Letter Re: Request for Advice on Dog Breeds

We want to buy a puppy, partly for our daughter, and partly for the whole family. Is it possible for a single breed of dog to be in charge of watching the house and herding our sheep (we’ve had 4H sheep in the past, and I plan to build up a flock of about 20 on our 17 acres), and perhaps even doing some pointing/retrieving? (I hunt pheasants, quail, and sometimes grouse.) Or am I expecting too much from just one dog? Am I dreaming? – L.P. in Utah

JWR Replies: There are a few breeds that are quite versatile. But herding and hunting are probably mutually exclusive. Don’t laugh, but the breed that I recommend for your family’s situation is a Standard Poodle. This breed is very intelligent and can be trained to do just about anything except pull heavy loads. They were originally bred for hunting. If you give them an even trim, they don’t even look like a poodle, so they aren’t recognized as such by most folks. Another very versatile breed to consider is the Airedale Terrier–the largest of the Terrier family. Both breeds are highly intelligent. The Airedale is more stubborn though. It is a better dog for an assertive family. Regardless of your eventual choice of breeds, buy only from a reputable breeders–preferably from proven hunting lines, and be sure to get a health guarantee.

BTW, intelligent breeds are a mixed blessing. Intelligent breeds tend to be problem solvers. They excel in solving problems such as: “My master has gone somewhere. How can I escape from this yard?”

Plan on investing a lot of time in bonding with your puppy, and thoroughly training it. Get the best references available, and if possible enroll in an obedience course. Both you and your dog will learn a lot.