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American Women's Club of Hamburg

Getting a Dog in Germany

Susannah K discusses the decisions that go into choosing just the right dog for your family. Originally published in Currents, May 2002, Children's Corner Column.

As far as I was concerned, once we moved to the country we would just 'get a dog'. We had children, we had a big garden; a dog just seemed right. I didn't think much more about it. In California, lots of people 'had dogs'. You could go to the pound and get one, or get one from somebody's friend's dog that had had puppies. But, uhoh, were we in for it.


In Germany, Was für einen Hund ist er? (What kind of dog is he?) is the opening question. We duly bought a dog book: Der Kosmos Hunde Führer: mit allen FCI Hunderassen. and set about informing ourselves. Did we want a herd dog, a Hof dog, a hunting dog, a retriever, a terrier, a 'companion' dog? Which one, what color, how big, male or female, long or short hair? Our vet recommended one type, others recommended something else. But most of all, it became clear that most people (at least those we knew) had one particular breed, and that the advantage of deciding upon a particular breed was the entry ticket to a whole new world of contacts and help networks through the well-organized breeders. And, that registered breeders are surprisingly rigorously checked in their care of their mother and baby dogs, that the mothers and puppies are in appropriate 'nesting' areas of the house and that social and health checks by regional officials are carried out on all puppies before they are allowed to leave their mothers. Well, ... ok. ... Sounds convincing.


I spluttered when I was told that the average big purebred dog costs €1000 ! But by that time we had read the book, we had asked everyone we knew and looked at dogs in the street and we had come to the famous realization that with young children it is better to get a puppy:


  1. because they are cute, and
  2. because we would have a good chance at training him or her well.


In the end we chose a female, big, family Hof dog called a Hovawart. We got her when she was 8 weeks old, which seems par for the course here.


And then, we had to register her at the Stadtverwaltung (the same place one registers a change of residence) so she could be put on our tax card (Hundesteuer is €25-100 per year) and get a little metal plate for her collar. And then we had to take out a Hundehaftpflichtversicherung, a dog damage insurance policy. And then we registered with a dog school (Hundeschule) that we were told about through the German Hovawart association (very well organized and responsive network, it is truly a new world of contacts and help). Whew. Somehow it seemed complicated at the time, but now we have our wonderful little rascally puppy, and it all fades into the background.


One German culturally-specific dog fact I have encountered is that although our dog is female, everyone in German refers to her as male (ie... Ist er stubenrein? --Is he housetrained?). This oddity reflects the fact that der Hund is a male word. Germans often talk about her as 'the dog', thus male, rather than by her name, thus female. I find this terribly irritating, but native German speakers seem to find it absolutely acceptable. Another culturally-specific difference is that we can take her everywhere: into Karstadt, into H&M, into restaurants, onto boats and trains. Amazing.


When thinking about a dog:


  • City flat or country house? I personally think dogs, especially bigger dogs, really belong in places where they can run free on walks close to their house.
  • Young children? Certain breeds are more child-friendly than others. Laborador Retrievers, Golden retrievers and Swiss mountain dogs are popular for families. Most of all it is important that the dog learns it has the lowest rank in the house. This means that the children should be allowed to do anything at all with the dog, but for this to work they also have to learn to treat the dog with respect (leave him or her to sleep, don't tease, etc.).
  • Female or Male? It depends on the breed and one's own personal wish. With Hovawarts, for example, the general concensus seemed to be that a female was easier to train and thus better in an 'amateur' family.


In any case, I can certainly recommend getting a dog from a reputable breeder if one can afford it. You are offered support and an automatic network for schooling, food questions, vacation care, and many other things.

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