Why do most people select the dogs they do?
For all the wrong reasons. The latest version of 101 Dalmatians comes out, and suddenly everybody wants a spotted dog. Frasier becomes a hit, and everyone wants a Jack Russell terrier like Eddie. Or they get a dog because it's pretty. All puppies are beautiful, but they turn into adults in less than six months, and you'll live with them for at least 10 years.
People don't stop and think that, say, dalmatians were bred to run beside carriages and circle and guard them when they stopped—they were, in effect, the first car alarms. But a good watchdog is often suspicious, unfriendly and territorial. Parents then realize this wasn't what they wanted for their kids, and they get rid of the dog. Nearly half of all puppies purchased as pets in the U.S. are given to shelters, passed on to friends, abandoned or put to sleep within their first year.
What's the right way to do it?
It's like picking a mate—you should spend some time considering your temperament and that of the dog. In my book I divide the breeds into seven groups—friendly, protective, independent, self-assured, consistent, steady and clever—based on their behavior. Readers can take a test to assess their own personality traits—like warmth, dominance, extroversion—and come up with a score that determines which breeds they'll likely get along with.
So people should pick dogs who match their personality?
No. In fact, opposites are often better. A dominant, controlling person would do best with the most compliant dog around. That's why Lyndon Johnson had beagles, a good-natured, tolerant breed that belongs to the steady group. Introverts tend to do best with independent, personable breeds such as Irish setters and greyhounds, as well as with protective dogs, which include boxers and rottweilers.
But there are no absolute rules. My survey showed that women often favor consistent dogs—home-loving types such as pugs and dachshunds. I also found that extroverts tend to be compatible with clever dogs—trainable types like Border collies, poodles and Dobermans. One example is William Shatner, who is well-known for his Dobermans. And people who don't have extreme personalities, those who aren't emphatically warm or cold, introverted or extroverted—more middle-of-the-road types—tend to select friendly breeds such as Labradors, golden retrievers and spaniels, which fit the personalities of most people.
Do people get along better with dogs that look like them?
Anecdotally, big people do like big dogs. Wilt Chamberlain had Great Danes. Mike Tyson has a bullmastiff and so did Sylvester Stallone, whose dog Butkus appeared in two Rocky movies. I also found that women with long hair prefer lop-eared dogs like springer spaniels, while those with short hair like prick-eared breeds such as malamutes and Siberian huskies. But you can only go so far with that theory. Jamie Lee Curtis, who has short hair, has golden retrievers—longhaired dogs. People thought Winston Churchill looked like a bulldog, but he had black miniature male poodles, all named Rufus.
Can obedience training help change a doggy's personality?
Yes, if the dog is 4 to 6 months of age. But a dog's personality traits are 70 percent genetic, just like humans'.