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Finding The Right Dog For You!

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(Excerpted from The Happy Adopted Dog by Tammy Gagne and Wayne Hunthausen, D.V.M.)

Common Breeds and Mixes Found in Shelters

Some breeds are more popular than others. Whenever the demand for a certain breed rises, the number of individuals breeding them also increases. Some of these breeders are responsible, ethical people whose primary goal is producing sound dogs for caring pet owners. Other breeders care very little about what happens to their puppies once they are sold. Many of the latter dogs end up in rescues and animal shelters. Here are just a few of the most common breeds and breed mixes found at animal shelters.

Beagles and Hound Mixes

Purebred Beagles are among the most popular members of the AKC’s hound group— and among the most common dogs surrendered to shelters. Hound mixes, which are also prevalent shelter residents, include dogs with Beagle, Basset Hound, or Dachshund in their bloodlines. These gentle, friendly dogs can make great family pets. Most have short legs and usually don’t require an extreme amount of exercise, although physical activity can help an overweight hound get back into shape. Some hounds bay, or howl, if they hear something that catches their attention, but most make poor watchdogs due to their unsuspecting natures.

Many people think hounds are slow learners, especially when it comes to housetraining. Part of the reason for this may be their strong scenting instincts, which can cause them to revisit the scene of a prior housetraining accident even after an owner has thoroughly cleaned the area. General obedience training for hounds should begin indoors so you can establish some success before moving outside where distractions will be more plentiful.


Boxers are another common breed found in shelters, largely because many owners do not realize what is involved in owning this breed before they buy one. Boxers are medium-sized, well-muscled dogs with extremely high energy levels. They must be taught to walk properly on a leash. If a Boxer isn’t exercised properly, he is especially likely to act out through destructive behavior. Having a strong prey drive, a Boxer may not do well in a home with cats. Once a Boxer bonds with his new family, he can become extremely protective of his loved ones. This makes ongoing training a top priority. Indeed, this is a breed that requires extensive care. Although Boxers have short
coats, many owners are surprised by how much they shed; most have to be brushed thoroughly at least twice a week.

Labrador Retrievers and Retriever Mixes

Possibly the most prevalent purebred dog found in shelters, the Labrador Retriever is one of the most versatile breeds an adoptive owner can choose. Labs are about the same size as a Golden Retriever, only more muscular. Most are great with children, but Labs and Lab mixes can also make great companions for active single people. They are capable and enthusiastic swimmers; some people compare the breed’s tail to a rudder when in the water. Many Labs in shelters are overweight because their original owners did not realize just how much exercise they need. Because they were bred to work with people, these dogs are usually highly responsive to training. Be sure to keep your Lab leashed when outdoors, though, or he may run off to retrieve a bird or other small creature. Even a well-trained dog may succumb to this natural instinct.


Rottweilers are very intelligent dogs, but they need thorough and consistent training. Weighing in at 100 pounds (45 kg) or more, male Rotties in particular can be extremely hard to handle if training isn’t made a top priority. Socialization, too, must be done early and often because the breed has a strong protection instinct. Because this breed bores easily, organized activities like flyball or agility can be practical pastimes for Rottweilers and their owners. This working breed enjoys having something to do and can get into trouble if left alone all day.

A Rottweiler is not a good choice for a first-time pet owner. Ideally, he needs someone who has owned a large breed before and has some experience with obedience training. It is very important that owners establish their household rules from day one with this bright breed, or he will walk (or jump) all over them.

German Shepherds and Shepherd Mixes

German Shepherds are another breed that many people buy impulsively. Once these owners realize that they have bitten off more than they can chew, many of these dogs end up in shelters. Shepherd mixes may include German Shepherd, Collie, or Border Collie in their lineage. Shepherd mixes are usually extremely bright. They are highly trainable but also bore easily, so owners must make training fun.

True to its name, a shepherd will use his natural abilities to herd almost anything—even kids. The dog’s intentions may be good, but small children can be hurt during this constant circling. Some shepherds also may nip at ankles in an effort to get their “flock” to move in the direction they desire. Shepherd dogs can make great family pets, provided that owners train them properly and always supervise interactions involving children.

Terrier Mixes

Terrier mixes can include dogs with Bull Terrier, Schnauzer, Scottish Terrier, and many other breeds in their ancestry. The number of breeds that contribute to terrier mixes can seem endless.Virtually any dog with the word “terrier” in his name may be related to your terrier mix. As a group, terriers make very high-energy pets. Even as they reach adulthood, they still seem to behave as if they were in the teenage years of their lives.

Terriers are bright dogs, but they can be extremely stubborn. When trained early and consistently, they learn quickly. When left untrained, they learn quickly how to train their owners instead. Historically used for hunting small ground animals, most terriers have retained a strong hunting instinct. Pets like guinea pigs and gerbils may be in danger in a home with this breed mix. Many terriers get along well with older children, but even young adolescents must be taught how to properly interact with these dogs in order to live successfully with a terrier or terrier mix.

The Truth About Pit Bulls

In recent years, Pit Bulls have earned a reputation for being unequivocally aggressive and untrainable. Some people even think of these amazing dogs as killing machines. Those who know Pit Bulls best say this stereotype is both inaccurate and unfair. Nevertheless, Pit Bulls are a breed of dog commonly found abandoned to shelters and not often adopted.

According to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), “Thousands of beloved Pit Bulls live peacefully with families across the country. Pit Bull guardians and animal welfare groups say that it is irresponsible owners and poor breeding—not an inherently vicious nature—that are to blame when Pit Bulls exhibit aggressive behavior toward humans.”

Commonly used as therapy dogs, Pit Bulls can make surprisingly good pets. The American Temperament Test Society reports an 83.4 percent pass rate for Pit Bulls.This is higher than the ratings for Australian Shepherds, Beagles, Bulldogs, Collies, Greyhounds, Miniature Poodles, and numerous other breeds.

The HSUS reminds potential adoptive owners, “It’s important to remember that every animal is an individual. It’s not uncommon for people to be initially apprehensive of Pit Bulls they meet. In fact, many potential adopters might overlook the Pit Bulls at their local animal shelter. When you pass by a Pit Bull, you might be passing by the best dog at the shelter.

“If you’re considering adding a new animal to your family, talk to your shelter’s adoption counselors, and do some research on your own. Don’t exclude a breed or type of dog just because of something you heard or read. That little blocky-headed dog with the goofy grin may be just the friend that you’ve been waiting for.”

Excerpted from The Happy Adopted Dog by Tammy Gagne and Wayne Hunthausen, D.V.M., © 2009 T.F.H. Publications Inc. Used by Permission.
Website: http://www.petbookexpress.com

5 Responses to Finding The Right Dog For You!

  1. Stephanie October 14, 2010 @ 5:39 pm

    Excellent article – the authors truly understand the breeds described.

  2. Nat October 14, 2010 @ 6:18 pm

    Thank you so much for including pitbulls, boxer, and rottweilers in this newsletter and for being so fair in your treatment of these breeds. I own a pitbull, a boxer, and a german shepherd mix. By far the pitbull is the least aggressive of the three. I think your were dead on in your description of the “goofy grin”. My pit is a clown through and through. He weighs 74 pounds and sits in my lap every night because I haven’t been able to convince him otherwise that he isn’t a poodle.

  3. Nat October 14, 2010 @ 6:20 pm

    I also have two black and tan coonhounds. They do bay a lot but it’s always a conversation starter and we always get requests whenever we pay a visit to the vet’s office. “Can you make her bay?”

  4. Katherine January 11, 2011 @ 2:32 am

    I have to second the thanks for including pit bulls. I honestly would never own another breed – they are such sweet, goofy, smart dogs. Thanks to increasing positive press, I’m hopeful that this breed will get a second chance as “America’s dog”.

  5. Karen August 20, 2011 @ 2:58 pm

    I was so happy and surprised the article including some information on pit bulls. I have a one year old pitbull(my first pitbull ever) and I’ve had her since she was 8 weeks and she is the sweetest and most affectionate dog I have ever met. She definately makes a great pet and friend!

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