A Dog in a Manger

Deciding on the type of dog to bring into your life is as important as deciding to bring a dog into your life

Column by Alice Clark RVN

It’s getting colder. That means I’m unlikely to spend my days with heatstroke cases, picking maggots out of wounds and saying “yes sir, that is in fact a nipple, not a blood sucking parasite that you’ve been trying to pluck off your dog for half an hour….”

Whilst I enjoy winter, it’s safe to say that Etty (the Boston terrier) does not. Her face acts as a very reliable temperature gauge – white when she’s too cold and pink when she gets too warm. Despite her hating the cold, she also despises wearing any sort of canine clothing. It’s the lesser of two evils. Either look like an idiot or freeze to death.

Flo (the Wirehaired Vizsla) on the other hand, is somewhat impartial to the cold. She will happily hunt and flush wildlife in all weathers. Her beard also acts as an extremely effective sponge. You can guarantee that whatever she sticks her face in will end up on your clothes/hands/face/furniture in a matter of seconds. Not an issue if she’s had a drink from her clean water bowl, huge issue when she has just stuck her face into a steaming heap of pig faeces.

Each of these qualities could be classed as breed characteristics, which are defining physical and behavioural attributes relating to a particular breed or even a group of breeds. With December fast approaching, I’m sure there will be hundreds of Christmas lists with ‘PUPPY’, written right at the top. There will be even more people wondering if a dog for Christmas is a good idea and if they decide it is, then what kind of dog?

For years, charities and professionals have campaigned against puppies being bought as Christmas presents. More recently, the focus has been on educating people in how to choose the right dog for them and where to find a potential new family member.

There are currently 215 different dog breeds recognised by the Kennel Club and hundreds of other breeds around the world that are not Kennel Club recognised.

Therefore an important starting point is to recognise what qualities you are most looking for in a canine companion. The more closely you can match your lifestyle with the chosen breed characteristics, the happier everyone will be. All breeds have been bred and developed with a particular purpose or job in mind. Dog breeds recognised by the Kennel Club are divided into seven groups:

  • Gundog group – Hunting dogs used to help hunt, point and/or retrieve game (usually birds). Including the old favourites, Labradors and Spaniels and the rarer Hungarian Wirehaired Vizsla (spongey bearded Flo).
  • Hound group – The first hunting dogs, helping to track and locate prey. They can be further divided into Sighthounds (including Whippets and Greyhounds) and Scenthounds (including Beagles and Bloodhounds).
  • Pastoral group – Herding dogs used to work sheep, cattle and other animals. This group includes German Shepherds and Border Collies.
  • Terrier group – Bred to be brave and hardy to hunt vermin both above and below ground. Ranging from the popular Staffordshire Bull Terrier to the Jack Russell Terrier.
  • Toy group – A collection of small breeds, bred as companion and lap dogs. Including the Chihuahua and increasingly popular Pug.
  • Working group – Larger breeds bred as guard, search and rescue dogs and dogs used for pulling weight, including Mastiffs and the Siberian Husky.
  • Utility group – A collection of ‘misfits’, who don’t really fit anywhere else. This group includes the Dalmations, Poodles and Boston Terriers (thermometer nosed Etty). 

Looking at the group a breed fits into can give you a general idea of the traits you can expect. Try to meet as many dogs as possible and spend time with them and their owners to understand the breed. Most owners are very honest when it comes to discussing the less appealing characteristics of their dog.

As well as breed characteristics, you must also consider the huge array of health problems which affect varying breeds. When looking to buy a pedigree puppy from a breeder, familiarise yourself with the health tests recommended for the breed and ensure these tests have been carried out on the puppy’s parents. Some health tests need to be repeated annually, so ask the breeder if you can see the parents’ certificates to make sure the tests are up to date.

To add to the confusion, “designer” crossbreeds are becoming increasingly popular. Health tests should still be carried out, as crossbreeds are prone to any of the health problems their purebred relatives may suffer from. Beware of the designer price tags, which often come hand in hand with these dogs, as they are particularly tempting for people who are only breeding dogs for profit. Try to avoid looking at pet selling websites, as this is the platform most puppy farmers advertise with. Instead, use the Kennel Club website or word of mouth recommendations to find responsible breeders.

Breeders who genuinely care about their dogs will have as many, if not more, questions to ask than you. This ensures that one of their puppies will fit well into your family and lifestyle. Spend time getting to know their older dogs, as this is likely what one of their puppies will grow in to. The puppies should be well socialised and brought up within the family home. Look at their coats to ensure they are shiny and clear of dandruff, their eyes must be bright and they should be plump, without being potbellied (which could indicate a worm burden).

Make sure the breeder has or is planning to have the puppies to be checked by a vet before they leave their home. Also, as of April 2016, it is against the law for a puppy to be sold without having been microchipped and registered to the breeder, unless a vet has issued a certificate stating there is a reason why the puppy cannot be microchipped.

As we all know, there are also thousands of dogs and cats in rescue centres and foster homes across the country. Most rescues have stringent adoption rules and protocols to ensure the match they make for a dog lasts his or her lifetime. There are also breed specific rescues, so if you know you don’t want a puppy, you may find an adult dog that fits into your family. Most importantly, if the match doesn’t work out for whatever reason, at any point, the rescue can almost always take the dog back.

Unfortunately the trade in puppy farm puppies is escalating, especially with people buying via pet selling websites. Most often, these puppies are imported from Europe, have had limited human contact, are much too young to have been separated from their mother and will not have had any kind of health test or preventative health care such as vaccinations and worming.

Puppies bought from these sources often become ill within a few weeks, or develop behavioural problems further down the line – inevitably causing heartbreak to the families that have already grown attached to them.

Ultimately, take the time to discuss your options with loved ones. Buying or adopting a new pet is a huge commitment and you must be prepared to continue dedicating time, love and money in order to keep them happy and healthy. If you are considering an animal as a surprise gift for someone else, think about whether they are really prepared to take an animal on with no prior notice and if they are in place to provide a pet with everything it needs for between 10 to 17 years.

Christmas can be a particular busy time with people coming and going, upheaval of normal routines, lots of hazards and cold weather (consider toilet training in all weathers). Bringing a new animal into a household can be stressful for all involved. So, think carefully, do you homework and the wait for the right one. riddle_stop 2

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