Dogs to Match Your Lifestyle
By Bonnie Dalzell
Unlike a cat, which is primarily an indoor companion, most dogs are active social creatures who thrive on your company and benefit from trips and outdoor activities. When getting a dog consider your hobbies and daily activities as well as the local climatic conditions and choose a dog that can accompany you as much as possible.
Remember, different breeds of dogs vary in their tolerance of extremes of weather and that hot, humid weather is a much more severe challenge for a dog than cool weather or even hot dry weather. It is especially important to remember that dogs cannot be locked in unprotected closed cars in hot weather. The internal temperature of a car in the sun can quickly reach 120 degrees F.
There are, of course, many hobbies and some jobs that people do that actively involve dogs. Stock dogs are used by ranchers to move their livestock around, security personal often employ dogs as do search and rescue teams.
Can your dog go to work with you? Sometimes this is possible depending upon the type of work you do, state laws (generally health codes) and the attitude of your employer. This is obviously easier if you are self employed and not working in the food industry. People who work at night shifts, especially alone, may find that their employer will tolerate a trained dog who also has a security function for the employee. When I worked at MIT in a computer lab they allowed my well behaved large dog (a Borzoi) to be with me at night, primarily on the reccommendation of the head of building security. However if you are lucky enough to be able to bring your dog to work you must train it to be well behaved and non-destructive. It is especially important to be wary of episodes of separation anxiety when the dog is left alone. Be prepared to use a crate if there is any chance of destructive behavior. Needless to say the dog also must be thoroughly house trained and safe to other people in public.
Here are some of the things to consider in choosing a dog that can be integrated into your leisure life style.
If you are active as a jogger you need to look for a breed with endurance capabilities. Medium sized (20 to 60 lb) dogs with normal leg to body ratio (ie "square" dogs) are best. The individual you choose needs to be free of orthopedic disease such as hip dysplasia, osteochondritis dessicans and other joint problems. Short coated dogs tolerate heat better than double coated arctic breeds. Remember that heat exhaustion is one of the main limiters of exercise in dogs. Humans, since we can sweat, are much better at avoiding overheating than are dogs. If you live in a warm, humid climate this is a very important factor during the warmer months.
For a jogger or dedicated hiker, breeds that may be too active for the average person to manage such as Herding Dogs, Scent Hounds and Sled Dogs may well suit your needs. The jogger's dog must be gradually worked up to the distances traveled. You should wait until the dog is through growing (12 to 15 months) before really pushing him/her to extensive endurance work. Breeds completely unsuited to a jogger would be large, short headed Bull and extreme Masitiff breeds and breeds with very short legs. Dogs with severe hip dysplasia will not tolerate endurance work.
If your hobby is boating, consider the many breeds of 'water dogs' - such as Retreivers. Another group would be the short legged Corgies which were used on barges to move livestock. Their low center of mass makes them more stable on a moving boat. Avoid dogs that may have problems swimming. If you have a really long coated dog, such as an Bearded Collie, you may want to consider trimming the coat so that it would not weigh the dog down if it falls overboard. Life vests are manufactured to fit dogs and the boater's dog should be fitted with one.
If your hobby is gardening and you do not fence the garden off from the dog then you need to consider a laid back breed such as a sighthound rather than an active dog with a breed history of burrowing such as a terrier. Many of the Companion Dog breeds are also suited to the person with a gardening hobby. Remember however that dogs by nature are attracted to digging, especially in hot weather. In addition manure and compost is attractive to dogs. Excessive eating of manure and compost can make a dog ill. Many garden chemicals are quite hazardous to animals - you need to keep these safely locked up and keep your dog away from freshly applied chemicals. Some common garden plants are also quite toxic. Obtain a list of such plants and reconsider them as garden plants if your dog has free access to your garden.
If your hobby is hiking you need a dog that can easily keep up with your stride and activity level and can carry his own water and food in a specially made dog back pack. Although the hiker's dog is not subjected to as extreme stresses as the jogger's dog the hiker's dog still needs to be an athletic, fit dog. The best breeds will be square in body build with enough coat to protect them from underbrush but not so much as to cause a tangling burden. The dog needs to be resistant to overheating, especially if you hike in humid climates. Dogs with dark pads and dark toe nails do not wear their pads and nails down as rapidly as dogs with light pads and nails. If your dog has a tendency to get sore footed on long hikes then you will need to get dog boots which are generally available from companies that supply racing sled dog teams.
People with stay at home hobbies are generally happiest with relatively quiet companionable breeds. The Companion Dogs are excellent for this as are many of the larger Sighthounds (once they are mature). Mature Sighthounds (such as retired track greyhounds) tend to be relatively sedentary between their brief bouts of exercise.
There are many activities such as general family outings and picnics in which your dog can be involved if you plan ahead. A well trained and obedient dog can be taken many places which is why we emphasize the importance of early, appropriate and thorough obedience training. Remember that as you train your dog you will need to practice his exercises in a variety of situations because initially dogs do not generalize well and may know sit, down and heel at the training site but not realize that they are supposed to do these things elsewhere.
When ever you are taking a dog on a general family outing make sure that the dog is allowed at the destination. Unfortunately many parks, beaches and other public places ban dogs. For those places that still allow dogs, protect your right to take your dog. Take along plastic bags for cleaning up feces and manage your dog so as not to upset or injure other people also using public sites. The progressive banning of dogs from public places is a serious, ongoing problem.
Hobbies actively focused on dogs include sled dog racing, weight pulling, agility and obedience competitions, lure coursing, herding, hunting, tracking, search and rescue and the old stand by dog showing.
About Bonnie Dalzell