Choosing the Perfect Dog for your Family
Finding your perfect companion may not be the easiest task you’ll ever undertake, but it may certainly be one of the most rewarding. Pedigree or mixed breed, puppy or adult dog, you can find the ideal prospect to mold into the dog of your dreams with a little research and patience. Unfortunately, great dogs don’t usually come out of the box that way — nope, they have owners who took the time and energy to understand and train them.
What Dogs Want You to Know
Dogs need a lot more than just love and affection to become good pets. Understanding who they are, including their normal behaviors and their physical, emotional, and mental needs, is a vital part of a happy and fulfilling life with dogs.
The Lap Wolf
Dogs want you to know that they’re not furry people. They’re not, even though most of them tolerate, even enjoy, being treated like people. What’s not to love? Being one the people means comfy places to rest, yummy stuff to eat, and attention on demand…wait a minute! They’ve got it better than people! All the benefits with none of the responsibilities — what a deal!
For the most part, treating dogs like people is fine as long as you don’t expect them to act like people in return. They simply don’t and can’t think or act like people. It doesn’t make them any less wonderful for being who and what they are, but the truth is, from the 260-pound mastiff down to the 4-pound Yorkie, they all have the heart of a wolf beating inside them.
Speaking the Language
Dogs also want you to know that until you teach them the meaning of a word, they don’t know what it means, even if you repeat it many times, loudly. Unlike people, they’re just not verbal animals, and they don’t know any word until it has been associated with its meaning many times. For them, any language is a foreign one, so expecting them to understand and respond to commands they’ve never been taught is not only unrealistic, it’s also unfair.
Have Realistic Expectations
Now that you have an idea what you’re getting into, let’s really get into the nitty-gritty. It is going to take time, dedication, and persistence on your part to help your dog be well behaved.
The Dog’s Motto
Without guidance, dogs tend to act like dogs. “If it smells good, eat it; if it feels good, do it; if it smells bad, roll in it” seems to be their basic motto for life. Knowing what to expect means you can nip unwanted behavior in the bud and provide appropriate outlets for both your dog’s energy and his normal doggie behaviors.
Two Steps Forward, One Step Back
During the training process, there is a normal cycle of progression and regression. Think back to when you learned a new skill, like driving a car with a manual transmission or playing a musical instrument. For a while, you made steady progress, and then all of a sudden, you were all thumbs and stalled the car at a light or hit a sour note. It’s no different with dogs. At some point during training, you’re going to give a command that you’re sure your dog knows, and he’s going to look at you like he’s never heard the word before. When and why regression happens is not as important as how you handle it. Expecting normal regression prepares you to deal with it and help your dog through any confusion. You and your dog will both make mistakes along the way and that’s ok; find the lesson in each one.
There are several theories about why learning regression happens. One of the most popular theories is that regression occurs when the brain is transferring information from short-term to long-term memory. Whatever the reason, take advantage of it for what it is — a training opportunity.
Assess Your Lifestyle
Your lifestyle is the most important consideration in choosing your ideal canine companion. If the dog’s care and training doesn’t fit into your lifestyle, then the relationship is simply not going to work, and will end up with both of you being miserable and not enjoying each other’s company.
Looks Aren’t Everything
Choosing your dog based primarily on how she looks makes about as much sense as choosing your spouse that way. Let go of any preconceived notions you have about certain breeds that you’ve gotten from movies or TV, and be honest with yourself. If your idea of a perfect weekend is spending two days under the covers watching old movies, then an energetic and active dog isn’t an ideal match. Work all day, stay out late, and sleep in? A puppy probably isn’t a good idea at this point in your life.
The Tough Questions
Before you start searching for your new dog, ask yourself some tough questions:
- Why do I want a dog now?
- How many hours will the dog be alone each day?
- Am I active or sedentary?
- How much time can I realistically devote to daily basic care like training, exercising, and brushing my dog?
- How much living space do I have?
- Are there children prominently in my life?
- Can I afford the costs involved with owning a dog?
- Who will end up as primary caretaker of the dog, and does that person want a dog?
Now that you’re thinking about how your lifestyle affects your choice, you’re ready to start doing research to find the right dog for you. You may have even decided that this isn’t the right time to add a dog to your life. If you’re not sure, do a little research project for a month. Most people who own dogs are more than happy to talk about them. Ask people you meet with a dog how the dog is to live with — how much money, time, and energy they spend taking care of the dog, and what they like most and least about dog ownership. Take notes and re-evaluate your decision.