog. Don't discount mixed breeds when you're at the shelter. Other than that, let your heart guide you. I always wanted a cat, but could never bring myself to go looking for one. One day, I got a call from the secretary at work "You need to get to the office now." When I arrived, I saw the most beautiful blue eyes I have ever seen in my life. They're not blue anymore, but he (the cat) lets me live with him in his apartment now. I've never looked back. :)
posted by one4themoment at 5:52 PM on April 15, 2012

Have you taken any of the "Dog Breed Selector Tests" ? There are tons of them on the inter-webs.
Here is one. And another. And another.

I would take a lot of these tests, and see what different ideas that might give you about finding a breed to best suit your life-style and plans. Every test is a little different. These tests can be helpful.

Taking these tests are useful whether you buy a dog - or get a shelter dog.
posted by Flood at 5:54 PM on April 15, 2012

One thing to seriously consider before you decide to get yourself a large, active 'man' dog, is when and whether you'll be leaving your parents' home for college, and whether it would be realistic for your large, active, dependent-on-you dog to come with you (and if so, would you really have the time, while in college, to give the dog this much energy while focusing on school and socializing?). It would be terribly sad for you to get this dog, train it, get it accustomed to this level of activity, and then, in a year or two, abandon it (from the dog's perspective) with people who cannot provide that same level of activity. If college is in your plans, and even one year in the dorms is included in that, then I really urge you to wait on getting and training this large, active 'man' dog until you're in a position to maintain that effort for 10-15 years, without a break.

That said, big mixed breed shelter or rescue dogs can be super awesome, and you can likely find one whose temperament and energy level suits your own.
posted by amelioration at 5:55 PM on April 15, 2012 [10 favorites]

Any dog, no matter the age and no matter the history, will be your greatest companion if you treat it with love, kindness and respect. "Housebreaking" and aggressiveness towards other animals and people are different issues, however, and with your situation I would suggest you adopt a younger animal if possible.

Golden retrievers are gorgeous, of course, crazy-smart and huge fans of children and older people, and other animals, and love to run and frolic but I don't know about swimming. They need a good bit of grooming.

Australian cattle dogs (blue heelers) are beautiful creatures, intelligent too, but they are coiled springs of energy and can quickly get cranky if they are not exercised, almost to exhaustion, every single day, and preferably twice a day. They are sometimes known to be not particularly keen on other dogs, however.

Staffordshire bull terriers are huge fans of water as a rule, and do all the other things you would like to do with them, and are a little less demanding on the exercise front (American Staffordshires are a different breed and I have no knowledge of them). Like the blue heelers, however, they can get grouchy around other dogs.

Always give attention to your dog. Always play with it and pat it and feed it treats, and talk to it, and let it talk to you. Never get angry at it, no matter what it does: positive reinforcement is the only way to do it and ought to be mandated by law (as should licenses for owning pets).

Never let your dog become a piece of outdoor furniture, as so many people do. They are living, thinking, feeling creatures, capable of great bravery and indestructible loyalty, and they ask for very, very little in return. If you are in a heated mood, let it's quiet love calm you. If you are filled with joy for any reason, share that joy with your canine friend - they feel it and they thrive on it. Your moods are so infectious to your dog that there may be times when you realise that they have felt it before you have.

Learn from your dog, and let it learn from you. Learn to take your pleasure from the simple pleasures of a dog: some good food, some good companionship, some hearty exercise, some frantic play. When you take in a companion animal you are signing a contract with it, and that contract is: "I will always take the very best of care of you, no matter my personal situation." Don't feed it cheap shit. Make sure its water bowl is always full and fresh. Make sure it has somewhere warm and dry and safe to sleep. Never kick your dog off your bed - dogs are pack animals, and they sleep with their pack to reinforce their sense of belonging and their safety. Your dog wants nothing more than to belong to you, and you need to allow yourself to belong to it.

Find a good vet. The moment you "have" your dog, take him or her directly to the vet for a checkup. Never let your dog go without medical attention, ever, for any length of time, no matter how small the complaint.

Cat Stevens sang it best. I'm sure you know the song.

Domesticated dogs are, in my opinion, mankind's greatest achievement. Nothing else has come close. I would take a good dog - hell, even a bad dog, who I would help become good, through care and love and understanding - over a person, any person you care to name ever in the entire history of the world, any day of the fucking week.
posted by tumid dahlia at 5:56 PM on April 15, 2012 [6 favorites]

You do NOT want an Australian Cattle Dog, or a collie, or any of the super-duper ultra-smart working dog types unless you're an experienced dog owner who has a lot of time to devote solely to the dog. 95% of dogs can learn to play fetch, catch frisbees, and do simple verbal commands without the trouble that can come from the working doggy Einsteins. Those dogs need a lot of attention--not just 30-45 minutes of walking a day, but the walking plus at least one or two concerted hours per day of training/"herding"/"work", something beyond fetch that stimulates them and keeps them from turning into giant anxiety balls whose idea of fun is to find new and exciting ways to open cabinets and destroy your stuff. They were also try to herd your other pets, guests, parents, small children, which none of them will appreciate. They are also prone to biting, because biting is how you herd things. They are often big attention-seekers and will get upset whenever you're not there. You will need to approach a very high-energy, smart breed like that as basically a part-time job.

Your best bet is to go down to a shelter and interact with the dogs there, talk with the shelter volunteers to try to get a bead on the dog's personality, and see which dogs fit with you. You may also find there are some older dogs there who are trained or amenable to it but their owners gave them up because people are dicks.
posted by schroedinger at 5:57 PM on April 15, 2012 [6 favorites]

Where are the dog and cat? Do they live with you?
posted by travelwithcats at 6:07 PM on April 15, 2012

Why don't you see if you can foster some dogs for a local rescue? It's a good way to test drive some breeds and be realistic about the kind of time it takes. Adult dogs are less time consuming and the fact that someone else used to own the dog won't impact its trainability. Look for a crossbred- three people I know have springer spaniel crosses and those are great medium energy, medium sized dogs that like to play fetch, are smart and friendly but not as high energy as a pure bred gun dog would be.

If you're going to be renting in the future, which would probably are at your age, get a small dog. Under 45lbs and ideally smaller. This will save you a lot of money and headaches when you look for housing.
posted by fshgrl at 6:20 PM on April 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Here's my biased vote:

The Hungarian Vizsla!

Here's a couple of quotes from Wikipedia that perfectly describe them:

"Vizslas are very high energy, gentle-mannered, loyal, caring, and highly affectionate. They quickly form close bonds with their owners, including children. Often they are referred to as "velcro" dogs because of their loyalty and affection. They are quiet dogs, only barking if necessary or provoked."

"The Vizsla thrives on attention, exercise, and interaction. It is highly intelligent, and enjoys being challenged and stimulated, both mentally and physically.[7] Vizslas are very gentle dogs that are great around children. The Vizsla wants to be close to its owner as much of the time as possible. Many Vizslas will sleep in bed with their owners and, if allowed, will burrow under the covers."

They're great dogs that are loyal and friendly. They absolutely fall in love with you and always want to be near you. Lots of outside time is a must, but they're generally content to be lazy from time to time, too. And Maggie, my 2nd Vizsla is sleeping between my wife and me in bed right this moment, under the covers. Worlds best dog breed!

Here's a link to an episode of Dogs 101 that highlighted the breed. The dogs in the video came from the lineage as my two Vizslas.
Dogs 101 - Vizsla

I'm biased, but they're the best dogs.
posted by tkerugger at 8:32 PM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am biased towards Vizslas too but you would need to understand the commitment to keep this type of dog is very high. Vizslas are made to run after a horse to get to the hunting grounds and then work, running at absurd speeds to find the birds and retrieve them while following the commands of their owner. If you are willing to provide this kind of exercise and mental stimulation, a Vizsla will be the most wonderful thing ever. If not, they will be neurotic and destructive and will drive you crazy.

With that disclaimer, they are the smartest, sweetest, and most athletic dogs ever. Also, one of the best things about them is their wonderful coats, our dog can run through the mud flats at the beach and ten minutes later be clean enough to get in the car just from running about.

My dog, Tesla, has a bad habit of running up to people we see hiking and barking at them a few times rather aggressively before getting back to looking for birds. Most of the time they say, aw, she is so cute! I think it is the ears
posted by JayNolan at 10:55 PM on April 15, 2012

RE: volunteering. If you volunteer at the shelter, you'll get to know a lot about different dogs, FAST, and you'll learn about training and care very quickly too. As a bonus, the right dog will likely make itself known to you.

I'm jumping on the "consider your future housing" bandwagon as well. Your future living situation, whether college or career, is very fluid right now. I've seen so many pets disrupted because their owners couldn't find/afford housing for them during the college years. It's COMPLICATED to move with pets, and expensive too.

I'd avoid bred-to-be-noisy dogs like beagles because they complicate things further. But I mention beagles just to point out that smaller doesn't mean "unmanly" in the dog world. Lots of great small-to-midsize dogs out there need homes too, and might fit better with your unknown future housing situation. My midsize shepherd mix rescue, about 35 pounds, was an awesome dog, and my husband always kind of thought of her as a suitable "guy's dog".

Agreeing with "don't get a superbrilliant dog", too... herding dogs NEED mental stimulation and tons of exercise. It's not fair to get one if you can't provide that in the coming years. Unless you're going to work on a ranch, it's going to be pretty hard for someone starting off in college or a career to devote that kind of time. My aussie needed to go to the dog park twice a day most days, or we got stress-related behavioral problems.
posted by theplotchickens at 5:09 AM on April 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

I agree that you need to consider your future housing. Even if you don't go to college, a large breed dog will make trying to secure an apartment or rental much harder. I can not emphasize this enough! Also, make sure your parents are on board 100% with your plans and whatever assumptions you're making--they're going to be taking care of the dog too, if only when you're away.

Make sure you can afford the couple hundred in start up costs. Don't forget to factor in the cost for a vet visit, shots, potential flea treatments or any other treatments to take care of your pup for the first year. And please, budget to get your dog spayed/fixed or find one already so.

That said, with your parameters, I'd look for an adult shelter dog, older than 2 years. Not a puppy, but also not an elderly dog. I'd recommend you look at something medium sized rather than large to make it easier for future housing situations. Most medium size dogs are still going to have plenty of energy to be a "man's dog." What about an american spaniel?
posted by ninjakins at 6:03 AM on April 16, 2012

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