“What kind of dog is that?”
It’s the ultimate conversation-starter at the dog park. It took me a long time to figure out how to answer that question. Even knowing her breed mix, I still say Nala’s a pound puppy. That sums up the important points to me: she’s a mix of several breeds, all with great attributes; someone gave her up; I fell in love and brought her home. Her lineage doesn't really matter to me.
But should it? How much does breed matter? It depends on what you’re looking for. If you want a specific size of dog, then knowing a dog’s breed will give you a sense of how big or small you can expect the dog to be. If you want a certain temperament, or the dog will be used for a specific purpose, then it helps to know that your dog was bred to have the traits that you’re seeking. The key first step is knowing what you're looking for.
But knowing the dog's breed isn't the only way to know if the puppy in front of you will live up to your expectations. For example: From the size of her paws and ears at 10 weeks, I knew that Nala was going to get big. I spent time with her before adopting her, watched her explore new environments and got a good sense of her personality. She was curious, friendly and smart. She was confident around dogs much bigger than her but also completely content being held by new people. She had a great balance of energy and mellowness. In short, she was exactly what I wanted - even though at the time, I had no idea what breeds were in her.
Though I've owned mostly mutts, Nala is the first one that could have been nearly any breed. The shelter said Lab and Boxer, both of which turned up on the DNA test. But they were the least recognizable according to the test, and she was well over 2 years old before I found out her true mix.
And yet I knew very quickly that this was the dog I wanted to be my companion for the next several years. I spent time with her and got to know her, knew what I wanted and what I could offer. Her energy level matched mine; she was smart enough to be easily trained; she looked like a generic dog, not any specific breed (which, odd as it may seem, was also on my desired traits list); and she would grow up to be a big girl. Without knowing her breeds, I knew that she had all the traits I was seeking.
If you're looking for a working dog, or a dog for some other very specific purpose then yes. It can help selecting a dog by breed simply because you'll be able to predict more closely what you're getting. But for a companion or family dog, if you're looking for certain characteristics, you don't need to base it on breed. Make a list of what you want in a dog, from looks to energy level to behavioral traits, then find a dog that meets those criteria. Or you can meet a dog and just know, in an instant, that that dog is the one for you.
So – does breed matter? Yes, it can – but it certainly doesn’t have to.
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Photo credit: Meagan