Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Working, sporting, herding or resting: Why a dog's AKC group matters

Dog looking up at a squirrel in a tree

"Why did you choose that dog?" It's a question most of us will have to answer, at one point or another, and those who rescue from a shelter may open the discussion by talking about availability or love at first sight.

But sometimes, I think that question is best answered by looking closely at what the dog has been bred to do. In fact, I think that paying a little more attention to a dog's breed background could result in better dog placements, and that could make everyone a little happier.

Take this guy shown in the photo up top. Several times each week, he comes over to point at the squirrels that visit the feeder in the tree. He doesn't bark, he doesn't try to catch them, but he does want to point at them.

It's a cute little hobby, except this dog is running across two busy roads to get from his house to mine. And sometimes, he sits in the street to do his pointing. That kind of activity could get this guy killed.

So why does he do all of this? Because his breed is a member of the AKC sporting group. As a Brittany spaniel, he's been bred to find little creatures and point at them, so a hunter can come and blow those things to bits with a gun. In his little brain, he's doing a job. To his owner, it's probably a big nuisance. I can't imagine how stressful it must be to see him tearing away from the house, day after day, to do a job his owners don't want him to do.

Paying attention to the AKC breed guidelines may have helped. If, for example, I fell in love with a spaniel like this, I might read up on what the breed likes to do and is designed to do, and then I could think about whether or not I could provide that kind of dog with a home that is suitable. Do I have birds I need him to chase? Do I have land I need him to keep birds away from? Can I take him places in which he can work, if I don't have these things at home? If I can't do any (or all) of these things, maybe a different breed of dog would be a better fit.

See how it works?

I'll admit that I am a little biased, because I used this system when getting Liam.

I wanted a dog that would be loyal and loving, willing to go where I go and do what I do. So, that meant I needed a dog from the toy group. This group of pups has been bred for companionship, and these dogs are experts at their jobs. Here's proof.

Liam the pug in his bed

This isn't a dog that's going to zip off to look at the birdies or howl at the moon. This is a dog that's going to sit at my feet and gaze at me adoringly. What he thinks of as his "job," and the attributes of the pug temperament, meshes perfectly with what I want him to do on a daily basis. That makes living with him very easy, and it probably makes his life a touch less stressful. The stuff he wants to do won't get him in trouble!

The system can break down a touch, when it comes to Sinead, as she's a member of a catchall group. Non-sporting dogs, like her, basically don't fit into other categories of dogs, and the classification doesn't tell me much about what Boston terriers are like.

The same problem might apply in mutt dogs that seem to come from multiple different breeds. Just looking at them won't tell you where they're from, so it's hard to know what classification to look for. And if there are divergent breeds involved, it can be difficult to determine which might be the dominant factor.

But still. Spending just a little time with the group map, and really thinking about the right placement for a specific breed, could mean putting dogs in homes to which they're perfectly suited. And I think that's a great goal to work toward.

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