The notion of hypoallergenic dogs is a popular and persistent myth. Like the yeti, there’s really no proof that allergy-free dogs exist, and still we continue to search for them. As long as evidence remains elusive, people remain curious, and cable networks provide funding, we will get television shows where people go looking for Bigfoot. Similarly, as long as people sneeze and have eyes that swell up and water, there will always be a new list of hypoallergenic dogs to read.
So, what makes people allergic to dogs?
People are allergic to proteins found in the skin and saliva of every dog. You’ll often hear the word “dander” linked with dog allergies. Dander is a colloquial term for dead skin cells. Much like dandruff in humans, when skin cells die, they are shed. Unlike dandruff, which is seen as small white flakes, dander is altogether too small to see with the naked eye. As dogs age, they produce and shed increasing amounts of dander. Even a supposedly hypoallergenic dog will inevitably age, and so produce more dander.
A dog with short hair is just as likely to have those proteins as a dog with long hair, and any dog who has hair sheds. These proteins are not in the hair, though, but in the skin and saliva. Any dog that goes outside is also just as likely, particularly at high-allergen periods of the year, to pick up or track in pollen or other allergens that can affect you. If you are particularly prone to allergies, the best thing you can do is restrict your dog’s access to places where you spend the most time and make sure you regularly clean and vacuum those places in the home where the dog plays and sleeps.
If you’re looking for a list of the best hypoallergenic dogs, they exist in their millions. The Internet is like a swollen tick, glutted and full to bursting with top 10 lists and top 15 lists of hypoallergenic dogs. There are lists of the best hypoallergenic dogs and hypoallergenic dog breeds, along with lists of large hypoallergenic dogs and lists of small hypoallergenic dogs. The idea behind small hypoallergenic dogs seems to be that if dogs have less hair and less surface area, they have less chance of affecting people who are allergic to dogs. The truth is, a small dog is still going to age, as will a dog with short or wiry hair.
A master list of hypoallergenic dog breeds
One thing I’ve noted in combing through the unending mountain of lists of hypoallergenic dog breeds is that no two are the same. To save you the trouble of undertaking that bewildering quest yourself, I’ve compiled a master list of all the “best” hypoallergenic dogs. I put “best” in scare-quotes because while it is true that every dog has dander and saliva, your individual reaction to those proteins will differ. Organizations like the American Kennel Club state outright that lists of this kind are only recommendations, and are careful to note that these breeds “generally do well with people with allergies.” Even my list, thorough though it is, is not comprehensive. The 10 or 15 that you are least allergic to, dear reader, may vary.
There are a number of terrier breeds in lists of hypoallergenic dogs, such as the Airedale Terrier, American Hairless Terrier, Border Terrier, Kerry Blue Terrier, Cairn Terrier, Tibetan Terrier, West Highland White Terrier, Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier, Bedlington Terrier, Wire Fox Terrier, Parson Russell Terrier, Jack Russell Terrier, Yorkshire Terrier, Boston Terrier, and the Norfolk Terrier.
You could walk the earth for the rest of your life or visit every specialty breeder to investigate your allergic tolerances to the Puli, Komondor, Brussels Griffon, Chihuahua, Pomeranian, American Crested, Chinese Crested Hairless, Schnauzer, Portuguese Water Dog, Irish Water Spaniel, Havanese, Bichon Frise, Bichon Yorkie, Cavachon, Chacy Ranior, Bolognese, Greyhound, Hairless Khala, Maltese, Dachshund, Shih Tzu, Basenji, Bergamasco, Bouvier des Flandres, Lagotto Romagnolo, Lowchen, Coton de Tulear, Peruvian Hairless, Polish Lowland Sheepdog, Vizsla, and the Xoloitzcuintl.
Unfortunately, there are no allergy-free dogs
Unless you live in, and assiduously maintain, a completely sterile environment like Anthony Edwards’s character in Northern Exposure, there is no way to completely avoid allergens. Even that gentleman found that the necessities of life meant that, on occasion, he would have to risk contact with contaminants.
Choosing to own a dog is a major life decision and should not be entered into lightly. I am allergic to my cat, for instance, but not to my dog. I play with both, but I know I have to wash my hands and clothes after petting the cat because I am allergic to its dander. With dog ownership, unless you have dangerous allergies, the rewards are worth the risks.
Doubtless, there are geneticists and breeders trying to find the perfect mix of traits in any combination or permutation of these dogs. The fact remains that until someone invents a dog without skin and saliva — which sounds less like a dog and more like an abomination of Lovecraftian horror — there simply will not be a perfectly hypoallergenic dog.
Read more on hypoallergenic dogs: