The expectation vs reality of different dog breeds

Finding your perfect match, human or canine, can be tricky. Often our expectation vs reality of of different dog breeds can be quite far apart too! And as relationships evolve over time, so do behaviours, in both our dogs and partners. We often can’t help but think back over our history together, however long or short…

First date vs 6 months in…

Remember those first dates? The excitement, the anticipation, all that planning to make sure everything was just right, in case this was the person of your dreams – and your future. And now look at them…! They might still be perfect in your eyes. But the reality of sharing your life with someone is very different to those romanticised early days when your fantasies and dreams created an image of perfection that rarely lasts.

It’s the same with dogs. When we start researching our perfect dog breed, we often set unrealistic expectations. It’s easy to fall for a look or a specific character trait and not look at the whole package. Or we look at what our friends or family have and envy that, rather than making the best choice for ourselves.

Dog breed expectations vs reality

Probably the breed that epitomises dog breed expectation vs reality the best is the Labrador.

Enduringly popular, everyone knows them and, given their friendly nature, everyone has had good experiences with them. They’re affectionate, eager to please and so easy to train. They get on with everyone – children, other dogs, cats… They seem like the perfect canine partner. And they are – if you remember they were bred to work all day, every day, in all weathers.

One expectation people forget of this dog breed is they need a lot of exercise and input. So at the very least an hour, but preferably more, exercise every single day that gives them the chance to run, explore, sniff and jump in every muddy puddle and bog they can find. And that’s just the start. They also need games, play, a chance to use their brains, and an understanding that a Labrador isn’t a ‘tidy dog’.

Fox red Labrador cross standing on a mud track, with thick mud covering his legs up to his body

Labradors bring a lot of the great outdoors back indoors. They are mud magnets! They shed way more than most people ever think from a short-coated breed, and will be into everything (and consider eating everything too). If you’re not ready for it, your expectation of this sleek, friendly, well-behaved dog breed can quickly turn into a canine nightmare. And this is the reason there are many overweight, bored, frustrated Labradors up and down the country and increasing numbers in rescue centres.

So let’s take a quick look at breeds from each of the groups – and you can decide if you should swipe right or left!

What about expectations of other dog breeds?


Golden Retriever

Dating profile: Happy, waggy and loves everyone and virtually everything.

First date: There’s a reason why the Golden is one of the most popular breeds. They’re a gorgeous looking, ideal family dog who’ll be happy to join in with all activities and show their love enthusiastically. Loves the countryside and needs a lot of exercise to maintain a waistline, as they love their food as much as everything else!

Disaster date: If you’re a couch potato and don’t enjoy getting out in the great outdoors every single day no matter what the weather.

Ideal match: Active country-lover who doesn’t mind dog hair and muddy pawprints!


Alaskan Malamute

Dating profile: Affectionate, loyal and playful – but also strong-willed, independent and confident.

First date: Stunning wolf-like looks, fit, active and enthusiastic exercise companions.

Disaster date: Hates being left alone and if bored will sing the song of their people to all the neighbours! Also bred to live in harsh climates so has a stunning thick coat that will shed endlessly, everywhere. Oh – and often pulls on the lead.

Ideal match: Very active experienced owner who doesn’t have the expectation of a champion obedience dog breed, but wants a long-distance walking or running companion. And who likes their house kept at arctic temperatures.


Border Collie

Two Border Collies out on a walk in the countryside. One lying down on a grass track, the other standing behind looking towards the camera, with tall ferns either side of the path

Dating profile: A canine Einstein. Almost every obedience champion, heelwork to music, agility and of course sheepdog champion is a Border Collie. They’re smart, eager to learn and intense and enthusiastic workers.

First date: Smart, clever and funny, although maybe a bit intense.

Disaster date: Never mistake ‘easy to train’ for ‘easy to live with’. Excels in dog sports, but because they’re so smart they need a job to do to stop them from getting bored, frustrated and developing behaviour problems.

Ideal match: Someone who likes exercise, training and wants a dog to either compete in dog sports with or who can happily live with an active, ‘always on’ dog and give them a job.


Dandie Dinmont

Dating profile: An affectionate, loving dog who will bond closely to their owner, but looks on obedience with amusement. Confident, self-willed and independent.

First date: While they may look cute and a bit like a cuddly toy, the Dandie Dinmont is all terrier. Big personality, big bark and big love! They don’t need as much exercise as many other terrier breeds so can live in a smaller home. But will still need a daily walk, lots of opportunities to sniff and explore in the countryside or open spaces, and a lot of owner interaction.

Disaster date: If you want a dog to hang on your every word and not be a terror to the local squirrels… Or if you want a puppy immediately (as a rare breed, they’re very hard to find).

Ideal match: Grooming enthusiast who enjoys the ‘little dog, big personality’ terrier temperament and who very definitely has a sense of humour!



Dating profile: The supermodel of the dog world. Elegant, aloof, independent – but also a bit of a clown when at home and relaxed.

First date: This is a quiet, docile dog who’s affectionate and loving.

Disaster date: Obedience is looked on as something totally beneath the Saluki… And while they’re strongly bonded to their owners, they give their love on their own terms and will often be shy or aloof to strangers. As sighthounds, they’ll chase small furry animals and their speed means they’re quite capable of catching them.

Ideal match: The Saluki needs an owner who can give them free-running exercise in a safe contained environment – and who wants a quietly affectionate companion who isn’t thrilled by a busy household. And who doesn’t expect their dog to come back to them when they call them. Ever!



Dating profile: Gentle, alert, playful and intelligent. For a small dog, very energetic and they thrive on owner interaction, games and training.

First date: This is a small dog who bonds very closely to their owner and can live in virtually any home no matter the size, but still get involved with family life. They’re clever and trainable enough to excel in dog sports such as obedience, heelwork to music and agility.

Disaster date: They can be a challenge to toilet train (as many toy dogs are) and separation-related behaviour problems are very common.

Ideal match: This is a dog who would suit a first-time owner who can be patient with toilet training, and wants a dog who will come everywhere with them and try their paw at everything.



Miniature Poodle sitting in a garden in front of a flowering shrub, looking to the side

Dating profile: Fabulous hair. Loyal, affectionate and very smart indeed. Bonds very closely to their family and loves to please.

First date: With the rise of the endless Poodle crosses, the Poodle, with its three sizes, has got a bit lost, but this is a fabulous smart, funny trainable breed, who can turn their paw to everything from gundog work to obedience to being a canine supermodel. While still being funny, endearing and an excellent companion.

Disaster date: Have the expectation this dog breed will have a lot to say for themselves – and from a grooming point of view, is high maintenance. Doesn’t shed so needs a lot of trimming and hair care, so a bad choice of companion if you don’t enjoy grooming (or have a big budget for it), noise or can’t stand having a dog with better hair than you!

Ideal match: There’s a Poodle size to suit every home. And they’re ideal for the house-proud active owner who wants a dog they can train and take anywhere.

So which dog breed could be your perfect match?

While these are only examples, the secret to finding long term canine love is to reframe your expectations, and look at what a dog breed was originally bred to do and where they were bred to do it. Because that’s what makes them happy and keeps them content.

Read more on how dog breed type impacts motivation and training.

The thing with relationships is while we can be romantic, we also have to be realistic. What you think you might want in the short term isn’t generally what you want for life. Your image of the perfect partner might be stunning looking, perfectly groomed, fit, and active. But to get that way and stay that way takes work and dedication. If your idea of a perfect weekend is chilling on the sofa, binge-watching the latest great series with a glass of wine in hand, you need a dog breed that will be happy doing the same – minus the wine!

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