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A Little of This, a Little of That: Deciding Which Mixed Breed Is Right for You

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Bringing a dog into your home is a big deal. Sure, they’re all adorable and hard to resist. But before you fall for those puppy-dog eyes, you need to ask yourself some serious questions: Am I ready for a dog? Which dog is the right one for me? Do I want a puppy or an adult dog? Male or female? Big or small? In this chapter, you discover the answers to all these questions and more.

Asking Yourself the Right Questions

Before you can start thinking about which dog you want, you need to ask yourself whether you’re ready to even have a dog in the first place. A dog is a commitment.
There are several very important questions you need to ask yourself. If you can honestly answer yes to all of them, then a mixed-breed dog is right for you and your family.

Do you have enough time for a dog?

Notice I asked this question first? Being a dog guardian isn’t just about playing with your dog when you want to — it’s about caring for him 24/7, walking him, feeding him, grooming him, training him, making sure he gets the right veterinary care. A dog is not a piece of furniture to be cast aside when you get too involved in your busy life. He’s a living, needy, interactive, sentient being who craves your companionship. Unless you’re able to give a dog all the time he needs, you shouldn’t get one.

Do you have enough money for a dog?

Adoption fees generally range from $40 to $100. A designer dog can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $6,000! But the actual amount it takes to walk out the door with a dog in your arms is not the bulk of what your dog will cost. You also need to consider daily, monthly, and yearly expenses of dog ownership. You’ll need to buy food, bedding, and toys. A small dog may be easy to handle at only $5 per week in kibble, but what if he requires a special diet? Many dogs have food allergies or physical ailments, requiring prescription diets; these can run upwards of $20 per week, depending on the size of your mixed breed. Obviously, the larger and/or more active the dog, the more food he’ll need to eat.
You’ll need to pay to have your dog groomed; the more you can do yourself, the less it’ll cost, but if you send your dog to a professional groomer, you’ll be paying anywhere from $25 to $300 (per visit) for the service.
You may decide to enroll your dog in obedience classes or other training; basic training lessons can cost anywhere from $60 for a set of group classes to more than $3,000 for boarding and training.
And you’ll need to see a vet at least once a year — more if your dog gets sick or is injured. A quick trip to the vet is rarely less than $50; it normally costs well over $100 just for the checkup and yearly vaccinations. Plus, there are the monthly expenses of parasite control, at about $25 per month. As your dog gets older or is injured, there are the costs of medications to consider. Some medical treatments can range into thousands of dollars.

Are you ready to give your heart to a dog?

Let’s say that you do have the time and money for a mixed-breed dog. Are you ready to love one? There’s far more to having a dog than merely taking care of his needs. The emotional attachments will affect you for a lifetime. Along with all the fun you have, there will also be stress and sadness. Are you ready to fill your heart with love, only to suffer the eventual heartbreak of loss 10 or 12 years down the road when your dog dies?


Even though the pain of losing a dog is awful, all the years of fun and joy you have with your dog are worth it — as long as you know what you’re getting into. If the idea of losing a pet you love is too much for you to bear, you’re better off not getting one.

Looking at the Different Breeds

Each dog breed was developed for specific tasks — guarding, herding, hunting, hand-warming — and these breeds are grouped together by their original purpose. A mixed breed is a combination of two or more breeds. Understanding the appearance and personality of the various breed groups will help you understand your own dog, and will also be useful if you’re thinking about which type of mixed breed to get.

On the hunt: The Sporting Group

Sporting dogs were bred to aid hunters in locating, retrieving, and flushing game. They can track, chase, freeze, and return with the prize. Two of the most popular dogs in the United States — the Labrador Retriever and the Golden Retriever (see Figure 3-1) — belong to this group. Sporting dogs make great hunting companions and fantastic pets; and they’re great with active families. They need a lot of exercise and stimulation (see Chapter Exercising Your Dog for more on how much exercise the Sporting Group needs).
Figure 3-1: The ever-popular Golden Retriever is just one example of dogs in the Sporting Group.
The AKC recognizes 26 breeds in the Sporting Group. The most popular breeds in this group — and the ones most often seen in mixed-breed dogs — include: Brittany, Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Cocker Spaniel, English Setter, English Springer Spaniel, German Shorthaired Pointer, Golden Retriever, Irish Setter, Labrador Retriever, Pointer, Vizsla, and Weimaraner.
Sporting dogs vary from medium to large — 25 to 90 pounds, depending on the breed. All of them have ears that fold over. The retrievers have webbed feet to aid in swimming and also have quick-dry coats. The Setters have medium-length coats with feathering on their legs and tails. Spaniels have fuller coats, also with feathering on their legs and tails. Though many of the Spaniel and Pointer breeds have cropped tails, they’re born with long ones.
Sporting dogs are athletic, high energy, intelligent, and hard working. They need a job; if they don’t have a job, they’ll drive you crazy trying to find one for themselves. They love to sniff out game trails, single mindedly tracking until they find the source. If there’s something to get wet in, even a mud puddle, you can be sure they’ll find it — and you won’t be able to keep them out of it.
All the breeds in the Sporting Group are easily trained and thrive on structure.

Ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog: The Hound Group

Though the Hound Group, which according to the AKC is made up of 23 different breeds, includes some of the first breeds ever developed to aid hunters, they aren’t the type to point, flush, or retrieve (see the Sporting Group). Instead, Hound dogs track scents. They’re single-minded when it comes to locating their targeted prey.
Hounds are divided into two categories: those who hunt by scent and those who hunt by sight (called sighthounds).
The most common hounds, and those often found within mixed-breed dogs, are the American Foxhound, Bassett Hound, Beagle (see Figure 3-2), Dachshund, English Foxhound, Greyhound, Norwegian Elkhound, Rhodesian Ridgeback, and several types of Coonhounds. Except for the Greyhound, these are all scent hounds; tracking through odor left on the ground.
Many Hounds have long, silky ears; long muzzles; and large rib cages. Some have predominantly short coats, while a few, such as the Afghan Hound, have long coats that require a lot of maintenance.
Figure 3-2: The Beagle is one of the more popular Hound breeds found in mixed-breed dogs. Don’t let his cute looks fool you — he’s stubborn and can be hard to train.
Most of the breeds within the Hound Group tend to be stubborn, single-minded, and difficult to train unless properly motivated. Sighthounds (like the Greyhound) are generally energetic; the slightest movement catches their attention.
While occasionally aggressive on the hunt, Hounds are rarely aggressive to people, but they will try your patience.

Workin’ like a dog: The Working Group

The AKC recognizes 25 breeds in the Working Group. Most of the dogs in this group are large, bold, and hardy (see Figure 3-3). They were bred to work long hours though not all of them have high energy levels. Working dogs guard, pull heavy loads, herd and, in recent years, search and rescue.
Because most of them are very popular as pets, they’re often seen within mixed-breed dogs. The most popular breeds in this group are the Alaskan Malamute, Boxer, Doberman Pinscher, Great Dane, Rottweiler, and Siberian Husky. Though less popular, the Akita, Mastiff, and Saint Bernard are also found within many mixed breeds.
Working dogs are large boned, strong bodied, and strong willed. Many were bred to withstand extreme weather conditions, such as Arctic temperatures or the cold of Northern Europe.
Figure 3-3: The Bernese Mountain Dog is not commonly seen in mixed breeds, but he is a great representation of the Working Group.
Working dogs have extreme intelligence and steadfast working ethics. They are hardy, often energetic, and make great pets as long as they’re given appropriate guidance. Some of these breeds were bred to fight other dogs or protect people, so they have the instinct to dominate in many situations and can be very territorial.


Working breeds do not do well if left alone for long periods of time or tied up. This might lead to aggressive and destructive behavior.

A mix containing any of these breeds must have regular obedience training and maintain strict scheduling. Otherwise, the dog believes he’s the boss of your household — and you really don’t want to deal with a large, powerful dog who thinks he’s in charge.
On the other hand, given a job to perform, Working breeds put their entire hearts into their work. They want approval from their human guardians, but the activity alone is positive reinforcement.

Tenacious terriers: The Terrier Group

The AKC recognizes 27 breeds in the Terrier Group. Terriers are small-game hunters. Due to their genetic disposition to go after difficult game, they’re tenacious and single-minded while working; though their work is usually protecting their household and all those in it, while telling everyone what to do and how to do it.
The most common Terrier breeds seen within mixed-breed dogs are the Airedale Terrier, Cairn Terrier, Jack Russell Terrier (now called the Parson Russell Terrier), Miniature Schnauzer, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, the Pit-Bull Terrier (not a recognized AKC breed, but still a popular pet and recognized by the United Kennel Club), Scottish Terrier, and West Highland White Terrier.
Most of the terriers are medium to small in stature (see Figure 3-4). Their coats are generally short and smooth or wiry and rough, with the exception of the Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier, Sealyham Terrier, and Skye Terrier, all of whom have longer, silkier coats than the other Terrier breeds.
Figure 3-4: The Border Terrier is not commonly found in mixed-breed dogs, but they’re similar in size and coat to dogs such as the Cairn Terrier and Norwich Terrier.
There’s really no structural norm among the Terrier breeds. Their common threads lie more in personality. However, the taller of the Terriers — Airedale Terrier and Kerry Blue Terrier — do have some structural similarities in their long muzzles, foldover ears, long necks, and long legs. The American Staffordshire Terrier and Bull Terrier have large egg-shaped heads and very muscular bodies with short smooth coats. The Scottish, Cairn, West Highland White, Norfolk, Norwich, Australian, and Border Terriers have short legs, long bodies, medium to long muzzles, and sharp high-set eyes, with short to medium-length tails. All these breeds also have a wiry, medium-length coat.
Terriers are high energy, rebellious to authority, and more aggressive than any other breed group. When riled up, they don’t readily back down. However, they do learn quickly as long as they’re properly motivated. Terriers require consistent training and guidance every day of the week, every week of the year. Terriers are easily excited, turning from upset-to-see-you-go to attacking the nearest creature they see because they were upset-to-see-you-go.
The last thing you ever show a Terrier is that you are apprehensive or hesitant. This is all they need to fully dominate you in every way — from how they prefer to be touched to possessive aggression and worse.


Although these dominant tendencies don’t occur in all Terriers, or in all mixed-breed dogs with Terrier heritage, carefully observe your own dog for these behaviors and deal with them accordingly; with obedience training.

Big personalities in small packages: The Toy Group

The AKC includes 21 breeds in the Toy Group. Toy breeds were initially developed from the major breed groups. Their parentage was chosen from the smallest of the lines, eventually forming the Toy breeds of today. Though they are their own individual breeds, they retain much of their genetic heritage from the breeds from which they were derived.
Toy dogs quickly adapt to any living environment. This makes them especially great traveling companions and pets for those who live in condominiums, apartments, or other community housing. Yet, they also do well living in a suburban neighborhood or in a rural setting, as long as they’re kept primarily indoors when you’re not with them.
The Toy Group consists of the following popular breeds that are very likely to be part of a mixed-breed dog’s heritage: Chihuahua, Maltese, Miniature and Toy Poodle, Pekingese, Pomeranian, Pug (see Figure 3-5), Shih Tzu, and Yorkshire Terrier.
Rarely is a Toy breed larger than 14 inches tall at the shoulder. They also usually weigh less than 20 pounds. Being small is what constitutes the Toy dog label. Other than these attributes, however, they come in all shapes, fur lengths, and personalities. Some are very sensitive to weather conditions, and others are fairly hardy. Some can be easy to maintain, and others are time-consuming.
Big things come in small packages. Though small in stature, Toy breeds have big personalities. If you train and guide your Toy mixed breed, he’ll be a tiny gem — fun, loving, and loyal.


Despite their small size, they need to be treated just like bigger dogs — not like windup toys. They’re still dogs, and they have the same need for structure and understanding of their environment.

Figure 3-5: The Pug is a key component in the super-popular mixed-breed Puggle, a mix of the Pug and Poodle. Any breed that’s part Poodle should inherit the Poodle’s good nature, intelligence, and longevity.

All shapes and sizes: The Non-Sporting Group

The Non-Sporting Group includes 17 different breeds, in every shape and size imaginable, from the Standard Poodle to the Bulldog to the Dalmatian to the Chow Chow. Non-Sporting dogs are big, small, wide, and narrow. All are somehow related to other known breeds, though genetically specialized for specific jobs.
The most popular breed in this group, and the most likely to appear in a designer dog, is the Standard Poodle. The reasons for this dog’s popularity in the designer-dog set are numerous: They’re intelligent, loving, and energetic. They have great longevity. They can be almost any color, though black, white, and chocolate are the most common — and they don’t shed.
Other popular breeds found in mixed-breed dogs include the American Eskimo Dog, Bichon Frise (see Figure 3-6), Boston Terrier, Bulldog, Chinese Shar-Pei, Chow Chow, Dalmatian, and Lhasa Apso.

Technical Stuff

Brachiocephalic facial structure is a dog’s muzzle that has been specially bred to be very short to nearly nonexistent. Though this was initially done to improve the working ability of these dogs, it rarely has any purpose other than for appearance. Dogs who have this facial structure include Pugs, Shi Tzu, Pekingese, Boston Terriers, and Bulldogs.

Figure 3-6: The Bichon Frise is a popular Non-Sporting Dog, with a happy and playful personality.
Other than the Standard Poodle, Non-Sporting dogs are bold, challenging, and independent. They require lots of exercise and structured guidance through training and consistency.
The Standard Poodle has lots of energy but is easy to guide in the right direction. They have a high desire to work and love training challenges. Essentially, Poodles can learn anything and do anything, making them ideal dogs for designer-dog combinations. They overcome many of the behavioral and structural shortcomings of those breeds mixed with them.

Round ’em up: The Herding Group

There are 18 dogs in the Herding Group. And these dogs not only round ’em up, but also push ’em along. They were bred to help shepherds and farmers, working long hard days in all types of weather. Because they were bred to work independently as well as in close sync with their handlers, many Herding breeds are extremely intelligent.
The most common breeds within the Herding Group, and those most likely to be found within a mixed-breed dog, are the Australian Cattle Dog, Australian Shepherd (see Figure 3-7), Border Collie, Cardigan Welsh Corgi, Collie, German Shepherd Dog, Old English Sheepdog, Pembroke Welsh Corgi, and Shetland Sheepdog.
 Figure 3-7: The Australian Shepherd is a classic Herding dog, and is commonly found in mixed breeds.
The breeds within the Herding Group range from those with short legs (like the Corgis) to those with long, lithe legs (like the Collie). Though none of these breeds has a short coat, several have thick medium coats, and most tend toward long fur, making them appear more like the animals they were bred to control.
Herding dogs have high energy. They can run an entire day and make you tired just watching. Herding dogs are on their best behavior if they’re allowed to exercise a lot. They’re even better if they receive consistent training on a daily basis — in fact, they thrive on it. Because these dogs were bred to work hard and long hours, they need the outlet that training activities provide.
Herding breeds tend to learn complicated tasks faster than any other breed, making them ideal for agility, obedience, herding, and many other occupations. They aren’t great breeds to have around small children, because they will chase moving objects and purposefully bump into them as a means of gathering the flock together. However, they’re wonderful pets for people with active lifestyles.

Considering Age: Puppy or Adult?

When you’ve decided that you want a dog, you’ll have to figure out whether you’d prefer a puppy or an adult dog. This question is especially important if you want a mixed breed, because so many of the great mixed-breed dogs who are out there in shelters, looking for a good home, are beyond puppyhood.
When you first started thinking about getting a dog, you may have been leaning toward a puppy. After all, how can anyone resist that fabulous puppy breath, those cute rolly-polly bodies, big inquisitive eyes, playful personalities, and openness to learning. Those attributes are their main attraction. In fact, if puppies weren’t so cute, they might not be worth the trouble!
Puppies need to eat more often than adult dogs, need to potty more often, and tend to be destructive because they don’t yet know the rules (or forget them quickly) and because they’re going through teething between 3 and 9 months of age. They take more of your time, cost more in veterinary bills (for all their initial vaccinations and neutering/spaying), and hurt when they bite and scratch.
Adult dogs may not have that puppy cute factor, but they don’t require as much from you either. If you get an adult dog, she may already be housetrained; if not, you can housetrain her easily, because she can hold it longer. They eat fewer times throughout the day. They’re over the teething stages so they’re less likely to be destructive. Adult dogs aren’t as active as youngsters; an adult dog will become a foot warmer far faster than a pup who would rather chew on your feet.


If you’re afraid that an adult dog will have trouble bonding to you, remember that regardless of the age of your mixed-breed dog, he will bond with you. It’s just a matter of time.

Not every adult dog will be a great new pet, however. Many have been abused or neglected, and that can have a huge bearing on their current attitudes and behaviors. Although some dogs end up in shelters and rescue groups because of unforeseen circumstances (like an owner dying), most are given up due to behavioral issues. If you adopt an adult mixed-breed dog, you’ll need to commit to hours of training and observation to cure bad habits (like destructive chewing, house soiling, excessive barking, and aggression) and create positive new ones.


All behavior problems are curable. Some may take longer than others, but there are always ways to solve them (see Chapter Tackling Mixed-Breed Training Challenges).

Puppies usually arrive open minded and fresh to new experiences. This doesn’t mean they may not already have bad habits. If you’re adopting from a shelter, your pup is bound to have had something happen that has already formed his personality. However, if you’re buying a designer dog, this is less likely, because a careful breeder will give the puppies a good start on life — offering positive treatment and socialization in a safe environment.
There are pros and cons to a dog at any age. Every mixed breed is his own combination of genetics and experiences, so you don’t have any guarantees in appearance or personality. Ultimately, you need to choose based on how much time you have and what age you’re most interested in.


Before you go to a breeder’s house to look at all the cute puppies, spend an hour or two hanging out at your local humane society or animal shelter, playing with all the adult dogs that are looking for a home. That way, you’ll see how great dogs can be at any age, and you’ll make the decision that’s right for you.

Gender Bender: Male or Female?

Gender can play a big part in a dog’s personality and size.
Male dogs tend to be larger with bigger heads, bodies, and feet than their female counterparts. Male dogs are usually more territorial, which means they need to potty more often and cover the scent of visiting dogs as well. This tendency also makes them more difficult to housetrain.
Female dogs learn faster and are generally more loyal. Although many female dogs are territorial, they usually mark the spot in one pass. Female dogs are more likely to want to stay home, preferring to stay in their safe territories instead of always looking to expand it.
Male dogs tend to be more dominant than female dogs. Male dogs also tend to carry a stronger body odor than female dogs. But the gender most likely to be a good foot warmer is the male dog, because he’s better at relaxing when the time comes. Female dogs are always on the alert for any possibilities. Because female dogs have the mothering instinct, most of their behavioral tendencies are to feed, protect, and nurture their young. Thus, they’re always aware of everything going on around them.

Adding It Up: The Right Dog for You

Big, small. Short hair, long hair. Male, female. There are so many choices — how can you possibly know the right dog for you? If you’re stymied by it all, here are a few suggestions based on where you live and what your lifestyle is like:

If you live in an apartment or condominium: Try a small female dog, maybe with Toy or Terrier breeding.

If yours is a single-family home with very young children: Try a small to medium male or female dog. Sporting dogs do well with youngsters, as do some of the Hound dogs such as Beagles.

If yours is a single-family home with older children, or no children: Try a medium to large male or female Sporting, Hound, Herding, Non-Sporting, or Toy mix. Sighthounds (such as Greyhounds) aren’t recommended because older children have a tendency to leave doors and gates open, and sighthounds can’t be trusted not to run.

If you live in a country or rural setting: Try any size female dog of any heritage. Herding and Sporting breeds will definitely thrive in this setting. Remember: If unneutered, male dogs may have a tendency to wander, which can be deadly, especially in a country or rural setting. (For more on why you should spay or neuter your dog, see Chapter Ten Reasons to Spay or Neuter Your Dog.)


These aren’t rules — they’re just suggestions. Each dog is an individual with genetics that are distinctly his own. Much of a dog’s personality rests with the training and quality of the care you give. Your best bet is to take the time to temperament-test (see Chapter Choosing Your New Best Friend) any dog you’re considering, and take an educated plunge into mixed-breed dog ownership.

 by Miriam Fields-Babineau

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