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Dog breeds for families

By Gay Published: May 20, 2009

I love dogs—all dogs. I prefer large breeds to small, but I have known some really lovely little ones and had a few. My personal favorite is the Golden Retriever, and I judge people by their reaction to a little butterball, Golden puppy. If they aren't smitten, I probably am not going to be great friends with them. On the other hand, I lover a Border Collie with its exuberance and keen intelligence.

Dogs are smart. There are breeds that seem to be more intelligent than others, and some ‘smart' breeds will occasionally turn out what seems to be a dumb dog. Usually, though, if you study the dog carefully, its refusal to learn tricks or obey commands is due more to the owner's inability to properly train him. And, sometimes, dogs appear to be dumb, because they are lazy and simply don't want to dance or catch balls! A friend had a Golden Retriever and was exasperated because he would not bring in the newspaper. “That is his only job,” she complained. I had a Golden that retrieved shoes. If you left a pair of muddy ones by the door, he'd bring them to you.

I'm going to write about a few dog breeds and the advantages of each. I mostly will consider their affection for children and their loyalty to family, as most people want dogs that are trustworthy around children and other pets. Though these are purebreds about which I write, let me state unequivocally that you can get a fabulous dog of questionable origin. Your local animal shelter will have many dogs longing for a loving home, and reputable shelters check incoming dogs for temperament. I have had dogs from shelters and some that we've found wandering, lost and alone. They've all been great.

Having said all this, I urge you not to buy puppies that come from puppy mills. These dogs are indiscriminately bred, live in unfriendly to brutal conditions, are not socialized and end up for sale for an enormous amount of money in unscrupulous pet stores. (Not all pet stores are like this—many offer puppies from their local Humane Society, and the cost of the dog is the cost of fees and first shots and so on). Be careful where and what you buy. The only way to shut down puppy mills is to make them unprofitable to the owners.

If you have your heart set on a certain breed but want to give a homeless dog a second chance, consider a rescue dog. Nearly all breeds have rescue societies that offer a purebred dog that had to be surrendered for one reason or another—moving overseas, moving to smaller quarters, illness, death, etc. Just type in the name of the breed you desire followed by “rescue,” and you will find all sorts of places that can match you with your heart's desire.

A few breeds:

Golden Retriever—Extremely affable (this dog always wears a smile), they love and are loved by children. They are easy to train and take pleasure in their training sessions. Highly intelligent, they are often trained as “therapy” dogs that visit hospitals and nursing homes and bring great joy. You need to brush them frequently, and even then, you will find lots of loose fur around the house. So if perfect tidiness is your goal, this dog isn't for you. You must provide long walks or a large space for exercise.

Labrador Retriever—Everything mentioned about the Golden is applicable to the wonderful Lab. Not only do they like games of fetch and ball, they adore the water, and if he spies one, he is apt to jump into it and happily paddle around. Think “Marley.” The Lab doesn't shed as much as the Golden, but still requires weekly brushing.

Newfoundland—An enormous dog, it is sweet-tempered. They are protective, but they don't growl. Why should they? Their massive size would cause burglars to reconsider! You must exercise them, and they really love water, as they were bred for it. I had a friend whose property included a pond, and her Newfie would jump into the pond and drag back the ten year old daughter. In order for the girl to swim, they had to put the dog somewhere he couldn't see his beloved companion in the water. To his mind, she needed rescued!

Standard Poodle- usually, when we think “poodle,” we think of little puff-clipped tails and anklets, but this is in reality a large, sturdy, working dog It's very good with children (although not the toy or miniature).

Boxer- These dogs not only are devoted family pets they are excellent guardians. They should have dog-obedience training, and you need to be firm about it. They are courageous and loyal.

Some smaller breeds:

Shetland Sheepdog—Prone to barking, they can be trained to bark only when appropriate. They have a very dense coat, and you will need to pay some attention to her grooming. They are easily trained, and while very good with kids, they are more suitable for ones older than toddlers.

Australian Shepherd—A herding dog, don't be surprised if this dog tries to line everyone up! They are bred for it, and while it might seem annoying, when you think about it, it's pretty amusing to watch him sort your children. There are not city dogs. You and he will be unhappy living in an apartment. He is meant to run, and he needs the space to do it.

Beagle—Snoopy is not a beagle for nothing. They do well with kids and other animals, although they are somewhat stubborn about housetraining. But stick with the training, and you will have a nice, friendly little dog.

Springer Spaniel—These dogs are usually good-tempered, although a few tend to snap and growl. If you select from a breeder, be sure to observe the other dogs. They have become popular because of certain political figures who own them. They generally like children and are happy-go-lucky. They can be mischievous. Friends have had Springers that would do naughty things, like go into Dad's closet, take his expensive shoes and sneak them out to chew on. Those of us watching found our friends' dogs very amusing!

Corgi—There are several breeds of Corgi. The other is a Cardigan corgi. The Queen of England is partial to both. Loving and affectionate, the Corgi adapts very well to apartments and small spaces. They do like to take some exercise with you.

These are just a few. In general, I find the larger dogs to be gentler, unless they have been selectively bred as aggressive watchdogs. Almost any dog, if trained well, with love, firmness, and affection, will respond and make a wonderful pet. After all, they are dogs!

-- Gay Fifer is the owner of Parsley Hollow, Inc.

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