You have made the decision to get your first dog. The timing is perfect: you have money saved up for the vet bills as well as the toys, treats, crate, and food, your work schedule has calmed down so you are no longer working twelve hour days, and you have a ‘babysitter’ ready to help out if needed and a trainer lined up for classes who believes in positive reinforcement training. You know this is a big decision - a decision that will change your life for potentially fifteen or sixteen years. Now what?
Choosing the right dog is the next step. A good first dog should be easy to train and adaptable with an easy going and laid back temperament. High energy, high strung, stubborn, or potentially aggressive dogs do not make a good first dog. What breeds fit the bill?
Temperament & Trainability is Everything when choosing a Good First Dog
The American Temperament Test Society recently updated their breed statistics based how many dogs passed or failed within their breed.
In his article "The Psychological Basis of Temperament Testing," W. Handel, a German Police Dog Trainer, defines temperament as:
"the sum total of all inborn and acquired physical and mental traits and talents which determines, forms and regulates behavior in the environment"
The American Temperament Test “focuses on and measures different aspects of temperament such as stability, shyness, aggressiveness, and friendliness as well as the dog’s instincts for protectiveness towards its handler and/or self-preservation in the face of a threat (from the ATTS website).
The test is designed to simulate a walk through the park where “neutral, friendly, and threatening situations, calling into play the dog’s ability to distinguish between non-threatening situations and those calling for watchful and protective reactions”.
A dog fails if:
• they demonstrate unprovoked aggression
• panic without recovery
• they demonstrate strong avoidance
The results have been culminated since the organization started testing back in 1977 to June 2010 and they may surprise you.
A few of the breeds with the worst temperament:
Collie – 79.7% pass
Great Dane – 79.6% pass
Bullmastiff – 79.1% pass
Shih Tzu – 78% pass
Doberman Pinscher – 77.6% pass
Airedale Terrier – 77.2% pass
Afghan Hound – 72.2% pass
Bloodhound – 71.9% pass
Chihuahua – 71.1% pass
Bulldog – 70.1% pass
Scottish Terrier – 63.6% pass
Now, a few of the breeds with the best temperament:
Basset Hound – 85.7% pass
American Pit Bull Terrier – 86% pass
Siberian Husky – 87.1% pass
Pug – 90.9% pass
Pekingese – 93.3% pass
These statistics do not take into consideration rare breeds where less then fifteen dogs within a breed have been tested.
How do the ten most intelligent breeds stack up on Temperament Testing?
10. Australian Cattle Dog – 78.8% pass
9. Rottweiler – 83.4% pass
8. Papillon – 80% pass
7. Labrador Retriever – 92.3% pass
6. Shetland Sheepdog – 68% pass
5. Doberman Pinscher – 77.6% pass
4. Golden Retriever – 84.6% pass
3. German Shepherd – 84.2% pass
2. Poodle – 77.9% (Miniature Poodle)
1. Border Collie – 81.1% pass
The most intelligent dogs with the best temperaments are no surprise:
1. Labrador Retriever
2. Golden Retriever
3. German Shepherd
There is a reason why these three breeds are also in the top five listings for most popular breeds.
Other Things to Consider when choosing a Good First Dog
Intelligence and temperament are two very important factors in choosing any first breed of dog. However, other considerations include:
• Activity level – pick a breed that matches your lifestyle and time constraints. Do you like to run? Pick a dog that will make a great running partner. Like to lounge on the couch and watch the game? A high-energy dog will only drive you crazy!
• Grooming – does taking your dog to the groomer or the thought of spending time brushing your dog make you shudder? Consider a shorthaired breed.
• Children – some of the breeds with the best temperaments are not actually good with children. If you have children or are planning on having children, research breeds that are best with tail pulling and ear poking.
• Size – just because you have a small house does not mean you need a small dog. Many large breeds actually require less exercise and are more ‘chill’, meaning your house will not begin to feel like a jail on long, wet winter days.
• Interests – do you want to try agility with your dog? Or maybe you are involved in search and rescue and want to start training your new pup to be a SAR dog. Choosing a breed that is best suited to your interests helps to guarantee a successful match.
• Health – some breeds have genetic health issues that need to be addressed throughout their life. Consider breeds carefully if cleaning your Spaniels ears or wiping the slobber out from between your Mastiffs lip folds grosses you out.
• Lifespan – average life span for a Great Dane is seven or eight while the average Miniature Poodle can live to be seventeen or eighteen. Consider your future lifestyle and base part of your decision on where you see your interests heading.
• Personal taste – not everyone likes the looks of every breed.
Once you narrow down your decision to a handful of potential breeds, visit a dog show to see individual dogs in action and talk to their owners, breeders, and handlers. Ask specific questions and discuss concerns you may have but be prepared to answer some questions as well. Most breeders and owners are particular about their particular breed and will grill new owners for information.
Next, book an appointment with your new vet to discuss their opinion of the breeds you are interested in. What a vet sees in a breed and what a breeder sees in a breed are often two totally different things. Many vets have concerns about certain breeds because of temperament issue that only arise under the stress of veterinary care or feel that the potential cost of veterinary care may be too high for the average owner to face.
Last, consider the big picture and how your new pet will fit into your life and community. American Pit Bull Terriers are easily one of the gentlest, lovable, and most trainable breeds in the world but in a community where media hype has painted them as the devil in disguise, you may not want to be constantly defended your choice in pet. Or maybe your mother-in-law was bitten by a Yorkshire Terrier as a child and is still terrified of the breed. Who knows and although you may say ‘who cares’, it becomes a challenge to constantly be at odds about your beloved pet with the people in your life.
Choosing a good first dog requires a bit of research. It helps to make a checklist of what it is you want and don’t want in your pet and then tick off breeds that fit your ‘want’ criteria. Take your time over the decision and learn as much as you can before you decide. After that, research the breeder just as thoroughly and find on you can learn from and will help mentor you and your pup.
Enjoy the process of finding your new best friend and congratulations!