These are the notorious questions: "What breed is the best?", "What breed would you advice?" But the answers, like "There is no and can't be the best breed than others" and "One can hardly suggest a definite breed for a person he doesn't know", usually meet a perplexity or even an insult, since among not well-informed dog-fanciers several beliefs that are alternative per se, exist. They consider: 1) the best is the most expensive; 2) the best is the most wide-spread; 3) the best is "multi-purpose". Needless to say, that most owners praise their own breed. We'd like to remind that the most expensive is the breed that is the rarest at a given moment and in a given place (remember the first two years after Afghan breed appeared in our country), or the rarest because of difficult raising and keeping (hairless dogs, Shar Pei). The price also depends on caprices of fashion. Hence, they can't judge by the cost of puppy about whether it will fit some definite person.
The fact that the breed is well-spread is also connected with fashion and speaks for a comparatively easy breeding and keeping (e.g., Standard Schnauzer). Prevalent breeds usually conform to some standard conceptions of how the dog should look, though this absolutely doesn't mean that popular and non-strict requirements will coincide to the opinion of a certain dog-fancier. Finally "versatility" is one of the most stable myths in the sphere of dog-breeding. It implies that a "multi-purpose" dog can do everything, is suitable for any kind of work and fits everybody. In fact, to some extent, such non-specialized breeds (Golden Retriever, so popular abroad) satisfy a wide range of requirements but in every given case yield to a "narrow specialist".
Thus none of these methods would help the potential owner to choose a friend.
The "best-breed-hunters" for some reason never think of why more than 400 dog breeds still exist in the world. If some of them were much better than others, then the "worse" breeds would disappear. That's the whole point: each person is unique by his temperament, habits, physical and material abilities, and a dog must correspond to his owner's requests in the best way. Hence, each person needs his own dog!
So, what should be considered when somebody chooses a proper breed, at least to a first approximation?
SIZE. One look at a large-sized dog would be enough to command respect. Furthermore the owner would be glad to feel the might of a docile pet. No doubt, such dogs are good guards and companions during long walks. However they need plenty of space, enough food and effective physical exercises.
Quite the contrary, small dogs don't need much space, they are easier with relation to walking and transport. And finally, they live longer than the large-sized ones.
TEMPERAMENT. An agile, lively dog can be easily kept in a good physical form, but it needs longer walks and occupies more space inside the house. During training such dogs are like fidget schoolboys: they listen with half an ear, never put a finish to a lesson, whirl around: Poorly trained dogs with irritable temper (Collie, Dobermann, Schnauzer) make much discomfort and involve their owners in numerous conflicts.
A benefit to have a calm phlegmatic dog is that you have "less of dog" in the house than in case of more active dog of the same or smaller size. He never fusses, his fawning is never obtrusive. It's a big deal to make such dog (Saint Bernard Dog, Newfoundland) move when at a walk. Though a persistent person will cope with the training quite easily.
COAT. This is usually regarded as a decorative element. But this is not everything. Long hair protects from cold. But the longer and softer it is the more dirt it gathers and the more thorough is the coat care.
A middle-length coat with an undercoat is used to be more efficient. Soft coated dogs stay clear almost all year round but they have a poor weather proof. In addition, harsh hairs that shed during the molting season bring troubles not less than a long coat, since they very tightly stick to different coverings.
In respect to cleanness indoors wire-coated dogs are very efficient (terriers and schnauzers): they do not shed and practically do not get dirty. However pulling the dead hair (stripping) needs a certain skill and patience.
With some breeds clipping according to special standards is necessary. So you can't do without a professional groomer. Furthermore, a show trim for a Poodle, for example, is of course stylish, but it usually absolutely unpractical for a day-to-day activity.
SHORT LEGS AND MUZZLES; LONG EARS. Dogs with exotic appearance excite everybody's admiration. Very impressive are short-legged dogs (Basset, Dachshund, small terriers). However when the weather is rainy they get dirty quicker than the long-coated breeds. Deep snow is a big obstacle for them. Short-muzzled dogs are effective and attractive (Bulldog, Pug). But they reside short breath, snore, predisposition to heat strokes and cardiovascular diseases. Long ears of Bloodhound and Spaniel are exposed to injuries during walks or fighting and all the time get into a bowl with food. Big ears often suffer inflammation of middle ear.
Apart from temperament and appearance a present-day or a former "profession" of the breed is also very important, since overwhelming majority of dogs are workers that were specially created for a certain "job".
Actually a qualified trainer is able to prepare almost every dog for any work, but this is a very complicated task and surely unnatural. A gun dog can't help of hunting, but chasing cats in the town often leads it under the car. A malicious guard dog is unlikely to be good for house with doors open wide for guests. A companion dog is just one more profession: the animal must be good-natured, steady and communicative. Even a very small toy breed must also possess a kind temper. Angry living decoration is nonsense. A Chinese emperor would have scarcely stood a pug that bites his heels in his own palace (!). If a person needs a four-footed guard, he should rather seek among the dogs which were specially bred for that purpose, than to recast a Saint Bernard dog, whose "profession" is rescuer, into a man-hater.
When you determine what features you would like to see in your future pet, cut your choice down to several breeds instead of counting all the dogs that exist nowadays.
A man and a dog can live happily only when they really match each other.
by V. BELENKY & E. MYCHKO, biologists, Translated by Tatiana Karpova (Moscow)
(MSU, Biology faculture, Dep. zoology and ecology).