The More, the Merrier?

Get tips to safely combine dogs and pets of other species.

By Pat Miller |

Mixed BreedEvery breed of dog was developed to perform a job, many of which involve chasing, catching, and/or killing other animals. No wonder animal-loving households sometimes find themselves immersed in small tragedies as incompatible animals meet.

It is possible to overcome breed tendencies that put companion animals at risk. Plus, exceptions exist within every breed Border Collies that aren't interested in sheep or Golden Retrievers that let parakeets sit on their heads. It is easier and safer, however, to avoid breed choices that don't offer such challenges. If you own a non-canine pet and are thinking of getting a dog, here's a list to help you avoid the most glaring mis-matches:

  • Caged birds: Think twice about retrievers, setters, and spaniels, all bred to hunt birds. They can be extremely birdy obsessed with the presence of any bird. Be cautious of terriers, which were bred to kill rodents but any small animal will do as prey. Some working breeds, such as Huskies and shepherds, can also be very prey-oriented.

  • Rabbits: You may want to steer away from the scent hounds Beagles, Bassets, Foxhounds, and others bred to follow small game. Some sight hounds notably Greyhounds have also been bred to chase and kill rabbits. Again, be cautious of terriers, and consider the prey drive of some working breeds.

  • Rats, reptiles and other pocket pets: Terriers can be extremely persistent about going after rodents the very type of animal they were bred to exterminate. Some herding, sporting, and working breeds might have a natural antipathy toward snakes.

  • Cats: Be cautious, again, of terriers. A cat's tendency to fight back, successful in intimidating softer dogs, often arouses a terrier even more. Many working breeds have a prey drive, and Greyhounds will also sometimes chase and kill cats.

  • Livestock: If you want to try herding, get a Border Collie, Australian Shepherd, or the like. But if you want to be able to work around your hooved companions in peace, leave the herding breeds out of the picture. They aren't likely to actually kill livestock, but they are workaholics with an obsessive need to herd, and will run circles around you while you play with your sheep or horses.

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Dogsma   Winlock, WA

6/13/2013 7:13:51 PM

I have a Spaniel mix and a Japanese Chin. My husband loves hamsters and so I just bought him one for father's day. I am a little concerned about my Spaniel mix wanting to get at the hamster. I have owned several dogs a cat and a rat before at the same with no real problems. The cat liked to jump up on the rat cage, but the rat ignored her and the cat didn't try to get in. So I'm hoping that I didn't just make the dumb mistake of the year and my Spaniel mix will be OK with a hamster in the house. Oh we do have a mouser cat, so maybe I should be more worried about her. aye...

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Marie   Bountiful, UT

8/10/2011 8:19:32 AM

My dog is a GSD/Dobie mix. He rocks at herding. I never taught him, he just picked it up at a place I was boarding my horse. He also is VERY attentive. He hears EVERYTHING that goes on outside and wants to check it out. I think this is the doberman side of him.

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Liz   New Westminster, BC

7/27/2011 11:26:29 PM

Good article. I started my Lhasa Apso out at a very young age to be gentle with all animals. She has played with a ferret, a guinea pig, a hamster, a rabbit, the squirrels in the park will come up to her and sniff her and sit right beside her. She will sit and calmly watch ducks, chickens, pigs, goats and horses from distances as close as a foot away. She followed a Pot Bellied pig around for a day trying to befriend it, but the pig wanted nothing to do with her. My Lhasa also thinks that all cats are her friends and she has her own cat at home who she grooms and plays with. So I do believe that different species can definitely get along and even be best of friends!

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Galadriel   Lothlorien, ME

6/16/2011 11:12:46 PM

Great advice though I'm of the opinion that just about any combination of animals will work with hard work and a keen and watchful eye.

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