I can’t remember a time when there wasn’t a dog in my life. Growing up we had fox terriers and a big white Siberian husky shepherd mix. I found the husky mix on the street near our summer home in Cape Cod when I was eight. Someone had abandoned her. My family, who already had the two terriers, took her in. She was vicious at first but my mom was a great dog trainer, and soon the husky mix fell in line with our two purebred fox terriers. To them, they were just three dogs. Her life was fraught with health issues, but she was family and we saw her through all of them.
As a psychologist, I am keenly aware of the human benefits that having a dog provides — regardless of how it got there. Dogs lower heart rate and lower anxiety levels; they ease social isolation by getting you out of the house and back into the world, and many can even sniff out cancer and other diseases early. Based on that, any dog would be great, but over the years I have come to favor the purebred dog. Here are seven reasons why getting a purebred dog was right for me and could be right for you.
1. Purebred dogs have predictable temperaments, which can save you a bundle in training fees
I had a mutt named Barkley that I loved dearly. But Barkley seemed to have been a mix of two dogs that hated each other and a third that regularly feasted on pillows. He would bark all day (hence the name) and chew stuff at night while I slept. I would take him for two- to three-hour long walks a day as suggested by one trainer who told me “a tired dog is a good dog,” yet Barkley defied that in spades. Another trainer insisted that I wasn’t “in charge,” still another said “get a crate” and then a fourth trainer told me it was his diet. I spent so much money on Barkley’s behavior therapy that I had none left to replace the shoes he had eaten. Eventually, Barkley went to live with my aunt and cousins in a rural area where they didn’t care if he barked or chewed.
My next dog was a yellow lab from a breeder, and it made all the difference. I got to meet my dog’s parents, and I spent time with other dogs at my breeder’s home before deciding on Mr. Dog. Four visits later, I felt confident that her labs and their sweet temperament were for me. She chose a pup that was easy to train even by myself. He also didn’t have a taste for shoes or pillows. He was perfect!
2. Purebred dogs come with a guarantee
When a breeder meets with a prospective family who are interested in buying one of his or her puppies, the breeder will tell you (and some put in writing) that if at any time in your dog’s life you can’t care for it, the dog must go back to the breeder. There is a great deal of comfort in knowing this since life is so unpredictable. Any number of things can force a person to have to give up their dog: job loss, sickness, relocation or marriage, to name a few.
My girlfriend had a sweet little Boston terrier. He was three years old when she got pregnant with her daughter. It didn’t take long for the doctor to figure out that some of the little girl’s health issues were caused by her intense allergies to the dog. It was the saddest day of my friend’s life when she had to give the dog back to the breeder, but she was comforted in knowing that the dog would be with people who loved and cared for her in the same way my friend had.
3. You can predict the health of purebred dogs
If you ask David Frei, host of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show since 1990, he will tell you that the ability to predict a dog’s health is of the utmost importance. Health predictability gives you a wealth of information so that you know how to care for your dog and what you can expect as it ages.
Breeders carefully select the best health qualities in the dogs that they breed. That means — just like natural selection in any animal kingdom — they can also get rid of the worst health qualities. Every puppy born to a breeder has parents that have gone through a series of genetic tests to ensure that the dog you get has the best possible chance of being healthy. Breeders can also tell you which foods and what kind of exercise and lifestyle is the best for your breed, adding to the longevity of your dog.
Frei says, “Envision the dog as an adult. A healthy dog can live for 12-15 years or more, so be sure to study the breed’s history. All breeds were developed to perform a specific function. If you know that purpose and the history of the breed, then you will have an idea about the dog’s personality and conditioning needs, and that helps you be best prepared for a successful relationship.”
4. You become part of the breeder’s extended family
When looking for a puppy, you work with a breeder who loves the puppies like they’re his or her own children and as such is happy to answer all of your questions, no matter how dumb or what time of day. When I first got my Spinone, I spoke to my breeder more than I spoke to my own mother. I wanted his new home to be perfect for him, so I called her with all of my stupid “is this OK?” questions, and she answered them happily. She was patient and gave me great advice.
She also wanted her dog to be happy, so even though I may have been overzealous, she understood that everything I was doing was in service of him. Six years later I still call her with questions, and she has yet to make me feel dumb for asking them. She refers to herself as his “grandma” and is happy to look at the flood of photos I send her regularly. She enjoys seeing our growing boy and all of his antics.
5. There are drugs that can be deadly to your dog that you would otherwise have no way of knowing
Dog expert Susan Paulis and her family have both owned and showed purebred dogs since 1970. She says, “When you buy from a responsible hobby breeder, you are not just buying a quality puppy, but you are gaining an invaluable resource of information about your breed and your puppy.” In other words, a breeder can help you expect the unexpected.
When Susan got her champion labrador, she knew that if her dog ever went to the vet, even for a teeth cleaning, there was a particular sedative that could be deadly to her pup. She knew this because a dog in its line had died from an allergic reaction to this particular sedative. Paulis tells me, “Ever since then, his breeder has sent dogs home with instructions never to use that drug.”
6. I know my dog got great care from the day he was born
Like babies, puppies need the best care right from the very moment they take their first breath. Proper care and weaning is standardized among reputable breeders, insuring that your pup will develop into a happy and healthy dog. The downside to getting a dog that didn’t come from a breeder is that you don’t know what happened to the pup before it arrived at your doorstep. Was it given the proper nutrition? Was it abused? Was it weaned too early? There is simply no way of knowing, and these earliest moments can affect a dog for life.
7. There is nothing more fun than to watch your purebred dog do what it was bred to do
Every dog breed has a purpose. Have you ever watched the Portuguese water dogs retrieve baseballs for the MLB team the San Francisco Giants? It’s fascinating. Every purebred dog has natural instincts, which are truly something to marvel at during its playtime. My cousin has an Old English sheepdog that keeps an eye on her four young children by herding them into one area of the backyard. I find that intriguing since she never trained her dog to do so, he just does it. She recognized his natural instinct to herd and allowed him to do his job.
My own breed, the Italian spinone, is known for its acute sensitivity, so my guy is a therapy animal. He instinctively will put his head on the lap of the sickest children at the hospital, and he is incredibly patient with them. He will also run over to a person who has just sneezed to see if he can help. I didn’t teach him any of that; it’s part of his lineage, and it is hard-wired within him. A lineage that is quite robust since his breed can be traced back to 500 BC.
If you are considering getting a purebred dog and you would like to learn more about a particular breed, your best bet would be to find the parent club of the breed you are considering. Every breed has a parent club with people who are not only knowledgeable about their breed, but they are passionate. Start there. Ask loads of questions! Breeders want to place their pups in the best home, with people who they know share their same passion.
Frei had some final words of advice: “My standard counsel to anyone who is looking for a dog: Take your time, do your homework and find a dog that matches your lifestyle. Look at yourself before you look at a dog.” To learn more about dog breeds to see which one would be right for you, start at the AKC website.