If you are reading this blog you already know that I am a fan of Curly-Coated Retrievers and currently own one. With 189 breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 2017, and every possible combination of lovable mutts and crosses it can be a little daunting to know where to start.
In this blog I’m going to focus on recognized breeds because their traits are more predictable, plus they are the basis for mutts as well; but I will have a few thoughts on mutts at the end of the blog. Whether you are looking to add a puppy or adopt an adult dog these are some of the factors you will want to consider when determining what breed (or mix of breeds) to get.
What do you want to do with the dog?
First things first, what are you hoping to do with your dog? I’ll leave dog sports and training out of this for now, and touch on it in the next questions, but what would your ideal lifestyle be with this dog at home? Are you looking for a running partner, a dog to watch TV and snuggle with, is hiking & camping all weekend your idea of fun, or hanging out with friends at a backyard BBQ? Or maybe you are tired of jealously watching all your neighbours visiting at the off leash park down the next street. There is no wrong answer here, but to be fair to your dog (and yourself) you need to have an idea of what your life with a dog looks like.
When I was looking at breeds I knew I wanted a weekend hiking partner, a dog I could take trail riding with my horse, and go to the off leash park with. I also knew I was busy riding my horse 5 days a week and some weeknights I wouldn’t have a lot of time for long walks. So while I did want an active dog, I knew a dog that needed a good hour plus run every night wasn’t going to work.
How much energy do you want?
This is sort of two questions to me, first, how much time do you have to spend exercising the dog, and second, how much activity do you want in your house!
Exercise – It is very important to be realistic when it comes to how much time you have to spend exercising your dog. You don’t need to be a marathon runner to own a border collie, but you do need to have an outlet for them to expend that energy. With an idea of what you want to do with the dog, how much time do you have to spend on exercising it? If unsure try committing to your exercise plan before getting the dog, if you think you’ll have time for a 30 minute walk every night try it for a week or two without the dog to be sure. If in doubt I’d underestimate vs overestimate, most dogs can do more than we want to.
For myself I was doing lots of horseback riding when I was looking to add my first dog, I figured I had about 45-60 minutes on riding nights, and 60-90 on non-riding days to spend exercising or training my future dog.
Activity – Some dog breeds are all go all the time, no matter how much you exercise them they will have enthusiasm to follow you around the house, or jump from couch to couch…just because that is the joy of being a dog! Some breeds tend to have more of an off switch, they might be energetic on walks or while playing but once inside, or after a good play session, they are happy to nap the rest of the evening away.
While I knew I wanted an active dog breed, I couldn’t handle a hyperactive breed. It would drive me crazy to have all that bouncing and non stop motion in the house. So I needed a breed that was more laid back.
Of course these are all generalities there will be variations between dogs of the same breed, litter, or breeding lines. But to help us narrow down our choice in breeds, these generalities will help.
What kinds of activities or training do you want to do?
The next big question to me is, what do you want to do with your dog? I tend to think of this as dog sports, obedience, or showing, but it could equally be playing fetch in the backyard, walks around the block, or companionship.
I think companionship should go without saying, we should all want a dog that we want to hang out with and be part of our lives, and I’m certainly no exception. The majority of the time I spend with my dog is hanging out, watching TV or just bustling around the house with my shadow following me every step of the way. I also knew I wanted to get into some dog sports, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to compete, but I knew I wanted to do some of the training and classes. I fell in love watching the “Prairie Dogs” as a kid at Spruce Meadows, so I really wanted to try agility. There were lots of other sports I thought looked interesting but I can’t say I recall being drawn to any specifically. I wanted to be able to play fetch with my future dog, and do some hiking.
Shedding or Non-Shedding?
This seems to be a big topic for a lot of people, so we might as well address it here early in the process. Is non-shedding or low shedding important to you? How about coat length? If allergies in your house are a major concern this could be very important. Or if you know you are a neat freak and a hair out of place will send you running for the vacuum every day, perhaps this is of importance.
Our family dog growing up was a Bichon Frise / Shih Tzu cross (who was the absolute best dog our family could have had), so I was used to a non-shedding dog and knew it would bother me to live with a heavy shedder. I’ve been to family and friend’s houses where their dog brushes against you and you come away covered in fur. I knew that would drive me bonkers. I knew the Curly sheds, but the way it sheds doesn’t tend to bother me. It tends to form into little hair balls that are easy to shake off, or pick up off the floor. I also don’t find the hair as sticky, while it will collect on your clothes it doesn’t seem to hook in the way some of the shorter haired breeds can.
So how will you know if the shedding bothers you? If it’s an allergy or important preference you probably already know, if you’re unsure I’d suggest meeting a few of the breeds you like, speaking with breeders, or visiting different breeds at your local SPCA.
How much time are you going to spend with the dog?
How long each day will the dog be alone? How much of the day will the dog be doing something with you?
Are you looking for an outside dog that will spend very little time in your home. Are you working 8+ hours a day outside of the house? How much of your time will the dog get when you are home.
While I personally feel all dogs deserve a nice home to live in with their family, there are dogs for just about every scenario imaginable. I work out of home 8hrs a day, I knew I would often be busy with my horse after work and on weekends, but I also knew the dog could come with me. The dog would have to be crated while I rode, but could drive out with me and play after in the field. So I felt it could still work with an active dog. It’d take a little more effort on my part to make sure the future pup would get enough exercise, but she wouldn’t be cooped up all day and night, and could still join in on most of the fun.
Does Size Matter?
Size can be an important factor as well. Some apartments or rentals have size limits for pets, so that may be a consideration. Also, can you physically handle a larger dog? Do you want to? Are you hoping to travel and would like to bring your dog along? Only you can answer the all-important size question!
When contemplating my new dog, I knew I was moving out on my own and that I wanted a medium to larger breed dog that I would feel comfortable walking on my own at night. However, I would say there are times I look around my 600 sq ft condo and think it would be nice to have a smaller dog! I can’t fit a kennel in my car that is big enough for her to travel in, I have one I can split in half and fit in the trunk but it is a little small for her when we travel. So if you are considering a larger breed dog (and I don’t even consider the curly very large – compared to some breeds) it may be something to think about.
After going through this list to get a better idea of what I want in a dog, I’d go through the AKC breed list and try to pick 5 breeds to look at more in depth.
For me, after considering the questions above, I knew I wanted an active (but not hyperactive) dog, medium to large breed, that would want to work with me and naturally wanted to be a closer ranging dog (for agility & off leash play). Trainability and versatility were also important since I knew I wanted to train for some doggie sports but wasn’t sure what yet.
So that started to narrow it down for me; the activity, trainability, and close ranging tendencies brought me to look mostly at the sporting and herding dog groups.
From there I looked to the medium to larger breeds; which lead me to the retrievers, pointers, spaniels, collies, and shepherds.
I ruled out most spaniels and pointers thinking they would tend to range further than I would want, and be a little more independent off leash; and the herding dogs because I thought they would be more dog than I was capable of dealing with (both physical energy, and the mental stimulation they required). I love the herding breeds, they are wonderful dogs for the right person, but as a novice dog owner I really wanted a dog I could enjoy not one I was struggling to manage and catch up with (in my training ability), so I was hesitant to look at them very seriously. In hindsight there probably were some breeds that I would have been ok with, the Australian Shepherd is coming to mind but I’m sure there are others.
From there I looked to lower or non-shedding breeds or crosses, of which sadly there aren’t many.
After all that thinking it brought me to my breeds to further consider and research:
- Curly-Coated Retriever
- Doddle (when I started my list I wasn’t sure between the lab or golden cross)
- German Wirehaired Pointer
- American Water Spaniel
- Vizla, German Shorthaired Pointer, Lab, Golden, Dalmatian (I’ve included these since they all came and went off the list numerous times, though ultimately I didn’t consider them as much as the others)
Parent Clubs – Now that you have narrowed down your search, this is a great time to do a little more homework on each breed. AKC (and other kennel clubs) often list a “parent club” for each breed and have links to their websites. These parent clubs are run by dedicated breeders and owners, and often are a great resource for additional information. They typically list the AKC standard for the breed (the ideals breeders are aiming for when breeding), you likely saw this on the AKC website as well, they may have additional information about the breed and what they are like to live with, as well as any competitions, trials, or special events coming up in your area. They also often have breeder directories, these are not endorsements of particular breeders, just a listing for convenience. However, as a prospective puppy buyer these directories can be a great tool to check out websites or contact breeders for more information on the breeds. I have used these extensively!
Breeder Websites – Breeder websites can be a great tool to find out additional information on the breed, or a particular line or trait you are looking for. Experienced breeders can be an invaluable resource for novice owners to ask questions of or even arrange to meet the breed.
Dog Shows – For more popular breeds this can be a great way to see the breeds on your short list and get a feel for what they are like. Many exhibitors would be happy to speak with you about their dogs when they have some down time. Please be mindful that they won’t have a chance to speak with you when grooming their dog or preparing to enter a class.
Dog Trainers – Setting up a private session with a professional dog trainer is well worth your while. It may seem odd to a novice dog owner to hire a trainer before you even get the dog, but a trainer can talk to you about what you are looking for and provide feedback on your expectations and their experiences with the breed. They also are a great resource within the dog community and likely can help point you to good breeders or help you get started in your puppy search.
Books – Being a bit of a book worm I’m always glad for an excuse to buy books. Breed specific books are a truly great resource for novice owners, they often go into much more detail about the breed, their temperament, trainability, and energy levels than websites or breed standards are able to do. If you are looking at popular breeds this may be as simple as going to the local book store and picking one up, if not be prepared to do some online ordering.
#5 Vizsla, German Shorthaired Pointer, Lab, Golden, Dalmatian – Most I ruled out early on either due to their energy requirements or shedding. Though I must say the Shorthair and Dalmatian are my absolute favourite breeds, I’m just not the right person to own one.
#4 American Water Spaniel – I still do not know much about this breed, I am very intrigued by them and love their size. I found it difficult to find detailed information on what they were like to live with, but in the end some of the warnings about their tendency to bark convinced me otherwise (barking and condo life do not make for happy neighbours!)
#3 German Wirehaired pointer – The Wirehair moved between my 2 & 3 choice, and I really debated getting one this time around. When I got Tess I was very worried about their exercise needs and wasn’t quite sure I was up to it. After speaking with a breeder it sounded doable with the right dog, but I think in general I made the right choice. This go round I was more worried that their energy level might clash with Tess and could cause problems between the dogs; that and both breeds have a similar tendency to be standoffish which was my only “complaint” about the Curly.
#2 Doodle – I know many breeders out there would be cringing reading this, but I was very interested in them. I would say the largest selling feature is the low shedding quality that many have. Their tendency to be friendly and generally happy dogs is also pretty appealing. Ultimately I wasn’t crazy enough about the poodle side of the cross to move down that path.
And finally, #1 Curly-Coated Retriever – Overall I thought the curly got me closest to what I was looking for, energetic without being over the top, shedding I could live with, the versatility I was looking for, close working, and reasonably easy to train.
A WORD ON MIXED BREEDS
I promised I would touch on it in this post, so I want to make sure I address it. I think whether you get a purebred (registered or unregistered) or mixed breed is totally up to you. It was important to me to have the predictability in what I was getting so I wanted a purebred dog. I probably would have preferred an adult, but unfortunately for me (luckily for the breed and dogs) there are very few available for adoption or re-homing. So I went the puppy route. If you are looking for an adult, you don’t have to worry about predictability as much because what you see is what you’ll get (more or less). So from that standpoint the breed doesn’t matter as much. It’s more about finding the right dog.
However, I still think breed or at least breed-group matters. As those breed or breed-group traits are what you will be training and living with for better or for worse. All the considerations apply as listed above regarding energy, activities you want to do, shedding, etc. So if you can narrow that down to a specific size and breed-group you will have a much easier time looking through adoption lists or kennels and narrowing down your choices. Most shelters do an excellent job finding the right home for those dogs and will ask you many of the same questions. A little thought ahead of time will make their lives much easier, and ultimately find the right canine companion for your life.
OTHER BREED RESOURCES:
There are online dog breed selector websites you can try (google “dog breed selector”), and AKC has one themselves. They can also be a good starting point to narrow down the options. I have tried a few just to see the results and can’t say they have been very accurate for me, but I thought I would mention them because they might give you some ideas to consider which weren’t on your radar.
I like books, so when I started my search I flipped through a few dog breed encyclopedias, Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds, by D. Caroline Coile Ph. D is my favourite, I also like The Original Dog Bible: The Definitive New Source To All Things Dog, Edited by Kristin Mehus-Roe. I like the Encyclopedia the best because it seems to have more information on energy levels and temperament than most I have read. However, the Dog Bible gives some different information and viewpoints, so I like the contrast, plus it has a lot of other information on training and care which make it a worthwhile read.
The AKC breed directory has to be a go to resource, the Canadian, UK, and Australian Kennel Clubs also have excellent websites.
Once you have narrowed down your search to your 5 breeds look for their parent club, for Curlies I like the Curly-Coated Retriever Club of America website because it has such wonderful information on the breed, and an up-to-date breeder’s directory.
You can also look for breed specific books which can provide more in-depth information on the breed. For the more popular breeds you may have many titles to choose from, for Curlies there aren’t many books but luckily the ones available are excellent:
- Curly-Coated Retrievers: A Complete and Reliable Handbook, by: Gary & Mary Meeks
- Curly-Coated Retriever, by: Nona Kilgore Bauer
- The Puppy Diary, by: Cathy Lewandowski
I hope that helps you down your puppy selection path!