For most folks, the word “hypoallergenic”—which doesn’t mean non-allergenic but merely less allergenic—translates into “as little shedding as possible.” When a dog sheds, he’s not just shedding hair; he’s shedding the dander and saliva that come with it. (Most allergic people are allergic to the saliva or the dander, not to the hair itself.) The more hair that stays on the dog, the less there is to fly around, stick to furniture, and invade your sensitive nasal passages. In general, other factors being equal, your four guidelines when choosing a hypoallergenic breed should be:
If possible, try hanging around with members of breeds you like and see which of them sets you to sneezing. Interestingly, however, a person can be allergic to one dog and not another, even of the same breed. However, the following low-shedding breeds are much less likely to set off allergy symptoms. Always remember that you are selecting a dog based on many factors, so choose wisely!
#1: Poodles, Poodles, and Poodles!
The curly-coated Poodles are tops on the list because they are so versatile. They come in three sizes, several colors, and a multitude of personalities, from serene and regal to sharp and sassy. They are also, without exception, intelligent and loyal. They even smell great, at least compared to most dogs. The large Standard Poodle may be the most hypoallergenic, pound for pound, but the smallest, the tiny Toy Poodle, will obviously produce less dander. The Poodle is definitely for you if you like living with royalty. Professional grooming is a must.
#2: Bichon Frise
The small curly-coated Bichon Frise is a calm lapdog with a lower activity level, which combined with high trainability and a friendly attitude, makes him an ideal pet for many. However, a puppy’s coat quality differs markedly from that of an adult’s, and you may be allergic to only one type. The Bichon’s coat does need frequent brushing, so an allergic person might want to hand off this chore to another family member.
#3: Italian Greyhound
The peaceful, elegant, and long-lived Italian Greyhound requires minimal grooming, which is definitely a benefit. He’s quiet in the house and good with other dogs and cats, but most tend to bond with just one person. They have almost no doggy odor.
#4: Portuguese Water Dog
The water-loving PWD has practically the ideal coat for an allergy sufferer: It is low shedding and single. This is an active, athletic dog who nonetheless is comfortable in an apartment if given sufficient exercise. He may exhibit a definite preference for one family member over another. The breed needs frequent brushing and professional grooming.
The Chihuahua has two things going for him: a single coat and a tiny frame. Intelligent, alert, and long lived, Chihuahuas come in a wild variety of colors, markings, and coat types. They can get plenty of exercise running around your house, and they get along well with other Chihuahuas. But they won’t cozy up to strangers.
Diane Morgan is a pet care expert in Williamsport, Maryland, who has authored numerous books on dog care and nutrition, and has also written many dog breed and horse books.