Popular Modern Dog Breeds
Text and Photos: Diana Andersen, Animalinfo Publications
All modern dog breeds have descended from wolves, but very few are reminiscent of their ancestor’s appearance. Selective breeding over many generations has shaped today’s dog according to its purpose. We have also dramatically altered its appearance to what we find personally appealing. The behaviour of dogs still has its roots in their wolf ancestry and is also affected by their original purpose. Although the most common role for the modern dog is companionship, considering their heritage should be important when choosing a dog. Making a choice based on breed popularity alone is a mistake that can lead to problems and the heartache of re-homing your dog.
Why does a dog breed become popular?
Breed popularity lists are published each year, and while there is often little change, there are spikes in popularity based on a breed becoming fashionable. For example, the Labrador Retriever has been at the top of the list for many years. A Labrador’s playful, easy-going temperament, short coat and relative soundness make it an ideal family dog. In this case, the popularity is well earned.
In other cases, a breed becomes popular based on fashion, often driven by television appearances and being owned by celebrities. Once a dog breed becomes popular, the price climbs, and less reputable people begin to breed for the money, driving the price and popularity up even further. A case in point is the recent popularity of French Bulldogs. They are a delightful breed but have some significant genetic health problems that can be expensive and challenging to manage. French Bulldogs also have strong temperaments that can be hard to manage. They require a committed owner, and it is crucial to purchase from a knowledgeable, reputable breeder, not one cashing in on the breed’s popularity.
Are dog breeds on popularity lists suitable for all families?
Other breeds that feature well in the breed popularity lists are great dogs but only for the right family and situation. An example is the Border Collie. This intelligent breed features in the top ten each year. However, they are a working breed that requires training and activities to challenge their intellect and keep them occupied. If you don’t have the time and commitment to meet these needs, a Border Collie isn’t the breed you!
Border Collies, an intelligent breed but not for everyone.
How do I decide?
Dog breeds are classified into groups by canine organisations and clubs around the world for judging purposes. These groups link to the breed’s origin, such as working dogs or gundogs, or their types such as terriers or hounds. Regardless of the breed’s heritage, a dog’s most common role in modern society is companionship. Therefore, you should base your choice on what suits your situation while still considering the breed’s heritage. There are four main areas to consider; size, coat, temperament and health.
Today’s dogs vary dramatically in size from tiny, in the case of Toy breeds, to canine giants like Great Danes and Wolfhounds. You can find dogs of every size and shape in between, so for this article, I will divide them into four groups, each with its own set of considerations.
Very Small Breeds
These dogs are usually judged and classified in the Toy group. As the name suggests, they are diminutive in size and include dogs like Chihuahuas, Pugs, Maltese, Miniature Pinschers and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. However, there are also very small terriers such as the English Toy Terrier, the Australian Silky Terrier, and the Yorkshire Terrier. With smaller living accommodations in modern society, small breeds have become extremely popular. Size does not guarantee ease of care, however. They have their problems, which you need to consider before deciding on a small breed.
Many have very short coats and small body mass and are often fussy eaters, making them susceptible to cold and hypoglycemia. They are certainly not outdoor dogs. Others like the Maltese, Yorkshire Terrier and Papillon have a long coat that needs daily attention unless you clip them. They have a reputation of being noisy and difficult to train, including toilet training, but this is often an excuse that owners use for not putting the time and effort into training. Small dogs have a knack for squeezing through small openings, so a secure home is essential. Despite their small stature, exercise is still important for these dogs to maintain their health.
Small to Medium
There are many beautiful small to medium breeds that feature highly in popularity lists. These include French Bulldogs, Beagles, Shetland Sheepdogs, Miniature Poodles, English Bulldogs, and some Terrier breeds like Staffordshire Bull Terriers and Smooth Fox Terriers. Their smaller size makes them very manageable and desirable, but depending on the breed’s heritage, they can also be highly active or have other characteristics you should consider.
For instance, dogs with a herding background like Corgis and Shetland Sheepdogs can require activities that satisfy their working drive. Staffordshire Bull Terriers and English Bulldogs have a heritage in blood sports like dog fighting and bear-baiting. They are therefore inclined to be dog aggressive. Another example is the Beagle, originally bred as a pack hunting dog. They can be noisy without another dog’s company.
Medium to Large Dog Breeds
These dogs often have a working heritage in either hunting, guarding, or stock management, like Border Collies and Australian Shepherds. There are also breeds in the utility group known for activities like sledding in the case of Malamutes and Huskies. These dogs can have high working drives and are often physically very strong. They require a commitment to training and exercise and are generally not suited to apartments and tiny backyards.
This group would include dogs like Boxer Dogs, Dobermanns, Rottweilers, German Shepherds. In addition, it includes some breeds that feature well in the popularity lists like Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers. They tend to be intelligent breeds that can be challenging to inexperienced dog owners.
There are also several sighthounds among the medium to large breeds like Greyhounds, Salukis, Afghans, Borzoi and Pharaoh Hounds. Sighthounds can be very relaxed with easy-going temperaments but tend to be less reliable off-lead. Bred to hunt by sight, they can easily forget their training when distracted by some activity they spot in the distance.
Giant and Heavy Breeds
This group includes tall and heavy breeds like Great Danes, Irish Wolfhounds, Mastiffs, Dogue de Bordeaux. It also includes coated breeds like Saint Bernards, Newfoundlands and Bernese Mountain Dogs. It is easy to be swayed by a cute heavy or giant breed puppy, but there are many things to consider before choosing one of these breeds.
Many are very relaxed and easy-going, but exercise is essential for these dogs to maintain their health. Crowded homes and small yards can be problematic as they can clear the table with one swipe of their tails. Giant breeds tend to be short-lived compared to smaller dogs, and many have loose jowls causing them to drool. If you can’t deal with liberally deposited drool on your clothing and furniture, don’t consider a giant breed!
They are also more inclined to suffer heat stress and bone and joint-related problems such as arthritis. Many are at risk of the potentially lethal digestive disorder GDV (gastric dilatation-volvulus), also known as ‘bloat’. There are many delightful giant breeds, but they require a committed owner. I highly recommend that you source your dog from a reputable breeder, knowledgeable about the breed and supportive of their puppy buyers.
The appearance of a breed, including coat and colour, is one thing that has a strong influence on our choice of dog. It is also one that can cause a lot of grief for pet owners as well.
Coats can be very short, fine and easy to care for through to long, curly, and very time-consuming. Three coat genes affect length, texture (wire or smooth) and curl. Some coats grow to a set length, while others, like Poodle coats, grow continuously. Short fine coats may be easy to care for, but their lack of insulation can affect the breed’s living requirements. Moderately long-coated dogs like Golden Retrievers and Border Collies can shed a great deal. If you can’t deal with tumbleweeds of hair floating around your house, these breeds are not for you!
Long coated dogs can be impressive and beautiful in full show coat but deciding on a breed based on its show appearance is a mistake. Few people can maintain the long show coat of dogs like the Lhasa Apso, Maltese Dog, Shih Tzu and Afghan. In pet homes, these breeds usually have their coats clipped off. It would be best to make sure that you like your dog’s appearance with a clipped coat.
Long coats can also be expensive to maintain if you don’t do the grooming yourself. Without regular grooming, long coats can become matted, increasing your dog’s discomfort and the likelihood of developing skin conditions.
Often allergy sufferers look for breeds advertised as low allergenic. In reality, there is no guarantee that one of these dogs will not cause an allergic reaction as they still shed skin cells which can result in the same symptoms.
Coat colours are often linked to canine health as well. White dogs, particularly those with no pigment on their eyelids, have an increased risk of skin cancer. Black dogs can have an increased risk of heat stress, and other colours have links to serious health issues. For instance, the merle gene can result in blindness and deafness in merle to merle matings. Linked to alopecia, the blue gene in some breeds can result in hair loss. It is essential to obtain your puppy from a breeder aware of the genetics related to health and coat colour that actively avoids the problems in their breeding program.
Temperament is always a complex area to address. There is little doubt that there is a genetic component, however, the temperament of a puppy can be affected by a lack of socialisation, a traumatic experience, inadequate training or a medical problem.
Within dog breeds and litters, there can be variations in temperament. With most of their puppies destined for family homes, responsible breeders will generally breed for a good family temperament. One of the problems with breed-specific legislation is that many well-bred dog breeds targeted by the proposed regulations have no temperament issues. However, it is easier for governing bodies to ban the entire breed than to target individual owners and breeders who may be breeding dogs with bad temperaments.
Dog Breed Standards
Dog breed show standards, used to describe a breed by kennel clubs, are an excellent place to start researching the typical temperament for a particular dog breed. For instance, Labradors should have a friendly, outgoing character, whereas the breed standard for Australian Cattle Dogs mentions that they are suspicious of strangers. Like those chosen by the police force and still used for working stock, high working drive dogs can be too active for laid back family life, so it pays to do some research into the background of the puppy you considering.
The most important thing you should do is speak to breeders and meet the parents of the puppy you are considering buying. The temperament of the adult dogs is by far the best indication of your dog’s future personality. Puppy pre-school, early socialisation and good training are also the best things you can do to end up with a dog that is a joy to have.
Just like humans, dogs will require medical attention from time to time for illness or injury. Many dogs also suffer from genetic health issues that are prevalent in particular breeds. It is worth mentioning that crossbreed dogs are still susceptible to genetic disorders as the genes responsible are the same in all dog breeds. For instance, Poodles and Labradors both suffer from Hip Dysplasia. Therefore Labradoodles are also susceptible to the disorder.
It is impossible to cover all the genetic health issues in a single article. For example, brachycephalic breeds with flat faces can suffer breathing problems, skin conditions, and eye injuries due to the short snout. Giant breeds and very active dogs frequently suffer from bone and growth disorders, and there are many genetic disorders relating to eyesight. Often these issues are expensive to manage at best and potentially lethal at worst. The best advice is to research the breed you are interested in and make sure you know its potential health risks before shopping for a puppy.
Choosing a Responsible Breeder
Responsible breeders are working to reduce these health conditions in their breeding programs through genetic and other health screening. If you are keen to buy a purebred dog, be a discerning purchaser and make an educated and selective breeder choice to supply your puppy. Purebred dogs can be sound healthy dogs when sourced from reputable breeders.
Purebred dogs can be sound and healthy when sourced from reputable breeders. From left – Belgian Tervurens, Australian Shepherds, Siberian Husky and a Koolie
Dog ownership can be rewarding and something I thoroughly recommend, but only if you understand the responsibilities and choose carefully. They are not a status symbol or something to match the decor of your home. They become part of the family and do not deserve to be dropped off at the nearest rescue if they become inconvenient. Choosing realistically and carefully based on breed research will help you find the breed that is right for you.
The French Bulldog is a charismatic breed but it has more health issues than most, requiring a dedicated, enlightened, and responsible owner. Despite their small stature, French Bulldogs have a ‘big dog’ mentality.
Researching the Border Collie breed is essential before choosing a Border Collie puppy. Read our breed information before getting a Border.
Researching the Boxer Dog breed is essential before choosing a Boxer puppy. Read our breed information about living with a Boxer.
Further reading on dog breeds from this author…
Getting to Know Dogs by Diana Andersen
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