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Belgian Sheepdog

Elegant in black, this longhaired beauty also has brains and a strong work ethic.

Belgian Sheepdog Breed Photo

Vital Stats

Dog Breed Group
Herding Dogs
Height
Weight
Life Span
10 to 12 years

Breed Characteristics

  • Details

    Adaptability

    based on 6 ratings
  • Details

    Trainability

    based on 6 ratings
  • Details

    Health & Grooming

    based on 6 ratings
  • Details

    All-around friendliness

    based on 4 ratings
  • Details

    Exercise needs

    based on 4 ratings
  • See All Characteristic Ratings


Summary

This medium-size herding dog breed originated in Belgium where he was used to herd sheep. He later graduated to police work, and today his versatility makes him suitable for many types of work and dog sports. He's alert, devoted, and protective.

Additional articles you will be interested in:

Adoption
Dog Names
Bringing Home Your Dog
Help with Training Puppies
Housetraining Puppies
Feeding a Puppy
Dog games
Teaching your dog tricks
How to take pictures of your dog

  • Overview

    The Belgian Sheepdog (known as the Groenendael in Europe) is the solid-colored variety of the four Belgian shepherd dogs. Elegant and graceful, he has a long black coat and an imposing appearance. He's athletic as well as beautiful and maintains the working ability for which he was originally known, making him an excellent choice for agility, herding, and obedience competitions.

    The Belgian Sheepdog combines the versatility of a working dog with the gentleness of a family companion. He makes a wonderful family companion as long as he receives the exercise he needs.

    Of all the traits this breed has, energy is at the top of the list of what to consider before you purchase. The Belgian Sheepdog is not a breed that enjoys lazing around the house; he's a working dog and needs a job to do. Herding dogs such as the Belgian Sheepdog are hard-wired to chase after a flock of sheep all day long. That instinct doesn't disappear just because they're living in a family home instead. Expect to give him at least an hour of exercise per day. The Belgian Sheepdog is very intelligent and needs variety to keep from becoming bored. He's not a good choice for people who work long hours and have no way of exercising their dog during the day. If he's left to his own devices, he's likely to create his own entertainment — generally something you won't like that will be expensive to repair — or to develop separation anxiety.

    They do better in homes with a fenced yard. Their herding heritage makes Belgian Sheepdogs chasers, and they'll take off after joggers, bicyclists, and cars if they aren't contained by a fence.

    Loving and loyal, the Belgian Sheepdog will always protect "his" children, but it's important for parents to supervise play when neighboring children are around. The Belgian may mistake the noise and high spirits of play as an assault and try to nip at your child's friends. With proper supervision and corrections, you can teach him that this isn't appropriate behavior. Belgian Sheepdogs do best with children when they're raised with them from puppyhood or socialized to them at an early age.

    They can get along well with other dogs and cats if they're brought up with them, although they may have issues with strange animals that come onto their property. They love to chase — that herding instinct again! — so cats who stand their ground will probably fare better than those who turn tail and run.

    This versatile dog has many excellent characteristics, but he's probably not suited to a first-time dog owner. He's loving, loyal, and energetic, but can also be shy, sensitive, and strong-willed. When you put time and effort and energy into him, however, he's well worth all your work.

  • Highlights

    • Shyness can be a problem in this breed. Choose the middle-of-the-road puppy, not the one beating up his littermates or the one hiding in the corner.
    • Belgian Sheepdogs require at least an hour of exercise per day. If you don't provide them with exercise and mental stimulation in the form of training or play, they'll find their own entertainment, and chances are it will be expensive to repair.
    • Belgian Sheepdogs shed year-round and require 15 to 20 minutes of brushing weekly.
    • Belgian Sheepdogs can get along well with other dogs and cats if they're raised with them, but they have a chase instinct and will go after animals that run from them.
    • Belgian Sheepdogs will chase joggers, bicyclists, and cars, so they need a securely fenced yard.
    • Belgian Sheepdogs are very intelligent and alert. They also have strong herding and protection instincts. Early, consistent training is critical!
    • Although they are good-size dogs, they are very people-oriented and want to be included in family activities.
    • Belgian Sheepdogs are play-oriented and sensitive. Keep training sessions fun, consistent, and positive.
    • Because of their intelligence, high energy levels, and other characteristics, Belgian Sheepdogs are not recommended for inexperienced dog owners.
    • To get a healthy dog, never buy a puppy from an irresponsible breeder, puppy mill, or pet store. Look for a reputable breeder who tests her breeding dogs to make sure they're free of genetic diseases that they might pass onto the puppies, and that they have sound temperaments.
  • History

    The Belgian Sheepdog is one of four varieties of shepherd dogs that were developed in Belgium in the late 1800s. The four varieties are the Malinois (fawn-mahogany, short coat with black mask), Tervuren (fawn-mahogany, long coat with black mask) the Laekenois (fawn, rough coat), and the Belgian Sheepdog, or Groenendael (black, long coat). The American Kennel Club (AKC) recognizes all but the Laekenois as separate breeds in the U.S., while the United Kennel Club recognizes all four types as one.

    The Club du Chien de Berger Belge (Belgian Shepherd Dog Club) was formed in September 1891 to determine which of the many different types of dogs was representative only of the shepherd dogs developed in Belgium. In November of that same year, breeders and fanciers met on the outskirts of Brussels to examine shepherd dogs from that area. After much deliberation, veterinary professor Adolphe Reul and a panel of judges concluded that the native shepherd dog of that province were square, medium-size dogs with well-set triangular ears and very dark brown eyes and differed only in the texture, color, and length of hair. Subsequent examinations of dogs in other Belgian provinces resulted in similar findings.

    The black-coated Belgian Sheepdog was developed primarily by breeder Nicolas Rose, whose kennel dates to 1893. The breed takes its European name from Rose's estate, Chateau Groenendael, outside Brussels. He purchased the breed's foundation dogs, Picard d'Uccle and Petite, and their offspring are the ancestors of today's Belgian Sheepdogs. The dogs were immediately popular for their versatility and were used as police dogs in Paris and New York in the early 1900s. In Belgium, customs officers patrolled the border with them.

    During World War I, they carried messages and pulled ambulance and machine gun carts. Their popularity in the United States increased after the war, and the Belgian Sheepdog Club of America was formed in 1919. The Depression era took a toll on their numbers, but they served as war dogs in World War II, and interest in them has gradually increased since that time.

    Today they excel in canine performance sports and rank 122nd among the 155 breeds and varieties recognized by the American Kennel Club.

  • Size

    The Belgian Sheepdog male stands 24 to 26 inches at the shoulder and weighs 65 to 75 pounds, females 22 to 24 inches and 60 to 70 pounds.

  • Personality

    The ideal Belgian Sheepdog is smart, brave, alert, and devoted to his family. He's described as always in motion when not under command. His observation skills make him an excellent watchdog, but his herding heritage makes him naturally distrustful of strangers. If he isn't properly trained and socialized this distrust can lead to aggressive behavior. A well-socialized and trained Belgian Sheepdog is a confident protector of his people and property and doesn't attack without cause. He's affectionate and friendly with people he knows, especially family members. He's also demanding of their time and attention. This breed does not like to be left alone; he wants to be doing things with the family. He requires plenty of mental stimulation in the form of training and play, especially with puzzle toys such as Buster Cubes, as well as interactive play such as fetch games.

    This ideal Belgian Sheepdog temperament doesn't just happen. It's affected by a number of factors, including heredity, training, and socialization. Puppies with nice temperaments are curious and playful, willing to approach people and be held by them. Choose the middle-of-the-road puppy, not the one who's beating up his littermates or the one who's hiding in the corner. Excessive shyness can be a problem in this breed, so never choose a fearful puppy, even if he elicits protective feelings from you.

    Always meet at least one of the parents — usually the mother is the one who's available — to ensure that they have nice temperaments that you're comfortable with. Meeting siblings or other relatives of the parents is also helpful for evaluating what a puppy will be like when he grows up.

    Like every dog, Belgian Sheepdogs need early socialization — exposure to many different people, sights, sounds, and experiences — when they're young. Socialization helps ensure that your Belgian Sheepdog puppy grows up to be a well-rounded dog. Enrolling him in a puppy kindergarten class is a great start. Inviting visitors over regularly, and taking him to busy parks, stores that allow dogs, and on leisurely strolls to meet neighbors will also help him polish his social skills.

  • Health

    Belgian Sheepdogs are generally healthy, but like all breeds, they're prone to certain health conditions. Not all Belgian Sheepdogs will get any or all of these diseases, but it's important to be aware of them if you're considering this breed.

    If you're buying a puppy, find a good breeder who will show you health clearances for both your puppy's parents. Health clearances prove that a dog has been tested for and cleared of a particular condition. In Belgian Sheepdogs , you should expect to see health clearances from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) for hip dysplasia (with a score of fair or better), elbow dysplasia, hypothyroidism, and von Willebrand's disease; from Auburn University for thrombopathia; and from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation (CERF) certifying that eyes are normal. You can confirm health clearances by checking the OFA web site (offa.org).

    • Hip Dysplasia: This is a heritable condition in which the thighbone doesn't fit snugly into the hip joint. Some dogs show pain and lameness on one or both rear legs, but you may not notice any signs of discomfort in a dog with hip dysplasia. As the dog ages, arthritis can develop. X-ray screening for hip dysplasia is done by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals or the University of Pennsylvania Hip Improvement Program (PennHIP). Dogs with hip dysplasia should not be bred. If you're buying a puppy, ask the breeder for proof that the parents have been tested for hip dysplasia and are free of problems. Hip dysplasia is hereditary, but it can also be triggered by environmental factors, such as rapid growth from a high-calorie diet or injuries incurred from jumping or falling on slick floors.
    • Elbow Dysplasia: This is a heritable condition common to large-breed dogs. It's thought to be caused by different growth rates of the three bones that make up the dog's elbow, causing joint laxity. This can lead to painful lameness. Your vet may recommend surgery to correct the problem or medication to control the pain.
    • Epilepsy: The Belgian Sheepdog can suffer from epilepsy, a disorder that causes mild or severe seizures. Epilepsy can be hereditary; it can be triggered by metabolic disorders, infectious diseases that affect the brain, tumors, exposure to poisons, or severe head injuries; or it can be of unknown cause (referred to as idiopathic epilepsy). Seizures may be exhibited by unusual behavior, such as running frantically as if being chased, staggering, or hiding. Seizures are frightening to watch, but the long-term prognosis for dogs with idiopathic epilepsy is generally very good. Epilepsy can be controlled with medication, but it cannot be cured. A dog can live a full and healthy life with the proper management of this disorder. If your Belgian Sheepdog has seizures, take him to the vet right away for a diagnosis and treatment recommendations.
    • Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA): This is a degenerative eye disorder that eventually causes blindness from the loss of photoreceptors at the back of the eye. It is not thought to be widespread in Belgian Sheepdogs. PRA is detectable years before the dog shows any signs of blindness. Fortunately, dogs can use their other senses to compensate for blindness, and a blind dog can live a full and happy life. Just don't make it a habit to move the furniture around. Reputable breeders have their dogs' eyes certified annually by a veterinary ophthalmologist and do not breed dogs with this disease. The eye clearance the breeder shows you should be dated within the past year.
    • Cancer: Dogs like humans can develop cancer. There are many different types of cancer and the success of treatment differs for each individual case. For some forms of cancer, the tumors are surgically removed, others are treated with chemotherapy and some are treated both surgically and medically.
    • Anesthesia Sensitivity: Some Belgian Sheepdogs appear to be sensitive to anesthesia. It is important to alert your veterinarian to this possibility so he or she can follow the same anesthetic protocols that are used with sighthounds, including a pre-anesthesia physical exam and lab work, obtaining a current weight, careful administration of anesthesia, and monitoring the dog's vital signs during and after surgery.
    • Hypothyroidism: Hypothyroidism is an abnormally low level of the hormone produced by the thyroid gland. A mild sign of the disease may be infertility. More obvious signs include obesity, mental dullness, drooping of the eyelids, low energy levels, and irregular heat cycles. The dog's fur becomes coarse and brittle and begins to fall out, while the skin becomes tough and dark. Hypothyroidism can be treated with daily medication, which must continue throughout the dog's life. A dog receiving daily thyroid treatment can live a full and happy life.
  • Care

    The Belgian Sheepdog is an indoor/outdoor dog. He should live indoors with the family but needs access to a securely fenced yard that will prevent him from escaping to chase passing cyclists, joggers, and cars.

    If possible, provide your Belgian Sheepdog with some off-leash exercise in a fenced area in addition to long walks or jogging. He needs at least an hour of activity daily, which can be broken up into two or three exercise or play sessions. He enjoys playing Frisbee and other retrieving games. If you like to hike or jog, your Belgian Sheepdog will be happy to be by your side. Consider training him to compete in obedience, tracking, or agility. It doesn't really matter what you do as long as you keep him busy. Don't be surprised if he runs in large circles in your yard; it's a remnant of his herding heritage.

    Introduce puppies to exercise gradually. From 9 weeks to 4 months of age, puppy kindergarten once or twice a week is a great way for them to get exercise, training, and socialization, plus 15 to 20 minutes of playtime in the yard, morning and evening. Throw a ball for them to fetch. From 4 to 6 months of age, weekly obedience classes, daily half-mile walks, plus playtime in the yard will meet their needs. From 6 months to a year of age, play for up to 40 minutes twice a day. Continue to limit walks to a half mile. After he's a year old, your Belgian Sheepdog pup can begin to jog with you, but keep the distance to less than a mile and give him frequent breaks along the way. Avoid hard surfaces such as asphalt and concrete. As he continues to mature, you can increase the distance and time you run. These graduated levels of exercise will protect his developing bones and joints.

    While the Belgian Sheepdog is smart and highly trainable, he is an independent thinker. To succeed in training him, you'll need to earn his trust and respect without the use of anger, intimidation, or physical force. For all his confidence and strength, the Belgian Sheepdog is sensitive, and his temperament can be damaged, sometimes irreparably, by harsh corrections. He does best with a combination of firm, fair, consistent rules and rewards for correct behavior.

  • Feeding

    Recommended daily amount: 2 to 3 cups of high-quality dry food a day, divided into two meals.

    NOTE: How much your adult dog eats depends on his size, age, build, metabolism, and activity level. Dogs are individuals, just like people, and they don't all need the same amount of food. It almost goes without saying that a highly active dog will need more than a couch potato dog. The quality of dog food you buy also makes a difference — the better the dog food, the further it will go toward nourishing your dog and the less of it you'll need to shake into your dog's bowl.

    For more on feeding your Belgian Sheepdog, see our guidelines for buying the right food, feeding your puppy, and feeding your adult dog

    .

  • Coat, Color and Grooming

    The Belgian Sheepdog is a double-coated breed. The topcoat is abundant with long, straight hair that's moderately harsh to the touch, never wiry or silky. The soft, dense undercoat provides protection from the weather and varies in thickness depending on the climate in which the Belgian Sheepdog lives.

    The hair is short on the head, outside the ears, and on the front part of the legs. Tufts of hair protect the opening of the ear. The hair on the rest of the body is long and includes long and abundant hair — called a collarette — around the neck, which is most noticeable in males; a fringe of long hair running down the back of the front legs and back of the thighs, and long, heavy, abundant hair on the tail. As in most species, the male is more ornamental than the female.

    The ideal Belgian Sheepdog is completely black or black with a bit of white between the pads of the feet, on the tips of the hind toes, or a small patch or strip on the forechest. You may also see a bit of frost on the chin or muzzle. White on the tips of the front toes is considered a fault according to the breed standard, but of course it doesn't affect the Belgian Sheepdog's abilities as a companion or working dog.

    Expect to spend 15 to 20 minutes per week brushing out that coat to remove dead hair and prevent mats or tangles. If you do this, you shouldn't have a lot of loose hair flying around your house, especially if you supplement the weekly brushing with a quick daily brushing of a minute or two. Grooming tools that will come in handy include a medium-size pin brush for long hair, a wire slicker brush for use on puppies and on areas of the body with shorter hair, a grooming rake for removing shedding hair, and a mat comb for removing the occasional mat that forms behind the ears or in the areas where the legs join the body.

    Like most double-coated dogs, Belgian Sheepdogs shed year-round with at least one heavy shed per year depending on the climate in which they live and how much coat they have. To get the shedding period over with more quickly, give a warm bath or two to help release the coat and brush more frequently. Some people save the fur and have it spun into yarn and made into sweaters or other items of clothing.

    Other grooming needs include dental hygiene and nail care. Brush your Belgian Sheepdog's teeth at least two or three times a week to remove tartar buildup and the bacteria that lurk inside it. Daily brushing is even better if you want to prevent gum disease and bad breath.

    Trim nails regularly if your dog doesn't wear them down naturally. If you can hear them clicking on the floor, they're too long. Short, neatly trimmed nails keep the dog's feet in good condition and keep your legs from getting scratched when your Belgian Sheepdog enthusiastically jumps up to greet you.

    Begin accustoming your Belgian Sheepdog to being brushed and examined when he's a puppy. Handle his paws frequently — dogs are touchy about their feet — and look inside his mouth and ears. Make grooming a positive experience filled with praise and rewards, and you'll lay the groundwork for easy veterinary exams and other handling when he's an adult.

    As you groom, check for sores, rashes, or signs of infection such as redness, tenderness, or inflammation on the skin, in the ears, nose, mouth, and eyes, and on the feet. Ears should smell good, without too much wax or gunk inside, and eyes should be clear, with no redness or discharge. Your careful weekly exam will help you spot potential health problems early.

  • Children and other pets

    Well-socialized Belgian Sheepdogs are good with children, especially if they are raised with them, but because of their herding heritage they may have a tendency to nip at their heels and try to herd them when playing. You must teach your Belgian Sheepdog that this behavior is unacceptable. An adult Belgian Sheepdog who is unfamiliar with children may do best in a home with children who are mature enough to interact with him properly.

    Always teach children how to approach and touch dogs, and always supervise any interactions between dogs and young children to prevent any biting or ear or tail pulling on the part of either party. Teach your child never to approach any dog while he's sleeping or eating or to try to take the dog's food away. No dog should ever be left unsupervised with a child.

    Belgian Sheepdogs get along best with other dogs and cats when they're brought up with them from puppyhood. Sometimes they become best friends with cats and other animals and will protect them as they would members of their flock, and sometimes they all come to an agreement of mutual indifference. Belgian Sheepdogs can be aggressive toward other animals who aren't part of their family. If you want your Belgian Sheepdog to get along with other animals you must start early and reward them for appropriate behavior. If your Belgian Sheepdog hasn't been socialized to other animals, it's your responsibility to keep him under control in their presence.

  • Rescue Groups

    Belgian Sheepdogs are often purchased without any clear understanding of what goes into owning one. There are many Belgian Sheepdog in need of adoption and or fostering. There are a number of rescues that we have not listed. If you don't see a rescue listed for your area, contact the national breed club or a local breed club and they can point you toward a Belgian Sheepdog rescue.

  • Breed Organizations

    Below are breed clubs, organizations, and associations where you can find additional information about Belgian Sheepdog.

  • All Breed Characteristics

  • Adaptability

    Measures how well this breed potentially adapts to different environments

  • Trainability

    Measures the amount and difficulty of training potentially required for this breed

  • Health & Grooming

    Measures how much effort this breed potentially needs to keep a tidy hound and home

  • All-around friendliness

    Measures this breed's potential to get along with other dogs and humans

  • Exercise needs

    Measures this breed's potential to require lots of physical activity

  • Sometimes

    Adapt well to apartment living

    Contrary to popular belief, small size doesn't necessarily an apartment dog make -- plenty of small dogs are too high-energy and yappy for life in a high-rise. Being quiet, low energy, fairly calm indoors, and polite with the other residents, are all good qualities in an apartment dog.

  • Very

    Affectionate with family

    Some breeds are independent and aloof, even if they've been raised by the same person since puppyhood; others bond closely to one person and are indifferent to everyone else; and some shower the whole family with affection. Breed isn't the only factor that goes into affection levels; dogs who were raised inside a home with people around feel more comfortable with humans and bond more easily.

  • A lot!

    Amount of shedding

    If you're going to share your home with a dog, you'll need to deal with some level of dog hair on your clothes and in your house. However, shedding does vary greatly among the breeds: Some dogs shed year-round, some "blow" seasonally -- produce a snowstorm of loose hair -- some do both, and some shed hardly at all. If you're a neatnik you'll need to either pick a low-shedding breed, or relax your standards.

  • Sometimes

    Dog friendly

    Friendliness toward dogs and friendliness toward humans are two completely different things. Some dogs may attack or try to dominate other dogs even if they're love-bugs with people; others would rather play than fight; and some will turn tail and run. Breed isn't the only factor; dogs who lived with their littermates and mother until at least 6 to 8 weeks of age, and who spent lots of time playing with other dogs during puppyhood, are more likely to have good canine social skills.

  • Moderate

    Drooling potential

    Drool-prone dogs may drape ropes of slobber on your arm and leave big, wet spots on your clothes when they come over to say hello. If you've got a laid-back attitude toward slobber, fine; but if you're a neatnik, you may want to choose a dog that rates low in the drool department.

  • Not particularly

    Easy to groom

    Some breeds are brush-and-go dogs; others require regular bathing, clipping, and other grooming just to stay clean and healthy. Consider whether you have the time and patience for a dog that needs a lot of grooming, or the money to pay someone else to do it.

  • Extremely

    Easy to train

    Easy to train dogs are more adept at forming an association between a prompt (such as the word "sit"), an action (sitting), and a consequence (getting a treat) very quickly. Other dogs need more time, patience, and repetition during training. Many breeds are intelligent but approach training with a "What's in it for me?" attitude, in which case you'll need to use rewards and games to teach them to want to comply with your requests.

  • Very high

    Energy level

    High-energy dogs are always ready and waiting for action. Originally bred to perform a canine job of some sort, such as retrieving game for hunters or herding livestock, they have the stamina to put in a full workday. They need a significant amount of exercise and mental stimulation, and they're more likely to spend time jumping, playing, and investigating any new sights and smells. Low-energy dogs are the canine equivalent of a couch potato, content to doze the day away. When picking a breed, consider your own activity level and lifestyle, and think about whether you'll find a frisky, energetic dog invigorating or annoying.

  • High

    Exercise needs

    Some breeds do fine with a slow evening stroll around the block. Others need daily, vigorous exercise -- especially those that were originally bred for physically demanding jobs, such as herding or hunting. Without enough exercise, these breeds may put on weight and vent their pent-up energy in ways you don't like, such as barking, chewing, and digging. Breeds that need a lot of exercise are good for outdoorsy, active people, or those interested in training their dog to compete in a high-energy dog sport, such as agility.

  • Not usually

    Friendly toward strangers

    Stranger-friendly dogs will greet guests with a wagging tail and a nuzzle; others are shy, indifferent, or even aggressive. However, no matter what the breed, a dog who was exposed to lots of different types, ages, sizes, and shapes of people as a puppy will respond better to strangers as an adult.

  • Fairly good

    General health

    Due to poor breeding practices, some breeds are prone to certain genetic health problems, such as hip dysplasia. This doesn't mean that every dog of that breed will develop those diseases; it just means that they're at an increased risk. If you're buying a puppy, it's a good idea to find out which genetic illnesses are common to the breed you're interested in, so you can ask the breeder about the physical health of your potential pup's parents and other relatives.

  • Sometimes

    Good for novice owners

    Some dogs are simply easier than others: they take to training better and are fairly easygoing. They're also resilient enough to bounce back from your mistakes or inconsistencies. Dogs who are highly sensitive, independent thinking, or assertive may be harder for a first-time owner to manage. You'll get your best match if you take your dog-owning experience into account as you choose your new pooch.

  • Very high

    Intelligence

    Dogs who were bred for jobs that require decision making, intelligence, and concentration, such as herding livestock, need to exercise their brains, just as dogs who were bred to run all day need to exercise their bodies. If they don't get the mental stimulation they need, they'll make their own work -- usually with projects you won't like, such as digging and chewing. Obedience training and interactive dog toys are good ways to give a dog a brain workout, as are dog sports and careers, such as agility and search and rescue.

  • Moderate

    Intensity

    A vigorous dog may or may not be high-energy, but everything he does, he does with vigor: he strains on the leash (until you train him not to), tries to plow through obstacles, and even eats and drinks with great big gulps. These dynamos need lots of training to learn good manners, and may not be the best fit for a home with young kids or someone who's elderly or frail. A low-vigor dog, on the other hand, has a more subdued approach to life.

  • Sometimes

    Kid friendly

    Being gentle with children, sturdy enough to handle the heavy-handed pets and hugs they can dish out, and having a blasé attitude toward running, screaming children are all traits that make a kid-friendly dog. You may be surprised by who's on that list: Fierce-looking Boxers are considered good with children, as are American Staffordshire Terriers (aka pit bulls). Small, delicate, and potentially snappy dogs such as Chihuahuas aren't so family-friendly.

    **All dogs are individuals. Our ratings are generalizations, and they're not a guarantee of how any breed or individual dog will behave. Dogs from any breed can be good with children based on their past experiences, training on how to get along with kids, and personality. No matter what the breed or breed type, all dogs have strong jaws, sharp pointy teeth, and may bite in stressful circumstances. Young children and dogs of any breed should always be supervised by an adult and never left alone together, period.

  • High

    Potential for mouthiness

    Common in most breeds during puppyhood and in retriever breeds at all ages, mouthiness means a tendency to nip, chew, and play-bite (a soft, fairly painless bite that doesn't puncture the skin). Mouthy dogs are more likely to use their mouths to hold or "herd" their human family members, and they need training to learn that it's fine to gnaw on chew toys, but not on people. Mouthy breeds tend to really enjoy a game of fetch, as well as a good chew on a chew toy that's been stuffed with kibble and treats.

  • Very high

    Potential for playfulness

    Some dogs are perpetual puppies -- always begging for a game -- while others are more serious and sedate. Although a playful pup sounds endearing, consider how many games of fetch or tag you want to play each day, and whether you have kids or other dogs who can stand in as playmates for the dog.

  • Low

    Potential for weight gain

    Some breeds have hearty appetites and tend to put on weight easily. As in humans, being overweight can cause health problems in dogs. If you pick a breed that's prone to packing on pounds, you'll need to limit treats, make sure he gets enough exercise, and measure out his daily kibble in regular meals rather than leaving food out all the time.

  • Low

    Prey drive

    Dogs that were bred to hunt, such as terriers, have an inborn desire to chase and sometimes kill other animals. Anything whizzing by -- cats, squirrels, perhaps even cars -- can trigger that instinct. Dogs that like to chase need to be leashed or kept in a fenced area when outdoors, and you'll need a high, secure fence in your yard. These breeds generally aren't a good fit for homes with smaller pets that can look like prey, such as cats, hamsters, or small dogs. Breeds that were originally used for bird hunting, on the other hand, generally won't chase, but you'll probably have a hard time getting their attention when there are birds flying by.

  • Very high

    Sensitivity level

    Some dogs will let a stern reprimand roll off their backs, while others take even a dirty look to heart. Low-sensitivity dogs, also called "easygoing," "tolerant," "resilient," and even "thick-skinned," can better handle a noisy, chaotic household, a louder or more assertive owner, and an inconsistent or variable routine. Do you have young kids, throw lots of dinner parties, play in a garage band, or lead a hectic life? Go with a low-sensitivity dog.

  • Large

    Size

    Dogs come in all sizes, from the world's smallest pooch, the Chihuahua, to the towering Great Dane, how much space a dog takes up is a key factor in deciding if he is compatible with you and your living space.

  • Very high

    Tendency to bark or howl

    Some breeds sound off more often than others. When choosing a breed, think about how the dog vocalizes — with barks or howls — and how often. If you're considering a hound, would you find their trademark howls musical or maddening? If you're considering a watchdog, will a city full of suspicious "strangers" put him on permanent alert? Will the local wildlife literally drive your dog wild? Do you live in housing with noise restrictions? Do you have neighbors nearby?

  • Not particularly well

    Tolerates being alone

    Some breeds bond very closely with their family and are more prone to worry or even panic when left alone by their owner. An anxious dog can be very destructive, barking, whining, chewing, and otherwise causing mayhem. These breeds do best when a family member is home during the day or if you can take the dog to work.

  • Quite well

    Tolerates cold weather

    Breeds with very short coats and little or no undercoat or body fat, such as Greyhounds, are vulnerable to the cold. Dogs with a low cold tolerance need to live inside in cool climates and should have a jacket or sweater for chilly walks.

  • Not so well

    Tolerates hot weather

    Dogs with thick, double coats are more vulnerable to overheating. So are breeds with short noses, like Bulldogs or Pugs, since they can't pant as well to cool themselves off. If you want a heat-sensitive breed, the dog will need to stay indoors with you on warm or humid days, and you'll need to be extra cautious about exercising your dog in the heat.

  • Low

    Wanderlust potential

    Some breeds are more free-spirited than others. Nordic dogs such as Siberian Huskies were bred to range long distances, and given the chance, they'll take off after anything that catches their interest. And many hounds simply must follow their noses, or that bunny that just ran across the path, even if it means leaving you behind.

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