I want a dog. Only I don't know what kind to get...
January 21, 2004 9:26 PM   Subscribe

Another animal question. I want a dog. Only I don't know what kind to get... [more inside]

My boyfriend's brother-in-law has a small (about 50 pounds) Rottweiler that I've fallen in love with. He's got the most wonderful temperament and is beautiful. When I was younger, I knew a family that raised rottweilers and I remember than being friendly. The only problem with the breed for me is that I know they can get really big which is not something I can deal with. How old are they usually when their size hits its max?

In the past, I've has labs, schnauzers and german shepards. I tend to prefer big dogs to small, but I'm looking for whatever I get to top out at about 50 pounds. They also need to be good with cats, other dogs and people.

Any suggestions?
posted by amandaudoff to Pets & Animals (31 answers total)
Australian Cattle Dogs (like Max's dog from The Road Warrior) are brilliant, friendly, loyal, fun, and a wonderful small- to medium-sized breed. They come in two colors (blue and red), and though they look like mutts, they're not. :-)

After you've had an ACD, you'll find it very hard to have anything except more ACDs!
posted by oissubke at 9:52 PM on January 21, 2004

I'd really recommend against a Rottweiler, much as I love them, they are very much not the dog for everyone. With a Rottweiler, you should be prepared to spend serious time on training (Rotties are not dogs that you can take time off from), and that means being in obedience classes every week for the bulk of the life of the dog. They are big (most males are around 100 lbs or more, females around 80 lbs, 50 lbs is extremely small, even for a female, are you sure she's full Rottie?), slobbery, shedding, time-intensive dogs. If you're seriously considering a Rottie, go to dog shows, talk to breeders, choose one who tells you the negatives, choose one who asks you more questions than you ask them, in short, choose one who almost seems to be trying to talk you out of the breed. The recent explosion in popularity of the breed (and subsequent explosion in money-grubbing, unscrupulous puppy millers and well-intentioned but uninformed backyard breeders) means that there are numerous serious problems, both in temperament and in physical soundness, and you want to be extremely careful about choosing a breeder. Rotties are also not necessarily good with other dogs, even those which have been properly socialized usually become aloof with other dogs (and often people other than their family) after about two. There are likely other breeds which would be more suitable for you, the thousands of Rotties in rescue and shelters (not to mention those being put down for attacking people) are mainly there because people don't do their homework and overestimate their ability to manage such a big, strong, intelligent and people-oriented dog. Don't get me wrong, I love the breed and am active in online communities centred on Rottweilers, but one thing I've learned from knowing so many breed fanciers is that most people are just not suitable owners for the breed. If you want more information, please feel free to email me.

What specific traits are you looking for in a dog other than size and being good with cats, dogs and people? What plans do you have for the dog (will it be just a house pet, will you obedience train, do you want to compete at agility, do you need a jogging partner or just a dog to take for a walk, etc).
posted by biscotti at 10:07 PM on January 21, 2004

What biscotti said. Steer clear of pit bulls right now, too -- not because they're bad dogs, but for all the same reasons that biscotti listed, plus many of the "breeders" out there are breeding aggression into pits, rather than out (you know, for fighting).
posted by me3dia at 10:17 PM on January 21, 2004

Response by poster: What specific traits are you looking for in a dog other than size and being good with cats, dogs and people?

I have a backyard with a dog run, so whatever dog I get will be an inside / outside dog. If neccesary, I'm okay with obediecnce training, but I appreciate the feedback about the amount required for many Rotties. I wasn't aware of that. I have a few friends with dogs and I go to the dog park a lot, so it's vital that whoever I end up with be relatively social. I live in Texas, so a dog with a heavy coat is out. I used to take my schnauzer (the most insane, but wonderful I've had yet) to the park for long walks. My roommate has a cat, so that's important...

Also, I'm planning on getting whatever dog I end up with from a shelter.... I'm vehemently against the 'puppy-mill' mentality. I'm willing to travel a bit to different shelters to get the right dog, though.
posted by amandaudoff at 10:19 PM on January 21, 2004

Might I suggest this online resource on choosing the right dog breed for one's self as a starting point?
posted by silusGROK at 10:40 PM on January 21, 2004

amanda, if you have any questions about the Dallas SPCA, lemme know as I do volunteer work with them occasionally. Amongst the desires that you've expressed, I can at least let you know that you can A) bring a friend's dog or cat with you to give the animals there a "test run" for compatibility, and B) play with as many dogs as you want for as long as you want to try them out. I'd recommed going during the week though, as it gets awfully crowded on weekends and there are only two pens where you can de-leash the dogs to give them a proper go. E-mail me if you have any other specific questions not addressed on their website though.

Just a thought ;)
posted by Ufez Jones at 10:51 PM on January 21, 2004

To recast some of what you've said about what you want into terms you're more likely to find on breed club or breed standard pages or on breed selectors, it sounds like you want:

*A dog that does not have a strong prey drive (ie, most sighthounds)

*A dog that is not "assertive" or other nice-sounding things that people who don't fancy that breed might translate as "pushy"

*A dog that is not dog-aggressive

*A dog that is not protective (goes against social, that does)

*Avoid breeds that mention "aloof" or "reserved" in temperament

One thing you might do is go to local dog shows and talk to people about their dogs and the breeds. While some of them will be full-on no-kidding Crazy Dog People, most of them will likely enjoy having a chat about the plusses and minuses of their breed. And then you can talk to rescue organizations for that breed, or look for that breed in shelters (to the extent that you can).

If you're going the shelter route, which is laudable, remember that crosses aren't 50% of this and 50% of that, they're unreliable and uncertain mixes of traits. Which doesn't mean that you shouldn't get a mutt -- just don't build up an expectation that what you're getting is the X of a Lab and the Y of a Schnauzer, because you won't really know how the mix sorts out in that particular dog until he grows up. With the possible exception that anything that's any part terrier will be immensely headstrong and stubborn and will dig to China if you let it (I kid, I kid).

All dogs, every single one ever born to man, needs obedience training. Which is to say, the dog's life will be better with it, and your life will be better with it. That doesn't mean that every dog needs to do competitive obedience, it just means that training facilitates communication between the dog and owner, and helps the dog understand what's permitted and what isn't, and what's expected of it under different circumstances. It's not about play-dead and roll-over, it's about taking a relationship that's at some level fundamentally unnatural and making it easier for the dog (and for you!).
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:30 PM on January 21, 2004

I can tell you right now, don't get a dog like a terrier unless you're OK with extreme amounts of jealousy/barking, etc. I have a Rottweiler/shepherd now that's just wonderful, but I guess I lucked out when I found him at the humane society.

I worry about two things with Rottweilers: Who's been training them and whether they have hip dysplasia. But that's just from personal experience (and experiencing the horror of seeing someone who didn't neuter their Rotties - 41 rottweilers on a 10X10 patch of property and mobile home isn't pretty, even if it made an interesting story for me to write for the newspaper.)

Could I recommend you volunteer at your local humane society and work with a bunch of the animals to find one you really like and connect with? I think overall, you're going to choose a dog based on personality, not breed.
posted by Happydaz at 11:44 PM on January 21, 2004

Info in this thread may be useful.
posted by dobbs at 12:37 AM on January 22, 2004

I was going to recommend a collie but then I googled and found this. Some friends did have wonderful experience with their pair but this is quite offputting and I can see where some of the points come from. Still think I'll get one when I trust myself to be responsible enough.
posted by biffa at 1:43 AM on January 22, 2004

Many people cringe when they hear the breed name I am about to propose because they have images of society matrons carrying small foo-foo white ones with pink bow ties streaming from every puffy cut... nevertheless, the Standard Poodle (the big ones, and no goofy haircut required!) is about the coolest breed I know.

The breed is extremely intelligent. One friend who grew up with them described the poodle as "a person in a dog suit." From this pro-poodle site with a lot of good info:

For centuries, the poodle's intelligence and personality made it a favorite with gypsies and other traveling performers who trained it to perform all manner of tricks and skits to the delight of paying spectators.... Poodle owners will attest the fact that Poodles have a very human way of thinking that is unique to this breed. They have an innate intelligence. The ability of Poodles to learn is considered exceptional. Poodles are faster than any other breed at discovering that spoken words mean something.

To top it all off, they do not shed and are hypoallergenic. They have "hair" not "fur" and this also greatly reduces that well known, not often loved, "dog smell." But, alas, one does have to get past the lame image thing to see the greatness of this breed...
posted by limitedpie at 2:42 AM on January 22, 2004

I solidly recommend boxers! They are exuberant, loving dogs - the happiest breed I have ever encountered. They love to play and clown around, and are great with kids. They accept visitors and new members of the household with ease, but are fearless if they feel threatened.

Also, they have a short coat which makes maintenance easier on the human. One drawback is that this short coat makes them unsuited to extremely cold weather. Another is that their short nasal cavity makes it difficult for them to breathe in extremely hot conditions.

We've had 2 boxers and 1 boxer-lab mix, and we'll never own any other kind of dog.
posted by Irontom at 4:40 AM on January 22, 2004

For temperament, intelligence and loyalty, it's hard to beat a retriever. I've always had Labradors, but have been acquainted with some darned fine Goldens and Chesapeakes over the years. They're great with people of all ages - especially children - they're social, they learn quickly. Labs do shed twice a year (into and out of summer) but it's a manageable amount. They're just a great breed.
posted by JollyWanker at 6:04 AM on January 22, 2004

In addition to shelters, you might think about animal rescue. many breeds have local groups who have arrangements with shelters to pull those dogs out and have them fostered.

the rescue groups are good at vetting the dogs for illness and behaviour troubles as well as vetting you to find a good match. you'll typically have a better understanding of what you're getting into than. granted, breed people can be a little nutty (speaking from my experience from working with a couple of chihuahua groups), but they do find homes for many dogs.
posted by heather at 6:16 AM on January 22, 2004

There is a beautiful, shy black standard poodle at "Puddin's Place" in Lumberton, which would be about a five-hour drive southeast of where you are. We just got a German Wire-Haired Spaniel there, and he's turned out to be the sweetest dog I've ever had. The poodle's not listed on their website but I've called and he's still there. Alternatively, there are Dallas-based rescue leagues for every breed imaginable.

Last comment on Rotties - I love them, they can be sweet as pie, but my friends who have one often can't find places to stay when they travel with him. People respond very poorly to the breed.
posted by pomegranate at 6:17 AM on January 22, 2004

Get a mutt from the local pound or shelter. When you go in there and look at all those sad cages full of dogs, your heart will melt and you'll realize you're doing a good thing. One mutt in particular will make and keep eye contact with you, or jump all over, barking and pawing to get your attention. S/he's the one.

Works for me like fate, although sometimes the cats just show up at my front door.
posted by Shane at 6:56 AM on January 22, 2004

Work with your local shelter. Go back over and over again, and take lots of dogs for visits, even dogs that are too big or too small. It will help you get a better idea of what you really want. Focus on traits, not breeds. Trust the shelter if they think a dog is not right for you. You'll likely end up with a mix or breed you never considered. Then you'll fall in love and wonder how you ever lived without him/her.
posted by theora55 at 7:08 AM on January 22, 2004

Theora55, you said, "Trust the shelter if they think a dog is not right for you." - To some extent I agree, but that's how I ended up with a deaf jack russell puppy when I went in looking for a large adult HEARING mutt. The shelter staff just wanted someone to take her, since she was scheduled to be put to sleep that week and she was cute to look at. Remember that shelter reps generate guilt like your grandma on Mother's Day. My girlfriend fell for it, and now my life is run by a 25-pound disobedient white whirlwind with teeth.

I would only add: remember that these dogs are in an extremely stressful situation, so it will be difficult to get a clear read on their personalities without a lot of patience and maybe a companion dog to test out their initial socialization. Someone who seems very afraid at first may be incredible after a couple of days at home.
posted by pomegranate at 7:41 AM on January 22, 2004

Another mutt vote here. I grew up with a terrier-poodle mix, and he was whip-smart and loaded with personality. The "person in a dog suit" analogy is right on the money. Although he hunted down the class hamster I brought home for holiday break (terriers are very skilled "mousers"). oops.

One other thing: getting a big dog usually means making the commitment to either always live someplace with a yard or be prepared to take them for many walks. Small- and medium-sized dogs still need outside time, but they can usually get some decent exercise indoors. And friends and family seem to be more amenable to dogsitting small/medium-sized dogs.
posted by whatnot at 7:43 AM on January 22, 2004

I'd like to second JollyWanker--retrievers are great. My family has had golden retrievers forever and they're all great animals (save for one, but she had a bit of a hard birth AND was an only puppy. Yup, the ONLY dog in the litter...wasn't so great for her mental development). Friendly, not too aggressive, loyal, usually very handsome, and generally well behaved.

In addition, limitedpie is also onto something--some good family friends of mine have a Standard Poodle and she's a wonderful dog--very bright, very nice to be around, and a great coat to boot ;)
posted by cyrusdogstar at 7:55 AM on January 22, 2004

I wouldn't recommend an Australian cattle dog. They were bred as working dogs and as pets need loads of exercise and, while I'm sure there are exceptions to this rule, really aren't happy in a suburban environment.
posted by lucien at 7:55 AM on January 22, 2004

If you are like me and very mellow and laid-back and like to sit quietly and read and not take your dog for frequent walks or swims or extended frisbee throwing excursions, then find yourself a nice Basset Hound. They are the sweetest, most benign creatures in the world. They do smell a bit, and can be stubborn, but they are never mean and do great with other dogs and cats.
posted by vito90 at 9:48 AM on January 22, 2004

I agree w/ the mutt advice - we have a Siberian Huskie/German Shepherd/? that weighs around 65 pounds, and is awesome - he needs a ton of exercise, but has a great temperament, is smart, fetches, and plays well with other dogs/kids. He's also a lot better looking then a lot of pure bred dogs :)
posted by drobot at 10:26 AM on January 22, 2004

I'd like to cast another resounding vote in favor of shelter mutts. Provided you can get enough "alone time" with the dog to get a good idea of its personality, you can come away with a terrific, well-behaved little fella with tons of personality, not to mention one who will be very grateful to have a warm home and a soft bed.

I found my gem of a dog through petfinder, a nationwide (I think), multi-shelter-listing website. A quick search produces a list of the dogs available for adoption at shelters in your area. They list the breed, age and gender of each pet, and offer a little info about the pet's personality. It's like pet personal ads! :) I can't recommend the site highly enough (and no, I'm not affiliated with it in any way; I just love my doggy). :)
posted by boomchicka at 10:40 AM on January 22, 2004

I'll second Petfinder as a great resource. (We found our precious lil' Keebsie-Weebsie there.) Also, try this breed selector - it helped bring out a few breeds I wouldn't have thought of.

My vote for a semi-big dog, though, would have to be the Australian Shepherd. The regular one is a little bigger than you're looking for, but there is a mini as well at 30-40 lbs. They're sweet, laid-back. loyal, and smart.
posted by ferociouskitty at 10:58 AM on January 22, 2004

Aussies are anything but laid-back, at least if they're bred right. They're like border collies, but slightly less manic and always-on and obsessive-compulsive. But only slightly. They definitely do NOT have an off switch.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:09 AM on January 22, 2004

I'll second the Standard Poodle (or any Poodle, for that matter, as long as it's from a good breeder). Aside from heavy grooming requirements (every two months if you keep it short, more frequently if you leave it longer), they're really nice dogs - smart, sociable, easy to train, people-oriented, etc. I'll recommend against an Aussie, even a Mini (which haven't been around long enough to be reliably decent in terms of temperament and soundness) - too smart, too busy - they definitely need lots of obedience training to be happy.

A shelter is a great idea, but I'd actually recommend a rescue over a shelter. Shelter staff are not generally as skilled at evaluations as rescue staff are (most rescues can only take dogs which are suitable for rehoming, so they're very careful about their evaluations), so you may not be getting an accurate idea of how suitable the dog is. While bringing a dog or cat with you to test out a shelter dog, keep in mind that dogs do not behave normally in a shelter, and a dog who shows no aggression toward another dog or a cat in a high-stress, high-distraction environment like a shelter may just be too stressed/distracted to allow its true nature to come out. Dogs which have been fostered (as happens with rescues) will be more "themselves", since they'll have been in a home environment, and as such the evaluation will tend to be more accurate.

Also, do keep in mind that most dogs in shelters OR rescue are there for a reason. And that reason may be something that their original family couldn't live with and that you may not be able to live with either. The number in rescue or shelters who are there because of legal seizure (due to abuse, neglect, whatever) is very small, the vast majority are strays and owner surrenders, and not all owner surrenders are because of "stupid human tricks" reasons like "I didn't know how big he'd get" or "we're moving and can't take him with us" or "we don't have time for him anymore", a lot of them are for serious behavioural problems which, while they may have been caused or exacerbated by the previous owners, will still take a LOT of time and effort to undo (if they can be undone at all). You'll want to know the reason the dog is in the shelter/rescue (although often the reason given isn't the real reason), and ideally, you should call some local rescues and ask if you can pay to have one of their evaluators come with you to evaluate specific dogs (after you've got a few in mind). It's more fair to the dog to know ahead of time if it's got issues you can't handle, than it is to take it home and then return it. Good luck!

I more than agree with what ROU_Xenophobe said about training - it's fun and your life and your dog's life will be enormously enhanced by it. I clicker train my dog and it's a supremely wonderful experience to see him suddenly "get it". A well-trained dog is a true joy to live with, and a well-trained dog also tends to be a happier, calmer dog, I think of it as teaching them to speak English - it gives you a method of communication which facilitates teaching them to be good pets. If you don't want to obedience train, then I'd steer away from intelligent dogs, especially of herding or working varieties - these dogs need a job to do (obedience work is a job, agility is a job, helping you carry the laundry is a job), and if you don't give them one, they'll find their own, and you're not likely to enjoy what it is.
posted by biscotti at 11:14 AM on January 22, 2004

Excellent points, biscotti - I should have stressed that when looking at shelter dogs, it's important to know how to identify red flags like aggression and separation anxiety.

Good shelters or rescues often have "quiet rooms" where you can hang out with the dog, let it relax, and see it in a more natural state than when it's surrounded by its barking neighbors. Sit quietly with the dog, play with it to get an idea of its playing style, and step out of the room briefly at some point to see if it freaks out when left alone.

And yes, training is a must, for your dog's happiness and safety, as well as your own.
posted by boomchicka at 11:41 AM on January 22, 2004

We have a Australian blue heeler-mix and a pug. The pug runs everything and is bossy as heck, as you might expect. The heeler is the sweetest dog ever. He was the runt of a litter, so he's extremely submissive and shy, which could have made him dangerous if we didn't put him through some serious obediance. That said, most heelers are very home protective, so there has to be special introductions whenever new people come to the house, especially men. They're not good with kids, and they shed a lot.

My suggestion would be a boxer. They're like tall pugs, and they're one of the sweetest breeds I know. Boxer rescue groups tend to be active and involved, there's probably one in your area.
posted by answergrape at 12:50 PM on January 22, 2004

I third the Cattle dog (a blue heeler is the same thing as an ACD). They basically are mutts -- there's no such thing as a pedigree and every combo is a little bit different. They are all very smart and loyal though, a little disrespectful to cats and very small children, not in a mean way, just in a no-thought-to-size-difference way. Claws and immediate hand-of-God punishment straighten them out though. Females are more manageable than males, and tend to be submissive which is good. Mine came from the shelter and looks like a very young German Shephard. She does chase cats (and rabbits) but she doesn't do anything if she runs them down -- just pokes them to see if they'll run again. My cats don't run and they all coexist just fine. They will be happy wherever you are, but it's best for them to have a backyard or regular access to a dog park and/or runner (or rollerblader, like I am). They are the most long-lived dog, I've heard, so prepare to have one for 15 years. That could be a plus or a minus...
posted by dness2 at 12:37 AM on January 23, 2004

My vote is French Bulldog, Boxer, or Boston Terrier. All very intelligent and friendly breeds that are lively but play well with others.
posted by sixdifferentways at 2:21 AM on January 27, 2004

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