The Siberian Husky

The Siberian husky has consistently ranked as one of America’s top 20 breeds.  As with other popular dog breeds, this has led to some overbreeding, and therefore—problems in the breed.

The “show quality” husky, which is the breed standard and hopefully, more true to the original character of the breed, is a compact dog with a free spirit and generally good temperament.  They do not make good watch dogs or guard dogs as they often don’t bark very much and are quite accepting of strangers.  Classic huskies are a light-footed and graceful breed.  They almost look too delicate to pull a sled and live outdoors in the snow—but are definitely not too delicate for either activity.  Huskies love to pull—it is their defining characteristic and their crowing glory.

Classic huskies can seem a little aloof due to their independent streak and slightly “wild spirit”. Most huskies, even the best trained, do not do well off-leash.  They tend to run—far and wide and come back only when they are good and ready.  They love to explore, especially in the woods or other natural areas.  This is not to say that huskies do not love their owners, they are just slightly different than a typical dog.   And, the usual disclaimer goes “all dogs are individuals and there are exceptions to every rule”.

Problems with overbreeding huskies include poor temperaments-especially in males, various health problems and a weakened character.  By this I mean, huskies (in general) are sissy’s when it comes to pain.  They will whine, scream and howl when pricked with a needle that most dogs will barely notice.    But I believe the low pain threshold may also be due to their “closer to the wild” nature.  Wild animals react much more strongly to minor stimuli than domestic animals and this could be a good survival tactic in the wild.

So, if you think you want a husky, consider the following issues for owning one.  A husky LOVES to pull and they do not leash train/heel easily.  They need tons of exercise to curb their boundless energy and strength and they do best when given plenty of exercise in natural areas where they can safely explore attacked to a long leash, in order to satisfy their burning curiosity and need to roam.  Huskies do not do well in high heat so in the summer, you will need to provide a cool place for your dog—air conditioning is a must.  If you live in a climate that is warm all the time, a husky may not be for you—if you want a truly happy dog.  Finally, in order for a husky to be a good pet and companion, they require some level of training and discipline. The thing I recommend for most husky owners is sled dog training or some sort of pulling class—wagons or whatever—and once they are trained—working them daily which will burn off their restless energy of the body and mind and allow them to focus more on their owners wishes.

If you can meet all the criteria and have a strong desire for this beautiful, ancient breed, then a husky could be for you!


The Beagle

I think of the Beagle as the quintessential dog.  They  carry all the traits dogs are best known for, including: super sense of smell, hunting ability, lots of barking, super friendliness and loyalty to their owners.  This is about as doggy a dog breed as you will ever see!

Beagles have a sweet, loving nature, but also boundless energy and curiosity.  They make great family pets for families with all ages of children.  Due to their compact size, beagles are relatively safe around even the youngest children and infants.  I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a beagle with a less than friendly temperament. This is one breed whose personality has not suffered from consistent high popularity and over-breeding.

The main drawback to a beagle is their barking, howling and braying.  Most dogs and breeds can be trained not to bark much, but not a beagle.  This is a hound dog and barking is a bred in trait and leftover from their fox hunting days a couple centuries ago.  Historians speculate that beagle type dogs—and the ancestors of the modern beagle, were used for hunting as far back as the Roman Empire.  That’s a LONG history of barking.  Don’t expect to train this out of your beagle.  This is one of those breed traits you have to understand and be willing to accept when you get a beagle.  Some individuals will bark less than others and some may be partially trainable to stop the barking, but just don’t expect it.

Due to their incredible sense of smell, even for a dog, and their undiscerning palate, beagles are the breed most often used to test dog food.  Yes, big dog food companies realized a beagle will eat almost anything and that they could use that trait to claim how popular their food was with dogs.   Also, and unfortunately, beagles are often used in research labs to test drugs, chemicals, make up, and anything else you can think of.

The beagle is a happy little dog, with few breed specific health problems.  They adore their owners and their willing nature and love of treats makes them easy to train not only for obedience, but also trick training.  They do have a stubborn streak though, and require consistent rules and training.  The good news is, the beagle is a not a breed prone to “taking over the house” if the owner doesn’t offer enough leadership or strong personality—the beagle tends to be a natural follower.  Of course, the disclaimer is, all dogs are individuals and there are exceptions to every rule.

The beagle is also a very social creature and they need lots of interaction and time with their people.  A truly happy beagle lives in the house, but goes on long walks, chases a ball, and enjoys a lot of outdoor playtime with their family.

So, if you want a close companion who can watch tv with you, and then go hiking with you, a beagle could be for you!


The Boxer

The Boxer is ranked #7 in popularity in America right now.  These are simply great dogs.  I have never seen (and you probably won’t either) a boxer with a bad temperament.  By this I mean they are happy and friendly and will probably never bite anyone (but there’s an exception to every rule).

Actually, the only negative about Boxers is their  “aggressive friendliness”.  These are powerfully built dogs and they are not shy—they will run right up to anyone and knock them over in their exuberance!  For this reason, Boxers and small children should always be supervised (as is the case with most dogs), because the kids might get “licked to death” at best, and at worst, get knocked down and hurt themselves.  Because of their powerful build and outgoing nature, Boxers should always have some basic obedience and discipline in their lives.  They will rely on you to calm them down; they probably won’t be able to do it themselves.

Of course, since the Boxer is a purebred, there are also more possible medical problems and the big one for Boxers is cancer.  If you have a “pet” boxer (not a show dog) it is very important to spay and neuter them because the reproductive organs are often the first to get cancer.  The other common health problems with boxers include their eyes and throat and jaws—due to their facial conformation.  America has a love affair with this type of canine face structure ie/bulldogs, pugs, shihtzu, etc., but with this “cute ugliness” comes breathing problems due to a shortened soft pallet, eye problems due to bulging eyes and sometimes eating and chewing problems due to misaligned jaws.  Some boxers also slobber a lot, although this is more of an aesthetic problem than a medical one.

I would say boxers are of average intelligence among dogs, although their bouncy nature may make them seem less smart sometimes.  A boxer, while super friendly and good natured, often has a more dominant personality and “in your face” attitude.  They require firm handling and someone who is not afraid to say “no” and to be loud enough and strong enough to overcome the dog’s strong personality.  If you tend to be a quiet, demure person, a boxer is probably not for you.

But, if you have an outgoing personality and want a great family dog, the boxer could be a great choice!


The Vizsla

With this breed description, I’m taking a departure from popular dog breeds and I’m going to write about a breed close to my heart—the Vizsla.   Many people have never heard of this somewhat uncommon breed of dog, probably best known in the US for their skills as a hunting dog.  But unlike most other hunting type dogs, the Vizsla is not big and burly, or outgoing and boisterous.

The Vizsla is a shy, quiet creature who tends to be timid of unfamiliar sounds and situations and their delicate, graceful bodies have a low tolerance for cold.  They hail from Hungary where they were developed for bird hunting (flushing the birds).  So, what makes this timid, delicate looking creature a good bird dog?  They have great senses, are extremely alert, energetic and athletic, they move fast, jump and leap like deer (Vizsla’s bounce!) and they are amazingly loyal and emotionally sensitive to their owner’s wishes.  All of this makes them excellent for working in the field and very easy to train.

This is a dog you won’t have to walk with a prong collar, or even a choke chain (of course there are always exceptions).  Their body is as sensitive as their emotions, so they need a very light, gentle hand in training.  Some of them will cower and “cry” if you even yell at them too harshly.  I’ve never seen a more expressive face on any dog—you can read what they are thinking, and they can make you feel VERY guilty.  And their expressiveness extends to their ability to show love as well. You will rarely find a sweeter, more loving and devoted dog.

Because of their shy nature, I wouldn’t recommend Vizsla’s to a family with young children.   Older children could do well with a Vizsla because  the dogs LOVE to run and mine loves being chased.  As long as your children understand and respect your Vizsla, everything will probably be fine.   These dogs display amazing gentleness and physical grace, very much in control of their body at all times—in stark contrast to something like a Boxer or Lab who may get so exuberant they start throwing their weight around and knocking people and objects over.

To have a truly happy Vizsla, they really should have some training—at least basic obedience and some rules and structure.  These dogs are truly followers and submissive and they need the owner to be the leader.  They will not necessarily take over your house, like other breeds might if not trained, but they will be nervous and more timid if they don’t get proper leadership rules to follow.

The other thing a Vizsla needs to be truly happy is the chance to run fairly regularly.   Optimally they would be trained off leash so you can take them anywhere to run—football fields are great for this, or State parks—any large open space—or a very large yard or property that is fenced in, if you don’t feel comfortable going off leash.  But the Vizsla needs to run and watching their pure joy in the exercise will always bring a smile to your face!

If you want a loyal, quiet, controlled, energetic dog with affection to spare, then a Vizsla might be for you!


Golden Retriever

Golden’s are consistently one of the most popular dogs in America.  Unfortunately, when breeds become really popular, overbreeding occurs and this has happened with the Golden Retriever.  What does this mean?  It means that Goldens come in all shapes and sizes and run the gamut of personality types.

Every dog IS an individual, but there are breed specific personality traits.  A typical “show” type Golden, or classic Golden will be energetic, fun-loving and super friendly.  They are extremely loyal and gentle with children.

The farther you get from the breed “standard” the more differences you have in the Golden temperament.   This is one of those cases where appearance MAY indicate a personality problem.  But again, dogs are individuals, so an unclassis looking Golden could be perfectly well…perfect!  You just have to evaluate more closely when the dogs are not “classic” style.

Another issue that comes along with overbreeding is health issues. Most people already realize that purebred dogs tend to have more health problems than mixed breeds.  This is the reason for the recent surge in purposely breeding mixed breeds for sale.  Well, Goldens are one of those breeds that tend to have more health problems.  They have skin and ear issues and are prone to cancer.  This is not to say EVERY Golden will have a health problem.

There are always preventative measures you can take to short circuit possible health risks.  Excellent nutrition will help with the cancer issues and possibly the skin issues as well.  Checking and cleaning ears regularly is almost important for a breed with these problems.

Some Goldens, the ones with thicker/longer coats, require regular grooming.  This does not have to be done professionally, as long as you are committed to keeping up with it yourself.  Brushing with a slicker brush and regular bathing (every couple of months) are usually all this is needed.

Golden’s take very well to training and have keen intelligence.  Many of them will pick up subtle cues, even if you do not do any formal training.  They are very good for people who may not have the time or inclination to go through lots of obedience training.

So, Golden’s are great pets and loyal companions.  If you are willing to put in a little effort on the medical and hygienic side of things,  then a Golden could be the right pet for you.


German Shepherd

I have mixed feelings about German Shepherds.  I grew up with one that acted almost like a “nanny” dog.  He was huge, mellow, gentle and protective. This is the way a German Shepherd SHOULD be. Unfortunately, since they have been one of the most popular breeds for many years in America, just like with Goldens, there has been overbreeding.

What has happened is there are many lines of German Shepherds that are fine-boned and smaller and they have timid personalities and they are the some of the worst fear-biters in the dog world today.

Like I said with Goldens, you CAN judge a dog by it’s looks—to some extent.  The more classic, old-fashioned looking German Shepherds tend to be the ones with the great personalities and all the wonderful characteristics of the breed.  This isn’t 100% true, so please get to know the dog (or it’s parents) you want to bring home as an individual.

The classic German Shepherd makes a wonderful companion, especially for single adults.  They bond strongly with their owners.  GSD’s do have a strong protective instinct though, and they are a physically powerful breed, so socializing and training is essential for this breed, in order to keep guests to your home or people on the street safe.   The GSD is not an overtly aggressive breed, but they WILL attack  if they think someone in their pack is being threatened.  And what might seem threatening to a dog, might not actually BE a threat in the human world.  You need to have a good working relationship with your GSD, so you can guide him and tell him when to back off.

Some GSD’s would be wonderful with children, but some would not be.  This is an individual trait you would have to determine in the GSD you bring home. I cannot say that they unilaterally make great family pets.   When you do find that perfect GSD, you have found gold though—they are everything that a dog should be—loyal, strong, gentle, willing, intelligent and beautiful.  There are many excellent GSD breeders in the US, just do a little homework before you pick your dog.

The biggest medical problem with GSD’s is hip dysplasia.   All reputable breeders have their dogs x-rayed and OFA certified. OFA certification means that the dog’s hips have been x-rayed and examined by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals as an animal that is not likely to develop hip dysplasia.  If you adopt a GSD from a shelter or rescue, they may have information about the dog’s hips, and if not, you take your chances.  Hip dysplasia can be surgically corrected but it’s an extremely costly surgery and painful recovery for your dog.

Besides all of the above, a GSD is a large, intelligent breed and they should have plenty of interaction, exercise and mental stimulation on a daily basis.  These dogs love to have a “job” and they absorb training like a sponge.  So, if you have the ability to exercise your dog daily and spend lots of quality time with him/her, a GSD could be for you!


Yorkshire Terrier

The Yorkie also consistently ranks high as one of American’s favorite dog breeds.  And, like other breeds that are popular and stay that way for many years, the Yorkie breed has definitely been divided into “classic/show type” Yorkies and “pet” Yorkie’s.

But, with the Yorkie, there really isn’t any difference in temperament between the classic looking and the “not-so-classic” looking, as there is in other breeds.   So, the classic or show type yorkie is the breed standard and what the dog “should” look like.  These Yorkie’s are tiny, with very long, silky hair and the hair grows constantly like human hair— unlike most other dog breeds who have a certain coat length.  This means the Yorkie needs to have regular haircuts or it will become almost non-functional as the hair covers its eyes, feet, rectum, etc.

Now, the “non-classic” Yorkie may or may not have hair that keeps growing and the coat can be radically different from it’s show brethren.  These “pet” Yorkie’s also dwarf their cousins in the show ring.  The average “classic” Yorkie will not weigh over 10lbs and will often not get over 7 or 8 lbs.  I have seen the “pet” Yorkie’s weigh anything from 10lbs – 30lbs—without really being overweight.

So, as I said in the beginning, this difference in size and looks does not indicate much of a difference in personality.  Yorkie’s are above all else—terriers! They have a bold personality, tons of energy and enthusiasm and they will stand up to any foe—regardless of the foe’s size.  Because the Yorkie refuses to believe its own size and instead, thinks it is the size of a Great Dane, they must be protected from themselves.  They will challenge bigger dogs who might not find it merely amusing or annoying.  Also, Yorkie’s will go up against bicycles, cars, motorcycles, wild animals (like raccoons) or even people they see as a threat.  As you can imagine, with the motorized vehicles, they will almost always lose the “battle”, with tragic consequences.  And even people who don’t like dogs could hurt this very delicate little creature if they feel threatened.  (Yes, sometimes people act like dogs!)

But except for these “foibles” on the part of Yorkies, they are happy little dogs and very sweet once they’ve gotten done challenging strangers.  They have fierce loyalty to their owners and I believe, if they were allowed to—they would give their life just to please their owners.  Care must be taken over this issue too, as a Yorkie may not always show overt symptoms of illness or pain.

One of the biggest health risks to a Yorkie is tooth decay.  The toy breeds and especially Yorkies have terrible teeth and if not cared for properly they could lose most of their teeth by the time they are 10 or so.  Brushing their teeth several times per week and giving them only dry food to eat will greatly help keep their teeth in good condition and save you money on dental work.

The last thing I’ll say about Yorkie’s is that they DO make good family pets in most cases.  But, all toy dogs can fall prey to  “little dog syndrome”.    Please see my note on “Little Dog Syndrome” for firther details.   Another  potential problem owners should be aware of with the Yorkie is potty training issues.  Yorkies are notorious for being difficult to potty train.  A lot of  this has to do with “little-dog-syndrome” and owners just simply not insisting on proper behavior.  The Yorkie is extremely intelligent and will keep you on your toes!  If you have the patience and desire to raise a well-behaved Yorkie, then this breed could be for you!


Labrador Retriever

Labrador Retrievers are America’s favorite dog right now. Did you know there are two types–English and American? The English are shorter, stockier and calmer. The American are tall, leggy, big boned and more hyper. Some might say the English type are more intelligent, and this may seem to be the case, but it’s more likely that the American type just have a lot of energy and it’s harder to get them “corralled” and get their attention for training time. Labs need lots of exercise and a good amount of structure in order to make them good family pets. Labs have very few problems with aggression and are some of the happiest dogs you will meet. But they can become naughty (like most dogs), if they are not given adequate exercise time and training time. They like to have a “job” and be engaged in activities which is one reason they work so well as guide dogs for the blind.

Labs are excellent dogs for families with children, but probably older children, as labs are bigger dogs and until they are mature, they might not know how to control their own size and strength and in their enthusiasm and friendliness, they could knock down small children.

Labs also make excellent hunting dogs, especially for the hunter who wants a best friend, as well as a working dog. Labs are excellent swimmers so if you have a pool, or live near water, be prepared to have a wet dog–often. If you don’t live near water, your lab will truly enjoy trips to lakes and rivers!

If you like the outdoors, have time and energy to spend with your dog and need a good family friendly pet, a lab could be for you.


The (Canine) Napoleon Syndrome

This is really an adjunct to “Little Dog Syndrome”,  but it is different enough that I decided to make it a separate entry.

I don’t know if other animal professionals call it this, or if it’s just my own way to describe the boldness of some little dogs, but I do call it the Napoleon Syndrome (NS).

I think we all know what the Napoleon Syndrome is in people—but just in case, I’ll explain briefly.  In today’s society, short men who display a rather fierce, aggressive attitude are considered to have “The Napoleon Syndrome”.  In other words, common belief (whether right or wrong) holds that some (short) men are trying to overcompensate for their physical size.

Well, the same thing happens in the dog world.  Some small and toy dog breeds are “too big for their britches”! We’ve all seen the Yorkie or Pomeranian playing with or sometimes attacking a much bigger dog.  These dogs don’t know how small they are and don’t realize they look a little ridiculous—imagine a Chihuahua chasing a Rottweiler away!  The thing is, sometimes big dogs are so surprised by these little guys bravado, that they DO run away!

The danger here, of course, is your little one taking on the wrong big dog and getting injured or killed in the process.  These little guys can also be the “ankle-biters”—absolutely no fear of anything and they believe they are guard dogs.  I sometimes affectionately call these dogs “chicken hawks” after the little guy in the Foghorn Leghorn cartoons—the tiny little “hawk” insists he is going to kill and eat Foghorn Leghorn—with very comic results.

So, if you have a dog with “Little Dog Syndrome” or the “Napoleon Syndrome”, the important thing is to socialize them with other dogs and with people, and to give them some training and rules/boundaries, in order to protect them from themselves.


Little Dog Syndrome

No, this is not a canine medical condition—but it could cause some human medical problems!  A dog with little-dog-syndrome (hereafter called LDS) may seriously bite and injure humans.  I should also note, that this “syndrome” can occur in any size or breed of dog, but it most often occurs in toy breeds. 

So, what is it? Well, some of you may have seen a tiny, cute dog, like a Yorkie, or Chihuahua that would bite everyone who came too close, especially if the owner was around.  You couldn’t pet the dog while it was being held by its owner, or laying on their lap.  And the owner, whenever the dog snapped at someone, would say to the dog—in a baby voice “oh, my little baby” and proceed to cuddle and coo to the dog.  This is little-dog-syndrome”.  This is a dog who has never been told “no”.

LDS happens when a dog is so cute and so tiny that the owners carry it everywhere and treat it like a human baby—not even a child, but an infant.  The dog can do wrong, gets no discipline and in the dog’s mind—THEY are the owners and the person does what the dog tells them to.  Unfortunately, this is often the exact case.  It can even get so bad that no one can go near the person if the dog is around (and they always are). The dog tells everyone who will listen to its’ growls and snapping teeth that no one is to touch their person.  This can be a big problem when there are multiple family members in the house, especially any children.  These little dogs are not big enough to do major damage, but they can cause serious bites to the hands, legs and even face. 

Another aspect of LDS is potty training and eating.  When a dog is allowed to “run the house” and boss people around, it will.  In the dog’s mind, there has to be a “pack leader”, that’s the only dynamic they understand.  So, if a person doesn’t become pack leader, the dog will.  And unfortunately, these little dogs turn into tyrants when they get that kind of power.  They will pee and poop wherever they want—who wants to go outside when it’s cold or snowy if they don’t have to?  They will not let anyone near them while they are eating or chewing on toys or bones—and their fierce little shows of aggression often convince the owner to back off. 

Now, you may be reading this and thinking—so what?  If you live alone, or have no children for the dog to bite, why not indulge your little prince or princess and let  them act like royalty?  Unfortunately, this syndrome can actually cause medical problems for the dog.  If you have a dog who won’t let his nails be cut, or let himself be groomed, or let a vet or even you look at his teeth or touch his belly, how can you protect your royal buddy from harm.  If your dog picks up something dangerous in his mouth, how will you get it away from him?  If his toenails grow so long that he can’t walk—you will have to take him to a vet for possible anesthesia in order to cut them.  He may have to have tranquilizers in order to be groomed or to have a proper exam or any kind of medical treatment.  It is VERY important for owners to be able to control their dog and touch them anywhere and for the dog to be properly socialized to all kinds of people and situations. 

When little dogs(or any dogs) “rule the house”, they are often in a constant state of anxiety.  Imagine if you had a child and you felt like you had to keep EVERYONE away from that child at all times—no one else could hug them, play with them, feed them, etc. It would be exhausting.  Imagine you ALWAYS had to be on alert, paranoid, fearful and angry all the time.  Would you really want to impost this unhappy state on your beloved pooch? But this is how dogs with LDS live every day.  This constant state of anxiety makes them unhappy and the stress can cause numerous illnesses including cancer and heart problems.   The dog who knows its’ boundaries, gets gentle but firm discipline and gets to be a follower instead of a leader—is a happy-go-lucky dog who takes plenty of naps and has no worries!  THAT’S the life!  They trust their owners to take care of problems so they don’t have to. 

So, if you have a little dog or want to get one—please consider the dog’s health and well-being when you begin your relationship.  If you adopt a dog who already has LDS, there are ways to turn this dog around, and it doesn’t even take that long.  Or, if you currently own a dog that has LDS, YOU can turn it around—although I will admit, it often takes longer for the dogs to take their previously “lower in the pack” owner seriously.  You need to be that much more determined to have a healthy relationship with your dog in order to make it work.