I’ve been volunteering a lot at our local SPCA, spending time with the dogs and the incredible, devoted staff that keep them safe and healthy while they wait for their forever homes.
As a dog lover, spending time with all these amazing creatures fills my heart. Each one, with their individual personalities, stories, and experiences is brimming with love and the desire to give it to some lucky family.
They all have that quality that is so endearing in dogs, the desire to give their whole heart and soul to any human, despite what they’ve been through. It melts me every time!
As a dog trainer, I can’t help but see the potential in every dog there. No matter what occurred on their path to the shelter, I know that each dog has the ability to overcome their circumstances and improve their issues to become wonderful companions.
The Sad Reality
I’ve seen it more times than I care to remember.
Excited families, full of hope and joy, return to the shelter days or weeks later to surrender their dogs.
It wasn’t what they expected.
It was harder than they thought.
“He’s just not a good fit.”
“She doesn’t get along with our cat.”
“We’re just too busy to properly care for him.”
“She doesn’t seem to like us.”
“He sheds too much.”
“She’s too wild and I can’t risk the kids getting hurt.”
Of course I feel bad for the dogs. They’ve been through so much already and now they’re experiencing another change. They’re confused. Some become anxious and depressed.
I feel equally bad for the people who have made the sad decision to return their dog to the shelter. They had such high hopes and now feel sadness and disappointment. My heart breaks for them all.
I firmly believe that there are NO BAD DOGS.
As a trainer I know that every single dog, even the ones with behavior issues, can improve.
But there definitely are bad matches.
Avoiding a Mismatch
So many dogs wind up in rescues and shelters because of a mismatch with the adopter.
Most of our unhappiness is caused when there is a disconnect between what the adopter WANTS and who the dog that caught their eye really IS.
Choosing a dog who, at their core, is incapable of being the kind of dog you want is a recipe for disaster.
I know first hand how this can be.*
But with a few considerations before you begin your search for a dog, you can narrow the field to dogs who have a much better chance to be the dog you want to share your life with.
Start with the Head, Not the Heart
So often when people make the decision to adopt a dog, they lead with their hearts instead of their heads. It’s so tempting!!
“This one is SO CUTE!!”
“I want a puppy so he can grow up with the kids!”
“An active dog will help me get the exercise I need to finally get in shape!”
“Look at those soft brown eyes…I can’t resist!”
It’s human nature to look at those pleading eyes and choose a dog that plucks at your heartstrings. And you can totally do that!
Just do these things FIRST:
Make an honest assessment of your lifestyle.
Paint a detailed picture in your mind of what the perfect pet will look like, their size, color, fur, what traits and quirks they will have, what your life will look like with this pet, what you will do together, and what your schedule will look like.
Beware of Reality vs. Intentions
Most of us have the best intentions. “I'll get a dog so it will force me to exercise more.” Well, most of us don't do so great with our resolutions, so unless you've already begun developing this habit, it might be a good idea to pick one a bit less ambitious.
If you choose an energetic dog with the intention of using him as motivation for exercise and then change your mind, you can't magically turn him into a couch potato!
Ask yourself these questions:
- Why do you want a pet in your life?
Would a cat, hamster, bird, ferret, or fish be good choices? Dogs aren’t the only options!
- What roles do you really want your dog to play in your life?
Hang out with the family? Be a running partner? A loyal companion who never leaves your side? An agility competitor? A bundle of energy who’s always up for a game of fetch or a couch potato who’s content to lie on your lap and watch movies with you?
- How much time and attention do you really have for a dog?
Do you work long hours away from home? Do you travel? Do you need a dog with basic manners already down or are you up for training? Do you have time in your schedule for daily walks or regular trips to the groomer? Do you have busy kids with busy schedules? Do you have the emotional and energetic bandwidth to take care of another living being?
Think about your ideal doggo.
Ask yourself these questions:
Big or small? How big is too big? How small is too small?
- How much shedding can you handle?
If a dog is alive, it’s going to shed. Don’t be fooled by claims of no-shed dogs (and hypoallergenic dogs too!). Low-shed? Yes. No-shed? Nope. Do you have time to brush your dog’s coat regularly or take it to the groomer?
- What age dog do you want?
Can you handle a puppy? Are you prepared for the time and training commitment a puppy requires? Are you okay with potty-training and crate training? Do you have the patience a puppy will test?
Are you open to a senior? Although any dog can have medical issues, are you prepared for the medical issues that can arise in older dogs?
Would a dog out of the puppy stage but not yet a senior be best? Are you open to training the dog to overcome any bad habits or unwanted behaviors?
- What energy level would be best?
Couch potato or daily hiker? Somewhere in between? Do you want a “Velcro” dog who never leaves your side or one that’s more independent, giving you your space?
What breed characteristics make sense for your family’s lifestyle?
Ask yourself these questions:
- Have I researched my favorite breeds? Each breed has its own special characteristics, quirks, energy levels, and care commitments.
- Am I open to a mixed breed dog? If the answer is yes, it’s still a good idea to research breed characteristics. Familiarizing yourself with different common breeds will help you understand how vastly different dogs can be. A mixed breed that is predominantly a low-energy Basset Hound will be MUCH different than a high-energy Border Collie mix!
Think about the financial commitment.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Do I have enough set aside for all the initial purchases?
When a new pup comes home, you’ll have to provide gear like collars, leashes, bowls, food, beds, grooming tools, and an initial vet visit.
- Do I have enough set aside for regular vet visits and emergencies?
Your dog will need regular vet visits yearly along with treatments for illness or injury.
- Do I have enough for the recurring costs?
Food, training, enrichment toys, chew toys and treats, and grooming if necessary are all ongoing costs to think about.
Now that you’re ready to find The One…
…where do you want to look?
You have lots of options when you’re ready to look for a dog, including shelters, rescues, breeders, or your own network of friends and family. Each has its pros and cons and it’s important to consider them before beginning your search in earnest.
Many times there are criteria that you as the adopter or buyer must meet before you’re able to take home a new dog. You may be required to have a fenced yard, a schedule that doesn’t leave your dog home alone too long, and a veterinarian and trainer in place.
Some dogs cannot live with cats, some need to be the only dog in the home, and some aren’t suited to homes with small children. Your home will need to fit these criteria.
Some rescues, shelters, and breeders will even visit your home to make sure those things are in place. They do this not to be controlling sticklers but to ensure the well-being of the dogs in their care and to make sure the dog is a good fit for you and your family.
There’s a lot to think about!
It can make your head spin, but you’ll be so happy you considered all these things before bringing your new bundle of paws and teeth and tail home! You’ll know what you want…and what you don’t want…and that’s critical to finding a dog that will make your family, and your lives, so much richer.
When you do find The One, Sit n’ Stay is here to help.
Dog training plays an important role in helping your new dog succeed in your family.
Learning to read your dog’s body language so that you can understand what she’s thinking and feeling helps you develop a relationship with your dog.
And learning how to communicate in a way your dog understands helps your dog know what’s okay and what’s not okay in her new home.
Our experts can help you make the transition easier for both you and your dog, help your children learn how to behave around the new pup, and help your current dog to adjust to a new brother or sister.
We have a variety of training options that will fit your lifestyle. Check them out HERE!
Getting a dog is an adventure in love, companionship, togetherness, and FUN. We hope this guide makes it easier to find The One the first time.
*You'll hear more about our boy Dozer and our many challenges in future blog posts. If you have your own Dozer at home and need help learning how to deal with a dog that’s “a bit different” than the one you had imagined, contact us. With a little effort, you can turn that “what IS” dog into the “just what I always WANTED” dog.