Katie Cincotta takes a look at Australias most popular dog breeds.
Short, frumpy, feisty, floppy, curly, cuddly, lazy or jumpy … with more than 400 dog breeds in the world, our canine companions come in all shapes and sizes, as varied and unique as us humans. In fact, there’s probably a dog to suit every imaginable lifestyle and personality, no matter how common or quirky you are.
This month, Dogs Life looks at Australias top 10 dog breeds. They’re the most popular dogs according to ours readers, so you’re bound to find a few of them lapping up the fresh air and open spaces at your local off-leash park.
The next time you cross paths with a laidback Lab, a playful Jack or a smiling Staffy, you’ll know just that little bit more about what makes them special.
To be fair, we’ve listed the top 10 in alphabetical order. They’re all equally popular breeds, but we know how protective you dog lovers can be!
Australian Cattle Dog
What would some of Australias funniest ads be without an iconic Blue Heeler to deliver a bark for the punch line? Australias most famous working dog has become symbolic of our rugged, sunburnt land as common on the back of a tradesmans ute as cold beer on a lazy Sunday.
History tells us that the Australian Cattle Dog was produced by crossing the Blue Merle Scotch Collie with the native Dingo. The result became known as a Blue Heeler due to the colour of the mottled coat, combined with the herders tendency to nip at the heels of cattle to get them moving.
Because this is an energetic outdoor dog, many owners warn that you need to have room for a Blue Heeler to move, or at least be prepared to get out for long walks.
When you’re trekking through local park or bushland, you can feel proud to know that you share your life with a “true blue” Aussie, born and bred Down Under.
There’s so much to love about the hunter with the handsome muzzle. These lovely hounds have placid temperaments, which makes them great with kids.
“Beagles are very family oriented. They wont let you ignore them. They like being in your face and on your knee. They just love to be with you,” says Sandra Parkes, breed officer for The Beagle Club of NSW.
Parkes, who owns eight Beagles herself, says the clubs Sniffing Around Sydney walks have proved popular with the growing community of Beagle lovers.
“They’re bred to have their nose on the ground and their tail in the air. We’ve had up to 15 and 20 people on the walks,” said Parkes.
Because of the breeds tracking instinct, Parkes doesn’t recommend having Beagles off-leash unless you train them from a very early age.
“As long as theyve got a scent they will cross the freeway, or anything else, to pursue it,” she says.
As for the issue of weight, Beagles find it hard to resist overindulging another side-effect of their super-sensitive nose.
“If youve got food in your pocket they will love you forever. You just have to watch what they eat in terms of quantity and the high-protein foods,” said Parkes.
On the upside, training is easier with Beagles when food is offered as a reward. So keep plenty of treats handy when you’re teaching your hound dog to find “X”
marks the spot on Captain Kidds famous buried treasure.
There’s something quite spectacular about the black and white coat of the Border Collie. His usual black body and white snout are a majestic design fitting for an agile farm dog.
Hes known to run more than 80km in a day, doing the work of several men. Hes also a brilliant performer in the obedience ring, which harks back to his practical work as one of the worlds finest sheepdogs. The question is, can you keep up with him?
Regular and extensive daily exercise is a must for the Border Collie, as is mental stimulation. This breed is a bit like a precocious child; if you don’t stimulate his mind hes likely to get into mischief. So keep play varied with ball chasing, frisbee catching and some challenging terrain like rocks and rivers.
The herding instinct of the Bordie Collie is also something worth noting for potential owners.
The Border Collie Rescue group warns that families need to be fully aware of the nature of the dog to circle and “herd” its livestock, which he may do with children if his herding instinct is strong.
“Border Collies tend not to be the kind of dog that you can let loose to run with your kids around the neighbourhood. Though these are wonderful dogs, they certainly are not for everyone,” says the group.
You can tell from those sharp, intense eyes that this dog doesn’t miss a trick. The active mind of the German Shepherd has made him popular with owners, who appreciate a clever and stately dog. He also earns his keep working for law and order from tracking and drug detection with the police, to security work as a guard dog.
Also known as the Alsation, this proud and powerful breed stands 60cm tall, which means hes a great choice if you want a mans size dog that wont draw whispers at the park.
The impressive German Shepherd is renowned for its loyalty so expect him to bond with the entire family. A superb companion dog, he remains utterly devoted to his owners but has a natural wariness of strangers, so make sure hes supervised with visitors.
As one of the worlds most successful working dogs, the German Shepherd feels he has a job to do in life so make sure he releases all that positive energy through exercise, obedience training or agility. Its also important to have him socialised from an early age so his astute manner doesn’t become aggressive.
Friendly and trusting, with its glorious long gold coat, its not surprising to discover that the Golden Retriever rates in the top 10 most popular dogs in Australia. The golden-haired beauty is also one of the 18 dog breeds featured on Nintendos popular dog game, Nintendogs, which lets players choose a pup, train it and then hook up with other Nintendog players all over the world.
You’ll see the famous Goldie lapping up the attention of young children at the park. His docile nature makes him a great breed to have in company be it with kids or other dogs.
His double coat is wavy and water-resistant, ideal for swimming. Just be sure to give him a 10-minute brush once a week to keep him from getting knotty.
As a smart gun dog bred for retrieving work, the Golden Retriever thrives on a structured training program and can be a top performer in obedience and agility trials. Keep him interested by varying your routine as he can bore easily. If you train him to bring in the newspaper, expect him to want to jump into bed to read it with you.
Jack Russell Terrier
If ever there was a breed fearless enough to bungee jump or skydive, the Jack Russell is it. These hyperactive terriers are incredibly brave for their size and will stop at nothing if they sniff adventure in the wind. Their energy, curiosity and lively spirit appeal to energetic folk looking for a dog that loves to get out and exercise. The Jack could even make the Aussie cricket team if he could learn to bring the ball back after the “catch”.
Its not surprising that the breed is alert and tenacious. The JRT takes its name from the Reverend John (Jack) Russell, a foxhunting Parson who rode to the hounds in North Devon, England, until his death in 1888. He was obsessed with the development of a terrier that was wily and determined enough to flush the fox from its haunts. So if you’re looking for a breed to keep your home pest-free, you can’t go past the Jack Russell.
Be warned, though, this little terrier does have a mind of his own and it takes perseverance and patience to train him. That stubborn streak that makes him suited to killing vermin can frustrate you when you’re trying to get him to stop digging your veggie patch. They have to be taught early on that they don’t rule the world, so you need to show them, through absolute consistency, that you mean what you say. Obedience training is also important to protect small children, as the Jack sometimes has a snappy side that needs to be kept in check.
Believed to have originated in Greenland, the Labrador has found his way into the hearts of dog lovers all over the world. In Australia, we especially love his ability to enjoy the rough and tumble of our outdoor lifestyle.
The Lab is no stranger to water adventure, which means hes perfect for the summer frolic at the beach or river. He was originally bred to help fishermen retrieve cork floats from fishing nets, which later developed into retrieving work in England.
We love him now for his placid nature and sporting spirit; hes as happy to run at the park with kids as he is to chill out in the sun in the backyard.
But ask any Lab lover what this breed is really passionate about and its food. You’ll need to keep his weight in check with rationing, weight checks and plenty of exercise. If hes tipping the scales between 25 and 34kg hes looking good. Any more than that and it might be time to stop feeding him leftover pizza.
If you’re interested in seeing if a Lab would fit your lifestyle, the Guide Dogs Association offers puppy-raising programs, which place potential guide dogs with suitable homes until they’re 14 months old. Just be sure you’ll be able to say goodbye if your puppy ends up being one of the new recruits.
The French aren’t the only ones in love with the dainty Toy Poodle. In fact, there are quite a few sophisticated Australians who regard the curly-coated princess as the dog du jour.
Despite its pretty coat, which can be coiffured from top to toe, the Poodle is also a versatile and intelligent breed. Its actually the worlds oldest water retriever, circus performer and truffle hunter, so hows that for a resume?
If you’re a fashion aficionado you’re going to love the Poodles style potential. He needs professional grooming to keep his curly coat looking his best, which makes the regular clip an event worthy of photography. Most people who own Poodles prefer the Lamb Trim, which is the body shaved short, with fur on the legs a little longer and a pom on the tail (ribbons for the Hollywood effect).
Decorative coats aside, Poodles are active and smart dogs. They’re considered one of the most intelligent breeds, which sees them excel at competitive obedience and performing tricks.
The breed comes in three sizes standard, miniature and toy with a teacup variety available in some countries.
The commanding Rottweiler from Germany is a dog that demands respect. With his solid build and courageous temperament, hes really best in the hands of experienced and confident dog owners. And there are plenty of us around in Australia, making the Rottie a firm favourite.
The breed is an ancient one, founded on droving and guarding. Its history stretches back to the Roman Empire, where the Rottweiler helped to herd cattle and protect cattlemen from robbers. It was a stupid villain who would try to remove the purse from the neck of a Rottweiler Metzgerhund (Butchers Dog of Rottweil). During WWI, the Rotties enormous strength and his ability to take orders made him a natural weapon of war.
So if you’re looking for a dog to defend home and family, this macho boy is an ideal choice. Unfortunately, unethical breeders have produced dogs with aggressive tendencies, which damage the breeds reputation as a loving pet. So refer to the Rottweiler club in your state for guidance on buying a puppy.
With such a long-winded title, its understandable why this rugged little breed gets Staffy for short. In fact, when you meet the friendly muscle man of the dog world you may be surprised by his ominous-sounding name, because what you’ll find is a lovable and affectionate dog often referred to as the smiling dog because of his beautiful grin.
Originally bred for fighting in central England, the Staffie has left his violent past behind and his physical nature only ever surfaces through neglect or poor discipline.
“A well-trained, well-socialised Staffordshire should never initiate a fight but you must always respect what they were bred to do. Its important to put them through training because of that history,” said Selena Lynch, president of The Staffordshire Bull Terrier Club of Victoria.
Lynch is concerned that the breed is wrongly assumed to be suitable for everyone as an all-round dog. She says the Staffy might look tough and macho on the outside, but hes really quite soft and sensitive.
“They’re very high maintenance in that they need a lot of attention. And they’re very much a housedog. They’re capable of being escape artists if their needs aren’t met,” said Lynch.
As for their reputation of being wonderful family dogs, Lynch agrees that the Staffy is “bomb-proof” when it comes to children.
“Stories abound of them protecting their family and children. My five-year-old son grew up with Staffords and learnt to walk on their back,” said Lynch.
But don’t assume your Staffy will play happily with other dogs at the park. Lynch says they don’t like busy bombastic dogs like the Jack Russell or the German Shepherd.
“They’ll tolerate a placid, laidback dog like a Labrador,” she said.