Judge the dog on behaviour, not looks – after all, appearances can be deceptive
They say you should never judge another man’s journey until you have taken steps in his shoes – and perhaps the same applies to dogs! It can be so tempting to watch in awe as the Crufts winner takes to the floor, and think that there stands the perfect dog. The fact is that appearances can be deceptive.
There’s little doubt that if you own a certain breed, and especially if you are an enthusiast about them, you will tend to think that they are simply the best dog in the world. Of course, this may be true for you, but observed objectively, it may be that the same dog would be a complete disaster in a different environment, or with a different family. Even relatively minor issues, such as the dog being naturally noisy, can be of little consequence out in the country, but be a major problem in the middle of a housing estate.
Very few people would consider buying a car simply on the basis of appearance alone. We check the practicality and comfort of the interior, the engine capacity, the way it runs, even the maintenance and running costs before we buy. Indeed, I suspect that many people spend more time choosing a vehicle than they do a dog….
Of course, in order to really get to know a breed, you need to live with it – and preferably more than one! Clearly this is not possible for the average family – so where does good, reliable information about the real characteristics of dogs come from? Many breed books are horribly biased – indeed, if they are all to be believed, then all dogs are inherently good with children, obedient, and also excellent guard dogs! In order to find out the facts about a breed, where should you look?
Opportunities such as Discover Dogs (at earls Court in November each year) and Crufts can be really useful. Prospective owners get a chance to meet adult dogs of the breed that has taken their eye, and chat to experienced owners and breeders – who, in my experience, often do tend to give the bad news as well as the good for a balanced view. Indeed, on one famous occasion, I overheard the owner of a small, working breed tell a family that they were not good to have around children, as they enjoyed biting them! Thankfully this put them off what would have been a potentially inappropriate choice right away.
Discover Dogs also allows a rare treat – the chance to compare many breeds against each other in one place at one time. You can literally wander from one breed stand to another, looking at rare breeds and those that are more familiar, talking to, touching and in some cases – smelling – each one in turn! You will also have the opportunity to discuss the merits of each breed with folk who are not attempting to ‘sell’ them in any way, but have their breed’s best interests at heart.
Take a Test Drive
Not sure what type of dog to get? Undecided as to whether to get a puppy or an adult dog? Head along to your local puppy class to find out what it’s really like living with a loony Labrador or a gracious Greyhound! The wonderful thing about puppy owners is that they are more than happy to tell you, at length, all the ins and outs of their first days and weeks with their new puppy. In my experience, this information offers a genuinely balanced view. In any one class, you are likely to meet those that are overflowing with joy at their new puppy’s antics, and also those who are struggling. You are also likely to meet those who have just got their first dog as well as those who are more experienced – and most importantly, families. This means that you have a chance to find out all the challenges of raising a puppy within a busy household – a view that doesn’t always come from breeders who may live rather differently with their dogs.
The Real McCoy
Getting to know owners of your favoured breed can be very useful, especially if they don’t have a commercial interest. All people love to talk about their dogs, so if you spot someone with a breed that you like in the park or out for a walk, ask them about what they are like to live with, and where they obtained the dog. Even better, ask a local trainer for their opinion. Even if you don’t have grand ambitions to take your Beagle through top-flight obedience competitions, it’s fun to find someone else that has! Just like everyone, trainers have their favourite breeds, and may be biased against others, but tapping into their years of experience in one geographical area is often useful. For example, in my area, I would be able to tell prospective owners to beware of buying a puppy from a certain outlet because I know that despite appearances to the contrary, they come from a puppy farm. I can also warn that a couple of breeds tend to have more problems than they should, so a puppy of that type needs to be bought from outside the area.
The internet is a wonderful way to have a look at pictures of dogs, to gauge sizes and origins, and of course, to gather opinions. Indeed, there’s so much information out there that you are more at risk from over-load than a lack of detail! However, do be aware that there is no such thing as a perfect dog – and if an internet site claims that there is, they are telling you porky pies. Make sure you do your homework in a practical way, after all, you are the one who will end up living with the dog – and you want the choice to be the right one.