Breed and Behavior: You Can’t Change Nature, Even With Nurture

It’s the time of the year when Christmas lists are written and many children put a puppy on their wish list. According to the ASPCA, of the 3.9 million dogs entering shelters each year, approximately 35% are adopted, 31% are euthanized and 26% of dogs are returned to their owner. According to the American Humane Association, the most common reasons why people relinquish or give away their dogs is because their place of residence does not allow pets (29%), not enough time, divorce/death and behavior issues (10% each).

With the relinquishing and euthanasia rates unacceptable to many, it’s a good idea to research as much as possible before obtaining a dog. Dogs should be a friend for life-not a temporary companion.

Evaluating lifestyle and doing research on what type of dog breed that will fit lifestyle can be a challenge. Yes, there are online quizzes to help match a breed of dog to a specific lifestyle. The quizzes usually look at owner needs, size of dog desired, energy levels, care needs, temperament and trainability. Those quizzes and some pre-knowledge of breed types and their common behavior can greatly assist the search for a compatible match.

Dogs are available through pet stores, breeders, animal shelters, and sites including Pet Finder, Hannah the Pet Society and others that link potential pet parents to animal shelters and rescue groups. There is even an app for the iPhone called BarkBuddy that lists 250 thousand available pets from 2500 different rescue organizations.

According to the American Kennel Club, there are 339 internationally recognized dog breeds.

Purebred dogs tend to be more expensive, but it’s easier to know the characteristics and behaviors for those breeds. It is harder to determine behavior for mixed breeds (generally called mutts), but with a basic knowledge of breed characteristics and a veterinarian’s or shelter’s determination of the dominate breed within the dog, potential behavior issues may come to light.

Before purchasing or adopting, learn more about the background of the dog, if possible. Training, living conditions and parental temperaments can all affect dog behaviors beyond natural breed characteristics. Abandoned, abused, and neglected animals will behave differently than a pup raised in a loving, safe place. Purebred dog breeding in the USA is a multibillion dollar business every year and although many cities have recently cracked down on puppy mills and those who overbreed dogs, knowing a dog’s background will help with potential training or behavior issues.

Here are some top common breeds and the characteristics that they usually have in common.

Labrador Retrievers have ranked the top dog breed in the US in both 2013 and 2012 (among other years). Labs are not small, they can be 55-75 pounds, and do require regular grooming, but these gentle, devoted family dogs are easy to train and are also popular for sportsmen. Labs tend to be outgoing, loyal and good with children and other animals.

Lab hybrids are also popular breeds. One example is the Labradoodle, which is a mix of lab and poodle. Some labradoodles don’t shed as much as other dogs, which is appealing for those with allergies or with an aversion to hairy floor and furniture. Labradoodles share many of the same traits as labs and poodles, including high intelligence. Labs and hybrids tend to be high-energy dogs and require regular exercise to keep them engaged and well-behaved.

A medium sized dog, and fifth in 2013 AKC listings is the Bulldog. Bulldogs tend to be 40-50 lbs, and require minimal grooming and exercise. They are good family dogs because they are gentle, protective, and tend to form strong bonds with children. Bulldogs come in a variety of colors, and there are English, American and French bulldog types. The French Bulldog is usually smaller and can top the scale at 20 pounds or less. They all get along with other animals, and children, but bulldogs don’t generally have long lifespans. They also tend to rack up more veterinary bills than other breeds.

A small and popular breed of dogs is the dachshund. Dachshunds were ranked tenth in the 2013 dog breed statistics. These dogs can range from 16-32 pounds, and depending on the type, may require regular grooming. Despite their small size, this breed needs moderate exercise, and are stubborn, which can make them harder to train. Dachshunds can be loving, playful, and good with children. They can also be aggressive towards other animals, and strangers as well. Being a hound breed, they do tend to follow their noses and may need more supervision than other dogs.

There are many different types of dog breeds so the first thing is to determine what one’s needs are before purchasing or adopting. Going to a dog park, animal shelter, or asking others is an easy way to learn about different types. It’s easy to be captivated by a cute puppy, but puppies grow up and become dogs. Dogs do generally mature and mellow with age as well, so adopting a senior dog might be a good option if a puppy sounds overwhelming.

Having a dog can be good for health, and there are studies linking longer and healthier lifestyles with owning a pet. According to CNCA Health, a survey of more than 11,000 people found that pet owners made 15- 20 percent fewer visits to the doctor each year than non-pet owners. And numerous studies have shown that owning a pet can lower blood pressure, relieve feelings of depression, loneliness, stress and anxiety, and even boost self-esteem.

Having a dog breed that matches the needs and activity level of a family is beneficial for both owner and dog, and creates a healthier and happier home for everyone.


Visit the organizations we chatted to here:


Hannah the Pet Society


American Humane Association

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