Part 3 – Finding the Right Breed

Before you go out and buy or adopt a dog, find out more about dog breeds and choose one or more that are suited to your needs. The Kennel Club lists approximately 210 breeds, each with its own standard, club and rescue organisations. First-time owners often make the mistake of choosing a breed based on appearance, but appearance has little to nothing to do with your dog’s temperament and physical characteristics! If you know nothing about breeds, the following will give you an overview of some important considerations and start your research in the right direction.

Starting with Breed Size

Some people want a dog of a specific size, either due to personal preference or due to the limitations of their living space. Remember that size should not be a deciding factor when choosing a dog to get along with children; small dogs aren’t always ideal for kids while many larger dogs might be. Also don’t mistake the size of the puppy to be any indicator of its height and size as an adult — consult the breed standard so that you know what to expect from a full-grown dog of a specific breed.

Also keep in mind that size is not a significant indicator of temperament. You might think that larger dog breeds are more powerful or assertive, but often it’s the small ones that are bossy or assertive whereas large ones are gentle. While it’s important to factor size into your considerations while choosing a breed, remember that size is really only that, and its importance should mirror your needs for a specific size. Size is a good way to narrow down your options as you move onto more specific research.

Choosing the best breed for your needs

The next step in choosing a breed is to list your needs and find breeds that correspond to them:

Do you want a dog suited to a specific purpose?

While many pet owners get dogs for companionship, you might want a dog best suited to a specific purpose, such as guarding, game-hunting or pulling. Remember that purebred dogs were originally bred to fulfill such purposes for their owners and it’s likely that there is a specific breed (or several breeds) ideally suited to your needs.

Do you want a dog suited to a specific living space?

Most dogs need adequate exercise and an open area to play in, but in many big cities this is becoming hard to provide. If you live in an apartment or don’t have convenient access to a dog park, it may be best to opt for a breed that does not need much space or exercise to thrive in. Breeds that do well in cities include Bulldog, Lhasa Apso, Pug, Welsh Corgi, Boston Terrier and Basenji. Note, however, that apartment-dwelling dogs do need to be taken out several times a day to relieve themselves.

Do you need a dog that is good with children?

Certain breeds of dogs are known to be friendly and particularly good with children, while others are best to avoid, due to their working behaviours or small size. Breeds that are great with kids include Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, St. Bernards, Old English Sheepdogs and Greyhounds. Breeds that are not recommended for children include toy dogs like Shih Tzus, Chihuahuas, Toy Poodles, Siberian Huskies, Chow Chows, and others like the American Bulldog and the German Shepherd.

Do you need a dog that has a certain activity level?

Active, energetic owners who spend time exercising outside can greatly enjoy a canine companion to take along on their workouts. Some dogs that are active and great exercise companions include Huskies, Bearded Collies, Newfoundlands and Labrador Retrievers. Other owners might prefer quieter dogs that don’t need too much exercise. Some of these include: Basenji, Chesapeake Bay Retriever and Whippet.

Do you have allergies and/or asthma?

If you suffer from allergies, you might want to get a single-coated or short-coated dog with little to no shedding. Remember that the thicker a dog’s coat, the more its chances of bringing in pollen or other irritants from outside. Thick-coated dogs also shed more and can be difficult to clean up after. Some dogs that are suited to allergy sufferers include: Schnauzers, Chinese Cresteds, Boston Terriers, Airedales and Basenjis.

Eliminating breeds based on their needs

It is also important to eliminate certain breeds that need more from their owners than you are willing or able to provide:

Grooming needs

As an owner you will be responsible for fulfilling your dog’s basic needs, and these include regular grooming. The need for grooming and cleaning depends on the breed’s coat and if you don’t want to own pets that need difficult or frequent grooming, it’s best to eliminate such breeds during your research. Breeds that are considered difficult to groom (and thus usually need to be taken to the groomers) include: Afghan Hounds, Bearded Collies, Bull Terriers, Chow Chows, Lhasa Apsos, Sheepdogs and Wire Fox Terriers.  Breeds that require frequent (daily or several times weekly) grooming include: Pekingeses, Lhasa Apsos, Yorkshires, Shih Tzus and Irish Setters.

Exercise needs

Are you able to exercise your dog several times a week, or, in case of puppies, several times a day? Some dogs, especially those who were traditionally bred to run and exercise, require a lot of daily exercise, and if your living situation makes this difficult, you might want to eliminate those breeds. Breeds that have high exercise requirements include American Water Spaniel, Australian Shepherd, Border Collie, English Setter, Irish Setter and Newfoundland. Most toy breeds and small dogs require less exercise than medium or large breeds.

Taking health considerations into account

Purebreds offer many advantages, but they also suffer from breed-specific susceptibility to common ailments and diseases. It is very important to find out what particular diseases a dog’s breed is prone to, and then either perform the necessary tests (in case of adults) or get as much information about his parents (in case of puppies) as possible — before you decide to buy. Good breeders work to eliminate susceptibility to diseases through selective breeding.

The following are some common dog ailments and some popular breeds that are susceptible to them. This is not a comprehensive list but is intended to aid your preliminary research. Once you have figured out what breeds you are interested in, contact their breed clubs and find out more breed-specific (and ultimately) dog-specific information regarding health risks.


Collie, Dachshund, German Shepherd Dog, Golden Retriever, Gordon Setter, Great Dane, Greyhound, Irish Setter, Irish Wolfhound, Newfoundland, Poodle, Weimaraner


Afghan Hound, American Water Spaniel, Australian Terrier, Beagle, Boston Terrier, Boxer, Bullmastiff, Irish Setter


Beagle, Boston Terrier, Bull Terrier, Dalmatian, English Setter, Havanese, Parson Russell Terrier, Wire Fox Terrier

Elbow Dysplasia

Akita, Basset Hound, Bloodhound, Brittany, Bullmastiff, Chow Chow, German Shepherd Dog, Labrador Retriever, Newfoundland, Tibetan Terrier

Epilepsy and Seizures

American Water Spaniel, Australian Terrier, Border Collie, Border Terrier, Boston Terrier, Brittany, Clumber Spaniel, Collie, Dachshund, Dalmatian, English Cocker Spaniel, French Bulldog, Italian Greyhound, Labrador Retriever, Newfoundland, Pomeranian, Poodle, Pug, Rottweiler, Shetland Sheepdog, St. Bernard, Welsh Springer Spaniel, Welsh Terrier

Eye Disorders

Australian Terrier, Basenji, Beagle, Bearded Collie, Bloodhound, Border Collie, Brittany, Chow Chow, Golden Retriever, Great Dane, Labrador Retriever, Miniature Bull Terrier,

Neapolitan Mastiff, Pomeranian, Poodle, Pug, Shih Tzu, Tibetan Terrier, Welsh Terrier, Whippet, Wire Fox Terrier

Heart Problems

Basenji, Basset Hound, Boxer, Brittany, Bull Terrier, Doberman Pinscher, French Bulldog, Golden Retriever, Neapolitan Mastiff, Retriever, Parson Russell Terrier

Hip Dysplasia

Numerous purebreeds, including nearly all large ones, are prone to hip dysplasia, one of the most common canine ailments. Read more about how to get your dog tested or treated for hip dysplasia.


Basset Hound, Beagle, Bearded Collie, Boxer, Bull Terrier, Dachshund, Dalmatian, Doberman Pinscher, English Cocker Spaniel, Great Dane, Irish Wolfhound, Poodle, Rottweiler, Weimaraner

Tips to keep in mind

  • Remember that while breed traits and parental characteristics are good indicators of your dog’s health, appearance and behaviour, there is no guarantee that your dog will have those traits or develop no unpredictable characteristics.
  • Professional breeders and rescue groups sometimes provide certifications to attest that your dog is free of a specific problem such as deafness or dysplasia. It’s a good idea to ask for these tests and find out whether they (breeder or rescue society) will help with surgery or other costs (should they arise) prior to buying.

Even if you have a very clear idea of what you are looking for, other limitations (such as living space, cost, availability or children) usually make compromise necessary. It’s a good idea to list your needs in order of importance, and to have more than one breed that works for you before you visit the breeder or rescue shelter.

Image courtesy of AJU Photography

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