This article is an example of how one can use the “Choosing the Right Dog” article from PSDP in practice to choose a breed. Please note that the breed being analyzed in this article, Japanese Chin, is not a common breed for service work, and won’t work for most people. This article is simply to show the reasoning I personally went through in picking a breed that will work for me.
My first consideration for choosing a breed was what I wanted the dog to be able to do. The main things I use a service dog for are grounding, tactile stimulation, pressure therapy, and alerts to my anxiety.
This naturally led to size. I wanted a dog that is either big enough for me to touch and ground me while I am walking, or small enough that I could easily carry the dog and have grounding and tactile stimulation in my arms. Also, I wanted a dog that could provide inconspicuous pressure therapy on my lap while I was seated. I’d already tried a big dog that I could pet while walking, and who was able to provide pressure therapy with his head in my lap while we were seated, and I wanted to try a small dog this next time around because they are cheaper to care for, easier to fit places, etc.
I practiced carrying around objects of different weights to see how much I wanted my dog to weigh. I determined that I could carry a 5–10 lb weight for a very long time without getting tired or it hurting any of my joints. I also thought about how much weight I would need for pressure therapy. I figured my previous service dog’s head weighed about 10 lbs, and that was a good weight for pressure therapy in my lap while seated. So that led me to look at the smallest dog breeds out there, at 5–10 lbs.
As to personality, I wanted to choose a dog bred for companionship, which meant I was mostly looking at the toy group.
I do not get out much, so I was looking for a low-energy dog.
For the type of coat and grooming requirements, I preferred a dog with short hair that doesn’t need to be brushed, and doesn’t shed that much.
And one of the biggest things for me is that I did not want a dog that tends to be barky. I just could not handle that, as one of the big reasons I had to retire my previous dog is for barking too much! I discovered that barking was too triggering for me to handle training.
Those were my big criteria when looking for a dog.
I looked seriously at many breeds and studied them carefully. I found that other breeds might work well for other people’s needs, but the moment I knew the Chin was the breed I was going to try was when I really read over the description on this page of the Chin:
“If you want a dog who…
- Is small and pretty, with a short face, large expressive eyes, and a lovely feathered coat
- Is perky and playful
- Adores comfort, cuddling, and snuggling
- Doesn’t need much exercise
- Is polite with strangers
- Is peaceful with other pets
A Japanese Chin may be right for you.
If you don’t want to deal with…
- The fragility of toy breeds (see full decription [sic] below)
- A dependent personality that must have companionship most of the day to avoid “separation anxiety” and destructiveness
- Suspiciousness or timidity in some lines, or when not socialized enough
- Regular brushing and combing
- Moderate to heavy shedding
- Health problems associated with their unnaturally short face
A Japanese Chin may not be right for you.”
There is no such thing as the perfect breed, despite the description of the “gentle yet merry” Japanese Chin that is ” bright, sensitive, and responsive” and everything else that made me fall in love with the breed! I found the breed description to have just the right personality for what I need with a service dog. All the pros were things I was looking for.
So I was looking for a breed that matched my criteria and had cons that were manageable to me. Remember there is no perfect breed out there; every single breed will have at least one drawback. Choosing the right dog for you is about not only picking a dog with the right pros, but also seeing which cons you can live with.
To determine if a Chin was right for me, I took the cons listed above and also asked other experienced Chin owners to give me a list of the cons for the breed. Then I went down the list and reasoned each con out to see if I could deal with that drawback or not. In italics are the cons about the Chin, and below each con was my response when I originally was choosing the breed.
“The fragility of toy breeds”
I was a bit worried about the fragility of the breed, because I have a rambunctious standard poodle. However, my friend Chanda has Italian greyhounds and my standard poodle Ollie is fine with them and we are able to prevent them from any rough play or interaction.
“A dependent personality that must have companionship most of the day to avoid “separation anxiety” and destructiveness”
Separation anxiety is not a major concern for me since it will be a service dog.
“Suspiciousness or timidity in some lines, or when not socialized enough”
Timidity I worried a little bit about, but I had confidence I and my breeder would socialize the pup well.
“Regular brushing and combing
Moderate to heavy shedding”
The regular brushing and heavy shedding were the biggest drawbacks to me. These were really the only drawbacks that make me go “Hmm, am I getting the right breed?” I strongly dislike shedding hair and having to take care of a coat, but there just weren’t any breeds that matched up well with what I wanted and had a better coat.
“Health problems associated with their unnaturally short face”
Health problems from a smushed face I am not as worried about as much because I am getting from a very responsible breeder.
Here are the cons an experienced Chin owner, Mary L, listed, and my thoughts on them:
“They are hard to get to ignore people.“
I’d rather have a dog be too friendly than not friendly enough with the public.
“The health issues I mentioned. It is very difficult to find a good breeder and harder to find one that does health checks. This is because they are an uncommon breed. A good breeder can cost 2000.00 for a pup.“
I did a ton of research and consulted many service dog friends about my breeder, and I found a great breeder.
“Their legs are very fragile making working 4 on the floor more difficult.“
To prepare myself, I watched out for hazards for smaller dogs while out and about. This did concern me some, but it is a drawback that I would have with any dog that is the size I need. I wanted a dog 5–10 lbs for easy carrying and lap pressure therapy, and pretty much all dogs that size are fragile.
“They are bracheocephalic (smushed face) so they do not do well in extreme temps esp heat. They also are not a good dog to leave in the car. Many of us keep our house is cooler in the summer to accommodate our chins.“
I don’t do well in extreme temps either. So we will hang out in the air conditioning together when it is hot out.
“They were bred to be companions so it is not a good idea to leave them in the yard.“
Don’t plan to leave her in the yard.
“They are tiny so big birds and coyotes think ‘dinner.’“
We live in a pretty built-up area, a decent-sized town, so I don’t think we’ll have a problem with coyotes or large birds. But if I see any, I will know to be wary.
“You may get more access challenges having an uncommon breed; especially a small one.“
This is a serious drawback, but one I am prepared to handle. It’s not as bad as when I had Sabrina (a Pittie mix) and people would scream and run away, etc. I can handle people questioning my breed a lot better when they’re not terrified of it.
“They do not fare well with playful big dogs (easily hurt) and do not do well with even small aggressive dogs.“
I don’t let the dog play with big dogs, except maybe some gentle “bitey face”.
“You will get stopped by people with lots of questions about the dog itself. They are more common in some parts of the country. In my area I have only seen one other.“
This is fine with me because everyone stops me to ask what breed Ollie is. Hardly anyone recognizes him as a Poodle!
“Some do agility and other dog sports. But most of them prefer to be at home cuddled in your lap.“
I prefer rally obedience, which is more of a walking speed sport. I also enjoy a dog that can cuddle in my lap—Ollie is just too big to do this anywhere except at home because he is so large he spills off my lap.
“Equipment is harder to find sometimes. You are limited in the vests you can use. I use a cat leash because many standard dog leashes are too heavy.“
Ollie hates vests anyway, so I am already used to being limited in what we can use. I’ve found several vests that I like a lot that fit a Chin.
“It is easy to harm the trachea so many of us only work with a harness rather than a flat buckle collar.“
Not a problem. I will use a harness when doing initial training, and then train a heel that doesn’t depend on leash tightness.
“As others have stated chin do not usually do well with any adversive training. They are loving, praise oriented dogs.“
This is exactly my training philosophy.
“They also have teeny tiny teeth which can lead to dental bills. However it’s always scary when you put a tiny dog under anesthesia.“
This was probably the second biggest thing I am worried about (second to the grooming and shedding). I really need to get back in the habit of brushing dog teeth! I also feed raw, so dental care shouldn’t be as much of an issue.
“Most tiny dogs have a reputation for being harder to potty train. They can get in and under places…a bigger dog can’t so you have to be really watchful that first year.“
This is probably the third biggest thing I was worried about. But after seeing Chanda’s success with an Italian greyhound who was unfortunately trained by the breeder to pee and poop in his crate, I think this can and will be overcome. In any case, my breeder is paper-training the puppies before they go home, so I don’t think this will be a major problem for me.
“During the first year you have to be especially careful because their heads are pretty much too big for the neck.“
I was careful when playing and out and about.
“Contact with big dogs and small children is often avoided during this period.“
We don’t interact with kids much, so I am not worried about that. And I made sure Ollie interacted appropriately.
“Tiny dogs usually mean more trips to the vet. They are so small that it isn’t easy to wait to see if something is developing.“
This is fine with me. If my dog gets sick, I take it to the vet. So I will be mindful, but this isn’t worrisome for me.
So in summary, I had three big wants, and three big drawbacks to the breed. My big wants were 5–10 lbs, low energy, and low barking. The biggest drawbacks are the shedding, the dental care, and the potty training. Note that my ideal breed would have a very short coat, but I just could not find another dog that was similar that had the short coat I wanted. So I had to compromise on that one.
I think my second runner-up when I was thinking of dog breeds was a Papillon. However, they have a lot of energy! I also liked the Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, but they have a LOT of health problems in the breed and are a little larger than what I like.
When choosing a breed, you have to like the pros, and almost more importantly you have to be able to live with the cons.
I definitely don’t think Chin are for everyone! The drawbacks of the breed happen to work for me, but I think I am unusual. I think most people probably would do better with a dog of a bigger size than a Chin. And finding a good, responsible Chin breeder can be very difficult. A lot of Chin breeders don’t do health testing because they think it isn’t important for a toy breed. My breeder does lots of health testing, though. Her website is http://www.nikokorojapanesechin.com/ (note her website uses flash which is not supported on some browsers, try another browser or email her at [email protected] )
So how’d my pick turn out?
My Japanese Chin is almost five years old now, and she is an AWESOME service dog for me! I was right on about the pros! She is the perfect size, she is easily exercised, and she doesn’t have any barking issues. I was also right on about two of the cons. The grooming is difficult. Hestia has white over one eye, so in addition to combing her every other day, I also need to clean her eye. It only takes a couple minutes to do both, but it is something I have to force myself to do. Potty training was also pretty hard! The one con I ended up not having to worry about is dental care, and that’s because with raw feeding, I don’t have to brush her teeth and according to the vet her teeth are perfect.
The breed decision leads to a commitment that is for the life of the dog, so the possible rewards and pitfalls are bigger than most in life. When you are trying to narrow down what breed of dog you would like, following this pattern can help you evaluate different dog breeds to determine which are best for you. I hope my example gives you a glimpse of the serious thought this process needs!