Regulars and Shorts

Animalia: The Best Dog

By catalyst

Choosing a breed to fit your lifestyle.

by Carol Koleman

I’m guilty, I chose a dog because she was beautiful.

Guinness, a Gordon setter, came to us as the cutest, sweetest, most gorgeous puppy. She then proceeded to wreak havoc on our lives as she grew to adulthood. We had done our research, read that Gordon setters were the most “energetic” of the setters (i.e. hyper), highly affectionate, medium intelligence, and needed beaucoup de exercise (again, hyper). There was a warning that they have powerful senses of smell (great for finding pheasant) which causes them to lose themselves in the moment and follow a scent literally anywhere. Like the time Guinness sailed over a wall and landed two stories below while following a bird (she emerged unscathed). Or as with her ultimate demise, she followed a scent across a road and directly into the path of a truck.

We so wanted a Gordon setter that we really didn’t pay attention to her natural behavior. She simply was not the best breed for our lifestyle. Don’t get me wrong, she was a special dog that we loved to distraction. We were committed to her and would never have considered giving her up, but we all suffered. She needed more exercise than we could provide, a larger yard, more jobs to keep her occupied. Realistically, she needed a hunter. She needed the life of the hunting dog she was. And we needed a calmer dog.

I share this cautionary tale in hopes that it will inspire you to avoid the mistake I made in glossing over behavioral characteristics because I was in love. Rather, choose your next companion as an informed, blessedly realistic and happy dog owner (who’s also in love).

Consider the qualities of the dog, its needs, the reasons you want one and what you can provide it, before you decide on a breed. Let’s reduce the number of dogs—roughly 2 million —that are surrendered to shelters nationwide each year by their owners, animals that are simply being true to their breed.

And remember, 25% of shelter dogs are purebred. Try them first before going to a breeder.

The remaining 75% of dogs in shelters, the mixed breeds, while a bit of a shot in the dark for knowing behavior tendencies and physical characteristics (though it is somewhat predictable if you know the mix), have fewer breed-specific health and temperament issues. Often I’ve seen a highly intelligent, high-energy breed with neurotic tendencies mixed with a lower-energy breed and the outcome is a smart, calm companion.

Or, say you want a running companion that is independent, medium-size, not too territorial, good with other dogs and people, quiet, highly trainable, low maintenance, short coat, long lifespan, and doesn’t drool? Yep, that’s a fairly exhaustive list, but there are quite a few breeds and mixes that fit these characteristics.

Here are two helpful websites for choosing a dog. Both have information on every breed, and interactive questionnaires for finding the best companion for your lifestyle. Each site has a different take so it’s a good idea to complete both questionnaires.

Animal Planet:

Dog Breed Selector Quiz:

Product recommendation

Our professional testing team (Joe and Stella) tried out LICKS for Dogs—an all-natural line of canine liquid vitamins and supplements. They come in single-serving packets that may be added to food as a tasty gravy, which is also more easily absorbed than pill form. Both dogs gave LICKS a “thumbs up.” That is if they had opposable thumbs…

Three tasty formulas are available: Joe tried JOINT+HEART with omega-3 fatty acids, glucosamine and vitamin E for his old bones, and Stella tried Zen Calming with ingredients such as chamomile root, tryptophan, theanine and ashwagandha root that promise to calm her maniacal tendencies. There is also Athlete (for active dogs).


Spillover—Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic by David Quammen.

If you’ve read 1491 or 1493, you’re familiar with the role animals have played in the history of human disease. Science writer David Quam­men reminds us yet again that we are a part of the web of life, for better and for sometimes worse.

Not two pages in, I was gripped by the story. The book reads like a thriller. Quammen explains science with a novelist’s flair. Spillover pulled me in and kept me until the last page.

This article was originally published on June 28, 2013.