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  • Writer's pictureVirginia Dare

Be a Rare Bird: selecting the right dog, whether purebred or mixed breed

Folks, this is a toughie.  If you’re reading this before making a decision about what breed is the best match for you, I applaud you.  You’re a rare bird.  Most people fall in love with a certain look, myself included, and then try to convince themselves this is the perfect match for them.

I’m not just talking about the selection of a purebred dog.  I’m also referring to the attraction you feel when looking at adoptable shelter/rescue dogs, too.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting a certain look in a dog, unless that look is tethered to a dog whose personality and lifestyle needs are wildly misaligned with your own.  

That’s where folks get into trouble. It can lead to frustration and disappointment, and it’s not fair for the dog to be judged as bad simply for being who he naturally is.

Reputable breeders are going to speak with potential puppy buyers in earnest, to be sure the person knows what it’s like to live with that particular breed, understands its exercise needs, and whether its typical breed traits mesh with the person’s lifestyle. (Check out my blog about selecting a good breeder.)

Of course, even within the same breed, there’s variation from one dog to the next.  Heck, even within the same litter there’s variation from one pup to the next!  So there’s no perfect answer.  No perfect amount of research that will guarantee you get the perfect dog.  But you sure increase the odds by doing your homework and being sensible about your choice, and then following up with early training and positive socialization once pup lives with you.

My personal idea of an attractive dog package looks like this:

No, there's nothing unbalanced about the ear size -- sheesh, so judge-y.

But here’s the thing:  as I searched high and low last year for a new dog to adopt, I was also merciless about screening for personality and behavior.  It took me quite some time to find WildeBean, but she was worth the effort. Take a clear-headed gander at your home environment and lifestyle, and then thoroughly research the specific breeds you’ve been obsessing about.  Is a Jack Russell the perfect addition for a retired homebody who lives in an apartment?  Um, no, unless it’s a 19 year old dog... maybe.  Would a basset hound be the perfect choice for an extreme sports enthusiast who wants a dog to join every expedition?  Could be a stretch.  What about adopting a mixed breed?  Can we accurately guess what mixes are scrambled up in there, and thus determine what they’ll be like behaviorally?  The answer is a resounding NO! 

Even dog professionals have a woefully low success rate guessing breed mixtures when compared to DNA test results. 

Check out the MuttMix project.

So, in the case of mixed breeds, you need to rely on observed behavior along with whatever feedback the foster person or shelter can provide.  Unfortunately, dog behavior can be hard to assess in a stressful shelter setting, and temperament tests tend to have limited value.  Foster homes usually get a more realistic picture of the ‘real’ dog, especially if the dog has been in the foster home for a few weeks. If you’re going the rescue route, ask lots of questions about the dog’s behavior.  Meet it, but swear to yourself in advance that you’ll walk away if the match doesn’t feel right.  Work with a rescue group that offers a “foster to adopt” option.  Final tip:  a professional trainer in your area may offer a match-making service, where they assist in your search for a dog that’s likely to mesh beautifully in your home.  While no one can guarantee success, it sure helps to increase the odds of a happy match.

Please check out another article I wrote that complements the information presented here. It discusses the pros and cons of adopting a puppy, adolescent, or adult dog, and explains the usual time a newly adopted dog needs before he truly settles in to his new home.

Virginia Dare is a certified dog trainer & behavior counselor with decades of experience. Her business offers live video consultations anywhere in the US for training and behavior help, puppy matchmaking services, and pre- and post-arrival counseling for new puppies. She also provides in-home, private lessons and behavior consultations in northern Fairfield and Westchester counties, western New Haven county, Putnam and southern Dutchess counties.

Please visit to learn more, or contact me at 804.784.0120


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