Brachy-whata? What it means to be a Brachycephalic dog

Five popular dog breeds and traits, and what you should know about them

White and brown dog at AHS on blue plaid blanket

While we all may think of ourselves as equal-opportunity dog-lovers, ask anyone and you’re sure to find out there’s one breed or type of dog they love most. There are “big dog” people and “little dog” people. Some people swoon over fluffy dogs (because floofy butts), some adore the long and low (Bassets and Dachshunds anyone?), and others are fiercely loyal to their favorite — often misrepresented — breeds.

Whatever type of dog person you are, it’s important to understand the complexities that may come along with the trait you love so much. While all doggos are unique individuals, some traits or characteristics may require more care or attention from a caretaker.

Desirable dog traits found in specific breeds

1. Smooshy faces

What’s not to love about a short-muzzled dog? The wrinkles! The smoosh! The snorting! The medical term for a pup with a short muzzle is “Brachycephalic,” and encompasses breeds like French or English Bulldogs, Pekingese, and Pugs. If you adopt one of these dogs you’ll want to ensure you know what it means for you and your dog.

Brachycephalic dogs are prone to breathing issues — especially under exertion or on very hot days. That’s because their breathing passages are narrower and flatter due to years of breeding. If you own one of these flat-faced friends take extra precautions:

  • Always attach their leash to a harness rather than  their collar to avoid damage to their trachea
  • Monitor them closely on hot days for signs of respiratory distress
  • Never leave them in your car unattended  (while AHS doesn’t condone leaving any dog in a car on a warm day — that goes triple for these guys)

2. Non-shedding

There are so many reasons why a non-shedding dog is desirable. In addition to keeping your home and clothes free from piles of dog fur, non-shedding dogs are often sought after by those with allergies who wouldn’t otherwise be able to own a pet. But there is one thing a non-shedding dog isn’t: less work.

A non-shedding dog’s fur is more like hair. It grows every day and requires brushing — think about those luscious, smooth locks you see on Yorkshire Terriers at dog shows or the perfectly primped curls of a poodle. Owning a non-shedding pupper means you’ll need to commit to brushing and bathing them frequently — as well as bringing them to a professional groomer to cut their hair multiple times a year.

Neglecting the grooming of a non-shedding dog can have serious consequences. As their hair tangles, it can become matted. That may not sound serious, but mats are painful. They can limit mobility by pulling on the skin, and it’s not uncommon for them to cause bruising. Mats are also great traps for bacteria and other gunk to hide (let’s leave it at fecal matter and fleas and you can assume the rest).

Price, a dog at AHS, plays in the snow

3. Pit bulls (aka Pitties or Pibbles)

There are so many affectionate names for these big, block-headed babies, and if you meet a pit bull parent, you’re sure to hear them all. But did you know there are just as many breeds that are considered pit bulls as there are goofy names for this dog? That’s because a “pit bull” isn’t actually a breed. It’s a category or description of many dog breeds including, American Staffordshire Terriers, Bull Terriers, American Pit Bull Terriers, Bulldogs, Cane Corso, Boston Terriers, and more! This breed is so ubiquitous that some landlords and insurance companies with discriminatory pit bull bans don’t even ask for a caregiver to disclose their dog’s breed. Rather, they ask for measurements and look for “pit bull” type features like a big, block head or barrel chest. By these standards, many dogs could be deemed pit bulls.

This has led to incredibly harmful stereotypes against these dogs — stereotypes that have cemented themselves deeply in our culture. It’s also created a counter-culture of pit bull lovers who passionately defend their best friends. While a “pit bull” may not technically be a breed, these ambassadors are saving lives by spreading the word about how sweet, loyal, and funny bully-breeds can be.

4. XXL or XXS

A dog you can lay your full bodyweight on when you sleep,  or a dog you can carry in one hand wherever you go — there’s just something about a doggo that’s extra-large or incredibly tiny. Surprisingly, whether your favorite type of dog is massive or mini, there are a few things you should consider as a pet parent or potential adopter.

Keep your doggo at a healthy weight. This is important for all pets, but if your good boi is extra big or extra small it becomes even more critical. Being overweight can put pressure on an animal's joints causing diseases like osteoarthritis, a condition animals on either side of the size spectrum can already be more susceptible to. For instance, Chihuahuas can be prone to luxating patellas (also known as trick knee-cap), while German Shepherds can have issues with their hips due to their breeding.

Whether you’re interested in a gentle giant or a little lap dog, potty training is also something to consider. While it’s not guaranteed, many small dogs refuse to go potty outside in our harsh Minnesota winters. Can you blame them? Their huge counterparts may not have that same problem, however, we still have a few words of advice: Don’t get rid of your plastic grocery bags. You’re gonna need ‘em!

A dog plays with a tennis ball in the AHS play yard

5. Herding breeds

Lassie! Need we say more? Herding breeds like Border Collies, Shelties, Australian Cattle Dogs, and Heelers are majestic, athletic, and incredibly smart. These loyal companions are up for any job — in fact, they crave it. When herding breeds don’t have a job to do or aren’t getting enough stimulation, they can turn to unwanted behaviors to release their pent-up energy and ease their minds. As the owner or potential adopter of a herding breed dog, you should carefully consider whether your lifestyle and own activity level will fit their needs.

These speed-racers can herd hundreds of livestock spread out over multiple acres into a pen and still have the energy for a game of fetch afterward. With hundreds of years of herding in their DNA, these pups can also feel uneasy at family gatherings or parties where guests are spread out throughout the house or yard. It’s not uncommon for them to nudge people together or guard groups that are standing in one room. This innate behavior is incredible and can be amazing to watch, but owners should also take extra time to monitor their dogs to ensure they don’t resort to nipping or biting to keep groups together.

Honorable mention: Low riders

While these dogs can vary in size, if you’re considering a canine who keeps it close to the ground, you should know that breeds like Daschunds, Basset Hounds, and Corgis can develop back issues in their lives due to their long spine and short legs. That can make homes with lots of stairs a challenge for these adorable shorties.

No matter the breed — find the right fit

No matter what type of doggo you adore most, you should always choose a pet that’s right for your lifestyle. Even within breeds, every animal is unique (somewhere out there is a Border Collie who’s a total couch potato ― we just know it!). Still, it can be helpful to know general information about the breed of dog you’re adopting to ensure it’s the right fit for you and your family.

There’s a perfect match out there for everyone willing to open their heart to a pet. And the one thing every single dog has in common? They all deserve a loving home.

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