Letter from CAIRC
June 2005 Vol.9 No.2

New content for the CAIRC Web Internet site!
"Enjoying life with your pet"
Learning more about pets: thinking about dog breeds

"Select a dog" system will find the breed that's just right for your lifestyle

The Companion Animal Information and Research Center (CAIRC) has added new feature, "Enjoying life with your pet" to its website. The new content is packed with information that helps make life with pets more enjoyable. Topics range from things to consider before keeping a pet to an update on the overall pet ownership situation to an additional new system called "Select a Dog" that helps users find the best fit dog breed to each individual lifestyle.

Living happily with a pet begins before you acquire one
A little thinking and learning can make a big difference


Pet ownership is on the rise. And there's no scarcity of images of adorable dogs and cats on TV commercials and the pages of magazines. It is also commonplace to see people out enjoying a walk with their dogs. As the number of collective housings that allow pets increases, people have increasingly come to think of dogs and cats as irreplaceable family members.

But enjoying life with a pet is not given automatically by simply keeping an animal in the home. In raising a pet within our society, it is essential to have an awareness of the issues involved, including an understanding of training, consideration for neighbors, knowledge required to raise an animal, and other information. Essential knowledge about raising animals must be learned before acquiring a dog or cat. And we need to ask ourselves a number of questions as we consider how our individual lifestyles will accommodate the animal-- "Am I really ready to raise an animal?" Different pets are suited to different lifestyles. If you want to enjoy taking walks with your pet, then a dog is more appropriate, but if you live alone and are often away from home, then a cat is better for you. Dogs are particularly diverse, with more than 500 distinct breeds ranging in weight from a little 1kg Chihuahua to a Saint Bernard tipping the scales at nearly 100kg. We use a single word to describe the species, but they vary vastly in terms of size, appearance and behavior.

In this installment of "Enjoying life with your pet," we focus on the information you need to know before you begin keeping a pet. We also include content to help you select a dog that's just right for you, based on individual lifestyle and living environment. This system recommends the best three dog breeds that fit your lifestyle, with information on the characteristics of each breed.


Selecting the right dog breed that matches the owner's lifestyle makes the life with a pet happy and fulfilling one

Pet ownership styles have undergone major changes over the past ten years, with those keeping dogs indoors now in the majority at 60%, and 70% of cat owners opting to keep the pets entirely indoors. More people have come to understand the crucial nature of courtesy and of establishing rules regarding keeping pets in collective housings. Still, we Japanese seem to have been slow to think about the things it is necessary to consider before acquiring a pet. When you consider your lifestyle five years from now, or 15 years down the road, and the family structure, the field of potentially appropriate pets narrows. Information is particularly abundant for prospective dog owners looking into the various breeds under consideration, so it's a good idea to consider the necessary characteristics.

"Two years ago, our daughter brought home Mi, a miniature Dachshund, saying, 'I've always wanted to have one ever since I was a kid.' In the beginning, she had come close to getting another breed, but changed her mind and decided on this one. Then we looked into it later on and heard that the breed she had earlier been thinking of getting barks a lot. Since we live in a collective housing, if she had decided on that breed, I don't think we'd be in our present happy situation. I didn't really agree to keeping a dog at first, thinking it would be too hard to care for. But now even I've fallen in love with her . At the pet beauty parlor, sometimes other dogs bark and make a fuss, but Mi is always calm and quiet at times like that. It's quietness and size make the miniature dachshund ideal for collective housings."

We heard this story from Akiko Oishi, of Shinagawa, Tokyo. The Oishis had no previous pet ownership experience, and therefore had an almost complete lack of information. But after they began, they gathered knowledge from books, the Internet, friends who own dachshunds and other sources.

"At first, we thought we could feed the dog table scraps, but after looking into it, we learned that if a dog eats the same food as people, the salt content will be too high. We learned a variety of things, including that you can't feed the dog milk or onions, that there is a certain type of dog food made specially for Dachshunds, etc. We also learned from the veterinarian that the breed is prone to joint dislocations, and so we are now careful not to let it jump from heights. Looking back on it, we were lucky that we just happened to pick a dog of the breed ideal to us, and I doubt whether we would have been able to keep a dog if we had chosen a different breed. Since we live in collective housing, I think that if the dog barked a lot, it would have bothered our neighbors. Our family all work, so we don't have much time to walk the dog. ... Now we've really come to understand how important it is to give due consideration to dog breeds before beginning to keep one."

Yoshimi Takata, meanwhile, is a dog owner in Kyoto who thought about dog breed before anything else. "We narrowed it down to a few candidates, and after consulting with our daughter, who doesn't live with us, we settled on a toy poodle. In the beginning, we considered a Jack Russell Terrier, but then learned that they have a very active personality. When I think five or ten years down the road, we'll be at the age where we have to start thinking about our post-retirement years, and we might not be able to care for a really active or large dog. By comparison, I think a toy poodle is better suited to our lifestyle. And since I had past experience taking care of a poodle, I knew what their personality traits were like, so that's why I made the decision. It's a clever, obedient dog that doesn't shed much, so we don't have to worry about it triggering the allergies we have in our family. It's two and a half years now that we've been caring for the dog, which is kind and adorable, as well as being easy to care for. The whole family is greatly satisfied. Putting top priority on selecting a breed was the right thing to do."

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Before keeping a pet, it's crucial to have a firm understanding of the breed's behavioral and personality characteristics than its appearance and size

"Humans have been breeding pets for their own needs and purposes for more than 10,000 years. Breeds differ in terms of appearance and size, but their behavioral and personality characteristics vary even more. In Europe and the United States, varieties such as hunting dogs and sheep dogs have come to be a part of everyday life, and many people have established the characteristics of dog breeds. In Asia, on the other hand, where animals are viewed differently, breeding has not been pursued as actively, so Japanese tend to assess the differences in dog breeds based on appearance and size. But differences in behavioral and personality traits are a major characteristic of each dog variety."

This is the advice of Professor Yuji Mori of the Graduate School of Agricultural and Life Science, Faculty of Agriculture, the University of Tokyo. For example, sheep herding dogs like the Border Collie or Shetland Sheep Dog are a tough variety bred to be able to move sheep over vast expanses of land for long periods of time. This is different from your average pet walk, and they need long hours of hard exercise every day. And the cute appearance of Terriers like the Yorkshire or Jack Russell don't reveal that they have been bred to bark at and chase away animals like badgers and mice. These are brave and active dogs. Since one of their behavior characteristics is barking, they require a stringent training regimen to ensure proper behavior.

"Dog breeds have been bred to create breeds with improved ability to run, bark, fight or chase prey," said Prof. Mori. "So even though they may be members of the same canine species, the differences between dog breeds are great. You can't raise all members of the broad category occupied by the species the same way. It's desirable to handle each breed in a way best suited to the given variety."

According to one study, 90% of veterinarians wished pet owners' treatment of their dogs was better informed by knowledge of the particular breed. Yet, only 10% of dog owners felt that different breeds require individualized treatment, an unfortunate indication that this awareness has yet to take root. However, the necessity for treating each breed individually is more than just a need to understand how breeds differ.

"Since so many varieties have been created through breeding, the different builds and bone structures are prone to their own characteristic illnesses," said Prof. Mori. "For instance, Dachshunds are susceptible to herniated discs, and Shih Tzu owners should watch out for ailments of the eyes. Small dogs are prone to trouble of the knees and other joints. When these dogs reach old age at about 7 years, they tend to come down with these ailments, and it's important to practice preventive medicine thoroughly while they're still young. The best thing is therefore to consult with a reliable veterinarian while adapting exercise, diet and lifestyle to that particular breed."


Gain accurate knowledge, and consider whether the dog or cat is happy, rather than judging them by human standards

As the lifespans of pets increase, the numbers of dogs and cats suffering from obesity and lifestyle-induced illnesses is on the rise. And in more than a few cases, stress experienced by the pet is the cause of trouble associated with dogs and cats in the community. Even when the owner believes he or she is raising the pet properly, an overstressed pet will not live a pleasant life.

"The Japanese have a relatively strong tendency to anthropomorphize pets as being 'cute.' In Europe and the United States, more people take a more detached, less emotional approach-- 'pets are pets'-- while Japanese tend to treat them as if the animals were their own children. For instance, when a dog barks due to separation anxiety, many Japanese seem to respond by thinking the animal is lonesome all by itself and therefore buy another dog to keep it company. But adding another dog to the situation only causes the dog which is seeking affection to become disruptive. It's better to thoroughly consult with a veterinarian and avoid assessing a dog or cat in human terms. When acquiring an additional pet, it is necessary to give careful thought to issues like the timing, individual territory and the dominance hierarchy between the two animals. And since this is a partner that will be with you for 10 to 20 years, you should actively gather information before beginning to keep the pet. By going to the park and listening to what owners of the type of dog you're interested in have to say, you can gain real, practical information. Tell the person about your situation and ask to hold the leash to find out just how powerfully the dog can pull."

Since dogs and cats can't talk, it's important to gather all the most accurate information possible about them before beginning to care for one. Correct information will help shed new light on your lifestyle and find the pet that's just right for you. In order to build a more enjoyable, enriching lifestyle, be sure to think about how to "enjoy life with your pet" before you acquire one.


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