“Everyone thinks their dog is the best dog. None of them are wrong.” – W.R. Purche
When you decide it’s time to add to your family, it’s natural to have some fantasies about the ideal dog. Whether you imagine being saved from the well by Lassie, sharing a spaghetti dinner with The Tramp, marching down the Yellow Brick Road with Toto, or just plopping down on your couch for a good snuggle with Benji, what you likely most picture about your family member-to-be is your special relationship. What you may not picture is the overwhelming mess of a Marley or a Hooch… or maybe you do? That’s the thing – everyone’s idea of “best dog” is different, and none of you are wrong. The trick is finding that best dog for you.
A few years ago, I realized my much beloved Oscar was starting to prefer retirement to working outside with me, and I knew we needed to add to the family to find his successor with the company. Granted, my needs for a dog that can work with my business may be different than your needs for a dog that can live in your apartment, but I do live with my dogs too, obviously, and 24/7 with a coworker can be challenging. So how did I find Linus, who became Head Counselor of our boarding camps, and Assistant Coach extraordinaire of our training classes? Preparation, Patience, and Pie.
Okay, I’m kidding about that last one – I just needed another “p” word. But when does Pie not make things better?
Anyway, I can’t give you patience (or pie, this isn’t that kind of website) but I can help you prepare. Figure out what you need in a dog – and what you don’t. And also help you figure out where to find it.
You’ll want to make a list. Three lists, really, and everyone in your family has to participate.
The first list is MUST HAVES.
In my search, the MUSTs were:
- Cat Friendly
- Able to work with OWB clients
- Able to live with my established dog Elphaba (she’s… challenging)
While failure to meet any of these qualifications would have been something I could technically train into a dog – be safer with cats, more comfortable as a helper dog, or able to follow Elphie’s strict rules, the fact is, I didn’t want to. And that’s okay. I can have the ability to change something and still not want to do it. And so can you. If you really, really want a dog who you won’t have to train basic skills, that doesn’t need hours of exercise a day, and won’t require grooming, that’s absolutely fine. But it’s far better to know that before you select the dog, than after you’ve gotten sucked in by the soulful brown eyes of a rambunctious livestock guardian puppy. The idea is to be honest with yourself, and not to give in.
The next list is WOULD LIKE – these are desirable qualities but not deal breakers. Ideally, you’ll get most, if not all of these, but if you do have to drop one from this list it won’t kill you. If you’re an over acheiver, you might even list these in the order of would-like-ed-ness (look! a new word!) so that the items at the bottom of the list are ones that you’re most willing to dump.
On my list, in no particular order, I had
- Neutered Male
- Under 60 pounds (Linus is larger)
- Enjoys training in other dog sports
- American Pit Bull Terrier type (Linus is closer to American Bully, but still pretty cute)
- Not red – just for some color variety in the house
- Between one and three years old (Linus was under 8 months)
- Within a days drive of Baltimore MD
So you can see that was pretty hit-or-miss. That’s okay, because I was willing to give a little on those issues.
Your final list is the DEAL BREAKERS. This is the list that can bump a dog who fits all your “Must Haves” but still isn’t quite the right fit for you.
My list of Deal Breakers, again in no particular order, were:
- Required professional grooming
- Known separation/isolation issues
- Over the age of 5
- Healthy adult weight over 80lb.
- Healthy adult weight under 15lb.
Obviously, the list you make when you move into your first apartment is different from the list you’ll make when you have three rambunctious toddlers and a cat, and they’re both different from the list you’ll make when you’re a downsizing empty-nester. Keep your not-to-distant future goals in mine when you make your lists, with your current life being priority. The key is being really honest with yourself. If your New Year’s Resolution six years in a row has been to complete a 5K and you’ve yet to get off the couch, perhaps “running buddy” isn’t the best addition to your “must have” list. Once you’ve completed those lists, you have a clearer picture of your new family member. And so the search begins. Where to start that search – and how to “seal the deal” is in part two, Critic’s Choice – Where to Find Your Next Dog.