Love is in the air, and with that, we should discuss the type of matchmaking that ends in hair all over your clothes, suddenly talking in a cutesie voice, and midnight Amazon shopping for a car vacuum. Well, maybe that's just me- but you get the point. For many, choosing a dog is about choosing the most visually adorable features. Now, the aesthetic of a dog can tell us a lot about whether a dog would be a right match- size, strength, fur length, health needs- all of those things should impact your dog choice. But there is so much more to finding the right match. When I'm working with a client through my Adoption Counseling, I start by sending them these questions, so that I know baseline what they are looking for. These questions aren't the totality of our conversation- nor do I always rely on the initial answers. Really, the goal is for us to begin thinking about what the most important topics may be for the Adopter, so that as we meet dogs those things are in the forefront. Below I've provided a little bit more context to help understand the question and what to consider a little bit more fully so that you can use it on your own as a resource!
1. What is your time frame for adopting a dog?
A lot of folks get REALLY excited at the thought of adopting a dog, and want it to happen very quickly. I totally understand this enthusiasm- but in reality it will likely take months before you have Fido home. Yes, months. Sometimes a love at first sight connection works great, but my experience as a trainer has taught me that this is rarity. Selecting a rescue or a breeder alone may take time, plus it's important to meet a few dogs before you make a decision. And I mean, who can say no to petting more dogs?
2. Do you want a puppy, or an adult dog?
Adult dogs are not necessarily easier than puppies. Most people are very worried about potty training a puppy, but honestly in terms of training tasks- that is not the hardest challenge. Puppies are often times a better option for families with babies up to roughly age ten, depending on the family's ability to be available during the day or hire a dog walker. Being comfortable with children is a learned skill for all dogs, some take to it naturally and some don't. This isn't a flaw in the dogs themselves, just a personality trait we have to consider. The puppy trouble spots are not for everyone though. Teething, developmental process, and energy levels mean that puppies aren't for everyone. I find that families who have really hectic schedules, including older kids with activities may actually be more comfortable integrating an adult dog into the family. Every situation is different, be honest with yourself about what you can realistically handle.
3. Why do you want whichever you chose above?
This question is here because I often need to know what the rationalization is for a client to want a specific age dog. Sometimes their concerns make sense to me- for example, someone who has sleep issues may not want a toy breed puppy who needs several breaks at night. Other times those things are based on a misconception about dog behavior. For example, many rescue dogs do not come with "abuse issues". Sometimes it's just a simple re-home situation, because things change in folks livest that create a hardship resulting in surrendering their pet. Understanding what motivates a client helps me pick out matches, and address any underlying concerns- justified or not!
4. Is this your first dog as an "adult"?
Many folks of all ages grew up with dogs in their home. But that is a very, very different scenario than being responsible for your first dog as an adult in the world. This question helps a lot with breed recommendations. Some breeds, even crosses, are not what is sometimes called "starter dogs". Many dogs breeds become popular through the Westminster dog show or popular culture. Notably- think of Dalmations and German Shepherds. Both of these breeds are remarkable- but both present training challenges that can be overwhelming for first time dog owners. After meeting Swanson, I have some clients begging me to match them with a border collie, or border collie cross. There are exceptions, and Swanson is undeniably charming, but overall, border collies are not great house pets unless they are kept very, very busy. For active athletes who can bring their dogs to work, they may be a great match. But they have zero chill unless they are bone tired, both physically and mentally. Our lovely Australian Shepherd Rio came to us as a re-home after her previous owner realized that she had gotten in over her head. Rio was anxious, difficult, unresponsive, and prone to actual tantrums when she came to us. She is still a highly energetic dog who requires a ton of structure. For us, this is easily managed as my job and lifestyle are conducive to her needs. But otherwise she is easily a dog that could have redirected her energy into accidentally nipping a child or getting hit by a car.
5. Do you have friends or family nearby to let your dog out during the day, or a work schedule that allows you to come home? Can your dog go to work with you?
It's a big ask for dogs to be home alone, crated or loose, for 8-10 hours per day. There are dogs who can handle the responsibility and solitude of a busy work schedule. They are not in the majority however. There are many professional services which can get your dog a walk, or offer day care during the day- even a few times a week can make a huge difference in the health and behavior of your pet. Puppies will absolutely need a break every few hours, the standard rule is that they can be expected to hold their bladders for one hour for every month that they are old. So a three month old pup (12 weeks) should get a break at least every three hours. Feeding a puppy a mid-day meal really helps with potty training also, which is another incentive to hire or bribe a friend to help. Consider finding an apartment or house that is close enough to your job so that if you have an hour lunch break, so you can at least get home to give relief yourself. I know that many folks work long hours, or can't afford to hire someone. If you can't get a friend to help you out in exchange for the love of your pup- maybe consider trying to start a savings account to save up for the care you will need. Everyone deserves to have a dog in their life, but we also have the obligation to make sure that we can provide the appropriate care.
6. What breed(s) most interest you? Why?
Some folks grew up with a certain breed, or have a friend who has a dog that really appeals to them. What I'm looking for here, is to see if there are themes to the types of dogs that a client likes. Sticky-up ears? Floppy? Smooth coat? Long hair? Active? More of a couch potato? Rough size? Whether or not we go with the breed they request, or I make an alternative recommendation- start to think of breeds that you like in terms of traits, rather than just breeds.
7. Are you more interested in pure bred dogs, mixed breed pups, or open to either?
I'm not a trainer who has any qualms about responsible breeding. Some dogs are bred to do specific tasks, jobs, or give great behaviors that will end up in a dog love match. That is my ultimate goal. I want to have the conversation with my clients about breed reliability, and really talk to to them about working with a breed-specific rescue if there is a breed that's a great fit for them. For some people, they worry about health issues that are predominant in pure breed dogs, and there is some merit to that if their preferences line up with breeds that have a history of health concerns. In those cases it may be the best fit to go with a mixed breed pup. If the client is considering health insurance for their pet, this is an important consideration here too.
8. Are you 100% set on getting a rescue, and why?
Rescues are a wonderful option and a good many rescue dogs do not have trauma related behavior responses. Rescuing a dog is a wonderful thing to do- but the best goal is ALWAYS finding the right dog match. For some people, a rescue does not give the best chances of a dog match. For clients that I'm working with to train an ESA (emotional support animal), a therapy dog, or even a service dog- there are many reasons to go with a pup from a breeder- including reliability in performance or temperament. Also, some rescues do not have the resources to provide a complete behavior screening or even basic history. So if a client really wants to go the rescue route, it will be even more important for me as a trainer to be there during their meet and greets to help screen for behaviors and compatibility. I do not believe in the "Adopt Don't Shop" myth, at all. Rescues are run by humans, who are not perfect. There are missteps, confusion, and a lack of resources that can really affect an adoption experience. There is also a real value in having a pure breed dog if you need your dog to do a specific task (like move your pigs around). It is valid to find a dog that you will cherish as a member of your family no matter what.
9. What role will your dog have in your daily life? For example- do you want a cuddle bug who doesn't need a ton of exercise? Do you want an athlete? A working breed?
What always surprises me when I ask this question in person is how many people struggle to find an answer. I love to talk about what their dog ownership goals look like. Exploring the role that your new dog will have in your life really helps figure out which profiles or breeds might be a match. It's a good place to get really honest with yourself about what you need from your pet- and how much change you may be interested in pursuing. Owning herding dogs has made me a better trainer and farmer- but even I've been surprised at times with how much I need to do to challenge them and keep their behavior reliable. Sometimes even after a few hours of farm work we need several trick training sessions to keep them focused and chill. Our lives revolve around dogs, but we also need them to be really, really cuddly, which they are great at. Not all dogs are, and again- that's not a flaw. It's just a personality trait.
10. How much exercise can you say with confidence that your dog will get daily? (30 min, 15 min, 45min, 60+min)
Similarly to the last question, different dogs have different exercise requirements. A good deal of training nightmares can be totally avoided by selecting a dog that is well within your abilities to provide exercise for. And this doesn't include routine potty walks- we're talking about above and beyond, hopefully to a full pant. Often times a client may say, "Well when I get my dog, I'm going to take up running". This very well may be true, but it probably has a worse average than a New Year's Resolution. Life happens, and both owner and dog will be happier if they are an energy match from the start.
11. Are you planning to get pet insurance?
Thinking about medical care for your future dog can be kind of a bummer. But there is little more heartbreaking than when you do enter the end of life stage for your pet, and we need to plan for it now. Unfortunately, just like people, things happen unexpectedly. If you can set aside some money, or get insurance, you can focus on the care of your pet rather than feeling terrified that you can't help them. For some people, insurance isn't a cost they can afford, and that's okay too. Using great dog food, providing routine care, and saving where you can will help. It may be in your best interest to get a mixed breed dog, who have less genetic predispositions to certain conditions. Pet insurance is also it's own minefield, and finding the right company is crucial. Examine any policy thoroughly as the terms and conditions vary widely.
12. Do you need your dog to like other dogs?
Not all dogs have to be social- but some folks are social with their dogs, and their friend's dogs. This means you need your dog to be reliably not reactive, at the very least. Swanson is a non-reactive but selectively social dog. It takes constant work for me to make sure that he maintains his comfort in highly social situations. Sometimes that means setting up his travel crate, sometimes that means focusing on fetch. Swanson has never escalated beyond a growl towards another dog, but I know his body language enough to stop any escalating situation. He loves his siblings, and has many dog friends who he plays with joyfully. But he doesn't form that bond with every dog. Rio, is always, always down for a new dog. Figuring out what you need from your dog will really help you plan your adoption and training. If you plan on using the dog park as part of your main exercise or socialization, you need a dog who shows no signs of escalation, basically at all. This is not the standard for typical dog behavior. There is a misconception that all dogs should like all other dogs. This is categorically untrue, and unrealistic. All dogs should be taught self control, and to not engage to the fullest possible point. But I don't expect that I will like every person I meet, though I will be polite and respectful. I'm not going to expect more than that of any dog, and it's my job as an owner to help them get there.
13. Do you need your dog to enjoy the company of children?
When kids come to our house, Rio and Badger get crated until Rio can calm down her excitement (which can be overwhelming to any size human), and Badger stays there indefinitely. Badger is actually pretty good with kids. But he does best with kids who take verbal instructions really well, and can get anxious if toddlers grab him suddenly. He wouldn't bit necessarily, but I'm not going to put him, or a kid at risk. Not that he would ever be up for grabs- but he would be a poor placement for a house with small children. Swanson adores kids of any size, forever. He loves people, period. And he is excellent at showing exceptional control even with kids who can't walk yet. If you have children, or children in your life on a daily basis- get a dog that is Swanson level excited to hang with them. Managing a dog like Badger could get exhausting, and a mistake could end in tragedy.
14. Have you ever trained a dog before?
Dog training continues to evolve as we do further research and studies to the effectiveness of a variety of tools, as well as in dog cognition. Additionally, training one dog does not qualify us to train the next. Dog training is more of a scientifically informed art than anything else. We need a wide tool kit as a dog learns, adapts, or when a new dog comes into our life. Additionally, pure breeds show strengths is some areas more than others, and breed types will help inform a mixed breed pup too. There are dogs that require really strong leadership, both because of personality, and because of breed type. Knowing what you know, and what you really don't- should be a huge factor in deciding which dog is for you. If this is your first adult dog, definitely do not get a dog that has words like "shy with new people but warms up" in a profile (code for separation anxiety), or a dog that has a feral past. These dogs can be GREAT pets, but could easily be overwhelming for a first time trainer.
15. Do you have 30-40 min per day to work with a new dog teaching it manners and commands? If not, are you able to consider a board and train program?
Listen, we're all busy. Board and Train programs can be an excellent way to start from a secure place and get a jump on training. Finding a solid and respectable program may take some time- but ultimately it may take less time than months of putting off training that results in problem behaviors. Whenever you bring a new dog into your house, there is no grace period for rules. The work starts on that first day!
16.What activity are you most looking forward to doing with your dog?
Get Excited! Life with a dog is better. My favorite things to do with my dogs vary with the seasons, but by far one of my favorite things is an off leash beach walk. I need my dogs to keep up with my busy lifestyle, and I love showing them off in public spaces with their excellent manners and ability to focus on me in any situation. Are you a winter sport fiend? Do you visit a grandma in a nursing home? There's definitely a dog for that, and knowing what you most want will help you get there.
17. Are you planning to crate train?
Crate training is mandatory, for so many reasons. If someone is reluctant to crate train despite ALL of the benefits it offers, I may send a few profiles of already crate trained dogs, so that the work is done and they can see the benefits first hand! Any dog, or puppy, adjusting to a new space will absolutely be more successful with correct crate training. Not to mention that your vet and your boarding facility will thank you!
Finding the right dog for you takes time and effort, but that day that you come home to a wagging tail and grab a leash for an adventure- is worth all of that process. And please, don't be afraid to ask for help, you don't have to be a dog behavior expert, there are good trainers everywhere desperate to play matchmaker for you. As a matter of fact, I would love to- and you can check that out here!
For those adding a second or third pack member, we will talk about that in a future post!