Thursday, June 19, 2008

Large dog for a large family...

So, when we started thinking about breeds to replace our beloved collies I knew only one thing, we wanted a big dog. Chowder grew up with no pets. (Ok, once he had a hamster for like 2 weeks but it bit his 4 year old nephew who then hit it over the head with a souvenir baseball bat.) I had Beaner and Fargo when we got married and we actually almost didn't get married when he suggested that we not get new dogs after they passed. For me, it was a quality of life issue and knew that I would not be happy if I had to live my entire life without a dog and I didn't want my children to grow up that way either. So, I told him he could pick the breed of the next dog.

He said he wanted a BIG dog.

My criteria:

  • Shedding: I know most people think after two collies that I would want a short haired dog, but actually collies only shed twice a year. Profusely, yes. But, twice a year I would haul them off to the groomer and they would get rid of the undercoat and we were good to go. Unlike my mother's golden retrievers who are in a perpetual shed. I did not want any dog that is always shedding. That eliminated among others:
    • Retrievers
  • Bolting: I grew up with Setters. They were great dogs, but they were runners. They would literally knock us down when we opened the door to get out and run and run. Could they have been trained to not do that? Yes, to a certain extent, but I did not want it to be in the dog's instinct. My kids love to walk the dogs and I didn't want to have to worry about a dog that spotted a squirrel or another dog and suddenly bolted on them. That eliminated:
    • Sight Hounds
      • Irish Wolfhound
      • Great Dane
      • Greyhound
    • Many hunting breeds
  • Barking: Our only con with owning another collie was the barking. They are very "talkative" dogs. They bark when you throw a ball or when they are playing with you or when you are running with them. They just like to let you know what is going on and tell everyone how excited they are. So, if we weren't going to get another collie, (because that was really the only con, but it was a big one for us living in the city.) then we wanted to be sure that we didn't end up with another "talkative" breed. Much to our disappointment this eliminated:
    • Great Pyreneese (who are also prone to bolting)
  • Good with Children (of course): While many large breeds are known to be gentle and docile, there are some nuances that I wanted to be sure of. Like, I wanted a dog who would not just be good with my children but with any children that came to my house. I knew that for us that meant saying no to German Shepherds, though two of my friends have excellent Shepherds as family dogs, and surprisingly Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs who I read several places can be sensitive to children wrestling and misunderstand the situation and take action. Well, my house is like a freakin WWF without the soap opera and the monster trucks. So, we crossed off:
    • German Shepherd
    • Rottweiler
    • Greater Swiss Mountain Dog
  • Energy Level: I needed a dog that would have a moderate to low exercise requirement. While we go lots of outings and take our dogs with everywhere, I couldn't in good conscience get a dog that needed daily runs. We have a smallish city lot, so not much room to run. The dog would have gotten frustrated and bored and my house would have been destroyed.
  • Trainability: I know that is not a word. But, again I was looking for a smart, quickly trained breed. My collies were extremely good and well-behaved but Beaner was a stubborn thing. I was glad I read that Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs frequently take longer to housebreak and their "childhood" lasts a lot longer than other breeds taking up to 2 years to mature. I didn't want a stubborn or aloof breed.
  • Cost: Though we were prepared to spend several hundred dollars on a well bred dog, we did not want to have to spend thousands because we were picking the latest fad dog. That eliminated:
    • Bernese Mountain Dogs
  • Cleanliness: While dogs have a certain amount of dirt associated with it, I did not want a dog who was drawn to messy situations or were inherently messy. So, dogs who needed to be wet to be happy were off my list. And droolers. (Ah, you would think this would eliminate my St. Bernard! But, yes Humphrey is the much forbidden dry mouth St. Bernard. Many show breeders get their panties in a bunch about this saying that if you have a dry mouth St. Bernard than you don't have a "real" St. Bernard because they haven't been bred to standard. Well, this "standard" is a fairly recent development and if look at historical pictures of the breed they do not have the smoosh faced droopy mouth almost bull-dog appearance that they are being show bred for now. This may be great in the show ring but for my family we were looking for more of this or this.) So this eliminated:
    • Newfoundlands
    • Mastiffs
Our end list was very short. It had two breeds. Collies (with the barking caveat) and St. Bernards.

Now, many people are wondering why not go to the shelter and adopt a mutt or rescued dog. And if we didn't have small children, I would do that in a second. But, the reality is when you adopt a shelter dog you don't know its previous history and you never know when a behavior by your child might trigger some aggressive response. (Like my uncle trying to scoot the Cocker Spaniel they had just adopted, who was supposed to be a perfect family pet, off the chair he had been sitting on and the dog turned and bit him in the crotch. No lie. He needed stitches.) Yes, there are many great family pets adopted everyday and I know that not all come from abused homes. I really really do know this. And I know that there is no guarantee with a perfectly bred pure bred dog. For me the key is raising a puppy with my children and selecting a breed who's instincts don't clash with what I'm looking for in a family companion.

After all my research we found a breeder who was breeding exactly the type of dog I was looking for. She has another litter coming July 30th if you are in the Midwest and interested. And another breeder I was really interested in has a litter also due July 30th and he is Kentucky.

So, that sums up how we reached the decision of the type of dog we were looking for. By biggest advice is to research, research, research a breed before you decide on it. Many of the breeds that we eliminated were in our top 5 breeds, but I was glad to uncover some of the breed specific temperaments so I could compare that to my list of criteria. And then look around a bit for the breeder who is breeding what you want. We did not want a show dog, we wanted a companion. And I don't mean pet quality of a show breeder, I mean a dog that was bred strictly for companionship. There is a difference in the mission of the various breeders.

And we couldn't be happier with the outcome!


KellyLynn said...

Oh he is sweet looking, i just want to rub his belly and scratch his ears, and get wet doggy kisses. So he is BIG for 4 months.You definitly have your LARGE dog. I can't wait to see how BIG he gets. My basset hound ( VERY VERY stubborn) is 9 yrs old and life span is 10-12 yrs soo, we keep saying when our 2 dogs are gone we are done, BUT i love dogs, and your new puppy is definitly giving me the urge for another dog. My lab is only 6 so we have a way to go with him. One other quick question. How was fargo as a solitary dog when the other one died? I worry how my lab will handle not having daisy around.

JLP said...

Congrats on the new addition! I love the name.

I'm really not a pet person, but I commend you for doing so much thoughtful research. If only every prospective pet owner would do that!

Anonymous said...

i seriously have a crush on your dog....i just want to hug him! he does look huge!

thanks for posting your research. when do you have time to read all the books you've read, take care of your family and research and post all of this? anyway, it will definitely help me with future dog decisions. i thought all st. bernards were droolers and that was a big turn off for me...yuck. so i never even would have considered one.


valerie said...

You did a lot of research, well done. He is just so absolutely adorable. I've always loved St. Bernards but hated the drool factor - so cool that they could breed that out.

What do the cats think, LOL? (btw, it's not fair that you don't name them at the side - or could you never settle?)

PastorMac's Ann said...

OH.MY.GOODNESS! Would you look at that face!! He looks so sweet! Like he would just sit on you and smother you with love. Nice pick Cakes!

Kristi said...

Awww, he's adorable!! Congratulations on your new addition. :-) We're getting a kitten this weekend, and I'm super nervous with the baby coming anytime, but dh is all for it. I'd prefer a dog, but hopefully everyone will bond with the kitten. Enjoy your big fluffy guy!

gem said...

Thanks a mil for the info. As I said in the previous post I am at Kellylynn's stage of periodic musing ahead. Food for thought indeed.

stickgirl said...

He is adorable! I had no idea you could get a non-drooling Saint.

I really didn't want another dog right away after our last one but you are right, things conspire and there you are...a dog owner again. Ours is ten months now and stil a handful but better than she was at 4 months.

Humphrey looks very relaxed and happy! Nice addition.

Mel said...

He is totally gorgeous, even I am tempted when I see how cute he is! How big is he, hard to tell?
Flip, maybe I must just bend to family pressure and get a dog. What do the cats think?

Mel said...

Oh sorry, just scrolled down to previous posts, he's HUGE!

PS, I know I have perved at him before but might I mention again, your husband is damn hot! I bet all the ladies in your church love him.

Israeli Mom said...

Wow, what a coincidence, we got ourselves a dog today too! Well, ok, she's not staying, but she's here for now until we can rehome her.

Your new family member looks adorable! How good of you to research it so thoroughly! And you're so right about the unexpected behavior bit. The mutt we picked up today, she was great with the kids, until one of them fell down on the lawn, which she took as a cue to wrestle them, including playful head bites, which really scared them.

Oh, and thank you so much for your comment on my blog inviting us over! If we do a coast-to-coast part, which we still may, I'll hit you up for a more specific location ;)

Multi-tasking Mom said...

He's adorable. You've done great research and I hope that Humphrey is all you hope for! I spent a year searching shelters all over North America looking for a dog that would be suitable for us, good with other dogs, cats and most importantly small children, I had a short list of breeds, including Saints, that I was interested in. The few dogs that did fit our criteria, were snatched up within hours. Our first dog's breeder is also the breed rescue co-ordinator for our province, and her advice was to bite the bullet and get a puppy. She almost let us foster a 2 year old show dog that she was importing here from Idaho, but his owner/breeder couldn't let him go because he was such a great family dog!