When it comes to dogs, most of us are hopeless romantics. We rerun episodes of “Lassie” in our heads as we consider the lineup of canine candidates before us. We might have warm and fuzzy pictures in our mind of a childhood pet, or of a dog who has passed on from our adult life – but who is perfect in our (somewhat selective) memory. We have wonderful pictures in our minds, and some equally sweet memories, but are they a good way to select a new friend in the here and now? Maybe not. Dogs, like we humans, have unique personalities, as well as unique quirks. Much as we might wish for that childhood companion to return, or to have Lassie show up, perfectly trained, on our front porch, chances are slim to none that it’s going to happen.
However, we can plan for happiness in the here and now with a new canine friend, and enjoy the adventure of a new canine personality to get to know and love. Here’s a sort of a checklist for you to consider as you look for that Mr. (or Ms.) GoodDog.
1) What’s my current lifestyle? Look at your typical day, and what you enjoy doing. Ask yourself some hard questions about your job, family, hobbies – and general preferences. There’s probably a dog out there that will fit your lifestyle, and being honest with yourself is the first step in finding it.
2) What can you afford? Good veterinary care is not inexpensive, and even one dog can, at times, make a big hole in your expendable income. Many people purchase veterinary health insurance, which can be helpful for a costly surgery or emergency. Other folk simply put money aside each month into an account earmarked for veterinary expenses. Whatever you choose to do, please remember that, just like the proverbial lunch, there’s no such thing as a free dog.
3) What do you know about canine nutrition? Dogs are what they eat, and an unhealthy diet will only give you an unhealthy dog. While the pet food industry is full of companies that promise you everything for only $20 a bag, the truth is somewhat different. Dogs are semi-obligate carnivores – that means they don’t thrive on a high-carb diet. They need animal protein (not plant, like soy) in order to be healthy. If you’re a meat-eater, you know that meat’s expensive, and that $20 bag most likely contains a lot of ingredients your dog can’t digest, nor get proper nutition from. A Google search can help you learn a lot. Punch in “canine nutrition”, look at a variety of diets and foods, and decide what looks right to you.
4) What do I enjoy doing? If you enjoy hiking in the backwoods, perhaps that adorable Pug won’t be a good choice. If you have cats, you might want to think twice about a Terrier or a Sighthound. Breeds and breed mixes have distinct personalities that are simply their genetic hard drive and can’t be changed through training. In other words, think about your own activities and see where a prospective canine companion fits. Or doesn’t fit.
5) Why do I want a dog? Sometimes, we want a dog who has some personality traits that we lack – the social wallflower is attracted to the outgoing Jack Russel terrier, or the computer nerd falls in love with the rough-and-ready-to -go-outdoors Labrador. It’s fine to want a dog that balances out your personality. It can really open up your life to new possibilites. However, it can also backfire and cause a personality conflict between the two of you. Think about why you like the type of dog you like, and you will find yourself one big step towards finding your perfect canine match.
6) What do I expect in terms of behaviour? A new puppy is a blank slate, and while that’s exciting and fun, it’s also a lot of work. An older dog can come to you with baggage from their former lives, and that can cause inexplicable (to you, to the dog it makes perfect sense) behaviour you might not want to attempt to undo. Just remember – even Lassie wasn’t perfect – he (yes, Lassie was a “he”, not a “she”) was the results of years of training, and plenty of retakes on the set. No dog is perfect. But then again, are you? Any dog will need time to grow and develop into the companion you want – it’s a process, not a package. However, I can tell you that the rush of pride you will feel when you’re complimented on your wonderfully-well-behaved dog is well worth it. Also worth it all is that moment when you realize that you and your dog have a deep understanding and a relationship that is joyful and rewarding on many levels. That can’t be purchased, it has to be earned.
In essence, finding your Mr. GoodDog has a lot to do with being honest with yourself, and having realisitc expectations. It’s that simple, and that difficult. Rely on people you can trust, like a veterinarian, a good trainer, or an honest and caring friend. Go to dog shows and talk to breeders and exhibitors and ask questions. That’s an excellent way to begin to understand breed characteristics. Go to adoption events, and spend time really looking at the dogs available. Better yet, volunteer for one, and get a free crash course in canine behaviour – as well as doing valuable work in your community. Most of all, even while you’re thinking with your heart – be sure to use your head.