Choosing the right dog breed

Which dog breed would suit your lifestyle? 

Deciding to get a pedigree puppy will give you an idea of a dog's characteristics and what he will look like as an adult, but with over 300 breeds to choose from making a decision won't be easy.

Most pedigree breeds were originally bred for a specific function, for example, hunting, guarding, or working livestock. Once you know the purpose of a breed you can get a better idea of its particular canine traits. For example, herding breeds like Border Collies can display obsessive chasing behaviours when excited, so may not be suitable for all owners. Dogs bred to relentlessly pursue scents (like Beagles) or track and flush out birds (like Spaniels), can also be deaf to any owner's command once their instincts kick in and once on a trail some can disappear for hours - or even days!

Overall, you must respect the natural instincts of a breed, and take responsibility for a puppy of that breed. You must work hard to keep natural traits under control with appropriate socialisation, training, and handling techniques.

Make sure your puppy is Kennel Club registered

If you’re buying a pedigree puppy, make sure you get his papers when you collect him, even though you may have no intention of showing him. It doesn’t cost much for the breeder to register the pups and not doing so might be considered suspicious.

Kennel Club registration should not, however, be considered a guarantee of quality or health, nor does it imply that the breeder is reputable — it simply shows that the puppy is a pure-bred.

Reputable dog breeders

If you want your puppy to grow up into a happy and healthy companion, then it’s essential to buy from a reputable breeder. This may sound daunting, but don’t be put off from making the effort as it should be rewarding in the long run. The Kennel Club is trying to make this easier through its ‘Fit for Function: Fit for Life’ campaign, which includes reviewing all breed standards, refusing to register litters resulting from mating close relatives, and developing its Assured Breeder Scheme (ABS).

The ABS promotes responsible breeding and enables prospective owners to buy with confidence from Kennel Club approved breeders. Members are expected to follow recommended breeding guidelines and to use available health screening tests. Breed health is important, but so is the way your puppy is reared as this can affect future health and behaviour, so the scheme is also about ensuring a good environment with lots of stimuli and socialisation.

However, members of the ABS (there are over 6,000) are just the tip of the iceberg. It’s estimated there are an additional 25,000 – 30,000 breeders, and although many are responsible, you need to take a lot of care in identifying who they are. Do your research and be confident in who you approach. 

Kennel Club recognised breeds are split into seven different groups. Breeds within each group have similar functions and so this can aid you in your selection process. The groups are all listed here, followed by three of the most popular breeds in each group (according to Kennel Club registrations).

Gundog dog breed profilesGundogs

As the name suggests, gundogs were originally bred to flush out or retrieve game. Many are now popular pets. They generally make placid, good-natured companions. The most popular breeds in this group are the Labrador retriever, English Springer Spaniel and Cocker Spaniel.


Pastoral dog breed profilesPastoral

Herding dogs include the German Shepherd, Corgi, and Border Collie. These are intelligent and active dogs, needing regular mental and physical stimulation to keep them happy. The most popular breeds in this group are the Border Collie, German Shepherd and Shetland Sheepdog.


Toy dog breed profilesToys

Toy dogs include the Chihuahua, Pug, and Toy Poodle. They can be very playful and loyal but are not always happy with small children and may not be ideal if you like long, strenuous walks. The most popular breeds in this group are the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Pug and Yorkshire Terrier.



Terrier dog breed profilesTerriers

Originally bred to hunt, the terrier is now a well-established family pet. Terriers are usually low maintenance in terms of coat care, but are high energy, playful dogs. They can be loyal and quite vocal. The most popular breeds in this group are the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Border Terrier and West Highland White Terrier.



Working dog breed profilesWorking

These large breeds were bred for a variety of tasks, including guarding, droving, and search and rescue. Because of their size they need plenty of food and space. The most popular breeds in this group are the Dogue de Bordeaux, Boxer and Siberian Husky.



Hound dog breed profilesHounds

Hounds were originally bred to hunt larger prey. They are built for stamina and while some require a lot of exercise, sight hounds such as the Greyhound and Whippet only need about 20 minutes twice a day. The most popular breeds in this group are the Beagle, Whippet and the Miniature Smooth-Haired Dachshund.



Utility dog breed profilesUtility

This group consists of miscellaneous breeds of dog. The name ‘Utility’ means fitness for a purpose, most breeds having been selectively bred to perform a specific function not included in the sporting and working categories. The most popular breeds in this group are the Shih Tzu, Miniature Schnauzer and Lhasa Apso.


Choosing a rescue dog

Every year animal shelters are filled with unwanted dogs of all ages, shapes, and sizes, all desperately in need of ‘forever’ homes. Some are there because they have behavioural problems, others through no fault of their own — perhaps handed in by owners who for some reason can no longer cope or abandoned by those who no longer care.

Maybe you can’t rescue every single dog but if you can save just one you will be helping to make a difference — both to that dog’s future and your own life.

Find a dog for you

Although pedigree dogs sometimes end up at animal rescue shelters, the majority tend to be cross-breeds. Puppies also tend to come up for adoption less frequently, so your puppy may be a little older; this has an advantage in that by the time a cross-breed is several months old, you will have some idea as to its adult looks and size.

However, young pedigree dogs and puppies can be handed in through no fault of their own. Their owners may not have researched the breed properly and consequently found themselves unable to cope, or a change in personal circumstances may have made it impossible to keep them.

It may be possible to find out about their pedigree, but with others, nothing may be known about their background — and as some inherited conditions might not become apparent until a dog is as old as five, you may be taking pot luck to a degree. If a dog appears healthy with no obvious problems, however, it’s often a gamble worth taking.

Rescue organisations will also offer you ongoing support and advice should you have any problems with the dog. They may also visit you occasionally to check you are still happy with the dog, your training is progressing, and you are able to meet its needs.

Before you visit a dog rescue centre

It can help if you make out a list before you visit a centre with any definite preferences, such as age, size, sex, activity level, coat type, compatibility with children and other dogs, and so forth. This makes it easier for kennel staff to guide you in the direction of the dogs most likely to fit the bill and could help you to avoid making an impulsive mistake.

The next step is to pay a visit; allow plenty of time as you’ll need it! Weekends are often busy, so if possible try to go along on a weekday. You’ll normally be asked to fill out a questionnaire; this can be very detailed and sometimes very personal. Remember that it is aimed at ensuring that you can offer the right sort of home, as well as identifying the sort of dog that would suit you and your lifestyle. The next step will be to view all the prospective dogs; not all shelters will allow you to walk round but will bring the dogs out from the runs to meet you instead.

Depending on the facilities available and each shelter’s individual policy, a room or outdoor exercise/play area may be available for you to start getting to know each other. Spend as much time as you can with each dog so you can make a careful and considered decision.

As well as making your observations, ask questions of staff — preferably the person responsible for the dog’s care who will know him best — about his background, any assessments that have been made, his personality, and so forth, to help give you as full a picture as possible. Don’t feel obliged to take what you are offered if you don’t feel the dog is right for you, even though you may feel mean doing this. Remember this will be the start of a lengthy and, hopefully, happy relationship, so it’s important for both of you to get it right.

If you do meet a dog that you feel is ‘the one’ don’t expect to walk away with him there and then. You’ll need to arrange for a home visit first and if the other members of your family (or other dogs you may own) don’t accompany you on this visit, you’ll need to visit again with them so they can meet and you can see how they react to each other.

You will be expected to pay a fee, but this shouldn’t be begrudged, since most rescue organisations rely on them to continue their work. The charity also usually retains ownership in case you have a change of circumstances and have to return the dog.

Choosing a breed rescue dog

If you are torn between wanting a specific breed of dog and taking on a rescue case, breed rescue could be the perfect solution. Virtually every breed has its own rescue organisation — contact details are available from either the relevant breed club or the Kennel Club. Every breed rescue group operates its own policies but generally you’ll find that:

  • There may be a waiting list of prospective owners.
  • Waiting lists do not come on a first-come first-served basis, but rather on finding the best match of dog to owner.
  • The majority of dogs are aged eight months plus; puppies come up for adoption less often.
  • Conditions are frequently attached to the adoption, such as neutering and the breed rescue retaining ownership, the adopter becoming the dog’s guardian.
  • Availability is usually in proportion to the popularity of the breed.
  • Home checks are likely to be every bit as stringent as those made by any other dog welfare organisation.
  • There is usually a monetary charge for the dog.