I love dogs–all dogs. From the tiniest, yappiest, nippiest fluff-nuggets to the behemoths who weigh well into triple digits, poop like Clydesdales, and need their own couch. Or your couch. You can sit on the floor, puny human.
Tom and I got our first dog, a buff cocker spaniel we named Porsche, in 1988. She was followed in 1989 by Flash, a buff and white cocker, and Cricket, a black cocker, in 1991. Mozzie and Oliver are dogs number 13 and 14, respectively. Of those 14 dogs, twelve were purebred.
Wait…what? How can I support rescue and still have purebred dogs, you ask?
I can, and I do, and I don’t have to justify myself to anyone about it. But I will explain.
All those years ago, I’d never heard of a puppy mill. Those cocker spaniels all came from Petland stores in the Indianapolis area. Hey, they had “papers!” The Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval of the dog world, right? Nope. That’s a big ol’ nopeasaurus. My poor cockerpack was a grab-bag of genetic issues, and thus my education began.
In 1994, I got my first golden retriever and the canine love of my life, Ripley. From a backyard breeder. I’d learned not to buy from pet stores, but hadn’t quite figured things out completely. Ripley had bilateral hip surgery at six months old, because his dysplasia was so bad he could already barely walk. Lesson learned.
My poor puppy! But we had 12 wonderful, active, happy years after this.
From then on, dogs #5-12 (and #14) were all rescues, through rescue groups and one private adoption. At times, we had as many as seven dogs, which sounds slightly less clinically insane when you remember I worked in veterinary clinics, was on the board of the regional golden retriever rescue group, was active in the county kennel club and Pyr rescue, and founded a chapter of Therapy Dogs International. Honestly, it’s a miracle I didn’t have twenty-seven, so you should really be congratulating me on my superhuman restraint.
Sprocket, our first RAGOM rescue boy
But all but two of those dogs were still purebred. Undocumented, unregistered, but they were all golden retrievers, one Great Pyrenees, and now one standard poodle, with two exceptions.
As I said, I love all dogs, from their boopable snoots to their long-waggy or stubby-wiggly tails and the bottoms of their so-cute paws. I’m aware anyone can walk into any shelter in any community and walk out with a wonderful canine companion the same day. I get it, and I encourage people to do so. But you also have to do some homework so you have some idea what you’re getting. For example, if you live in a community where you can’t have a fence, and houses are close together, you should probably stay away from scent hounds, because they will follow their noses into the next county and sing the song of their people at ear-shattering volume whenever the spirit moves them.
The thing is, with mixes, you don’t always know what you’re getting, and there’s no reliable way to tell. I have very specific things I need in a dog for him to fit into my life and my pack with minimal conflict for all involved, and I have a much better chance of achieving this if I select breeds whose primary temperament and behaviors match these criteria. I’m sometimes criticized for this, but believe me, purebred dogs need rescue too.
You can’t look at the puppy in the shelter and be sure what he’s made of. He could be a mix of any number of breeds, and you can’t know–unless you have a crystal ball, and if you do, can I please borrow it?–which traits of any of those breeds will manifest. He might look 90% like one of his primary breeds, but his temperament might be 90% like another part of his genetic makeup, and they might be wildly different from what you’d expect.
Let’s look at my two mix-boys as examples.
One day, Tom called me and said, “You’ll never guess what I’m looking at.” Well, no, given that vague non-question, I couldn’t. Turned out the answer was “a golden retriever/Great Pyrenees mix.” Who, coincidentally, needed a new home. And that’s when we adopted Gulliver.
Now, the mistake people might make is thinking a golden/Pyr mix is essentially a gorgeous, extra-fluffy golden retriever. No doubt about it, Gulliver was breathtaking. Just look at this face.
But Gulliver’s personality was 100% Pyr. He was sweet and loving, but reserved. We thought he needed a Pyrish friend, and soon Ozark joined the family.
Ozark was a Lab/Pyr mix, and his temperament was 75% retriever and 25% Pyr, while he looked like an extra-fluffy Lab or golden.
If you take retrievers (Lab or golden) and Pyrs, you have four possible options, in varying degrees.
- Looks like Pyr, acts like retriever
- Looks like Pyr, acts like Pyr
- Looks like retriever, acts like Pyr
- Looks like retriever, acts like retriever
Gully looked like a Pyr-shaped golden and acted like a Pyr. He guarded and patrolled the yard and barked at perceived threats, real or imagined. He could lie in the snow for hours, but wouldn’t dampen one puppy-tootsie in our pool. If you threw a ball, he looked at you like “what the hell is wrong with you, throwing that thing when I’m busy monitoring the perimeter?”
Ozark had a very Lab-like appearance, though fluffier, and his outgoing, interactive personality was retriever through and through. He loved all people, like a Lab. He also adored puppies and kitties, which he would take care of, play with gently, and guard, like a Pyr. Unlike a Lab, he did not fetch and would sooner die than get in the pool.
At least Pyrs and retrievers aren’t terribly incompatible when you smush all that DNA into one dog. Gully and Ozark were fabulous dogs, and fit in well with our pack.
Nope, I did’t have a problem! Seven dogs. On the couch are Seko, Sprocket, Flash, Me, Cricket (she’s black, look for the tongue) and Ripley. On the floor are Gulliver and Ozark. I think this was January 2002.
I worry about less-compatible mixes. In golden rescue, for example, we saw a lot of golden/chow mixes, and it’s hard to imagine two breeds with more different temperaments and personalities. (Side note…why do we refer to dogs as having a “personality?” Does that imply they’re persons? If it does, we should apologize and find a new word immediately, because most people suck, while dogs are made of awesome. Doggonality? Puppernality? I’m open to suggestions.)
If you get that cute little golden-chow mix puppy, who looks like a super-plushy golden, thinking this will be your new “play fetch at the beach” buddy, you might both be very frustrated and disappointed if he ends up having the chow personality. (Puppernatility? I’m still working on this part…) He will not fetch that Frisbee, and if you try to make him go in the water, he will explain to you–possibly with his teeth–why that is not happening.
If he looks like a chow but has the golden “I love all humans, and I know they all love me, so I must bound up to them to facilitate the exchange of our mutual love” outlook on life, you might have a lot of people whose lives flash before their eyes when they think they’re about to be attacked by a breed of dog that typically doesn’t come running at you unless he means business and has decided he does not like you.
It’s all really confusing for everyone involved.
That’s why I tend to stick with breeds I know. I understand how Pyrs and goldens work, and now I also know how standard poodles work. (Hint: They Are Always Watching. He will let you know what he thinks of things later, as soon as he develops a foolproof strategy. Don’t argue. He’s probably right.)
Mozzie (#13) came from a breeder, and Oliver (#14) is a true urgent-case rescue through a humane society, though both are purebred. I have Mozzie’s limited AKC registration, met his parents and two of his littermates, and I am comfortable with the environment in which he was bred and raised. I know who Oliver’s parents are, though I never bothered to track down his papers because a) he’d been through several homes prior to our finding him, and b) papers don’t mean anything unless you want to compete in AKC events such as conformation or obedience, or breed them, and those things are not happening.
Oliver’s parents, Earnest and Lady Girl
When we got Mozzie, I actually got some thin-lipped, silent disapproval because he wasn’t a rescue. Know what? I’ve spent the last 20+ years as a dedicated rescue volunteer and supporter, and if I find myself dogless for the first time in 30 years and come across a puppy and decide he’s what I need, I can certainly buy a damned puppy, regardless of what anyone thinks. Do I need to say that again, louder, for those in the back? No? Good.
There’s no one “right” way to find your perfect dog. He might be waiting in a shelter or a rescue group, or there might be a breeder with a dog who is meant to be yours. The only caveat is I’ll never consider buying from a pet store, or from what I call greed-breeders. They churn out puppies as fast as the poor mama-dog’s uterus will allow, or they produce some trendy designer mixed breed and try to convince you it’s so special you should pay $1000-$2500 or more for the privilege of owning one…and in some cases both. Yeah, stay away from those assholes.
Other than that, do your own thing. Go to a shelter. Apply through an all-breed or breed-specific rescue group. Find a breeder whose head isn’t packed full of straw and illusions of fat bags with dollar signs on them. Know what you want, know what you need, know what you can handle, know what characteristics you can expect from the breed(s) involved, and find your new canine friend.
All that matters is love, and dogs are overflowing with the stuff and more than happy to share.