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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Gone to the dogs

I grew up with cats as pets, but when I grew up, I switched sides.

I tend to call myself a "total dog person," but that's not entirely true. While I'm very fond of dogs in general, there are certain breeds and varieties I love dearly, while I have little use for others; and of course, dogs I encounter on an individual basis are evaluated on their own merits, although I'll admit to prejudice for or against based on my breed preferences.

The dogs I've known and loved best have been mixed breeds, and I think that some of the best dogs of all tend to fall into that category. But sometimes those mixes do show clear influences of one breed or another. My own medium-sized mutt, Gypsy, has markings and behaviors that point to predominant shepherd influences.
Still, it's easiest to answer questions like "What kind of dog is your favorite?" in terms of the recognized breeds, whether you're looking for their characteristics in a mixed-breed or purebred form. When passing a dog (hopefully with its owner, on a leash) on the street, these are the traits that will make me stop and say, "Hello, beautiful one!":
  • Medium to large in size - that is, somewhere between 40 and 85 pounds
  • Smooth coat, any length
  • Solid and proportional build
  • Floppy ears, not too long
  • A long muzzle that makes the dog look like it's smiling. There's nothing like a smiling dog.
  • Energetic, smart, and cheerful, yet well-behaved and obedient (they can co-exist, but it requires a commitment to good training)
Thanks to Gypsy, I've grown rather fond of the smaller herding breeds, such as Australian shepherds and border collies, but my absolute favorite dog is the Golden Retriever - even if my sister does call them "the dumb blondes of the dog world." Their cousins the Labrador and less well-known Flat-Coated Retriever are way up on the list too (my ex-dog, who still lives in Memphis with my ex-husband, is a Flat-Coat - they're much like Goldens, only black). Despite not meeting the floppy-ear standard, Siberian Huskies and Alaskan Malamutes are also favorites of mine.

I admit to being prejudiced against most of the dogs in the American Kennel Club's "toy" group, as well as many of the pug-faced varieties, but I'll give almost any dog a chance on an individual basis.

And speaking of the AKC, they've recently released their list of the most popular dog breeds of last year, based on registrations. The full list is here, and here are the Top 10 breeds nationally:

1. Labrador Retriever

2. Yorkshire Terrier

3. German Shepherd Dog

4. Golden Retriever

5. Beagle

6. Boxer

7. Dachshund

8. Poodle

9. Shih Tzu

10. Bulldog


The Lab has topped the list for 17 years now, but other than that, the Golden, the Boxer, and the German Shepherd, the smaller dogs seem to be taking over. I suppose that they seem to be more manageable, and as an apartment dweller, I have to admit they're better for small spaces, but overall I'm not encouraged by the trend.

The AKC also highlights the most popular breeds in the 50 largest U.S. cities, and there's a good deal of local variation. LAist (understandably) focused on the rankings for Los Angeles -

1. Labrador Retriever
2. Bulldog
3. German Shepherd
4. Yorkshire Terrier
5. Golden Retriever
6. Poodle
7. Maltese
8. French Bulldog
9. Pomeranian
10. Pug

- and observed:
...while we have almost boundless love for the bulldoggies, we also prefer to have our pooches portable (perhaps Paris Hilton style?). Carry-along sized breeds like "the Yorkshire Terrier, Pug, Pomeranian and Maltese all made it onto L.A.’s Top 10 again, with only minor changes in position." Er, that's position on the list, not which hand you use to grip your Louis Vuitton doggie-bag. The AKC also points out that we have one local man's best friend who could bring in a substantial haul--$50k--if the Welsh Terrier from LA is named Best in Show in next month's National Championship dog show. Of course, owners of mutts, mixes, and unmentioned breeds need not fret; at the end of the day it's what your dog means to you that matters. Only in the human world are we so easily seduced by popularity contests.
I guess it's a good thing I live in the suburbs instead of L.A. proper, since the majority of the city's top 10 fall into my prejudiced-against category, but clearly many locals disagree - and that's fine. Perhaps you're a small-dog fan and you disagree yourself - that's fine too, and I hope I haven't offended you. Attraction between human and dog is just a bit less complex than that between human and human; we don't all have the same "type," and I think that's a very good thing.

Do you have a canine favorite - or two, or more? It can be hard to decide when there are so many great dogs to choose from, but tell me all about them in the comments!

4 comments:

  1. Gypsy is a beautiful dog; she has the face of a real sweetheart.

    I don't have a preferred breed or type. I'm the opposite of you -- grew up with dogs and have had nothing but cats as an adult. We keep talking about adding a dog to our family, but then we think about the traveling we're going to do this year and always come to the conclusion that two cats are enough.

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  2. Donna - Thanks! She usually is. That "sweetheart" face is how she roped me in. :-) I think I'm going to be writing another post about her, and how we got together, pretty soon.

    We've got a nice place to board her when we have to go somewhere without her (a "pet lodge" west of Moorpark), but I do admit that travel considerations are more complicated with dogs than with cats.

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  3. Gypsy is so beautiful! I am partial to mutts and do not have a favorite among the purebreds or forced-mix breeds. I was raised with dogs all my life and always wanted one all my own. The entire reason I wanted to buy a house was so I could have a dog. :-) And yet, I married a cat person who isn't too fond of dogs.

    Taking in my stray kitty, I have become a cat person and can't imagine going back to a catless home. I now consider myself a dog AND cat person. My husband is still a cat person.

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  4. Literary Feline - I would have just assumed you were a cat person, based on your nom de blog :-). Nice to know you have room for both dogs and cats! Both of my husbands have been dog people. My ex now lives with two cats plus the ex-dog, and Tall Paul's ex-wife has their two cats (he's OK with that - he definitely prefers dogs).

    Gypsy has adapted well to apartment living, but a yard would be nice - especially with all the rain right now. I could just let her out and not have to go on walks with her. :-D

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