Thursday, October 06, 2011

Breed spotlight: learning about the Affenpinscher

I write a lot about breeds: profiles for magazines and websites, books, and peripheral pieces on finding a breeder or choosing a puppy. For a while now, I've been wanting to pull together information on breeds not as a one-stop resource--that would take forever--but as a guide to where to find information about the breed and how to evaluate it. I'm going to start alphabetically with AKC breeds, although it's pretty likely that rare breeds and cats will make their way in sooner rather than later. So, let's check out the Affenpinscher.

He's nicknamed the monkey-face dog because of his bright, inquisitive expression and shaggy coat, especially around the face. Or because he hung out with organ grinders who couldn't afford actual monkeys. Take your pick. His coat comes in black, gray, silver, red, black and tan, or belge, a mixture of black, brown and (sometimes) white with red. Even though he's classified as a Toy breed, he has a terrierlike personality, not surprising since he descends from small dogs used as ratters on farms or in stables, shops and homes. This dog is active, smart and an independent thinker. One of his nicknames is mustachio'd little devil, an apt moniker. You can just see him twirling his mustache as he plots his next mischievous move. He weighs 8 to 10 pounds and sometimes up to 20 pounds, but in his head he thinks he's much bigger.

When I'm researching breeds, interviews with breeders are a primary source of information, but I also turn to the breed club website. A rare few are top-notch, but many could use some help with organization, and they are often lacking in the type of information that is really useful to the potential buyer or new owner. I look to see how easy it is to find a description of the breed's personality, whether health problems are discussed, and how easy it is to find a list of breeders and a link to information about rescue.

The Affenpinscher Club of America website has tabs on the left for information about the breed and the club, but it doesn't appear to be in any kind of order, other than starting with club and breed history. The Breeder Referral section has good information on choosing a breeder, links to a list of ACA-affiliated breeders, and a link to the criteria breeders must meet to be on that list. All of that is a big plus.

The section on the Affen personality isn't bad. It refers to them as a "big dog in a small body" and warns of their willingness to take on big dogs. Most of it is very positive, which is fine, but I would like to see a more balanced picture that includes the breed's drawbacks--and all breeds have them. What is the Affen like to train? How easily is he housetrained? That's often a problem in Toy breeds. Does he bark a lot? What does he think about living with other pets? Kids? None of that is covered. Training is discussed in the sections on Obedience and Agility, but not everyone would think to look there for that type of information. A good FAQ would cover all of this information in one place.

The Puppy's First Year tab is promising, but while it has some good advice, it is mostly generic information about vet visits, crate training, going to puppy kindergarten class, and socialization. How old should an Affen puppy be before going to his new home, and how quickly do Affen puppies mature? How much do they eat? How much and what type of exercise/play do they need? That type of breed-specific information is nowhere to be found. Of course, you can get that information from breeders, but it's nice to have an idea upfront if you are deciding whether this is the breed for you.

Health is not among any of the headings, but if you were to click on Breeder's Guidelines, you would find that Affenpinschers should be tested for hip dysplasia, luxating patellas, eye problems and Legg-Calve-Perthes disease before being bred. In her book Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds, author D. Caroline Coile says that Affens don't have any major health concerns and that minor health concerns are patellar luxation and corneal ulcers. Their typical life span is 12 to 14 years. That would be great information for buyers and owners to be able to find on the ACA website, as would be information about other problems that occasionally affect the breed, such as patent ductus arteriosus (a congenital heart condition), open fontanel (a soft spot on the head) and respiratory difficulties.

While the Affen Personality section says they need a minimum amount of grooming, the Grooming the Affen page tells another story. It gives excellent, highly detailed instructions on how to brush, comb and trim the dog, which, without regular grooming, will pick up all kinds of debris in his shaggy coat and develop mats or tangles that can be painful and difficult to remove. It's one of the most useful sections on the ACA website.

As is often the case, the very best, most useful information about the breed is on the webpage for Affenpinscher Rescue. Here is where you will learn that Affens aren't especially fond of children, are liable to bite if provoked, are difficult to housetrain, and much more. There's no doubt that the Affen is charming, but he can be a handful to live with. The rescue page also discusses health concerns in much more detail than the ACA website. Even if you are planning to get a puppy of any breed, I always recommend that you find a breed's rescue group site and read it thoroughly. It's how you find out why people give the dogs up and what can be difficult about living with them.

The Affen isn't especially common, so finding a breeder who has puppies or at least is planning a litter can take some time. The ACA breeder referral list has a total of nine for the whole country. Communicate with as many of them as possible via phone or email, meet them at dog shows if possible, or visit their kennel and meet their dogs if you happen to live nearby one of them. This is a funny little dog with a lot of great qualities, but just because he's small and cute doesn't mean he will be easy to live with in all circumstances.

1 comment:

BorderWars said...

I'm glad you're starting alphabetically, that way I won't have to wait so long for your coverage of Border Collies.

These little monkey-faced dogs are very cute, and the few I've met in person do fit the classification as "willing to take on bigger dogs" ... lots of character in a small package for sure.