Mixed Breed or Pure Breed?


This decision is a personal choice that only you can make. The most obvious difference is that pure breeds are more predictable in terms of looks and behavior, whereas each mixed breed is utterly unique — one of a kind.

Regardless of your personal preference for attractiveness, attentiveness, and activity, you would do well to consider general health and life expectancy. By and large, due to lack of inbreeding, mixed breeds are healthier genetic stock; they tend to live longer and have fewer health problems. On the other hand, at a pure-breed kennel, it is possible to check out the friendliness, basic manners, general health, and life expectancy of several generations of your prospective puppy's forebears.

Which Breed?

A Border Collie or a French Bulldog? A Golden Retriever or a Belgian Malinois? I am strongly opposed to suggesting breeds for people. Recommending specific breeds may sound like helpful and harmless advice, but it is insidiously dangerous and not in the best interests of dogs or of dog-owning families. Advice either for or against specific breeds often leads owners to believe that training is either unnecessary or impossible. Thus many poor dogs grow up without an education.

Breed recommendations often lead unsuspecting owners to believe that once they have selected the right breed, there is nothing more to do. Thinking they have the best possible breed, many owners suffer the misconception that training is unnecessary and so don't bother. This, of course, is when things start to go downhill.

Even more disturbing, when certain breeds are recommended, other breeds are automatically being advised against. "Experts" often suggest that certain breeds are too big, too small, too active, too lethargic, too fast, too slow, too smart, or too dumb, and therefore too difficult to train. Well, we know that regardless of helpful "advice," people are probably going to pick the breed they wanted in the first place. But now they may feel disinclined to train the puppy, feeling that the process is going to be difficult and time consuming. Furthermore, owners may rationalize their negligence by citing any one of the pack of convenient excuses listed above.

Some people like to rank order breeds in terms of supposed relative intelligence, citing Border Collies and Golden Retrievers as being smart and Bassett Hounds, Coonhounds, Irish Wolfhounds and Afghan Hounds as being not so smart. Certainly, analyzing differential responses to cognitive tests and puzzles is interesting, but generalizing about breed intelligence can have sad repercussions. For example, a Border Collie owner didn’t bother training their puppy because they thought it was so smart that training was unnecessary. And an Afghan Hound owner didn’t bother training their puppy because they thought it lacked smarts and that training would be impossible.

Breed is a very personal choice. Choose the breed you like, investigate breed-specific qualities and problems, and then research the best way to raise and train your pup. If you select what others consider an easy breed to raise and train, train your pup so that he becomes the very best individual — an ambassador — of that breed. And if you select a breed that some people consider difficult to raise and train, train him, train him, and train him, so that he becomes the very best example — an ambassador — of that breed.

Regardless of your eventual choice, and certainly once you have made it, success or failure is now entirely in your hands. Your puppy's behavior and temperament now depend completely on good husbandry and training.

When evaluating different breeds, the good points are obvious. What you need to find out are the breed's bad points. You need to investigate potential breed-specific (or line-specific) problems and to know how to deal with them. If you want to find out more about a specific breed, find at least six adult dogs of the breed you have selected and talk to their owners at length, but most importantly, meet the dogs! Examine and handle them; play with them and work them. See if the dogs welcome being petted by a stranger — you. Will they sit? Do they walk nicely on leash? Are they quiet or noisy? Are they calm and collected, or are they hyperactive and rambunctious? Can you examine their ears, eyes, and rear end? Can you open their muzzle? Can you get them to roll over? Are the owners' houses and gardens still in good condition? And most important, do the dogs like people and other dogs?

Learn what to expect, because when your eight-week-old puppy comes home, he will grow up with frightening speed. Indeed, in just four month’s time, your pup will develop into a six-month-old adolescent that has gained almost adult size, strength, and speed, while at the same time retaining many puppy constraints on learning. Your puppy has so much to learn before he collides with impending adolescence.

In terms of personality, behavior, and temperament, please be aware that dogs of the same breed may show considerable variation. If you have siblings or more than one child you probably appreciate the incredible range of temperaments and personalities of children from the same parents. Dogs are similar. Indeed, there may be as much variation of behavior among individuals of the same litter as there is among dogs of different breeds.

Environmental influences (socialization and training) exert a far greater impact on desired domestic behavior and temperament than genetic heredity. For example, the temperamental differences between a good (educated) Alaskan Malamute and a bad (uneducated) Alaskan Malamute or between a good Golden Retriever and a bad Golden Retriever are much greater than temperamental differences between a Golden and a Malamute with an equivalent experiential and educational history. A dog's education is always the biggest factor determining his future behavior and temperament.

Please make sure you fully understand the above paragraph. I am not saying training necessarily has a greater effect on dog behavior than genetic heredity. Rather, I am stating quite categorically that attaining a desired domestic dog behavior is almost entirely dependent on socialization and training. For example, dogs bark, bite, urine mark, and wag their tails largely for genetic reasons — because they are dogs. The frequency of their barks, however, the severity of their bites, the location of their urine marks, and the enthusiasm of their tail wags depends pretty much on the nature of their socialization and training. Your dog's domestic success is in your hands.

Movie DogStars

EddieWhen selecting a breed, don't be duped by celebrity dogs appearing in films or on television. These dogs are highly trained canine actors. In fact, Lassie has been played by at least eight different canine actors. The dogs are acting, and often the requirements of their role mask their true breed and individual characteristics. This is no different from Anthony Hopkins playing Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs and C. S. Lewis in Shadowlands — two very different roles, and both of them completely different from what we may suppose is the real Anthony Hopkins. It's acting, and in a sense you need to teach your puppy how to act — that is, how to act appropriately in a variety of domestic settings, such as the living room and the park.

Eddie (Moose) appears to be calm and controlled on the set of Frasier, because "Moose the Active" was trained to be calm and controlled to play the role of Eddie. Moreover, Eddie's endearing television demeanor and his acquired social savvy, charming manners, and acting skills have successfully overcome his original delinquent disposition. Why not hear about the real Moose from Eddie’s trainer, Mathilde DeCagny?


Adapted from BEFORE You Get Your Puppy by Dr. Ian Dunbar

Another way to find the right dog for you is to use the Dogtime matchup.