Mark Vette – Internationally renowned Animal Behaviourist, Educator, Author and TV personality

Choosing the right dog breed

Here’s how to choose the right dog breed for you

Should I choose a big dog or a small one? A purebred or a mixed breed dog? Which breeds should I look at? We’re here to help!

The journey to lasting doggy happiness starts by choosing the right dog for you, and you need to consider which breed suits your lifestyle and personality as well as how to pick the puppy that is best for you and your household from a litter – it’s a relationship that will last 10 – 15 years, after all!

I know it is very tempting to simply choose the cutest puppy you can find, and you may feel like a kid in a candy shop when selecting a pup, but you need to step back and look at the big picture.

There are nearly 500 different breeds of dogs, and among them are thousands of breeds that all have different character attributes and idiosyncrasies. The dog is the most genetically variable species on earth.

The choice comes down to combining your needs and what you want from a dog, with the attributes of various breeds to get the ideal match. The better suited you and your dog are, the more fun and happy your time together will be.

What to Consider When Choosing the Right Breed For You

Exercise Level

It’s very important to identify if a dog’s activity level suits your own activity level. How much will you and can you exercise your dog? They all need some form of exercise, but this varies greatly from breed to breed, so it is important to match the dog's level of exercise with your own. You don’t want to deprive your dog of something as important as exercise, or it may manifest into other issues later on. A well exercised dog is a relaxed dog that’s less likely to cause chaos! But that doesn’t mean you need to be a fitness junkie to have a dog – many breeds don’t require as much activity, it’s just a matter of finding the right fit. The good news is research shows dogs are great motivators to get you up and out so you can both be healthy. Research also shows Dog owners are also healthier than other sectors with lower stress and are on average happier. So as long as you do it well it is a great decision for you and the family.

High Energy Dogs Include:

High energy dogs that need a lot of exercise include the Australian Cattle Dog, Australian Shepherd, Belgian Malinois, German Shepherds, Black and Tan Coonhound, Border Collie, Boxer, Boykin Spaniel, Dalmatian, Flat-Coated Retriever, Irish Setter, Jack Russell Terrier, Kooikerhondje, Labradoodle, Pointer, Pyrenean Shepherd, Schipperke, Small Musterlander Pointer, Sussex Spaniel, Weimaraner, Siberian Husky, Bluetick Hound, Doberman Pinscher, most of the hunting and working breeds and many of the terriers.

Lower Energy Dogs Include:

The Basset Hound, Bulldog, Bull Mastiff, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Chow Chow, French Bulldog, Great Dane, Old English Sheepdog, Pekingese, Pug, Shih Tzu, Chihuahua, English Toy Spaniel, Maltese, Pomeranian and Saint Bernard.


Consider your family size, house size, land size, other animals on the property and are you urban or rural? Dogs need a contained environment, especially in their younger years when they are curious, prone to wandering and following their nose. Obviously a larger area is better for a larger dog, and a small toy dog will be quite content with a smaller area. But that also relates to how often they get to go walking, or get out and about – a larger dog can cope in a smaller house if they are out exercising regularly during the day.


This is generally a matter of personal preference and is also relevant to your lifestyle – what suits you? A giant breed or a small toy breed? Think about the size of the dog you think you’d like, then look at the characteristics of breeds that size to find one that also fits in with the other considerations we are looking at. Remember the range is from 2kg to 100 kg or more, so consider the space you have, the cost of feeding a larger dog vs a smaller one and certain breeds’ predisposition to health issues such as joint issues in a lot of the giant breeds.


Do you want a very independent and self-sufficient dog, perhaps if they’re at home while you’re at work? Chow Chows and Schnauzers fit this bill. Or would you prefer a very affectionate and loving companion dog? Labradors, Golden Retrievers, Spaniels and the like fit this category! Do you want a dog that will be protective and alert you when people enter your property – such as German Shepherds, Dobermans and Rottweilers? Or do you have a busy household with lots of comings and goings, that will make it best for you to have a quieter dog that doesn’t make much of a stir? In this case perhaps consider a Pug or Bulldog or even a Scotty Terrier. Do you want a dog that isn’t likely to want to chase other animals on your property? In that case, don’t go for a hunting breed, Spitz breeds or terriers. Or do you need a dog with some hunting drive? Setters, Pointers, Spaniels and other hunting breeds will of course do well here.

Some breeds used as guard dogs are:

The Bull Mastiff, Doberman Pinscher, Giant Schnauzer, Akita, German Shepherd, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Rottweiler, Puli and Rhodesian Ridgeback.

Some of the breeds that can make great family dogs for households with kids include:

The Basset Hound, Beagle, Bernese Mountain Dog, Boston Terrier, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Golden Retriever, Curly-Coated Retriever, Labrador and Irish Wolf Hound. Whatever breed you do get, make sure you socialise them well in the formative period of 2 to 4 months with plenty of different kids!

Breeds that are often used for hunting include:

The Labrador Retriever, American Foxhound, Beagle, Pointer, Bloodhound, Weimaraner, Coonhound and Irish Setter.

Dogs that are considered very gentle include:

The Pug, Golden Retriever, Labrador, Newfoundland, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and Cocker Spaniels.



Do you want to spend a lot of time training your dog in agility and obedience, or would you rather a playful and cuddly dog? Do you want or need your dog to perform any specific tasks? Certain breeds are thought to be more eager to learn new things, and they are usually intelligent and high energy dogs which means that you’ll probably want to come up with new tricks and tasks on a regular basis to keep them stimulated and entertained. Trainable dog breeds won’t usually settle for snoozing on the couch all day so if training and being really active isn’t your thing, you may like to choose a different breed that’s more relaxed. Many working dog breeds are very trainable but require lots of exercise and stimulation.

Some of the trainable breeds are:

The Border Collie, Australian Shepherd, Border Terrier, German Shepherd, Papillion, Poodle, Shetland Sheepdog, Kelpie, Huntaways and many of the hybrids or crosses especially if they have some of the above breeds in them.

I personally prefer hybrids (mutts) that have one of the trainable breeds in them!

Physical Traits

Do you want a dog with a woollen coat for anyone in the house with allergies? Do you want a dog with a lovely long silky coat for patting? Also consider any breed-specific ailments – certain breeds are prone to various congenital, medical and psychological problems, such as cleft palate, blindness, hip dysplasia, fearfulness and deafness, to name just a few.

Pure Bred or Hybrid

If you are choosing a pure bred dog, it’s important to choose an excellent breeder to ensure they don’t have the congenital defects I mentioned above. Some breeders “line breed” which can cause negative recessive traits being thrown up far more often. A good breeder will begin house training and socialisation, be able to give you good nutritional advice, and tell you more about the breed and its qualities.

Alternatively, choose a hybrid (cross-breed) where you will benefit from hybrid vigor. The advantage of hybrids is that you often get the best of both breeds, and out-crossing like this improves general health, provides psychological benefits and can often result in higher levels of trainability (among other things) as an outcome. I prefer to have one of the more trainable breeds in the hybrids. Keep in mind if you have fighting breeds included in the mix to make sure they are very well socialised with kids, other dogs and other animals. The “gaminess” trait selected for in

Terriers and the predisposition to fight in fighting breeds, means that if they are not very well socialised then they may be more prone to aggression issues, in my experience.


If you can, I’d recommend getting a puppy at 7 – 8 weeks old. This is the beginning of the critical “formative period”, and is the most important time in your dog’s development. It is the time when pups naturally leave the den and start to meet the rest of the pack. You and your family are in essence “the pack” or family, and building that relationship during the formative period is essential to ensure a well socialised, well-rounded dog. If you want to rescue an adult dog, speak to the people at the rescue organisation to find out what the dog’s personality is like, and if they have any behavioural issues you need to be aware of. I believe strongly in rescuing dogs so I think this is a great route, you just need to consider if you have the time and ability to train a dog if it has behavioural problems.

With so many rescue dogs in need of a loving forever home, I always recommend that you adopt a dog from your local animal rescue shelter. Often the people that work or volunteer there will also be able to help assist you in making the choice about which dog will suit you best.

Parent Dogs

Remember that breeds aren’t like a car in that you get exactly the model you order – there is considerable variability even amongst purebreds. However most purebreds have been selected with certain looks and characteristics in mind, so it helps to think about what best suits you. It’s also good to look closely at the Dam and Sire (Mum and Dad dogs) to get the best idea of what your pup may be like when it grows up – if you give your pup the correct rearing at the right time then you can expect your pup to be as good or better than its parents (depending on how well they were raised).

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