People often ask, “What breed of dog would be perfect for me?” Considering that dogs are supposedly man’s best friend, and the fact that there are millions of dogs in our country, mostly kept as pets, it will surprise most people to hear me classifying them as “easy,” “low maintenance,” and “care-free” pets.

This is not to say that dog keeping is necessarily as difficult as raising a child. Puppyhood is much shorter than childhood, and you don’t need to nurture a dog to grow up and become successful enough to support itself. But it is important to note that keeping a dog is not something to be taken lightly, and it cannot be done in many households. People become distressed once they find out that dogs need to be walked daily, rain or shine; that they need to be trained and registered, as well as licensed; that they need regular grooming and preventive medical care; and that cannot be left alone for long periods of time, regardless of breed.

Pet keepers sometimes have the mistaken notion that dogs require minimum care and can be kept in almost any home. Certain dog breeds are not as adaptable to average households, or they will have certain requirements that are not easily met or fulfilled. Problems can arise because of size, temperament difficulty, and cost of maintenance, special habits, limited availability, and the need for local regulatory permits.

Dogs play an important role in human society, and not just because of the multiple kinds of services they are tasked to perform. The primary objective of both man and dog in a relationship has always been for companionship and working together. Dogs may be submissive to their masters, just as they would be to the dominant alpha male of their packs.

HOW DOGS WORKED WITH US IN THE PAST

But since human and dog are able to give so much as well as take from one another, their relationship has been successful over so many centuries. Bull mastiffs and Shar Peis are the Emperor’s dogs in China—and their sole responsibility is keeping commoners at a distance from their deity! Akitas likewise served the same purpose for the Emperor of Japan, while the Jindo of Korea serve their masters the way they would serve the King of the Joseon Dynasty.

Most experts now believe that the different types or breeds of dogs evolved from different species of wolves native to North America, Asia, and Europe. Thus, the different sizes, colors, and temperaments. This is not necessarily due to selective breeding but more so through natural selection and evolution. This led to man’s ability to produce different breeds for different purposes: hunting, animal herding, sled pulling, protection, and more, with most dogs bred to be servants and companions.

The Labradors served as retrievers for hunters, as did beagles and bloodhounds. Huskies and Malamutes, on the other hand, were sturdy pullers of sleds with heavy loads, and were not really intended for racing the way they are known for today.

Whether dogs have benefited from their loyalty to humans is a separate question. Although we have more than a million dogs scattered all over the Philippines, less than ten percent are registered with the Philippine Canine Club and have licenses with local government units. Overpopulation and unwarranted, irresponsible dog ownership grows from people wanting to make money from incessant dog breeding. There’s also the fact that our society came from years of consumption of dog meat, which was regulated and discouraged only during the last ten years.

Today’s technology and swift transmission of information has been a boon in exposing irresponsible pet keeping and animal abuse—something not even known some thirty years back.

KNOW YOUR BEST FRIEND

A lot of people select certain breeds of dogs without knowing enough about them and thus end up with unsuitable pets. This is why a lot of people end up with pets who have temperaments that are incompatible with theirs, while others end up overwhelmed by the amount of care and attention they need to (but cannot) supply to their dogs. Many such owners fail to train their dogs properly, and so they not only end up with unwanted or uncontrollable pets, but also in the worst cases, there are accidents in which their dogs cause harm to other pets or even humans as well.

Breeds such as Rottweilers, Tibetan Mastiffs, and the Protection-lined Belgian Mallinois are examples of breeds that require their owners have an indepth knowledge of them. I have personally seen friends who cannot even open their dog’s cages just to feed them. But even for seemingly harmless poodles, Labradors, and German Shepherds, once they are maltreated by owners who beat and torture them into submission, it is common to expect accidents. These dogs end up as “fear biters”! Meaning to say, they bite in order to defend themselves from perceived dangers.

Pedigrees and dog registrations, while providing background and lineage information, provide little comfort for those who don’t see the parents of their puppies. This is especially true for store-bought puppies. Unless you know the owner of the pet shop you buy from, who will tell you the complete provenance of their dogs for sale?

It is not surprising that a number of purebred dogs, including a lot of pet shop stocks, are often produced by puppy mills. Even sellers online, like those in OLX, are below standard because breeders breed by the hundred with profit and financial objectives in mind instead of the quality of the puppies and the welfare of would-be owners. Skin diseases, hip dysplasia, overshot teeth, and fierce temperaments are just some of the negative traits these dogs carry because of incessant and irresponsible breeding. Buyers beware! You get what you pay for, and chances are, cheap pets come with hidden baggage.

There are a lot of things to consider when you are about to buy a dog. Lifespan, for example, varies from breed to breed, and yet, as a general rule, the larger the breed, the shorter the life. Size, shedding, amount of space required, congenital defects such as skin problems, and temperament are the most important factors in choosing a pet.

A question most pet owners ask is its usefulness as a guard dog. Dobermans, Rottweilers, and German Shepherds are great for their intelligence and protective instinct. Many of these dogs make fine family dogs; however, not in all instances do they come as a complete package. Terriers and miniature poodles, Pomeranians, and Japanese spitzes are equally effective as guard dogs, but this is more for their alertness and high pitched barks. There are exceptions, though; for example, there are Golden Retrievers that are good hunting companion dogs and wonderful with children, but they are failures as guard dogs as they welcome both friend and foe alike.

There will be dogs that are perfect for apartment living such as Chihuahuas, Yorkies and Shih Tzus, and there are dogs that exude happiness even when confined in a small suburban backyard, such as Corgis and Dachshunds. Lastly there will be the types who will be miserable without a yard and the opportunity for extensive daily exercise, such as the Huskies, Malamutes, and Beagles.

Some dogs are more tolerant of children and a lot of family activities. Some are skittish of cats and other domestic animals around the house. Remember, dogs came from the wolf family and are predatory, while babies, rabbits, and small animals look like their prey in the wild. The key is proper introduction and socialization.

Most dogs are easy to train if you have the time, even if it’s just fifteen minutes a day for your pet dog. Obviously, as ours is a tropical country, long haired dogs are harder to groom, while short haired ones thrive well in our climate for so long as they have not inherited skin diseases. But you should not be surprised when you see a lot of people choose a dog because its fashionable or unusual. This usually ends up in an unwanted union between man and dog. Expectations always have to be tempered by research, and this is especially important today, when everything is available with a click or the scrolling of a finger on the internet. Be patient and look up the breed standards and traits of the breeds you think you may want to bring home.

German Shepherds, collies, poodles, and Cocker Spaniels are the most sought after breeds in the US and Europe. In tropical countries, it is Labradors, Dobermans, Beagles, and short-haired terriers—all of which carry good reputations as friendly, intelligent animals that are good with children— which are popular.

CHOOSING A PUPPY

After you’ve done your research and come to a conclusion as to which breed you want, you have to be selective in choosing the breeder where the puppy will come from, as well as the particular puppy you choose to bring home. Avoid choosing the littlest runt and the most sedate one. Instead, go for the biggest and most outgoing one since you want to end up with the healthiest and most psychologically sound companion and an intelligent dog, at the very least.

Practically speaking, the most important factor is the ultimate size of your pet. Beauty is in the mind of the beholder, and even the ugliest mutt can become lovable and the most attractive pet to the right person. Level your expectations but align your wants with the general standards of each breed.

The care and feeding of dogs varies from size to size as well as different breeds, and will be finally determined by the dog’s age and condition. Once an owner, your presence and attention will always be required.

Books as well as the internet will advise you on handling and training, and ultimately, on the dog’s psychology. As information on dog breeds is widely available information today, they is much more required reading than ever.

To summarize, if you are single and love the blessed singleness of life, you may want a breed that has high energy levels, like Chihuahuas and Beagles for small dogs, while shepherds and Labradors for large breeds are best suited for you. If you dare to go further and have more time and energy, the Cocker Spaniels as well as the Siberian Huskies can occupy as much of your available time as possible.

On the other hand, aging seniors who don’t have the luxury of maids and boys to help them care for their dogs will surely appreciate sedate dog breeds such as the Pekinese and Golden Retrievers, which are best suited for your relaxed lifestyle.

Remember that age matters for you; therefore, puppies of either breed, between six months to two years old, will be quite a handful. So it would be best settling for dogs three years and older from these sedate companion breeds.

Now you are all set for your best friend!

This story appeared in Animal Scene’s August 2017 issue.