Here at Glencadia, thousands of individual dogs have been in and out of here, spending a few days or weeks, or returning many times over many years. So, I have known thousands of dogs in some sense, either well, pretty well, or very well.
Here are a couple of things I think I learned about getting a new dog that might or might not help you pick your next dog. Here I am assuming a household pet who doesn’t have a specific job. If you want a dog to take on some guard duties, hunting, pest control, or a bit or herding, then the discussion would be quite different.
There are many issues to consider. Which breed? Adopt from the shelter? How old? Gender? Size? Go through some kind of rescue group? Purchase from which breeder? How to pick a puppy? Hypoallergenic fur?
Now that I think about all the issues, I’m not sure I can contribute much to the discussion on many of them… However, given my line of work of late, I think I have something to say on this topic: getting a mutt versus purebred dog.
For people who love a particular breed, the idea that all breeds in this discussion would be grouped into one category and all mutts into another might be surprising. Some people love one breed and that’s their breed. They don’t even see their breed as a type of breed but a separate category. Next, some breeds are really the recent combination of two purebred lines, like a Labradoodle. Thus, the “purebred” side is no monolith.
The mutt side is pretty diverse too. There is a big difference between a “full-on” mutt – for me, meaning several generations with no human interference in the breeding process – and a sort of “one-off” mutt – when humans either intentionally or almost intentionally let dogs, including one near purebred, breed.
For this “full-on” versus “one-off” distinction, think of the difference between a street dog found somewhere literally living on the street and a scenario where the neighbor’s lab impregnated the other neighbor’s cattle dog or something, where you might know the individual parents. And then, with purebred, there is a difference between a dog with a long pedigree and a dog who seems to be, say, an Australian shepherd- sure she looks like one- but has no papers.
In short, there is no clear line between mutt and breed. And there are differences within the categories of “mutt” and “breed.” Definitions covered.
Next, philosophy. In my opinion, since you are going to live with a dog for many years, you should get a dog you want to live with. Think carefully about it. All puppies are cute. Many lovely animals need homes – but you might not be up to living with a particular animal. It’s a long term commitment and you should not pick up a dog you won’t love to have in your life for years.
This does not mean do research and work hard to find the perfect dog. So many INCREDIBLE dogs just wandered into people’s lives. Some of my favorite dogs over the years don’t look that great or wouldn’t have stood out in a litter of puppies or aren’t particularly remarkable in pictures. Yet, they stand out in a pool of thousands in my memory as fantastic. And, as far as I know, most of the people who ended up with these remarkable individuals did not seek them out. It was, in every case, pure luck. And in every case, the genius or special dog was a rather ordinary-looking mutt. Conversely, not every ordinary-looking mutt is a standout. It’s rare and hard to define. Maybe it’s just me… I just loved that particular dog and you wouldn’t think my “standout” is a standout… except Vern, who works here with me for 12+ years, and I agree about some of our stunners. Buzz, the door opener. Sugar, the mouse eater. KZ, the frisbee champ. Dogs that are pretty easy to live with but are so damn smart.
These dogs were clever or special without being difficult to live with. Some of the purebred dogs who are very good at their jobs are not as easy to live with. Herding dogs are obsessive. A good herder is worth her weight in gold if you have sheep or something, but in an apartment or a house, it can be difficult to deal with a dog who doesn’t have an off setting. Jack Russells can clean a barn out of rats and mice in a hurry – without touching a single bird. No wonder Amish farmers love them. But the Jack Russells who would make good house pets would be from a different line – a different pedigree. A good guard dog is often a nervous dog.
I have sheep and live at the end of dirt road. Having a dog help with chores is great. Dogs that do work are great. But if you don’t need work done, you might want a different dog.
We love all the dogs. They don’t have to do anything to be loved. Lucy, the Belgian shepherd. Wellington, the Wheaton terrier, was a true personality as well… and so many others. But Wellington is mostly well remembered around here for his extreme behavior. I should do a whole blog post on him! What a total character, one of a kind, and he was a purebred. Seymour, the mini pinscher.
The whole breeding thing is a human endeavor that continued over thousands of years. And look at the results: Saint Bernards to chihuahuas, poodles to pit bulls: wow, what a diversity of looks, temperaments, and sizes. Some of the mutts I like are kind of pirating off this work of thousands of years by varying breeds, not ignoring the whole tradition.
When I think of the individual dogs, the mutt versus purebred thing is not as obvious as the issue is when I think of larger groups of dogs… and there are a lot of cases and data points that contradict my main conclusions, which are all provisional and subject to change. Still, onward to the topic.
In my line of work, a few things seem true for many years. In the northeastern part of the United States, most mutts available for adoption in local shelters are likely part pitbull. We have had many pit mixes adopted locally come here and they are usually fantastic dogs. I think getting a pit mix from a local shelter is a good thing to do and recommend this avenue.
You also might get a non-pit mix from a local shelter. My dog Picasso came to us through this kind of chain, but I think this is less likely to happen, or will require more work on the part of the people looking to adopt.
Further, puppies are a bit rare in the shelter. If you decide you want a puppy, and for some reason, you don’t love pit mixes, you might have trouble actually getting what you want at the local shelter.
There are a couple of organizations that bring dogs from the southern US to the NE. These mutts tend to be more half hound, half lab kind of mutts. Beware, however: some of these “organizations” are Tiger King kind of nuthouse, cult-grade operations. At least I ran into one such nut case. Dog organizations can be a bit on the nutty side, in my experience.
Maybe this issue of pit mixes in the NE versus a more varied collection of mutts from Tennesse isn’t really a geographic issue but a rural/urban/suburban issue. Rural upstate NY might be more like rural Georgia with interesting mixes. But we also have a higher number of people adopting from shelters, so it seems to be a bit trickier to find non-pit mixes and puppies even in the rural parts of the NE.
A number of customers got their dogs off the street in Puerto Rico or Costa Rica. Costa Rica is doing a great job increasing the number of fixed dogs and their street population is declining. Well run country!
In general, through an organization, I think, people got them from Puerto Rico. I really like these guys ex-street dogs – apparently, if you let any original group of dogs breed, they will revert to the medium size over several generations. In other words, if a mini poodle, a chihuahua, a mini pitcher, and a dachshund were allowed to breed indiscriminately, in four or five generations the dogs would be the same size as if you started your non-breeding program with a German Shepherd, a St. Bernard, a Malamute, and a Great Dane. In any event, all the street dogs that I’ve known here were in fact medium-sized.
If they had some kind of microscopic pest in their digestive systems as puppies, they may remain skinny for their entire lives and there may be no way to treat the problem. I have seen dogs of this type eat like pigs and their bones still stick out. The owners try everything and can’t solve it.
The other thing is if they were already adults living on the street, it will be hard, but not impossible, to get them not to be food aggressive. It’ll be a lot of work, but it can be done.
The age they were caught makes all the difference. If you get them young, they’ll work out for sure. If they are older, they might have an amoeba and stay skinny, or always be tough to be around with food.
Over the year I have observed the following: pure breed dogs have more mental and physical issues. All breeds can have some kind of problem associated with a reduced gene pool or over-breeding. For example, several years ago Boston Terriers got popular fast and I saw a lot of relatively young ones with bad hips and respiratory problems, but not so much lately. We have a German Shepherd here now with hip dysplasia. We had a hound with a urinary problem that was impossible to solve. I can only think of one mutt who had a chronic, obvious problem that may have been genetic (but I’m not sure).
However, finding and adopting a good mutt is potentially much harder than buying a purebred dog. And not always that much cheaper! For health concerns, the breeds to be concerned about change over time. I mentioned Boston Terriers a few years ago. That problem may have been resolved.
I hope no one had felt judged in this post. The dog world can degenerate to shaming pretty quickly. Passionate feelings, dog bring out.
And if you disagree with me, fine. I’m not even sure how much of what I say is really true. Impressions, suggestions.
Thanks for reading and I hope something in here might help someone decide what kind of dog they want!