Making up one’s mind is always difficult, especially when getting a dog, for there are so many different breeds to choose from; and an adviser can only give counsel if he is acquainted with the prospective owner and knows what he expects of his dog.
For example, a sentimental and lonely old spinster seeking an object on which to lavish all her affection and care would find little consolation in the aloof personality of a Chow, which disdains physical caresses and only greets its returning mistress with a supercilious wag of its tail instead of jumping up like other dogs.
To anybody wanting a dog of affectionate nature, a creature which, with its head on its master’s knee will lift up its amber eyes and gaze at him in blind devotion for hours on end, I should recommend a Red Setter or a dog of a similar long-haired, long-eared breed. Personally, I find these dogs too sentimental.
Today, with our troubled minds and the awful threat of atom warfare hanging over us we have reason enough to be sad, and continual contact with a being which has the same sort of temperament and which from time to time makes its presence felt by a deep if gentle sigh, is probably not desirable for many of us.
The sad or cheerful mood of one friend can greatly influence another, and a person of equable or vivacious temperament can be a real inspiration for his surroundings. The same applies to a cheerful dog and I think that the great popularity enjoyed by some comical breeds of dog is largely attributable to our longing for gaiety.
A Sealyham’s love of fun and his fidelity to his master can prove real moral support to a melancholy type of person. Who can help laughing when such an amusing little creature, bursting with the joys of life, comes bouncing along on his far too short legs (walking teats, as a Sealyham-owning friend of mine, calls them), cocks his head and, with an expression half knowing and half innocent, looks up at his master inviting him to play?
To the person seeking not only a personal friend but also a piece of unwarped nature, I recommend a fundamentally different type of dog. I myself prefer dogs not too far removed from the wild form.
My Chow-Alsatian cross-breeds are very close to their wild ancestors, both in their physical and mental properties. The less a dog has become altered in type by domestication, the more he has retained the properties of the wild predator, the more wonderful his friendship seems to me.
For this reason, I dislike spoiling too much of a dog’s true nature by training and I should not even wish my dogs to lose the savage hunting urge that has caused me so much trouble and expense. Were they gentle lambs incapable of hurting a fly it would seem to be less wonderful that I can trust my children to them without care?
An alarming event first made me realize this. One day, during a hard winter, a deer crossed our snowed-up garden fence and was torn to pieces by my three dogs.
As I stood horror-stricken by the mutilated corpse I became conscious of the unconditional faith which I placed in the social inhibition of these blood-thirsty beasts, for my children were at that time smaller and more defenseless than the deer whose gory remains lay before me in the snow.
I was myself astonished at the absolute fearlessness with which I daily entrusted the fragile limbs of my children to the wolf-like jaws.
It is very unusual indeed for a dog to attack his master’s children and I do not think it ever happens in mentally healthy dogs. However, in nervous and high-bred dogs, but occasionally even in mongrels, jealousy, to which all dogs are very prone, can cause horrible effects.
I have lately heard of the truly shocking case of a cross-bred terrier which, up to that time had been the pampered darling of the family, but had been chained up after the arrival of a baby.
At the first opportunity, he jumped into its pram and killed it. Happily, it is rare that jealousy reaches such a dangerous pitch and it seems that it only does so in the more infantile type of dog. The wolf dogs that I fancy were never jealous of the babies, but, on the contrary, adopted a more or less parental attitude towards them. And perhaps this is one of the reasons why I am so fond of that type of dog.
But this is all a matter of taste and I quite realize that my wild, predatory dog is not every man’s choice. Lupus-blooded dogs are not easy to train, owing to their sensibility, their exclusiveness and their independence of character, and only somebody who knows and understands these dogs can exploit the incredible resources of their minds, and derive real pleasure from them.
Others will obtain more enjoyment from a good honest Boxer or from an Airedale Terrier, in the same way as a beginner in photography will achieve more success with a simple box camera than with a highly complicated apparatus.
This does not mean that I deprecate the mentally uncomplicated dog; on the contrary, I am very fond of Boxers and the large terriers whose plucky and affectionate dispositions can hardly be spoiled even by clumsy trainers.
I must also point out that my remarks on the general characteristics of individual dog breeds only apply generally since every possible exception to the rule occurs; fundamentally such a generalization is just as fallible as would be an all-around description of the English, the French or the Germans.
I know very sensitive Boxers, and Chows completely lacking in character; I have even known a most resolute and independent spaniel. My blue-colored Susi, whose Alsatian lineage admittedly has much influence on her character, shows captivating friendliness to friends of my family and is certainly in no way so aloof as other Chows.
It is perhaps more necessary to advise the beginner which dogs not to keep, and which proclivities in a future pet he should steer clear of that to give him any positive advice. But before I go further with these warnings it must be understood that their object is not to deter anybody from keeping a dog.
Any dog is better than none and even if the beginner infringes all the rules here set down, he will still gain a lot of pleasure from his dog. But his pleasure will be greater if he complies with my precepts, the first one of which is: buy only a dog which is healthy in mind and body.
In the absence of good reasons for another choice, take the strongest, fattest and liveliest pup of the litter, three properties which concur with remarkable regularity. Bitches are of course lighter than dogs, which fact must be considered at the time. Should parents or offspring show any signs of decadence, it is better to refuse a pup.
Particular care must be exercised in the case of foreign breeds which, outside their country of origin, are often too highly inbred owing to a paucity of good specimens.
Better a dog of lesser pedigree (a certificate usually left lying about in some drawer at home) and a more vital, less highly strung animal.
I have such a poor opinion of modern dog-breeding, with its over-estimation of ‘beauty’ and neglect of intelligence, that I am inclined to advise a beginner not to buy a dog with too ‘good’ a pedigree. One is probably less likely to obtain in a mongrel a nervous, mentally deficient animal than in a dog with eight champions in its pedigree. An Alsatian should always be bought from a working strain, in which case a certificate of origin from champions has a real, practical value.
Before getting a dog, one should consider how much one is prepared to tax one’s nerves. Very lively dogs like fox-terriers can easily upset a nervy person, particularly when their restlessness arises less from high spirits than from a too highly strung nervous system.
When reflecting on the size of the dog in relation to one’s house or flat, one should also take the temperament of the animal into consideration.
A sentimental Setter, whose chief delight consists of gazing soulfully at his master, will suffer less from the confines of a town flat than will many a quicksilvery little terrier.
Provided one can exercise the animal sufficiently, there is nothing to be said against keeping a large dog in the smallest flat. After all, one’s dog demands no more than one’s own health—half an hour’s walk twice a day in good fresh air.
Unfortunately, it is impossible to foretell whether the playful young pup will grow into a sycophant or whether, with maturity, he will acquire the necessary aloofness towards strangers.
Therefore, in the case of breeds which develop this restraint late, it is better not to buy a pup until he is five or six months old. This applies particularly to spaniels and other long-eared gun-dogs; Chows develop this exclusiveness early and even at eight or nine weeks of age they show marked individuality of character.
If there is no danger of fawning, as in breeds which lack the predisposition, or when the prospective buyer is acquainted with both parents of the pup, I should advise him to get his dog as early as possible, that is, as soon as it can be removed from its mother with impunity. Of course, the pup must still be given plenty of good food, particularly milk and meat, at frequent intervals; and an anti-rachitic medicine, such as cod-liver oil should be administered.
The younger the dog at the outset, the firmer generally becomes his attachment to his master in an afterlife, and the more pleasure the latter will derive from his fully grown dog when he recalls the effort it has cost him. Such recollections are worth a few chewed-up shoes and one or two stains on the carpet.