Know your breed: Australian Shepherd

Know your breed: Australian Shepherd

With its energetic and intelligent temperament, the Australian Shepherd is a dog that aims to please. A ‘working dog’ in the true sense of the term, this breed is highly trainable but will require a full list of daily activities to keep it happy.


Considering the rivalry between South African and Australian sporting teams, locals might not be too keen on anything from Down Under. Luckily, the Australian Shepherd’s name is a bit of a misnomer. It was actually developed on the ranches of the Western United States from a breed of dogs from Basque (now part of Spain). Basque immigrants had briefly migrated to Australia before immigrating to America (hence the confusing ‘Australian’ part of the breed’s name).


Aussies as they are also known are actually closely related to Border Collies and share much of their temperament and ability to work with livestock — becoming hugely popular with farmers on the wide open plains of the USA. Their potential to be trained and their agility and speed also make them especially successful in dog sporting categories like agility and flyball. They’re also often employed as rescue dogs, guide dogs and detection dogs.


The flipside of their eagerness to learn and exercise is that the breed requires a lot of exercise and mental stimulation — 60 minutes of vigorous activity like playing frisbee is

recommended. If this does not happen, an Aussie will get bored, mouthy and destructive. In short, it doesn’t HAVE to live on a farm, but know that a city-dwelling Australian Shepherd will be high maintenance.


Appearance and health

Australian Shepherds have a lovely, flowing coat that comes in Black (often with copper and white markings), Red (or ‘Liver’, often with white markings), Blue merle (a mottled patchwork of gray and black) and Red merle (a mottled patchwork of cream and red/liver) — all equally desirable.


A very interesting characteristic is that their separate eyes are often different colours, giving them their nickname of ‘ghost-eye dog’. Other Aussies’ eyes are split (half-brown and half-blue, for instance) All these variations are perfectly normal as long as the eyes are healthy.


Australian Shepherds are medium-sized dogs, standing about 46 to 58 cm high at the shoulder and weighing between 14 and 29 kg. Generally, they’re a healthy breed, although hip and eye problems can occur.


Is the Australian Shepherd for me?

If you’re an inexperienced owner looking for a low-maintenance couch potato, then steer well clear of this breed. If you’re a sheep farmer or committed owner willing to spend quality time training and stimulating your dog, then the Australian Shepherd will give you all the positive response your heart desires.

Know your breed: Australian Shepherd

Know your breed: Pekingese

Tiny, confident and utterly adorable, the Pekingese is a companion toy dog in every sense of the word.  With its distinctive squashed muzzle and lion-like mane, this breed is about looking proud and graceful, with a personality far, far bigger than its minute size.



The Pekingese is an ancient breed dating back 2000 years, originating in China and favoured by the Chinese Imperial Court. Only Chinese royalty were allowed to own them and they were treated with the greatest respect. According to an old Chinese legend, a lion fell in love with a marmoset monkey. To able to wed his love, the lion begged Buddha to make him smaller, but let him keep his lion heart and pride. Buddha obliged, and from the union of the two, the ‘Lion Dog’ or Pekingese was born!


Looking at the Pekingese, it’s easy to imagine this characterful breed as a cross between a monkey and a lion. How the Pekingese ended up in the West, is another fascinating story.


During the Great Opium War of 1860, the British invaded the Old Summer Palace in the Forbidden City in Peking (today, Beijing). The emperor and his entourage fled, but an elderly aunt of the emperor remained and committed suicide. She was found with five Pekingese, which were taken back to England as war loot. One of them, named ‘Looty’, was presented to Queen Victoria. Some sources claim that all modern Pekingese descended from these five dogs.



The Pekingese is compact, stocky and is longer than it is tall, with a long, mane-like coat in gold, red, sable or black (yes, it sheds — a lot). Its characteristic extreme flat muzzle and nose are always black and it stands at a height of 30­–45 cm at its shoulder. It’s quite heavy for its size — around 4 kg or so, although so-called Sleeve or Miniature Pekingese weigh 2.6 kg or less.



With its abundance of attitude and aloof dignity, it’s almost like the Pekingese knows that it once lived only in the most luxurious palaces. They’re intelligent but can be notoriously stubborn, even going on hunger strikes to prove a point to their owners. The Peke, as it’s known for short, is an indoor dog and doesn’t need a big garden, but like all stocky dogs will need daily exercise to avoid obesity, while consistent socialising and training from an early age will prevent your small lion from becoming too bossy or overly shy.


They do make excellent watchdogs and are sure to alert you with a loud bark if anything or anyone strange is approaching. Above all, the Peke is a companion dog, so it will need to be at his owner’s side or on her lap for as much time as possible.



Changes in recent years to the breed standard now allow for a slightly longer muzzle and nose, but, unfortunately, it’s flat, squashed face does result in several health issues that include breathing problems, snoring, ingrown eyelashes and the risk of eyes ‘popping’ out during rough play. Daily brushing of the long, double coat is essential as is proper cleaning of the hindquarters as these tend to become soiled easily.


Is the Pekingese for me?

If you’re looking for a confident companion with the heart and grace of a lion, then a small little prince or princess from Peking might be the perfect match for you.

Know Your Breed - Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

Know your breed: Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

Few dogs have as blue-blooded a name as the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. Indeed, the breed has aristocratic street cred — its predecessor being hugely popular with the ladies of the English nobility during the reign of King Charles the II in the 17th century. And with its ears resembling the elaborate wigs of that period in history, the Cavalier, as it’s known for short, does have the look of something straight out of a costume drama. The type of dog that’s used to hashtags like #Cute, #HeartMelting and #Can’tEven.



There’s an interesting story behind the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel as we know it today. Whilst generic Spaniel ancestors seem to have been around for more than 2000 years, the smaller ‘toy’ Spaniels emerged by the 15th or 16th century. After becoming known as the King Charles Spaniel during its namesake’s reign, the breed underwent a slight change of appearance due to crossbreeding with flat-nosed breeds.


This was until a certain American gentlemen named Roswell Elridge offered a substantial cash prize at the Crufts Dog Show in 1926 for any King Charles Spaniel that resembled the original breed depicted in paintings of King Charles II’s time. Breeders at the time were appalled, as they had spent hundreds of years breeding a more flat-nosed, dome-skulled dog, but soon the breed basically diverged into two separate breeds — the King Charles Spaniel or English Toy Spaniel and the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel (or Cavalier) with its flatter head and pointier, more elegant nose.


Interestingly, after the wartime hardship in Great Britain in the early 1940s, only six Cavaliers would survive from which all modern Cavaliers would descend.




The Cavalier is a toy-sized dog and an adult Cavalier weighs around 4.5 to 8.2 kg and stands about 30-33cm high. The breed comes in 4 colour varieties: White with chestnut-coloured markings (The Blenheim variety); black and tan (the King Charles variety); solid chestnut (the Ruby variety) and tricolour (white with black and tan markings — the Prince Charles variety).


Cavalier King Charles Spaniels should have a silky coat of moderate length — not curly, although a slight wave in the hair is allowed. ‘Feathering’ on its paws is a typical breed trait, although some owners prefer to tidy the hair on the paws as things can become a bit messy on a rainy day. The tail should definitely not be docked.



Cavaliers are companion dogs in the true sense of the term and likes nothing better than to chill with its owner. They are real charmers and get along with everyone, including other dogs if they are socialised properly to avoid shyness. Their soft-natured temperament means that they happily share a space with children.


They make great apartment dogs and will happily spend hours on your lap or snuggled on a pillow, but, like all dogs, also enjoy a proper frolicking out in nature. Their ancestors were hunting dogs, so they will need a daily walk and might pursue the odd squirrel or bird if given a chance and follow their nose to wherever it leads.


Although they’re extremely loyal and loving, their dependent and sociable nature means that they will suffer from separation anxiety if left alone for more than a few hours, with incessant barking and destructive sofa-eating not uncommon.



Cavaliers will shed consistently, so be prepared to brush their beautiful coats regularly and have the vacuum cleaner handy. The breed normally lives to around 10 to 14 years, but unfortunately, have two major health issues. The first is heart disease. Half of all Cavaliers will develop some kind of heart problem by age 5 while almost all of them will experience heart disease by age 10. So be prepared for expensive vet visits.


The other common health problem is an inherited neurological disorder called syringomyelia. This disorder effects the brain and spine and can cause anything from mild discomfort to extreme pain and partial paralysis. At least half of all Cavaliers suffer from this incurable condition although daily medication can alleviate the symptoms considerably.


Is the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel for me?

If you want a low-maintenance guard dog that can be left outside most of the day and won’t have any grooming or medical needs, then best avoid this breed. If you’re looking for a gentle, friendly companion with an almost unparalleled cuteness factor, then the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel will light up your days and provide many smiles and cuddles.

Know Your Breed - Cavalier King Charles Spaniel - Two Dogs





Know Your Breed - Maltese

Know your breed: Maltese

It’s fair to say that as far as the Maltese go, people’s opinions are divided. They either love it, or they look at its well-groomed snow-white coat with a perplexed expression, thinking: “What’s up with that dog?” Whichever side you’re on, you’ll have to admit that the Maltese is one of the most recognizable breeds in the world and sure has a whole lot of character.



Not surprising then that the Maltese has been a popular dog for the past two and a half thousand years. Also known throughout the centuries as the ‘Roman Ladies’ Dog’ and the ‘Maltese Lion Dog’, its exact origins are unknown. The general accepted theory is that it either originated on the island of Malta from a Spitz or Spaniel type dog, or from the Tibetan Terrier.


Whatever the case, it was already popular among ancient Romans and Egyptians and is even mentioned by Aristotle and other ancient Greek writers, and was a firm favourite with noble ladies from the 16thcentury onwards  — often depicted in these aristocratic women’s portraits.


However, the breed almost didn’t make it to modern times as efforts were made to ‘improve’ the breed by making it smaller and smaller — the aim was to get it the size of a squirrel! Luckily, sanity set in and by the beginning of the 20th century, the standard as we know it today was established.


Size and appearance

A purebred Maltese should be all white, although slight lemon markings are also okay. The breed stands 18 to 30 cm high and weighs about 2 to 4.5 kilograms, and should not be confused with the Maltese Poodle, which is, in fact, a cross between a Maltese and a Poodle. Maltese have long, silky hair and no undercoat, and sheds very little hair, making them ideally suited to dog lovers allergic to dog hair.


Maltese’s coats are often cut short in the well-known ‘puppy cut’ although show breeders tend to emphasize the breeds long, blonde hair by combing it out and tying it back with a ribbon at the top of the head so the little guy can actually see as he walks into the show ring. Another interesting trait is that Maltese’s normally black nose often become light brown to pink if not exposed to sun for a while — called a ‘winter nose’ — turning back to black again when exposed to sun.



Personality & health

Maltese are naturally energetic, confident and curious — making them ideal companion dogs. As with other small or ‘toy’ breeds, a lot depends on the way a Maltese is socialized. Because of its size, it needs to be protected against bigger dogs, but if a Maltese is treated like a helpless little thing, it can become insecure, anxious and needy, often becoming quite yappy. Indeed, all Maltese do have a tendency to bark excessively if they are not properly socialized or exercised.


Maltese are intelligent and trained easily with a gentle, non-forceful technique, although they seem to need a little bit more time and patience to potty train inside the home. Maltese are generally friendly towards people, although care should be taken around small children or other big dogs as the breed’s size does make it fragile and vulnerable to injury.


Maltese are generally healthy, and a moderate daily exercise will take care of its energy levels. If you keep your Maltese’s hair long, it should be brushed or combed daily as the coats can easily become dirty and entangled — especially when playing outside.


A minor issue to be aware of is ‘tear staining’ — a discolouring of the long hair around the eyes caused by fluid from the tear ducts. This can be dealt with easily by daily cleaning of the eyes with warm water. Maltese also have a peculiar, but non-threatening habit called ‘reverse sneezing’ — a sound similar to sneezing caused by eating or drinking too fast or by irritation of the throat. Once the Maltese relaxes, the reverse sneezing normally stops after a minute or two.


Is a Maltese for me?

If you have a house full or small children and other animals, or want a dog that can be left alone for hours and fend for itself, you should probably steer clear of a Maltese. If you’re looking for a characterful, cute and vocal indoor dog that will be by your side most of the day, you’ll love this sassy blonde pooch.

Know Your Breed - Maltese


Know your breed: Fox Terrier

So here’s a fact I bet you didn’t know: the only dog to have won Best of Show title at the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show three times was a Fox Terrier. In fact, it was a chap called Warren Remedy, a smooth-haired foxy who won the title from 1907–1909. Which just shows that the Fox Terrier has been a darling of the people for a long time now. A classic as it were: a breed that’s been popular from one generation to the next. Even Tin Tin’s famous dog, Snowy, is a Wire-haired Fox Terrier.


Its popularity is easy to understand. Few breeds have a larger personality than this live-wire of a little dog. Originally bred to flush foxes out of their holes during the traditional British hunt, fox terriers are fearless, feisty and have the extraordinary ability to get through any hole or underneath any fence. They’re also not shy to tell their owners when they see or hear something interesting or threatening  — resulting in a sharp, loud bark that can drive neighbours insane if your foxy is not properly exercised and socialised.


Small size, big personality


Indeed, the Fox Terrier is one of the most energetic breeds out there. Always keen to play, it needs regular and strenuous exercise, and a firm, consistent owner. Be warned: Fox Terriers are smart and mischievous and will figure out ways to get up to no good: whether it’s escaping out of the yard or getting into the rabbit or hamster cage. Fox Terriers were bred as hunting dogs after all, so no small furry animal is ever really safe around a foxy.



Fox Terriers are small dogs, weighing about 6.5 to 9 kilograms and standing no taller than 39cm at the shoulder. Two kinds of Fox Terriers exist: Wire-haired Fox Terriers (or Wire Fox Terriers) and Smooth-haired Fox Terriers. They are sometimes recognised as two separate breeds while three other breeds have also diverged from the original Fox Terrier: Jack Russells, Rat Terriers and Miniature Fox Terriers. In South Africa, most people assume you’re talking about the Smooth Fox Terrier when you say ‘Fox Terrier’.


Although the only difference between the smooth and wire-haired kinds are its hair, they actually look remarkably different, with the Wire Fox Terrier’s bearded snout giving it a typical grump-old-man appearance similar to Miniature Schnauzer. Both variants come in varieties of predominantly white with black and tan markings, although Smooth Fox Terriers tend to have more black in them then their wiry-haired counterparts.


Despite its small size, Fox Terriers make exceptional watchdogs and will furiously defend its turf. Its fearless temperament can also result in regular confrontational scraps in the dog park: There is a definite incongruity between how big a Fox Terrier thinks it is and how big it actually is — a fact that many a friendly Labrador or German Shepherd have come to experience first-hand.


Although the foxy can thus be a little confrontational with other dogs, it makes an exceptional and extremely loyal family dog and often bonds very well with children — especially if the children match the dog’s almost inexhaustible energy levels.




In general, Fox Terriers are relatively disease-free and live well into their teens, averaging a 15-year lifespan. Cataracts are common later on, and most Fox Terriers will pick up a bit of weight if their food intake is not monitored as they reach their middle years, but generally, foxies live long, happy lives until old age eventually catches up with them (which is no mean feat!)


Is a Fox Terrier for me?


If you’re looking for a low-maintenance indoor dog that will get along swimmingly with your cat and guinea pigs, then no. If you don’t like dogs barking or digging holes in your garden, then no. But if you’re looking for a protective, energetic and loyal companion with the heart the size of the Indian Ocean, then a Fox Terrier is spot on.

Know your breed: Bull Terrier

With its small sunken eyes, prominent egg-shaped head, and long nose that tapers into its powerful jaw, one could be forgiven for mistaking the Bull Terrier for a terrestrial shark. Indeed, when you watch a Bull Terrier, it’s like the whole powerful, compact body is merely an afterthought, an appendix to the low, sunken head.


I have yet to meet a person who is not a little wary of a strange Bull Terrier, and rightly so —  the breed makes an excellent watchdog. Yet, despite its intimidating appearance, a Bull Terrier is also a remarkably social and playful creature and enjoys nothing more than some energetic, friendly play with its owner.


A gentlemanly companion

The Bull Terrier itself is a rather English invention if ever there was one. The Bull Terrier’s predecessor, the Bull & Terrier was a cross between the now extinct Old English Bulldog and the English Terrier — bred for the purpose of catching vermin, but, unfortunately, also for the fighting ring.


A certain English gentleman called James Hinks was looking for a slightly more refined specimen — ‘a gentlemanly companion rather than a ring fighter’ and started breeding the Bull & Terrier with the (also now extinct) White English Terrier. The eventual result was a new type of dog called the Hinks Breed or White Cavalier which soon became very popular in England in the early 20th century.


Yet this breed still didn’t have the recognisable sloping nose with no ‘stop’. Breeders brought Dalmatians, Spanish Pointers, Rough Collies, and, incredibly, also Whippets and Borzois into the mix. And so the very first proper Bull Terrier was recognised in 1917. His name: Lord Gladiator. At this point, the purebred Bull Terrier still had to be pure white but today brindle and other colours are also accepted as pure.


Who’s the boss?

The Bull Terrier’s egg-shaped head is, for obvious reasons, its most recognisable feature. It is also the only dog with triangular-shaped eyes, while its body is as sturdy and solid as they come, with a tail that is generally carried horizontally. It’s not a tall dog, standing at about 55 cm at the shoulder, but it’s on the meaty side with an average weight of around 25 kg with males often even heavier (One does also get a Miniature Bull Terrier which is roughly half the size)


It’s this muscular build with oodles of brute strength, along with its robust energy,  that makes the Bull Terrier a dog for a very specific type of owner. A Bull Terrier plays rough, and he likes a lot of it and won’t think twice before knocking your ancient Chinese vase off the coffee table. A Bull Terrier wants to be the boss, and the boss of you too, and that’s why a strong and very consistent owner is essential. Frequent exercise and early socialisation are absolutely essential if you want a manageable Bull Terrier.


Bull Terriers can be happy in a family with energetic older children, but because of its robust and aggressive nature, it’s not recommended for families with young children. Of course, there are exceptions, but, generally, a Bull Terrier will not tolerate any other animals in its domain — especially not dogs of the same sex. Yet, despite its territorial attitude towards other dogs, Bull Terriers are surprisingly friendly to strangers who have been welcomed by their owner — often resulting in an amicable, boisterous welcoming.


Unfortunately, Bull Terriers have a number of health issues, including deafness, skin problems and obsessive tail chasing (which can be a form of epilepsy). Bull Terriers have short easy-care coats and might need a coat in the cold winter months to keep it warm.


Is a Bull Terrier for me?

In short, if you’re a first-time dog owner or have young children or other pets: definitely no. If you can be your Bull Terrier’s consistent firm leader, give it all the physical and mental attention it needs, and don’t mind a bit of rough and tumble, then this tough, energetic breed might just be your new sidekick.

Know your breed: Schnauzer

They say that dogs and their owners often show a remarkable resemblance. If this is indeed true, the stereotypical schnauzer owner would be an elderly gentleman, dressed in a tweed jacket and bow tie — proudly walking in the park with head held high and treating any attempts at friendly conversation with a moustached look of aloofness.


Indeed, the Schnauzer’s name literally means ‘snout’ — a colloquial term in German for a moustache. With its sassy beard and wild eyebrows, the Schnauzie (as it’s affectionately referred to) is the unofficial king of facial hair in the dog world. Yet, for a grumpy old gentleman, Schnauzers have remarkable energy. Extroverted, curious and eager to alert its owner to any threat, the breed often surprises novice owners with the size of their personality. Make no mistake — the Schnauzer is a terrier at heart: feisty, active and extremely loyal and protective.


The Schnauzers comes in three sizes: the standard, the giant and the miniature. Today, the miniature Schnauzer is the most popular as a pet, especially in cities and rates among the top 20 most popular dog breeds in Europe and the USA. People also sometimes refer to ‘toy’ or ‘teacup’ Schnauzers but this is generally a cross between a miniature Schnauzer and another breed and doesn’t fall within the breed’s standard description.


Sizes and colours

As mentioned, the Schnauzer comes in small, medium and large. The miniature Schnauzie is 33–35 cm tall at the shoulder and weighs about 4.5–9 kg. The standard Schnauzer is considerably larger, at 43–51 cm and will become a tad too heavy to carry in your arms at 14–26 kg while the giant variation is indeed a big dog at 60–70 cm and 34–47kg on average.


It’s interesting to note that it’s not a sliding scale of sizes, but rather three distinct breeds — each with its own set of characteristics. The breed can be classified as a ‘working dog’ and its role in rural Europe where it originated was to hunt rats, herd cattle and generally serve as a watchdog. The three variants developed in the late 19th century by first breeding the existing Schnauzer with the French Poodle to give it a more aristocratic appearance and then crossing the Standard Schnauzer with the Miniature Poodle and Affenpinscher to create the Miniature Schnauzer. The Giant Schnauzer was bred by crossbreeding with a host of bigger dogs including the Great Dane, German Shepherd and Bouvier des Flandres.


The Miniature Schnauzie is the only one that comes in four colour variants: pure black, black and silver, pepper and salt (a kind of nuanced grey) and white, although there is some controversy surrounding the acceptance of white Schnauzies at dog shows in the USA. The reason for this is that the two larger breeds only come in black or pepper and salt and the white is seen as a diversion from Schnauzer tradition.


Personality and health

Whatever colour your Schnauzie is, it’s sure to be smart. Schnauzers are also known as ‘the dog with the human brain’ and are highly trainable. Your bearded gentlemen or lady will be sure to learn tricks quickly and obey a variety of commands. The flip side is that they can get bored quite easily and need to be exercised and mentally stimulated regularly.


They are extremely loyal to the point where they can be a little aloof and stand-offish with strange people or dogs until they get to know them. However, individual Schnauzers’ personalities (especially the popular miniature ones) can vary greatly to the point where two Schnauzies can almost seem like two different breeds. Some are very terrier-like (feisty, scrappy and stubborn) while others are much calmer and sweet-natured. All Schnauzies will want to be close to their owners and part of the action on a constant basis and while the two bigger variations might be fine outdoors, the smaller pooches need to sleep comfortably inside.


Even the calmest Schnauzers’ beautiful snouts are made for barking though and they will alert to anything they think is a threat. For this reason, a Schnauzer is not the type of dog you want to leave alone for long periods of time if your neighbours have sensitive ears.


Schnauzers are one of the healthiest dog breeds around. They don’t really drool, but their muzzles will become dirty from eating and playing, so be sure to keep those wet wipes around. They also need to be groomed on a regular basis (either by hand-stripping the undercoat’s dead hair or by clipping the top coat to reveal the soft undercoat. Enthusiasts tend to agree that there are few dogs as good-looking as a well-groomed Schnauzer. Yet despite their long hair, they actually shed very little and are hypoallergenic.


Traditionally, the Schnauzer’s ears were clipped (cut to form an upward point) and their tails docked, but this practice is now actually illegal in a number of countries around the world. Besides, a Schnauzer with natural, floppy ears looks much friendlier…


Should I get a Schnauzer?

If you’re looking for an energetic, smart and alert family dog that’s great with children and will patrol your house and yard like it’s the proud owner, then this breed is for you. If you’re sensitive to barking and don’t want to spend time training and grooming your dog, then this elegantly moustached dog should rather be left to all the Schnauzie enthusiasts out there.

Know your breed - Chow Chow

Know your breed: Chow Chow

In his later life, the famous psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud’s Chow Chow called Jofi attended all his therapy sessions with his patients. The story goes that Freud could tell quite a lot about a patient’s state of mind by Jofi’s behaviour. If she positioned herself close to the patient, the patient was in a relatively calm state of mind. If she lay down on the other side of the room, it was obvious that the patient was anxious. What’s more, Jofi had an exact internal clock that went off after exactly 50 minutes, when Jofi would start yawning and stretching, letting Freud know that the session has reached its end.

From this little anecdote, one can deduce two things. One, the Chow Chow is not as thick as it looks (although its fur is extremely thick) — it’s actually pretty intelligent. And secondly, Sigmund Freud had a very strong personality. The Chow Chow, Chinese Chow or simply Chow as it’s often referred to, is notoriously independent and strong-willed — adapting best to a dominant and consistent owner, although its temperament appears to have many sides. One source describes the Chow as follows: ‘The Chow combines the nobility of a lion, the drollness of a panda, the appeal of a teddy bear, the grace and independence of a cat, and the loyalty and devotion of a dog.’


Origins, appearance and health

Well, with its unique looks, the Chow certainly does look unlike any dog you’re likely to cross paths with. Its very straight back legs give it a stilted, gracious gait while its short, compact face with handsome mane certainly warrants its comparison to a lion. In terms of size, though, it’s considerably smaller than a lion, standing around 45 cm high at the shoulder and weighing in at 18 to 31 kg.

Today the standard colours for a Chow Chow include red, black, blue, cinnamon and cream, with lighter shades of the same colour on the tail and mane (of course when dog breed manuals talk about ‘blue’, they don’t actually mean blue as in Smurfie blue, but rather a dark grey with a hint of blue). Two types of coat variations are also present in pedigree Chows: rough and smooth-coated, with the rough-coated variety having that recognizable thick parka fur look. Unfortunately, the comparison to parka fur is not far from the truth, well, at least it wasn’t in ancient China and Mongolia where the breed originated. Apart from their function as hunting dogs, the breed’s beautiful fur was also used to line coats whilst their flesh was considered a delicacy! Fortunately, the cruel practice of eating dogs was outlawed in China in 1915.

Interestingly, the Chow has a unique black-blue tongue and in China it’s actually called the black-tongue dog (hei shi-tou), wolf dog (lang gou) or bear dog (xiang gou). Incidentally, the western name, ‘Chow Chow’ refers to the miscellaneous items aboard a cargo ship, a term used in the 18th century when the first Chows were brought to Europe where it was recognised as a breed in the late 19th  century. In China, though, the breed has existed for centuries with imagery of Chow-like dogs appearing in art works as early as 200 BC. The Chow Chow is, in fact, one of the 9 ‘ancient’ dog breeds more closely related to the wolf than all the other dog breeds.

In terms of general health, the Chow is a relatively healthy breed, apart from being prone to eye irritation caused by its abnormal eyelids — although this can easily be corrected with surgery. Most Chow Chows live up to about 15 years.


Is a Chow Chow the dog for me?

Apart from looking a bit like a small lion, this breed indeed also has a similarly strong personality which requires an owner who is willing to take the alpha role in the dog’s ‘pack’. Chows tend to become attached to one or two owners and can become fiercely territorial towards other dogs and humans if they feel their space or owner is being threatened. They can also be quite aloof, stubborn and hesitant to interact with strangers. For this reason, it is extremely important that a Chow is trained and socialised from an early age. When exercised regularly, the breed makes an excellent indoor dog.

In short, if you have small children or lots of other animals in your yard, this breed might not be the prudent choice. If you’re strong-willed and willing to lead the pack, a Chow Chow might just become your loyal china.






Know your breed: Basenji

The Basenji is a weird breed. Ever heard of a dog that can’t bark? Well, here you have it. A dog that whines, chortles, yodels and screams? Yup, that’s the Basenji. A clean, odourless dog. A natural escape artist. A stubborn, strong willed dog that will challenge you to be smarter than him or her… that’s the Basenji.




The Basenji is an ancient dog breed originating in the forests of the Congo and closely resembles the Tesem dogs that are depicted on the tombs of the ancient Egyptian pharaohs. Originally bred to hunt small prey in the dense rain forests by chasing and driving them into nets, these fast, agile creatures are highly alert and adept at getting through the tiniest gap. For this reason, it’s not recommended to keep a Basenji in a yard that is not very, very well secured and fenced off, or leave it alone by itself in your home. It will find a way to get out of the yard, and it will find some unsuspecting shoe, leather handbag, Persian carpet or new scatter cushion to hunt down and tear to pieces.


With regards to its peculiar trait of not barking, several theories abound. One is that quieter Basenjis were selectively chosen over thousands of years because the sound of barking dogs would give away the location of their owners in the forest to rival tribes.


Whatever the reason, the breed was admired by Europeans who first saw them in the Congo region in the 19th century and several attempts were made to bring them to Europe. A certain Lady Helen Nutting brought six Basenjis with her to England from Sudan in 1923 but the dogs wanted nothing to do with it and all tragically died from the distemper shots they received in quarantine. In the 1930s a small foundation stock was finally established in England and America and almost all Basenjis in the Western world descends from this small number, although some efforts were made at the turn of the millennium to introduce new dogs from Africa into the line.

In large parts of central Africa, the breed is, of course, quite common and referred to as ‘dogs of the bush’ or ‘dogs of the villagers.”




With its alert, big pointy ears, tightly coiled tail and diamond-shaped head, the Basenji is instantly recognisable. It’s graceful, light-footed gate reminds somewhat of wild jackals and like other sighthounds, it is capable of a double-suspension gallop, similar to a horse’s. It’s a small-sized dog, standing about 41-46 cm tall and weighs roughly 10kg, but is deceptively strong for its size — a fact that many an arrogant Jack Russell have come to accept the hard way.


Its coat is short, odourless, sheds very little and comes in red, black, brindle and tricolour. Interestingly, all Basenjis’ feet, tails-tips and chests are white.




Needless to say, raising and training a Basenji takes patience and a strong will. Some expert even refers to a ‘sense of humour’ needed to train them. Most owners agree that Basenjis are highly intelligent and often understand commands — they just don’t want to obey them unless they understand what’s in it for them.


They are extremely loyal and will often bond tightly with one owner. Their suspicious stand-offish nature will also require them to be well socialised from an early age to avoid skittish and aggression towards other dogs.


That being said, Basenjis are very social animals and want to be part of the action all the time and go everywhere with you. Leaving a Basenji by itself for any long period of time is not advised. Despite their inability to bark, they do make excellent watch dogs and are highly aware of what’s going on around them. Also, remember that they are hunting dogs, so they will need exercise, and lots of it, on a daily basis.




The breed typically reaches about 13 years of age and is generally a healthy breed although some kidney and liver problems, sensitive stomachs, hypothyroidism and eye disease can occur. A very interesting biological trait is that female Basenjis, like Dingos, only cycle once a year compared to twice a year for all other domestic dogs.


Is a Basenji for me?


Yes, if you’re looking for a clean, elegant, clever dog with a strong personality, and you’re willing to be its loyal companion and strong pack leader. If you’re looking for low maintenance dog that will submit easily and generally be obedient, then steer clear of this fascinating breed.


Written by: Eckhard Cloete


Know your breed: Saint Bernard

My first meeting with this breed was Josef, the friendly, faithful companion of Heidi’s grandfather in the TV series Heidi — the hit Japanese anime series that also made its way to South Africa in the 80s with Afrikaans overdubbing. True to its depiction in this children’s series, the typical Saint Bernard is indeed a gentle giant — intelligent, calm and a great companion dog if you can handle its size.



The Saint Bernard descended from a large, broad-muzzled dog originally brought to the Alps by the Ancient Romans as a working farm dog. The earliest written record of the St. Bernard as a breed was penned by the monks at the hospice at the Great Saint Bernard Pass in the Alps in 1707, although paintings depicting the breed date even further back. The breed quickly became famous as rescue dog — helping to save travelers on the treacherous Alpine passes of the area.

Interestingly enough, the original St. Bernard rescue dogs were smaller than the St. Bernard we know today. During the harsh winters of 1816-1818,  avalanches killed many of the dogs during rescue missions. In an effort to save the breed, larger Newfoundlands were crossbred with the remaining St. Bernards. However, the longer fur the dogs inherited from the Newfoundland influence froze during rescue missions and weighed them down, causing the breed to lose much of its prowess as a snow rescue dog.

Despite this, its reputation survived and to this day the breed is often depicted in movies and cartoons with the iconic small barrel of brandy around its neck — supposedly to give to avalanche victims to stay warm  (of course not a great idea at all, medically speaking!). The monks of Saint Bernard vehemently deny the existence of this custom but do keep a couple of spare barrels for tourist picture purposes…



Make no mistake: the Saint Bernard is a big dog. So big it’s classified as a ‘giant’ breed. In fact, the heaviest dog ever was a St. Bernard: Benedictine Daily Double weighed in at a massive 166.4kg! Most don’t reach these proportions though, with the average St. Bernard being 65-120kg. At its withers, the typical dog stands at 70-90cm.

The breed comes in both a short and long-haired variation and in either a shade of red and white, or a darker mahogany brindle and white, with darker marking around the face. Its short square muzzle will definitely drool a fair bit, so be warned if you don’t like slobber on your new pair of pants. It also sheds a pretty decent amount of hair.



Despite its enormous size, the breed actually makes a calm indoor dog and is happy to lounge around most of the day in adulthood. It has a reputation of being tolerant of children although it’s so big that a swipe of its tail can easily knock an unsuspecting child over. (It should also be noted that no dog should ever be left unsupervised with small children — no matter how relaxed they seem to be).

Saint Bernards are happiest around its family and much prefers chilling with its people to being left alone for long periods of time. Like all big dogs, and indeed all dogs in general, early training and a confident, firm owner will do much to curb any aggression and attitudes of dominance. In general, though, the Saint Bernard lives up to its name: being a saintly, gentle giant.



Saint Bernards generally live up to around 9 years and can, unfortunately, suffer from a variety of health issues, including hip and elbow dysplasia, heart disease, eye problems and eczema and epilepsy. Because the puppies grow so fast, special care must also be taken to make sure they get enough exercise to prevent bone deterioration. In South Africa, the summer heat is also a major concern, as the Saint Bernard is genetically conditioned to withstand extremely cold temperatures.


Is the Saint Bernard for me?

If you don’t like big, clumsy dogs that bring mud, drool and lots of hair into your home, then steer clear. If you can handle a humongous but loyal furry friend and can provide constant, calm companionship, the saint from the Alps might just be the K9 for you.


By Eckhard Cloete