With well over 200 different dog breeds and types in the UK, knowing which one might be the right fit for you if you’re not really experienced with dogs in general can be a challenge. Many people who have their heart set on dog ownership have a very clear idea of what breed they want, which might be because it is a breed they’re really familiar with from prior experience, or simply one that looks appealing and that has proven to tick all of the right boxes upon further research.
But if you’re keen to get a dog and are a blank slate in terms of ideas and are very open to considering many different options, or if you are deliberately keeping your options open because you believe that the right dog will be self-evident when you meet it, making the right choice is vital.
Immediately bonding with an individual dog or finding a certain type of dog so striking that you gasp when you first see one might well be the trigger that sets you down the road to owning that dog or dog type, and this being the right choice for you; but doing your research in support of this is vital.
One of the best places to go to gain exposure to a huge range of different dog breeds and speak to their owners to get to grips with the basics of each breed are “meet the breeds” events, which are often held at larger dog shows.
They might be known by different names at different types of shows; for instance, the Crufts dog show in March of each year holds the largest meet the breeds event of all, with representatives of virtually every breed recognised in the UK present, and at Crufts, this is called the Discover Dogs event.
Whatever name it is known by, meet the breeds events can be really helpful for prospective dog owners, and can help you to rule breeds in or out of your selection process, get some new ideas, and find out from real owners of dogs of different breeds what life with the dogs in question are like.
Some of this you can do on your own; for instance, if you’re at a large event with over a hundred breeds represented, you might be able to discount many breeds from a distance, simply based on their size or coat type, things that are not always easy to work out from pictures!
However, to get the true value out of a meet the breeds event, you need to get up close and personal with dogs of the breeds you’re considering, or that you spot and like the look of; and also, talk to their owners too.
A meet the breeds event can let you see if a breed is shy or outgoing, potentially if they’re lively or sedentary, and even how friendly or speculative they are with strangers. That said, a meet the breeds event is a unique environment, and the dogs that take part in it are chosen carefully as such as situation would be stressful and even frightening for many dogs, regardless of breed.
As the day goes on, the attention and continual stream of people passing the dogs representing each breed is apt to change the behaviour of participating dogs, and dogs will tend to be rotated frequently to ensure they stay calm and open to approaches; but you still won’t be seeing the dogs in their natural environment and so, displaying their normal everyday behaviours.
This means that some of the vital things you might need to know about a breed to begin researching them and perhaps take steps to meet dogs of the breed again later in a less high-stakes environment can only be learned from talking to the dogs’ owners.
You might have way more than five questions for dog owners at a meet the breeds event, and every answer you get might generate five more! This is absolutely fine, and you’re doing great research if this is the case.
However, if you’re not sure where to start or what sort of questions you should be asking in the first place – perhaps because you don’t know what you don’t know, as it were – here are five questions to get you started.
1. Are there any hereditary health problems found within the breed, and can these be tested for prior to breeding? What is the average lifespan for the breed?
This is important because some breeds have complex health and many dogs of such breeds will be plagued with expensive and debilitating health problems, in some cases; the French bulldog in particular being a breed where picking a healthy dog is vital.
Also, knowing about the breed’s health testing protocols can ensure you buy from a breeder who takes part in health schemes and so, increases the chances of your picking a healthy puppy.
2. What sort of energy levels do dogs of the breed have, and how much daily exercise do they need?
All dogs need the right amount of exercise, but how much this is will vary a lot. A few dog breeds will be happy with just an hour a day of gentle walking (and despite what many dog owners think, there are vanishingly few dogs that really thrive with less than an hour, and not many that don’t ideally need more) but some need hours and hours of activity; which few owners are well equipped or willing to provide.
3. What are the core traits of the breed, and what were they originally bred for?
This can tell you things like, whether or not your dog is likely to be territorial, keen to retrieve things, apt to dig, or a danger to small wildlife… Asking about historical working roles and the core traits of the breed is vital.
4. How much grooming and maintenance do they need?
Some dogs need a significant amount of daily grooming, which not everyone wants to provide; and some might shed fur prolifically, which may not suit every prospective owner. Find this out sooner rather than later!
5. What are they like with other dogs, other animals, and children?
Even if you don’t have other dogs, other animals, or children, your own dog will come into contact with all of these things out in public – and it is your responsibility to keep your dog under control and make sure that they all stay safe. How social a dog is with others, how apt they are to see cats as prey and how safe they are with children are all things that the breed dictates to some extent; so once more, learn about this before you decide to explore the breed any further.
Finally, something else worth asking if the answers you get are all in line with what you want, is where to go or who to contact to learn more, as the above information should form the start of your research, and not the sum total of it!