What’s your favorite color? Mine is blue. Finally, after countless leased cars over decades, last November I got my beautiful dark blue car. I actually chose my car by color.
But what about my dogs? We have a rainbow of dog colors here. Even though there aren’t many dogs I couldn’t fall in love with, I find certain breed mix types, coat types, sizes, age, and most importantly, temperament, to be more compatible with my own personality, lifestyle, and current dogs. There are many factors that go into deciding who ends up joining our dog pack.
I’ve learned important lessons from personal experience and from observing the “acquisition” of hundreds and maybe thousands of dogs over the course of my veterinary career and work with rescues. Choosing a dog is a complex, emotional process. There are many styles of adopters and there are always good puppy or dog matches to be found. Patience is key.
There are many places to find the dog of your dreams. Shelters and rescue groups are located all around the world. Some focus on specific breeds, others on special needs or senior dogs, and some take in whatever needy dog comes their way. Online listings like Petfinder and Adopt-A-Pet are great places to get an overview of rescue groups and their available dogs.
There are “good” and less than good breeders which can be difficult to discern. It’s a good idea to check with your veterinarian for help in finding reliable purebred dog breeders. Be leery of online dog sources as you have no way to know what is truly behind those adorable puppy pictures. And of course, stay completely away from commercial puppy stores!!
Some people look for a turnkey dog. They are not equipped or interested in doing extensive training or working out issues. Turnkey dogs do exist but even the most grounded dogs need time and support as they adjust to a new home.
There are those who wait for a dog to find them. They aren’t particular about size, shape, hair-coat, or breed traits. In these cases, the match is essentially made by the dog and they all move on to a happiness they never could have planned.
Some folks are interested in helping the most needy of dogs- those with behavioral or health issues. There is a large network of dog rescuers that focus on a wide spectrum of special needs and disabilities. These include mobility issues, congenital deformities, vision and hearing impairment, injuries, neglect and abuse, among many others. Senior dogs also fall into this category.
Fostering is a good way to learn about an individual dog and what kind of dog will work for your household. It also helps rescue groups save more dogs! Some rescue groups have foster-to-adopt programs so if after a trial period it seems like a good match, the foster home becomes the forever home.
Searching personalities, activity level, and other aspects that don’t show up on first glance are generally crucial to making the right match. Rescue groups and breeders have a responsibility to guide prospective adopters and buyers to give their dogs the best opportunity for success with their new families. Fortunately most are skilled at evaluating dogs and adopters, and most have the best interest of their dogs in mind when approving adoptions and purchases.
But then there are others who are not so diligent. And that’s where the adopter needs to be honest with themselves as to what type of pup will best fit into their household and lifestyle.
All puppies and dogs are cute. But not all are good matches for everyone. Choosing a dog in the same fashion as I picked my car, by color, without looking deeper is not likely to yield a positive outcome. At the same time, eliminating dogs from consideration because they aren’t visually appealing or don’t fit an unrealistic set of requirements regularly lands the most amazing dogs on euthanasia lists at shelters.
Keeping a clear and open mind when choosing your next dog or other pet will increase your chances of finding a good match. Control impulses based on looks and learn more about individuals who you are considering bringing into your family before making the final decision. Rely on others for educated and rational input when your emotions take over. If you step back for an objective moment, you’ll know whether or not you’ve found you your next dog.
Here are two examples of the points I’m trying to make.
I’ll never ever forget receiving a text from a very good client who was searching for a new puppy after losing their family’s very sweet but very ill purebred Sheltie. Their dog had had a host of health problems over the years, so my client told me that “this time they were going to do it right” (whatever that meant!?!). The text had a picture of three 2 week old splashy blue merle Sheltie puppies. The text read, “Which one do you like best?” I controlled my initial agitated reaction to such an absurd question and instead wrote a calm note back asking her not to choose a dog based on a color pattern. I explained that she should meet the puppies when they were older and ask the breeder to help choose the puppy that would best fit into their low energy household. She promptly ignored my sound advice and chose the coolest colored tiny puppy who turned out to be the most intense, high energy, working type of herding dog imaginable.
When I met the puppy at 11 weeks of age, he had already created an agility course out of the wooden kitchen chair frames, on his own. This was a big red flag to me which I expressed to my client. I spoke to the breeder about vaccines and when I mentioned the puppy’s high drive she said she was surprised they had chosen that dog. Of course I found her comment infuriating as clearly this was a serious mismatch that this irresponsible breeder should and could have nixed. The story ended with a serious frustration for all parties involved, including me! The dog suffered with severe anxiety behaviors as he needed much more concentrated activity than the family was prepared and able to provide. And my client had a dog that she got no enjoyment from. None! She kept the dog despite my recommendations to find him a suitable home that could properly address his needs.
The second example is a family that was looking to adopt their first dog. They had a laundry list of preferences for the dog including size, shape, color, hair-coat, previous training, and a whole host of other things. Having never had a dog they were overthinking what their new dog should be to the point that there was no dog to fit their description. So they had no dog despite being prepared to offer an amazing home to a needy pup.
My recommendation to them was to leave most of their list behind and start meeting dogs. They immediately fell in love with a wonderful dog that had nothing in common with their original list. They brought him home, welcomed him into the family, and were delighted with their choice.
Adopting or purchasing a new dog is an exciting lifetime experience. When done in a rational, thoughtful way, a good match is always possible. There are dogs for everyone. Sometimes it’s just a matter of being patient and waiting for your next pup to find you.
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