My German shorthair pointer, Sophie, passed away this past winter after 13 years of memorable companionship. Her absence is almost as imposing as was her presence. A flicker of movement off to the side still makes me turn my head, expecting her to bound up to my side. Returning home, I can’t help but look for her bright eyes shining in a front window as she somehow anticipates my arrival once again.
“A dog’s lifespan is too short,” author Agnes Turnbull once said, “their only fault, really.” I’ve had the good fortune to know a number of dogs, and almost every one was so special and their passing so painful that right now I can’t bear the thought of going through it again. Of course, I will eventually weaken.
The variety of dogs to choose from is more diverse than ever. Hunting dogs, or the sporting dog group according to the American Kennel Club, are my preference for both a pet and a field companion, for we share a similar inclination. This group of dogs includes Labrador and golden retrievers, Brittany and springer spaniels, pointers, setters and similar breeds.
These animals are also more likely to be well behaved and intelligent as those traits are critical to their purpose in the field. They are easily trained as well, and most quickly acclimate to a family setting, especially if introduced while young. They do, however, expect to be exercised and taken afield.
I also like working dogs, bred to perform tasks such as guarding property and persons, pulling sleds, water rescue and such. The more common breeds are the Rottweiler, the Doberman pinscher, the Siberian husky and the Great Dane. All are generally quite intelligent and purposeful, but all require intense obedience training; some are aggressive and need thorough socializing.
The herding group is attractive as well in that it includes probably the most intelligent and readily trainable breeds. That includes the border collie, the Belgian Malinois, the German shepherd and Belgian sheepdog, as well the Welsh corgi.
Herding dogs need plenty of exercise — plus opportunity for herding. Actual herding duties are their greatest joy, but gently gathering, directing and ensuring the safety of a family and its young children is a challenge these animals generally find fulfilling.
The hound group is bred for hunting of a special type. Afghans, wolfhounds, bloodhounds, coonhounds and beagles, among many others, generally do well in more rural or open settings (and not particularly well in urban environments). Their instincts are to track and pursue other animals, relentlessly. Some of these breeds have a distinctive beauty but are particularly single-minded, and this does not always translate well into proper urban behavior.
Some breeds in the hound group have the instinct to signal their location by howling or baying, something to consider when deciding to acquire one.
Then there is the terrier group, breeds that originated for vermin control, hunting and (unfortunately) fighting. Today they are known for their energy, alertness and high spirits. Most possess individualistic personalities and require firm obedience training and, especially for the larger types, plenty of exercise.
The toy group is composed of particularly small dogs, or selectively bred smaller versions of larger breeds (the toy poodle, the pug, the toy terriers and the Chihuahua, among others). They are particularly popular in urban environments. Exclusively intended as pets, some are even referred to as purse dogs. They are more easily cared for than the larger breeds and are known for being long-lived and loving animals.
Non-sporting dogs comprise the largest, most populous and diverse group, including breeds like French poodle, Dalmatian, shar-pei, chow and the bichon frise, types that have evolved from many different roles to become pets and companions. Most have a singular appearance. Few generalities can be made of them because each is so unique. They do, however, share the same virtues as all dogs: loyalty, mirth, innocence, courage, curiosity and unconditional love.
Now I’ve got myself thinking.