Don't make that puppy dog face at me. Help me choose the ultimate shelter / rescue dog!
May 28, 2007 1:09 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking to get a dog in the next month from a shelter / rescue league. I'm wondering: - How can you tell which one is 'the right one'? - How can you make sure to pick one that won't snap and eat a baby? (I'm leaning towards puppies/younger to try and combat this, there's a lot of dog fighting and douchebags in Florida.) - What breeds do you recommend? - What breeds do you recommend staying away from? - Without the parents on site, how do you assess if an animal is going to be healthy? (I know the shelters do basic checks, but ... I get really attached to my animals and to have one die prematurely would be really rough)

I love dogs, have grown up with them all my life (samoyeds, specifically) and now that I'm doing the 'adult' thing, settled with a fenced yard and financially secure I'm ready to bring another pooch into my life.

I'd like to get one from a local rescue league or animal shelter but before I walk in and just start falling in love with every single cutie behind chain links, I'd like to query the hive mind for logical suggestions on finding 'the perfect shelter dog.'

- How can you tell which one is 'the right one'?
- How can you make sure to pick one that won't snap and eat a baby? (I'm leaning towards puppies/younger to try and combat this, there's a lot of dog fighting and douchebags in Florida.)
- What breeds do you recommend?
- What breeds do you recommend staying away from?
- Without the parents on site, how do you assess if an animal is going to be healthy? (I know the shelters do basic checks, but ... I get really attached to my animals and to have one die prematurely would be really rough)

I have friends that volunteer at two local shelters and I have joined them on a few days to help out and meet some of the animals but I just fall in love with dogs too quickly. So, I've outlined some logical requirements that I'm really going to try and stick too (and not just adopt the first puppy to lick my nose).:

Must haves:
- Must be friendly with kids/people/other dogs
- No purse dogs or breeds known to be yappers, crazy chewers or biters
- Some sort of character or uniqueness
- Be healthy

Very importants:
- Young/puppy or really a gem (no older than 5 years though, I think)
- A breed that's traditionally intelligent, loyal and trainable
- Easy grooming is a big plus
- Medium to large sized

Would be cools:
- Dogs that like water are cool
- Prefer black or darker in color, (although not a huge deal)
- Prefer female, (again, not a huge deal)

I've been reading a few books from the library on adopting and different breeds but I'm not set on any one breed. (I realize, it'll likely be a mix coming from a shelter and I realize the more I research this the more the environment can really determine if a dog is good with kids/other pets). One thing that is important is I'd like something unique (in Florida the shelters seem like there's a state requirement that at least 60 percent of the dogs be Pit Bull or part pit at all times).

As of right now, I'm really interested in something like a Shar Pei or maybe a Corgi. But I'm open to all suggestions for breeds to consider! So please share! (Keep in mind the preferred wishes above.) Any suggestions, warnings or feedback is very, very welcome! Thanks!
posted by jkl345 to Pets & Animals (37 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
We just picked up a Coton de Tulear from the local SPCA... he was 3 months old, and an owner surrender.

There are competing breed standards right now, and the breed isn't registered in the AKC yet (which is good in my opinion, as it currently means less inbreeding).

The dominant gene in the breed creates white hair, but according to the CTCA and Malagasy standard, there is no limit on black to white ratio for B&W pups, so long as there are clear patches of both pure white and pure black. In fact, though ours was listed by his former owner as being purebred, he's *almost* all black (though his coat is already starting to fade to silver)! The black and whites tend to be less desirable, too, since many breeders are trying to keep to the more rigid FCI standard rather than the you can probably find one easier and for less money.

The breed is smaller than you probably want, at about 18 lbs for the CTCA standard, but they are very docile, supposed to be great with kids, loyal, intelligent, and love water. Due to the genetic variation in them color-wise, they tend to be healthy and have no known major health concerns. They are also an uncommon breed, and so have some of that unique-ness that you seek.

Still, I think our little Oliver was a pretty fortunate shelter find. What we saw most in shelters were various terrier mixes.

Regarding health of the pet, etc, we were absolutely amazed by the SPCA adoption program. Our little guy came already microchipped, neutered, checked for ringworm, vaccinated, and with 30 days of pet health insurance for free. Compared to some of the other pet adoption programs, SPCA was top-notch. I would highly suggest seeking out your local branch.
posted by kaseijin at 1:23 PM on May 28, 2007

We rescued a dog that I'm sure was 5 minutes from being euthenized. We had a weight restriction of 30 pounds (she was emaciated but has since grown to about 45 in the past 4 years). We specifically went looking for something other than a terrier (too barky) or a boxer (too big) mix. Keep in mind that with little kids around you won't have much time to exercise an energetic dog unless you're really sure you have the motivation. Unfortunately there's a lot of intersection between energetic and quick to learn. We got really lucky with our border collie/something-else cross. In my experience, since you're looking at larger dogs, a boxer is a great breed. Some folks fight them, though, and they're prone to hip diyplasia. Sharp breed, though.

You should also be allowed to take a potential dog for a walk around the grounds or parking lot, and you can gauge a lot from that. Just be willing to say "no" after that. It's harder than you think it will be.

As far as health goes, my experience is that mixed breeds are a good bet, especially since striving for a certain breed sometimes leads to some unethical breeding practices. One more thing; ours had a nasty kennel cough when we brought her home for awhile, peed inside a lot, and was always on edge. Once she figured out we weren't going to hurt her (we figure she was abused prior to us) she's been wonderful.
posted by monkeymadness at 1:32 PM on May 28, 2007

Petfinder used to have a link to a really detailed, downloadable guide about picking a dog with the right personality, but the link seems to be broken. You can still get to it if you put "Sue Sternberg's Choosing Your Next Dog from the Shelter" in Google, and click the 2nd result (the indented one). It has step-by-step tests you can do at the shelter for a particular dog, rather than relying on breed characteritics.
posted by daisyace at 1:32 PM on May 28, 2007

A retired-from-racing greyhound. Please.

There are many many places that rehome racing greys. It's something of a crisis, and the dogs themselves could not make better pets. They, weirdly, don't need much exercise at all, don't shed, hardly bark, and are incredibly gentle.

Anyway, I could go on and on about my favourite breed (as could any other dog person, I know) but do go and have a look. there are a load of adoption places near you.

As for knowing which one is right, you just will. It's love at first sight, of a sort.
posted by DangerIsMyMiddleName at 1:37 PM on May 28, 2007 [2 favorites]

You might try the Dog Breed Selector for a guide on what sort of dog would fit your lifestyle best.

Aside from dogs who've been raised very, very poorly, they're kind animals for the most part and aren't going to snap and eat a baby. Some do not handle small children well, but most dogs are good natured.
posted by twiggy at 1:38 PM on May 28, 2007

What I've learned is that no matter what dog you get, it's YOUR training and behavior that makes the most difference to define what kind of dog you end up with. If your dog is bored or unhappy or doesn't know its boundaries, it's going to act up. It's hard at first to commit the time to training them, but it's SO worth every second of the effort.

SPCA is definitely very very good. My dog cost me $250, had all shots, was spayed, and came with free enrollment in a 6 week obedience class. I looked for 6 months before I found her. She was about a year & a half so her personality was nicely set already. She was a slightly bigger and more active dog than I was planning for, but it was one of those love at first sight things. You'll know when it happens. There were a lot of pit bulls & chihuahuas at the shelters and I knew I didn't want either of those. When I saw this little red dachshund mix, her personality just seriously stood out. First thing she did when she saw me was roll over and beg "RUB MY BELLY!" with her eyes through the glass. Then when I went inside to say hi to her, she became a squiggling licking monster. That was pretty much it for me. I was a goner.

There are a lot of important questions to ask before you take the dog home. My dog had no history at all so it was a risk, but I knew what I was looking for behaviorwise. One big clue I looked for was well she gets along with men, since most abused dogs were abused by men. The SPCA really does a pretty good job of observing the dogs and giving you a heads up on what they've noticed.

No matter what dog you get, I thoroughly recommend Netflixing episodes of the Dog Whisperer and enrolling in a bunch of obedience classes. It will make your life SOOO much easier, no matter what. My dog was good but she did have issues from being homeless. I learned an IMMENSE amount from those 2 things. Especially the Dog Whisperer. I don't agree with everything he says, but the first three months with my dog were really stressful & once I established myself as alpha dog with my puppy using his techniques, life with my dog became really great. HUGE difference. And when I got her she was a victimized puppy with a lot of issues, but now she's the most confident little creature you could imagine. She's a great, great pet now.
posted by miss lynnster at 1:46 PM on May 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

My girlfriend has a big, dopey Hound / Dane cross that is both the happiest dog I know, and the most playful even at 4 years old. He was rescued from a veterinary school lab and was an experiment dog for years.

There's lots of things that will tell you if a dog is 'for you' or not. Does he take correction well? Is he smart? Do you like the way he looks and the way he plays? Watch them both in play with other dogs and in play with you and your kids. The best dogs, it's said, "pick you" and not the other way around. Most shelters will let you take a dog home and then bring it back if it doesn't 'work out'...

The other big choice is puppy vs. older dog. If I were to adopt a dog again, I'd want to adopt an older dog because I wouldn't be able to do all the things I did with my puppy to train her into a 'good dog' -- I no longer have the time.

If purebreeds are your thing -- good for you. Me, I'm looking for a companion and a playmate for any children I might someday have, so I wanted a loyal and intelligent companion and I just don't care about breed as much as I do intelligence.

As for me, I have a year old Rhodesian Ridgeback mix that we adopted as a puppy.
posted by SpecialK at 1:50 PM on May 28, 2007

Oh -- and I have PetCare Health Insurance on my dog. That should help if she develops anything in the future that's Not Good(tm).
posted by SpecialK at 1:51 PM on May 28, 2007

BTW: Socializing Corgis is really really important. They can become quite aggressive against other dogs ... From my experience with Corgis at the local dog park, I'd probably pick anything BUT, but then again -- I like *really* large dogs, 70 lbs+. Anything smaller is a snack on legs to both my dog and I. ;)
posted by SpecialK at 1:56 PM on May 28, 2007

How can you make sure to pick one that won't snap and eat a baby?

I assume you already know this, but it is never safe to leave a dog and a child alone together. Even the sweetest, most tolerant dog in the world has a bite threshold and it is irresponsible and dangerous to place a child in a position where it might get bitten (because it does not understand appropriate ways to treat animals, or because it is too young to understand what the dog's body language means), and it is unfair to place a dog in a position where it might have to bite to defend itself (because this usually ends up being a death sentence for the dog). I say this not to scare you, but because it is almost never the case that a dog "snaps" and bites "with no warning", it's almost always the case (except in dogs with physical problems like brain tumours) that the dog gave plenty of warnings which were either missed (people are bad at reading dog body language) or punished (punishing a dog for growling simply takes away one way the dog can communicate a problem to you, it doesn't make the issue the dog was growling about go away). Jean Donaldson has a whole chapter in her wonderful book "The Culture Clash" called "Lassie has a lot to answer for" (or something along those lines), which specifically addresses the wide-reaching misconceptions people have about dogs based on Disney-type portrayals of them, and the idea that dogs exist who will NEVER bite under any circumstances is one of those misconceptions, as is the idea that dogs "snap" and eat babies without any warning (all dogs have a bite threshold, it is your job as a good dog owner to learn to understand and respect what your dog is communicating to you). If you are not prepared to always supervise the dog and child's interactions, and to teach (and enforce) appropriate treatment of the dog by the child, then please do not get a dog.

That said, I suggest you go with a reputable rescue group which does proper and extensive temperament testing and ideally which has dogs in foster homes (dogs do not behave normally in a shelter situation as a general rule). A puppy is not necessarily your best bet, raising a kid and dog together can mean that the dog loses out on a lot of the attention and time it needs to grow into a healthy, well-behaved dog, and children can easily hurt a small puppy, which is one way to end up with a dog who is fearful of children. This is not to say that a puppy is a bad idea, just that you may not be thinking of the whole picture when you think you might prefer a puppy. An adult dog who is known to be good with children is the ideal choice, IMO, and a good rescue group will test their dogs with cats, children and other dogs to determine the sort of home which will be appropriate.

Please at least be prepared to attend a weekly positive-methods obedience class with the dog for at least a year, and to spend time with the dog on a regular basis reinforcing this training. A well-trained dog is a happier dog (assuming it was trained with modern, motivational, scientific methods), a safer dog and a much more pleasant dog to live with, and the only way to have a well-trained dog is to put the time and effort into both learning how to train the dog, and actually training it on an ongoing basis (training is never "done").

I definitely agree that you should consider a rescued Greyhound, not least because the Greyhound rescue groups tend to be very thorough in their dog assessments. Greyhounds are generally quite mellow and tolerant dogs. However, please consider individual dogs, rather than breeds. As a general rule, I would stay away from terriers (terriers can be quick to bite and challenging to train), I would stay away from very small dogs (they can be fragile and easily hurt by children), and I would stay away from overly exuberant dogs like Labs (not least because it's very difficult for the average person to give a Lab anywhere near enough exercise, which is the root cause of almost all behaviour problems in the breed). I'd seek out a local, reputable rescue group and discuss your situation with them (some things to look for are: they want to interview you fairly extensively and want to perform a home visit, they require that you return the dog to them if you cannot keep it for any reason for the life of the dog, they require you to attend training classes with the dog, they require you to keep the dog indoors, etc.).

A Shar Pei would not be my choice, nor would a Corgi - both breeds can be quite snappy and Shar Peis in particular can be quite difficult to "read", especially for less-experienced dog owners (they can also be VERY dog-aggressive, which can lead to serious injuries to the dogs and any humans who are around). Good luck!
posted by biscotti at 2:11 PM on May 28, 2007 [2 favorites]

Ditto on taking the dog out for a little walk around the courtyard or whatever space they have that is away from all the other dogs. The actual shelter space will probably be very noisy, causing most of the dogs to either super-loud to get your attention, or super-scared. Often, once away from the chaos, the excitable ones will calm down and the shy ones will open up. Then you can see their true personality.
posted by radioamy at 2:13 PM on May 28, 2007

Oh, and please use modern, scientific, motivational dog training methods like those discussed by Jean Donaldson, Ian Dunbar and Patricia McConnell, rather than the outdated, often discredited, sometimes dangerous, intimidation-based (and extensively-edited) methods of the "Dog Whisperer" - he's right about the importance of exercise, but we now know that there are much better, more effective ways to train dogs than his old-school methods which are primarily based on decades-old misinterpretations of wolf behaviour.
posted by biscotti at 2:16 PM on May 28, 2007 [4 favorites]

When I met my dog Lyle at the SPCA, he was not at all what I thought I wanted in a dog - I'd always wanted a big lazy sweet greyhound, and he's a Jack Russell terrier. The adoption coordinators did a good job educating me about the breed and pushing me to be sure I was making the right decision for both me and the dog.

And he's perfect. I really feel like I won the dog lottery - he's smart and charming and good with people and other dogs and doesn't chew or bark or trouble me in any way. I got him at 12 months and know nothing at all about his first year of life, but it doesn't seem to have had much negative impact on him.

As for how you know, I'm not sure. I met four or five dogs and they were all very nice, but they weren't *my* dog, and Lyle just somehow was. You'll find yours. Good luck!
posted by judith at 2:20 PM on May 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Like I said, I don't agree with everything the Dog Whisperer says. But he has some very good points and you ALWAYS have to use your own judgment about what is right for you and your particular dog's issues. I hear people trying to discredit everything Cesar says, often based on their feelings about the collars he chooses to use to train pit bulls.

The tips I got from him that helped me with my little victim dog were the things like "do not reward or comfort anxious behavior," "always walk out the door first," "do not give your dog food without making them work for it," and the other tips on how to get your dog to see you as the leader in the house. They TOTALLY worked for my dog, and very quickly. They are still working a year later. And I agree with his feelings about exercise. So for the progress I've seen first hand from listening to him on those things I can't help but appreciate his advice.

I will fully admit that I might feel differently if I had a pitbull that I was trying to train by throwing them into a wolf pack like Cesar does or something. But for what my dog needed, his his tips worked wonders. As always, YMMV.
posted by miss lynnster at 2:32 PM on May 28, 2007

I agree with Judith. It's weird... somehow you just know when a dog is your dog. You may think you're imagining it or try to talk yourself out of it, but trust your instincts. They're probably right.
posted by miss lynnster at 2:34 PM on May 28, 2007

One test I remember is to try and take food away from the dog while it is eating. Most dogs will not like that, but if the dog growls or snaps, it may be too territorial to get along well with little kids.
posted by Rock Steady at 2:38 PM on May 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

You have a fairly long list of requirements about things that vary strongly from dog to dog. Given that, you might think about going to a good breeder rather than a shelter/rescue.

If you get a puppy, you'll be able to meet the parents (or at least the dam). You'll be able to assess the temperment of the parents, or at least the dam. This doesn't mean you'll get a dog just like the parents, but it's a good guide to the kind of dog you can expect with some training. You'll get a health guarantee, which at least means the breeder has no interest in selling you a bum dog. And you'll be able to assess the health histories of the parents and other related dogs.

Or, a good breeder might be looking to place an adult. Maybe because the dog isn't conformationally good enough for breeding, which isn't a problem unless you plan to show. Maybe because the breeder is just looking to reduce the number of dogs.

The accent here should be on the "good." Good breeders can be hard to find. But if you're serious that you want only a dog that's not barky and dog-friendly and human-friendly and easy-grooming and so on, you shouldn't automatically poo-poo going through a breeder. There's a lot of prejudice against breeders on boards like this, and while some of it is deserved en masse there are good breeders out there, and rejecting the entire group on the basis of the conduct of some individuals is, well, prejudice.

Other stuff:

Why do you want a female? Do you have it in your head that you want a softer, more lovey-dovey dog? If that's what you want, you probably want a male. Males tend to have softer, schmoopier, and more deferential temperments than females do, though obviously there's VASTLY more variation within each sex than between them.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:39 PM on May 28, 2007

If you want something with character, by which you seem to mean rare, then go to an ARBA show and meet dogs and breeders. By definition, most all of the dogs you meet there will be uncommon.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:45 PM on May 28, 2007

One test I remember is to try and take food away from the dog while it is eating. Most dogs will not like that, but if the dog growls or snaps, it may be too territorial to get along well with little kids.

In my opinion, dogs should be afforded some respect and left alone for the 10 minutes at most it takes them to eat anyway (feeding in a crate is a good idea if there are kids around) - people often cause the very problem they're trying to prevent by being overly concerned about food guarding issues. However, YOU should not be the one doing this testing, it should be done by someone who is trained and qualified to assess dogs' temperaments, and very few reputable rescue groups or shelters who do assessments will keep a dog who resource guards to this point anyway (not because it's an unfixable behaviour, but because space and resources are limited and there are always homeless dogs in need who do not have existing problems). So by the time you're actually considering a dog who has been assessed, you will already know what issues the dog may have and whether or not it will be suitable for you.

miss lynnster, it's not to do with his choice of collars, it's to do with his self-stated ignorance regarding scientific study about training methods which run counter to his philosophy of dog training (which, as I said, is at least partially based on now-discredited ideas like the "alpha roll"), and his over-reliance on alpha theory and intimidation (plus his mischaracterization of dogs exhibiting learned helplessness and/or intimidation behaviours as "trained"). Obviously, YMMV, I'm glad his methods worked for you, and I definitely agree that he is 100% correct about the importance of exercise, there is some value in his shows, but there is also a lot of pretty medieval stuff and there are other, less dangerous, less confrontational, ways to reach the same goals. It's worrying that people hold his methods up as something they should be doing at home when even he says that many of his methods are not appropriate for average dog owners.
posted by biscotti at 3:09 PM on May 28, 2007

Nthing that you should consider rescued greyhounds, for all the reasons above.
posted by dpx.mfx at 3:22 PM on May 28, 2007

I don't have the time right now (I'm at work!) to say all that I want to say about this issue. But I will say that if I could go back to before we adopted our dog (a pit mix), these are the things I would have told myself:

-Get a puppy. At least you know most of what the dog has gone through before you get him/her. I don't know what traumatizing events our dog live through before we got her, and her scars make me wonder.

-Don't get a pit or pit mix unless you know what you are doing and have plenty of time and money to invest in training. I didn't really know what I was getting into, and our dog (who seemed GREAT for the 'honeymoon period') came into her own about six months after adoption. She was 3 when we got her. We are in intensive training to deal with her attachment/aggression issues, which the trainers we've worked with think are due in great part to her pit side.

I love our dog and I wouldn't give her back. But she worries me, and I wouldn't go through the heartache we've had again if I could help it.
posted by fiercecupcake at 3:32 PM on May 28, 2007

My parents definitely "just knew" when they went to the shelter to get my dog. She was a small puppy among big, aggressive dogs and she was incredibly eager to please (probably because she wanted to get the heck out of there). She's been nothing but sweet for years and years, although she has her quirks. I suspect that a lot of smallish rescue dogs, like mine, end up absolutely terrified of other dogs. We introduced her to a toy poodle puppy once - about the size of a peanut - and she cowered and hid, which was hilarious in an incredibly sad way. Still, it made us feel good that we'd given her a good home.

nthing trust your instincts.
posted by crinklebat at 3:45 PM on May 28, 2007

I, like several posters above, am always rooting for folks to get greyounds. My greyhound is just about the greatest dog in the history of the universe. But I feel it's important to be honest about the breed and its traits - They're the perfect breed for me, but they're not right for everyone.

Going through your list:

Must haves:
- Must be friendly with kids/people/other dogs

Some greyhounds are shy, but mine is incredibly friendly and thinks the entire world exists to pet her and play with her. The adoption group can find the dog with the personality you're looking for.

- No purse dogs or breeds known to be yappers, crazy chewers or biters
Greyounds are pretty quiet as a rule, although my hound's "boyfriend" (a neighbor's greyhound) barks more than usual for the breed.

- Some sort of character or uniqueness
Definitely unique! You'll get a lot of comments on the dog - I get "look, it's a deer!" a lot with mine. You also have to deal with comments about the racing industry, which can be frustrating. People assume the racing industry is terrible, but there's room for intelligent people to disagree on that front. It's hard to bite my tongue when I get comments like "isn't it terrible what they do to those dogs?" when I personally know my dog's former trainer and have taken behind-the-scenes tour of her track and kennel, and don't think she had a terrible life at all. That the adoption groups themselves get involved in the politics is also annoying.

- Be healthy
Greyhounds are actually very healthy purebreds. They are one of the few large breeds that don't get hip displaysia, and live fairly long for a large breed. They do tend to have bad teeth so you have to budget for annual or semi-annual teeth cleanings.

Very importants:
- Young/puppy or really a gem (no older than 5 years though, I think)

You can get a greyhound as young as 2 years old from an adoption group, although rarely any younger than that. Mine was 4 when I got her but even at age 8 today is very puppy-like in her enthusiasm.

- A breed that's traditionally intelligent, loyal and trainable
Depending what you mean here, this is where I'm a little wary. Greyhounds aren't dumb, and are trainable, but they are no border collies. And this is important - they can never, ever, ever be off leash in an unfenced area. They just aren't that type of dog. No matter how well trained, their instinct is to chase things and you can't take the risk that they'll chase that squirrel right into the street. So if you're looking for a dog that will romp along side you off leash as you hike in the woods, don't get a greyhound. If you want a dog that will walk on leash along side you or run laps in your fenced back yard or dog park, go ahead!

- Easy grooming is a big plus
Short hair, not stinky even months after her last bath.

- Medium to large sized

Sorry for the long post, good luck in your dog search! How did I know when I found my dog? She came running up to me and wouldn't stop licking my face. She was sweet and the greyhound group said she wouldn't eat my cat and she's just about perfect.
posted by misskaz at 4:20 PM on May 28, 2007

I realize that this is anything but "unique," but the dog you describe above sounds like a lab. Smart, good with kids, like water, energetic, and generally ready to do what's asked of them. Most shelters will have a bunch of lab mixes - and mixed-breed dogs are a good thing. Spend some time around the dogs, watch their behavior. A good natured dog will stand out pretty quickly. Finally, stick to your requirements. There's nothing wrong with going to a few places before making your choice.
posted by Gilbert at 6:07 PM on May 28, 2007

Beagles meet all of your "must haves" and all of your "very importants." The nice thing about going through a rescue organization is that the dogs have been living in foster care and the foster parents can answer most of your questions. They will know whether the dog is good with kids (most beagles are), etc., etc. I am extremely happy with my rescue beagle.
posted by kellygreen at 7:50 PM on May 28, 2007

Heh. Rescue beagle. I have an image of a puppy wee red cape and a tiny flask of creme de menthe. Thankyou!
posted by coriolisdave at 8:21 PM on May 28, 2007

Labrador Retrievers definitely meet all of your Must Haves, Very Importants, and Would Be Cools. They're so lovable and playful, perfect for families or active people, and I've never heard of them being used as a fighting dog. And they come in black, too.
posted by DakotaPaul at 8:57 PM on May 28, 2007

Doh, missed Gilbert's post. Definitely agree about the mixed-breeds. We get tons of lab mixes at the city shelter where I volunteer, and they nearly always have that great lab temperament.

As for picking the right one, well, sometimes they pick you. You just "know" that a dog is right for you; it'll feel right. The dog will act interested in you and be attentive to you.

Sometimes people will come by looking for a dog and pick the one that has a really pretty coat or is really energetic or some other single superficial reason. Then we see those same dogs back at the shelter because the idiot owner didn't like everything else about the dog when they got it home and returned it. The good adoptions, the ones that stick, happen when people spend at least 30 minutes playing and bonding with a dog before deciding that it's the right dog for them.
posted by DakotaPaul at 9:08 PM on May 28, 2007

Regarding mixed breeds, I had always heard that mutts are the best pets but I had only had purebreds before. I have to say, I don't know that I would get a purebred again.

I also feel like it's very clear that my rescue dog appreciates being my pet far more than my purebred breeder-bought dogs ever did. They acted kind of entitled in comparison, while my current dog is just thankful and loving for every little thing. It's like she knows what she has and is so incredibly grateful, it's really touching sometimes.
posted by miss lynnster at 9:16 PM on May 28, 2007

Best answer: Thanks everyone for the advice so far!

I'm definitely going to check out greyhounds more seriously (I at first shied away because I'd heard a lot about abuse at the race tracks and well, I figured they'd need to run constantly, I plan on exercising with the dog, but not 40 mph exercise. :) but I'm definitely going to research more and learn about the other breeds suggested here.

Also thanks for the warnings about my misunderstanding of Shar Peis and Corgis. I seem to have read so much that everything is blurring together and the general message of most breed profiles are 'if socialized correctly and early, they'll be great with kids/people/other pets.'

Almost all my friends are dog people so getting along with their dogs, dogs at the dog park and the occasional dog parties we throw makes it imperative that they breed is friendly and playful with a whole mix of other breeds. (I've shied away from Akitas, which I really dig, but heard they can be very dominate with other dogs when they get older).

I forgot to mention that I'm trying to stay away from breeders for some of the reasons mentioned above, especially the whole inbreeding thing.

And I was looking for a female, mainly because they tend to be less aggressive (again with the socialization thing). But playfulness is another "Very Important" for me, that I forgot to mention.

Thanks so much for your help! Please keep suggestions and advice coming!
posted by jkl345 at 9:35 PM on May 28, 2007

Regarding mixed breeds, I had always heard that mutts are the best pets but I had only had purebreds before. I have to say, I don't know that I would get a purebred again.

About the only thing you can say for sure is that purebreds should be less variable than mixed-breed dogs.

I also feel like it's very clear that my rescue dog appreciates being my pet far more than my purebred breeder-bought dogs ever did. They acted kind of entitled in comparison, while my current dog is just thankful and loving for every little thing.

This is you coming up with a story about the dog's behavior, nothing more. I love dogs, but they have very severe cognitive limits. I would not bet money that dogs are capable of feeling true "gratefulness," or "appreciation," and even if they can I would bet very large amounts of money that dogs are physically incapable of feeling ongoing gratefulness now for something that happened long ago.

Dogs are fine just as they are with their smooth little lemon-brains, fundamentally restricted thought processes, nearly complete amorality, and limited range of emotions. They aren't little people, and they don't need to be little people to be wonderful to live with.

I forgot to mention that I'm trying to stay away from breeders for some of the reasons mentioned above, especially the whole inbreeding thing.

This doesn't make sense. Any dog is a roll of the dice as far as its genetic tendencies go. If you want a dog with specific qualities, the best you can do is roll loaded dice by restricting the genetic variation of the dogs -- that is, by inbreeding.

Besides, you're looking for breeds, you've said as much yourself. If you look for breeds of dogs in a shelter, what you're going to find are indifferently-bred dogs, or mutts that are the result of indifferently bred dogs. You'll be picking a dog that either directly or a generation or two ago was almost certainly the result of a breeding with no heart checks, no hip checks, no eye checks, no conformation checks for skeletal and dental problems, no checks in their ancestry for genetic-related diseases, no checks for nuthin'. If you're looking at a mixed-breed, you're looking at a dog some of whose ancestors were the result of bad breeding, with essentially uncontrolled breeding after that with no checks for anything.

On the other hand, if you find a good breeder, you can get the same breed whose parents have clear hearts, have clear hips, have clear eyes, have no skeletal problems, have no dental problems, have no or minimized genetic problems in their family tree, and so on, and who comes with a health guarantee, and has a breeder as a ongoing source of information. The same breed, with the expectation of far fewer problems, and someone to turn to if you have problems.

This isn't to say that there's anything wrong with shelter dogs, or that purebreds are some sort of panacea. Lots of shelter dogs are perfectly fine, and lots of purebreds aren't.

But the notion that you should not even look for a good breeder because some breeders are bad doesn't make any sense. If you're looking exclusively at shelter dogs, you're not choosing no breeding over breeding, you're choosing bad breeding over good breeding. If you're looking for a breed of dog, and you've said you are though you don't know which breed, looking for a good breeder should very definitely be on your list of options.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:39 PM on May 28, 2007

Get the dog that appeals to you in the shelter. Even if it's a pitbull, or german shep, or any breed that some people are wary about. Then give it plenty of space, food and love. You will be set.
posted by blindcarboncopy at 11:46 PM on May 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

On the note of understanding a dog's signals, I very much reccomend Stanley Coren's book, How to Speak Dog. Nothing about training in here, but it gives a detailed guide to understanding and interpreting dog behavior. It'll tell you exactly the sort of things to watch for if you're concerned about the dog snapping under pressure.

If you do end up getting a dog from a breeder, please don't neglect to get it spayed/neutered.

Aside from that, get the dog who appeals to you, regardless of breed. That's the important part. The only important thing I'd take from breed standards is the level of energy of a dog, how much exercise they need. That makes a big difference in how well you get along with a dog.
posted by Arturus at 8:48 AM on May 29, 2007

I don't agree with just getting the dog who appeals to you, this is often a recipe for a failed adoption, since people often pick the cutest dog, or the neediest-looking dog, without regard for what breed(s) the dog is. You can adapt many things about dogs but you cannot change what they were bred to do, nor can you change the amount of exercise they need, these things have been bred into dogs for hundreds of generations, and they don't go away in a pound puppy simply because the dog appeals to you. If you lead a relatively sedentary life, a Border Collie or Lab (or mix containing these breeds) is not a suitable dog for you no matter HOW appealing the dog is, if you take pride in your garden and can't abide a dog who digs a terrier is not a suitable dog for you even if it's the most appealing dog in the world. Please do your research a choose a dog based on how SUITABLE for your lifestyle and particular needs its breed(s) is (as well as how suitable that individual dog is), not just how "appealing" it is.
posted by biscotti at 10:14 AM on May 29, 2007

Another happy greyhound owner here! I agree with misskaz on all counts: mine is one of the shy ones, but many are as bouncy and outgoing as a lab. Greyhound adoption groups will be happy to place you with an animal if you specify the desired temperament, so be sure to say you want one that's outgoing and confident.
posted by nev at 12:02 PM on May 29, 2007

go to the shelter and see what they've got. If you find a few that interesting, ask them what they "think" the breed is and go home and do the research. Being informed is the best way to go into a new adoption..

If specific breeds are what you are looking for, find a Breed Rescue. Either choice you make..I appreciate you wanting to help out a dog in need, rather than buying from a backyard breeder and making the problem worse!


These two things are a little contradictory (from my experiences):

-No crazy chewers or biters
- Young/puppy or really a gem (no older than 5 years though, I think)

Every single puppy I've ever seen is like a beaver! They like chewing everything in site! Something for you to consider.

posted by smart_ask at 7:26 PM on May 31, 2007

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