The internet was recently abuzz with the news that Tibetan Mastiffs are the “it” dog in China. Between the rarity of the breed and a great increase of Chinese consumers with money to burn, some dogs are going for as much as $600,000. While that sounds extreme (and it is extreme), here in the States we’re not immune to crazes for suddenly-trendy dog breeds. In the wake of hit movies like 101 Dalmatians and Beverly Hills Chihuahua, shelters across the country were flooded with those breeds, surrendered by people who either tired of the dogs or were unprepared for the challenges of raising breeds of dog that, in both cases, are not often known for being laid-back and easy-going.
I personally am not militant on the subject of buying a dog from a breeder versus adopting a dog from a shelter or rescue group. My corgi, Graham, was purchased from a breeder; my husky mix, Hoosier, was rescued from Town Lake Animal Center. They have both been wonderful dogs for my household and have both presented their own unique rewards and challenges.
When getting a pure-bred dog, you always want to research the breed carefully. What are its characteristics? While it’s important to remember that dogs are individuals with their own personalities, most dog breeds were created with a particular purpose in mind. Tibetan mastiffs, for example, were bred to be guard dogs in a cold, harsh climate. That means they are thick-coated and shed a lot, are particularly intelligent, and tend to be quite independent (per the American Tibetan Mastiff Association), so you need to be prepared to handle these and other typical behaviors if you want to adopt this particular breed. Rebecca Cohen, whose Tibetan mastiffs are regular DogBoy’s boarders, says “If socialized properly they [Tibetan mastiffs] get along with other dogs (although mastiff play is pretty physical…), and get to know extended family and friends well enough to welcome them into the house.” But you have to be willing to work with them to overcome their guard-dog instincts.
Corgis, being herding dogs, are prone to alert-barking at unfamiliar people and things, so my wife and I had to be prepared for that. If you don’t want a barker, you probably shouldn’t adopt a corgi! And if you are adding a second (or third) dog to your household, you have to make sure a particular breed will do well in a multiple dog household, and be aware of any breed-specific issues when it comes to multiple dogs. For instance, adult male corgis do not tend to do well together in the same house. Of course, you will probably want to do a meet and greet to make sure your potential new dog gets along with any dogs or other animals you may already have.
If you are purchasing a pure-bred dog, you MUST (it cannot be emphasized enough) make sure you are dealing with a reputable breeder. You never want to purchase a dog from a pet store. Not only do many pet store dogs come from so-called “puppy mills,” where dogs are bred repeatedly in inhumane conditions without regard to health or personality characteristics, but the puppy may not be terribly well-socialized and months in a cage may also make house training more difficult.
A reputable breeder will let you visit their facility, and let you meet the parents of your future puppy so you can see their personality for yourself and be assured that conditions are clean and humane. A good breeder will also be happy to answer questions and will ask you questions in return; they may want to meet your other dog or dogs before agreeing to sell you one of their puppies. Finally, a good breeder will screen potential sires and dams for diseases and conditions the particular breed may be prone to, to avoid perpetuating them, and they will only breed their dogs a limited number of times—many breeders will only allow a female to have two, or at most three, litters.
Many small dogs are prone to floating kneecaps (patellar luxation, in vet-speak); many larger breeds like the Tibetan Mastiff (and its mastiff cousins), Labs and Golden Retrievers can be prone to hip dysplasia. Both conditions can be serious enough to require surgical correction which, needless to say, can be quite expensive. Roughly 10% of all Dalmatians are born deaf, and that was a factor in many Dalmatian surrenders after the 101 Dalmatians craze of the 1990s. Graham’s breeder screened his parents for Von Willenbrand’s disease, an inherited blood-clotting disorder corgis are prone to.
Adopting a dog from a shelter or a rescue group brings its own set of challenges. My dog Hoosier was brought to Town Lake Animal Center as a stray and not much was known about his background previous to his arrival at the shelter. He was very affectionate with people but turned out to be somewhat reactive on leash and was particularly protective of me. Since we had no dogs or children at the time we adopted Hoosier, we were able to adjust to his personality quirks and at least start working on his issues, but if this hadn’t been the case Hoosier’s arrival would have been much more difficult and stressful than it was. One of the big advantages of adopting through a rescue group is that often the dogs have spent time in a foster home and you will have a much better idea of a potential new dog’s personality up front, not to mention any health issues the dog may bring with him.
Many shelter and rescue dogs have stories that pull at your heart strings, but be very careful if sympathy or pity is your primary motivation for choosing a particular dog. “You may come to regret it later or it may be more than you can handle which is incredibly unfair to the dog,” says Rebecca Andrews, CPDT. And Rebecca knows what she’s talking about. She and our other trainers here at DogBoy’s have talked to many owners on the verge of re-homing dogs who turned out to be far more challenging than expected.
No matter where you are getting your dog from, bringing one into your household should never be an impulsive decision. Adopting a puppy or young dog, whether from a breeder, a shelter or a rescue group, is a commitment of a decade or more barring illness or injury. However, the rewards of such a partnership with the right dog bring joys and benefits that are more than worth it—for you and your pooch!
Contributed by Jay Robison
Our thanks to Brent Olson on Flickr for this great photo!