Match-making Dog and Adopter
Discussion of factors affecting compatibility of dog and adopter. This is relevant to adopting a shelter dog or rescue foster dog and relevant to getting a puppy from a breeder.
While "you can't always get what you want", with sufficient forethought "you CAN get what you NEED" and you can provide what your dog needs.
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There are several groups of factors that affect compatibility between dog and person. A dog who would be a treasure for one family can be a disappointment or disaster for another family. The factors I consider are as follows, outlined with links to the sections :
There is also the issue of where to obtain a pet. I outline these with links to jump to the sections ::
Activity / energy / exercise may well be the MOST important match-up factor. Mis-match between a dog's needs and wants for physical and mental exeercise and the human family's ability and desire to provide same may well be the most problem provoking of all mis-matches. Note that a high energy dog who is also impulsive (reacts without thoughtful choice) is more of a challenge than a more thoughtful one would be.
The mantra is "A tired dog is a good dog". Dogs who don't get appropriate outlets for their physical and mental energy will find outlets of their own, and those outlets are likely to be ones the owner will find disagreeable.
Every dog has a minimum requirement and a maximum tolerance for activity as well as a preference or requirement for certain kinds of activity. The same is true of people. When the range of the dog's needs overlaps with that of the human's , then they are compatible. The greater the overlap the better.
Please don't assume that your current pattern of activity will change radically when you get a dog. Don't think that if you are currently pretty sedentary , a dog will inspire you to walk or jog several miles a day. If you already like walking, the company of a dog will make that activity more enjoyable, and you may be less inclined to skip days, but don't count on making big changes. Also consider whether your activities are ones the dog can join in. Your dog probably can't come with you to the gym. Waching you put in an hour on your stattionary bike or treadmill won't exercise the dog, so you have to do the real thing outdoors.
Think ahead to probable changes in your life. Humans tend to become less athletic as they age. Dogs age more quickly than humans, but some remain athletic until fairly late in life.
If you are more active than your dog, you probably can find ways to break up your activities into a portion with the dog and a portion without the dog. Eg plan your run on a figure 8 pattern so you can drop the dog back at home after the first loop.
It can be very hard to judge a dog's real activity level in a shelter or kennel run situation. If a dog has been in a rescue-foster home for a couple weeks, the foster person should be able to give you a pretty accurate judgement. If getting a puppy from a good breeder, the breeder can give you some prediction based on the parent dogs and the breed. An adult is more predictable than a puppy.
Every dog needs a certain amount of attention and affectionate interaction with the humans, but for most of them there's also an upper limit. Likewise for people. Dogs have a particular style or mode of interaction, which may be gentle and subtle (eg resting head on your foot or a gentle nudge) or more intrusive and forceful (eg shovel-snouting your elbow or jumping up on you).. People vary in what styles are acceptable or pleasant. Again, a good overlap of levels and compatibility of styles is very important.
The dog who one person would consider wonderfully affectionate, another would consider an obnoxious pest. The dog who one person would consider easy to live with, not requiring too much interacttion, another person would consider coldly aloof..Some dogs are Will Rogers and some are Greta Garbo . Most dogs are somewhere in between the extremes and so are most people. .
The more attention seeking dog will have to be taught a cue that is equivalent to "not now, I'm busy". If the dog persists as a pest, then it's time for some kind of time out, such as putting the dog on a long down-stay or sending the dog to a crate or resting mat. Every dog should be taught to sit politely to ask for interaction, but with the pushy dog this is really essential.
It can be hard to judge a dog's level and style in a shelter situation, because some dogs are very "shut down" and some are "starving for attention". because they haven't gotten much in a shelter. Ask to speak to the shelter worker or volunteer who has spent the most time intereacting with this dog and the one towards whom the dog has shown the most trust and affection, because they are the best measure or what you can achieve. A rescue-foster home will get a pretty accurate evaluation on this, though some dogs react and bond quite diffeuently to different people. At a good breeder, you should expect all the puppies to be very outgoing and friendly, though one who has been playing hard and is tired may not react very much. The socializzation you give a pup after ttaking him home makes a huge diffeerence for better or worse.
Dogs who start out as not very interactive may be timid with strangers and need to be taught to trust you and enjoy your attention. Some dogs have never gotten much affectionate attention from people and need to be taught to enjoy that.
Remember that a dog may like some people better than others (just as people do) and that it takes time to develop a deep bond of trust and affection.
Some dogs are very self-conffident and very assertive , while others are timid or not very assertive about getting what they want. Humans too vary greatly in these regards. A person may be quite confident and assertive with other people, perhaps only in some contexts and not others, yet that same person might not be confident and calmly benevolently assertive with dogs. For a human to be a good leader to dogs does require a very calm and benevolent and matter of fact leadership attitude. Your dog must both TRUST and RESPECT you. . You must be both She From Whom All Blessings Flow and She Who Must Be Obeyed. With a very "pushy", ie confident and assertive dog, you may have to emphasize gaining respect. With a more timid dog, you have to emphasize gaining the dog's trust.. Some dogs are confident but quite laid-back , and with those dogs the balance of trust and respect is more equal.
It can be hard for a person to make a realistic judgement of their own pack-leadership qualities.
An experienced dog trainer can do well with any of these types of dog. A beginner would do best with a middle of the road type. Dogs who are impulsive as well as assertive are more challenging than are thoughtful assertive dogs. It's possible to build up a dog's confidence to some degree and also possible to damage it.
In shelters some dogs who are simply confident and assertive get judged as "aggressive", a very serious mis-labeling and one which can be lethal for the dog. Likewise a dog who is timid can be judged as not worthy of adoption efforts when tthis dog simply needs to be treated in a way that earns trust. A rescue-foster home will probably have a pretty accurate evaluation, though the other dogs in the home will influence this dog's experssions of assertiveness. Puppies are hard to predict, and socialization can make a huge difference.
If you know the breed (or breed "ingredients" of a cross-bred or mixed breed ) dog or puppy , you can make some predictions as to some behaviors and some physical factors. (including health issues that are more common in that breed than in dogs generally, an aspect I won't discuss here). Not every individual in the breed will fit these predictions, but if a predicted quality would be unacceptable to you, it's wise to avoid that breed. If a predicted quality is essential to you, it's wise to look for an adult who can be tested for behavior or observed for physical aspects, tested for those health issues that are testable.
Most breeds have a history of being bred for a behavioral purpose, bred to do some kind of job. This results in some behavior traits being fairly "hard wired", ie the dog has a strong tendency to do those behaviors and finds doing them very enjoyable, ie self rewarding.. Those behaviors "feel good to his genes.". Because these behaviors are self-rewarding it can be very hard to change or eliminate them, so you must be able to provide an appropriate outlet or a substitute behavior that satisfies this "hard wired" need in the dog.
For some breeds that purposeful behavior is stated "right on the lable".
Any breed with "retriever" in it's name is bred to retrieve game for the hunter and very likely to want to retrieve things, ie to pick up and carry anything that fits into their mouth. But a few retrieving breeds don't say so right on the lable.: most people don't know that the Poodle originated as a water-fowl retriever. Most of the retrievers are very trainable as their work required partnership with a human hunter and direction at a distance by that handler.
Breeds with words like "shepherd", "sheepdog", "collie", or "cattle dog" or "heeler" in their name are herding dogs. But some are not so clearly labled : Bouvier (unless you check a French dicionary), Briard (sheepdog) , Corgi (cattle dog), Rottweiler (a catttle dog), Standard Schnauzer and Giant Schnauzer (cattle dogs), Queensland Heeler (cattle dog) . Herding dogs want to gather livestock together and bring them to the handler. They may want to gather and control anything living that moves, including children. These dogs tend to be highly trainable and work in partnership with a handler they condisider competent at helping them control stiock. They can disregard incompetent commands. Some herding breeds, especially cattle herders, want to bite the feet of catttle , and this can translate to human feet and the tires of cars and trucks.. (My own Fox The Wicked Queensland is poster child for wanting to heel-bite vehicle tires, which would be a deadly sport if I did not keep her on leash in situations that might include such opportunities.)
Terriers "say on the lable" that they are earth dogs, bred to dig mammalian prey out of the ground or go into the den and to kill the prey. If you've always wanted to visit the moon, a terrier's effect on your yard is the next best thing. (a joke). They are usually pretty tough , not discouraged by physical discomfort or pain. Because their work of killing prey is done independantly , they are not as disposed to trainability and partnership.
The hounds are bred to hunt by scent or sight., to pursue prey and capture it and kill it or hold it up a tree for the hunter's arrival. Scent hounds when on scent are oblivious to all else, including the handler. Sighthounds racing after fleeing prey are likewise oblivious to all else. Basenji are both sight and scent hounds. None of the hounds should be off leash exept in the safest situations.
Some breeds are bred for very high activity level. The Dalmation was bred to run beside a horse drawn coach for many miles. --- something Disney doesn't mention. Most of the Pointers are bred to cover a lot of ground, some of them require the hunter to be on horseback. .
Talk to breed rescue people about breed typical behaviors.. Also ask about what health concerns are at higher frequency in the breed. Breed rescue people who have been doing rescue for a while generally know what qualities can be problems and they don't want their rescued dogs to be victim of a mis-match. If you are dealing with a breeder, ask the same questions and see if the breeder is candid about potential difficulties. Do plenty of research on the Web, espeically looking for articles about why this breed might not be a good choice for you.
Generally speaking one is observing over-all posture, and movements of lips,ears, tails, eyelids, etc to discern the dog's emotional state and likely next moves. This is really hard to do in breeds that have hairy faces (hiding eyes, lips), hairy bodies (harder to see small changes in posture), or have had tails docked or coiled to limited mobility and /or ears cropped.. Bouvier would be the "poster child" for dogs whose body language is thus obscured.
Generally speaking a beginner would find easiest a dog with short hair, ears that are naturally upright or semi-pricked, and a natural full length tail that has full range of movement. (It's a delight and amazement to me, after decades with Bouvier , to see how transparent every mood and thought is in my sleek little Fox The Wicked Queensland.)
Some people have a lot more natural talent than others at reacting to dog's body language. Most people have to do a lot of consious observing and learning.
There are a number of well illustrated books on dog body language. By all means get one of these. Go to the dog park without a dog and observe like Jane Goodall would. Be Jane Goodall in you own home and backyard.
This is largely a matter of coat type.. Short haired dogs are somewhat "dust off and go", though really they should be brushed because that stimulates their skin. Long haired dogs have a variety of grooming needs that are far more demanding of time and effort, and you need a lesson in methods and tools from someone who knows the breed or that coat type.. All dogs need their teeth brushed several times a week, their ears cleaned periodically, and their toenails clipped or ground (sanding drum on Dremel or similar tool) when they get too long. All dogs need your fingertips wandering all over their skin , ready to scream "Red Alert" at any bump or lump or simply weed debris or tick attached. If you find a lump, time to go to the vet to get a Fine Needle Aspirate to biopsy and diagnose that lump.
A dog's behavior can make him much easier to groom or much harder. Ideally the dog is taught from puppyhood to enjoy being groomed. and to trust your touch on every part of his body. Note that some dogs are very sensitive or ticklish or protective of their feet.
Apply the same match-making factors to other adults and responsible older children in the household. Younger children are still another factor as you must seek a dog who is tolorant of them and you MUST be absolutely committed to vigilantly supervising every moment of interation between child and dog. The golden rule is "supervise or separate" because children don't have the dog-savvy and self-control to behave considerately and safely around dogs (or cats or other pets).
If you already have another dog or dogs, the incoming new dog must be compatible with the already resident ones. This is partly a matter of genders of dogs, but also very much a matter of each dog's tendency towards dominance or subordination and each dogs personality and social style. With more than one dog you have to be willing and able to do some supervision during the adjustment period and to some degree forevermore.
If you have or want to have a cat, well you must know that not all dogs are nice with cats and not all cats are nice with dogs. Supervised and gradual careful introductions are needed even when both the dog and cat are likely to eventually live peacefully together. In some cases a mutually peaceful cohabitation is not going to happen. Terriers and hounds are bred to KILL mammalian prey, so are poor prospects for living with a cat. Herding dogs have moderate to high prey-chasing drive and so are likely to chase a moving cat or to herd it, thus not the best choices. Generally a dog who is not a lot bigger than a cat is a safer choice. The cat should NOT be de-clawed if it is to live with a dog (unless that dog is known to love and be gentle with cats).
The big parrot type birds can be a danger to an inquisitive dog or an intrusive one. Those bills can take your finger off or take a dog's nose off. Keep them in a separate room.
Buunies and rats and gerbils and so on are natural prey for dogs. Small birds too.
Livestock MUST be dog-proof fenced so dog has zero opportunity to chase. Livestock can be killed by dogs and some livestock can injure or kill a dog. That includes horses and other equids, who can kill a dog with one kick. You must also ensure that your dog cannot go to any other lifestock in the neighborhood and get into trouble. Every state in the US has laws that allow (encourage) livestock keepers to KILL trespassing dogs.
Ah, I probably can't begin to imagine what your individual tastes and needs might be. If you need a dog to do a real job, whether it's herding or hunting or being Disability Assistant Dog for a family member, you need to consult with those expeert in that work..
I really hate to have to discuss this, because in an ideal world there would be no breed bigotry. But our current reality is that some breeds are subject to social and legal prejudice. These are mostly the large powerful and assertive breeds that are utterly wonderful in the right hands but too often wind up in the wrong hands. The larger and more asserttive the dog, the better training he needs and the more foresightful the handler must be about preventing trouble. That's reality. But some breeds are subject to the prejudice that they are "dangerous" and some localities have passed breed specific legislation, some insurers exclude these breeds from homeowner and renter policies, and some landlords won't rent to them.. That's bigotry, but if you choose such a dog you must be prepared to deal with that as well as determined to train your dog extra well.. And you must be extra committed to keeping that dog for the dog's full lifetime, because some shelters are very hesitant to adopt them out, meaning they are killed there. Some shelters kill them immediately and indiscriminantly and others try to evaluate individuals but the evaluation criteria are much more strict about any slight hint of "aggressiveness".
I've written some guides as to distinguishing these by the types of ads they present and by conversing with them and visiting their homes. The truely responsible ones are as careful about who gets their puppies or older dogs as a truely responsible and loving parent who is terminally ill would be about who gets their child..
This is a SUPER way to get your dog. You are SAVING A PRECIOUS LIFE and you will be richly rewarded. Rescued dogs are usually sufficiently mature for their personalities to be developed and evaluated accurately. They may have a "past" that was sad, but their future is in your hands anc can be marvelous. Most people say that it's as if the dog knows and is grateful to the adopter. That may not be litterallly true but it is true that someone else's cast-off abandoned unwanted dog can be a huge treasure to you if you make a thoughtful wise match and if you are willing to put in some effort into that dog's re-education and care.
Same arguement as for getting a dog from a Rescue. At the shelter you have a very wide choice on any given day. It's harder to evaluate a dog in a shelter than in a foster home. Behavior in the un-home-like shelter is less predictive of behavior in your home (after some period of adjustment) than is behavior in the foster home.
One word : NEVER..
Conditions for the parent dogs are inhumane and atrocious beyond your imagination. Buying from them is like patronizing a concentration camp.. Puppies are kept under conditions highly conducive to illness and injury . These conditions also ensure puppy will be difficult to house-train.
Just as much a NEVER as the large scale commercial breeders. Dogs are not home reared and you are usually not welcome to visit and see for yourself. The breeder asks few questions other than whether you are paying by cash, check, or credit card..
NEVER buy a puppy or kitten or anything at all from stores selling them, as these animals all come from large scale or small scale commercial breeders, then the puppies are shipped out way too young, have a hard journey , great stress. You will pay as much as for a good puppy bought in person from a good breeder, but you will get a badly bred , badly reared, likely to be sick puppy. And store conditions teach a puppy to tolorate peeing and pooping where he sleeps and eats, ie maes puppy very difficult to house-train.. Don't even buy one single dog biscuit there. Don't help them stay in business.
However many stores have switched to hosting adoption days for local shelters or rescue groups. Those stores should be praised and patronized. And the stores find that they "do well by doing good" since the adopter of a hosted pet will immediately need to buy food and equipment and toys, and will do so at that same store.
These are large or (sometimes) small commercial breeders. You don't get to see the parents nor the puppy's environment and upbringing . NEVER. get a dog shipped from someone and somewhere you don't know intimattely
Internet sellers are to be distinguished from a responsible breeder or rescue who has a web site . Many rescue people post their rescued animals to one or more sites that specializein facilitating adoptions. Petfinder.com is probably the best known of these. Breeders will use their sites to educate people about their breed and , yes, to brag about their dogs' achievements. But they won't sell to you with only internet conttact.