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Choosing the Right Dog for You
Understanding Dog Breed Catagories
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The spitz type is sometimes called "primitive" because it is close to the original body form of the domestic dog. Spitz breeds are characterized by an overall wolf like appearance with the modification of a tail carried tightly erect and curled over the back. Tail carriage is an important element of canid social communication, with a high carried tail normally signaling dominant status. The early appearance of a congenitally high carried tail must have made social interaction between early domestic dogs and wild wolves very difficult. Perhaps this helped to differentiate the early domestic dog population from that of the local wolves. It also helped any person who saw a canid at a distance differentiate between a domestic dog and a wolf.

Spitz breeds are characterized by erect ears, square build and high curled tails. Generally the more northern breeds retain the 3 to 6 inch long double coat of the wolf while the equatorial ones have shorter coats. Most spitz breeds are found in solid darker colors with little development of white markings. Their behavioral profiles are fairly generalized, retaining most of the wolf drives in equal strengths. This means that they are often used for a variety of tasks in their places of origin -- hunting, guarding, hauling. They are not used as livestock herding dogs because of the intensity of the drive to complete the hunt with a kill.


These are breeds that were bred primarily to be companions with no particular working requirements.

Some Companion Dog Breeds are among the oldest of all living dog breeds. It has been argued that the reason dogs were domesticated in the first place was for companionship and to enhance human status. As a bonus, most Companion Dog Breeds are very alert and will sound an alarm at the approach of visitors.

There is an interesting question as to when dogs where first selected primarily as companions rather than as workers. Even with the Australian Aborigines dogs are used to warm the sleeper at night (A "three dog night" being a cold night).

Generally Companion Dogs are medium sized to small (40 lbs or less). Some of the companion breeds seem to be miniatures of larger breeds developed for specific work. Traditionally, dog organizations have created a separate category for "Toy Dogs". Here, we have grouped Toy Dogs as a separate subgroup category within the Companion Dog Group. They may be dwarf proportioned with short legs relative to body length or normal proportioned, retaining the "square" (or leg length roughly equal to body length) proportions of the wild canids. It must also be noted that not all Companion Dogs are necessarily small breeds. Some South American Indians, for example, preferred large and hairless Companion Dogs.

Ideal Companion Dogs are outgoing and affectionate to humans and other animals, have only moderate levels of energy, are attentive to training and generally weigh less than 30 lbs. They may have long coats requiring regular grooming. Selective breeding has greatly supressed both the hunting instincts and the territorial instincts. Their behaviors tend to remain in the puppy stage for an extended period during their maturation ("behavioral neoteny") and this accentuates their bonding to humans and increases the likelihood that they may develop separation anxiety when left alone. It is important to remember that although almost all Companion Dog breeds are small dogs NOT ALL SMALL DOG BREEDS ARE COMPANION DOGS.

Appearance is very important to most Companion Breeds. Most were selected to look "cute," that is to retain a non-threatening, baby-like ("neotenous") appearance with big eyes, a large skull, and a shortened muzzle. These dogs appear to be the antithesis of the long headed, light eyed, prick eared "wolf." Some Companion Breeds, acquired and owned as status symbols, reflect the cultural notions of "elegance" in their native land. Yet others are held as curiosities because they are extremely small.

While it may be argued that the pet trade, especially of this century, has taken former hunting dogs and turned them into "companion dogs" (for example: the Yorkshire Terrier, a ratter now rarely seen with a mouse in its mouth), these dogs usually retain their tendency to hunt and show less accommodation to the companion dog lifestyle.


In the hunting breeds the primitive drive to seek out and capture game has been retained. In many cases it is enhanced and seeking of game seems to be a reward in itself in the absence of the kill. Seeking and killing are well separated from eating the game. In most cases territoriality is somewhat supressed so that these dogs likely to roam the neighborhood hunting and chasing rather than stopping at your property boundaries and driving intruders off. In general scent hounds and sighthounds are fairly low energy in relation to any activity other than hunting. If confined will lie around most of the day. The bird dog breeds have a higher general activity level and may be constantly on the go, even when confined.

General hunting dogs. These include breeds such as the Weimeraner who have strong hunting instincts, athletic bodies but lack the extreme specialization for speed of the coursing hounds, the acute scent orientation of the scent hounds or the exclusive bird orientation of pointers and setters. They blend in with retreivers in talent. They are active dogs capable of accompaning an owner on a full days hunt, either on foot or horseback. Generalized hunting dogs may hunt by sight or scent and usually are expected to pursue the prey and aid in its capture rather than just freezing and indicating the presence of the prey. These dogs are long legged and athletic and many of them approach the coursing hounds in body form. Size ranges and bulk are based on expected prey size and type. Because these dogs are often hunted on dangerous game such as bears or wild boar they are selected for courage and pluck as well as eagerness to hunt.

These dogs were hunted in dense cover and as well as open territory and so giving voice or tongue during hunting was selected for so that the hunter could keep track of the direction of the hunt.

Gun Dogs are breeds developed since the invention of firearms to aid the hunter of birds. They are used in upland game hunting and in the hunting of water birds. It is important that gun dogs are not afraid of the sound of a discharging gun (this fear is termed "gun shyness"). Gun dogs are generally divided into Retrievers and the Setter/Pointer/Spaniel Group. The latter are called Bird Dogs because they freeze in a stylized fashion when they detect the presence of a bird.

Retrievers. Generally associated with duck hunting the retreivers are active breeds utilized in the retreiving of fallen game, especially from water. They tend to have water resistant thick coats with an oily texture.

Bird dogs - Bird dogs are specialized for "birdyness" - that is interest in flying prey being hunted on land - not typical for a hunting canid since flying prey generally is out of the reach of a ground living carnivore. Setters and pointers freeze when they locate birds in cover. The larger breeds, the setters and pointers, will range rapidly over a field and freeze when locating the birds. They were often used in by a hunter on horseback. Spaniels are smaller dogs with shorter legs in relation to the body, they were generally used by a hunter on foot.

Setters crouch down to indicate the presence of a bird, Pointers freeze into a point. Spaniels are much shorter legged with the fringed coat of Setters but may have the pointing behavior of Pointers.



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