Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Perfect Dog

Many people have a favorite breed of dog or a few that they find intriguing. Maybe it's a type that you grew up with or just one that you think simply looks amazing. With so many different breeds (and extremely unique mutts!) the choices are endless. A lot of different things can influence our decision on which dog to bring into our home but one thing is for certain: you never know exactly what you're going to end up with! How do you ensure that you're choosing a dog who will fit in? How do you prevent future problems that could threaten your ability to keep the dog that you've already chosen? Most of what I try to teach through this blog will help with all of that, but today I do want to focus specifically on making good choices as well as learning to live with (and enjoy!) the choices you've already made.While dogs do not live nearly long enough, they are a pretty hefty commitment. Part of enjoying the experience is taking the time to learn everything you can so that you can continue to gain an understanding of why dogs do some of the crazy things that they do. Here are some important things to keep in mind in case you are looking to bring home a new dog (or need some tips for one you've already acquired).

Smaller dogs aren't always less energetic/easier!
If you're a renter like myself, it will probably serve you better to choose a small breed or breed mix simply because landlords heavily favor them in many areas. However, just because a dog is ten pounds doesn't mean it is going to require fewer walks or less exercise than one that is eighty pounds. In some cases, this can be quite the opposite! For instance, a terrier breed is probably going to require more physical and mental stimulation than a giant breed such as a mastiff. The mastiff would take up more space, of course, but the tenacious terrier is almost hard-wired to get into things because it was generally bred to hunt vermin. That tenacity and zest for life means that the terrier will usually want to spend less time vegging out on the couch than a much larger breed. Without proper stimulation, any dog can become destructive or noisy regardless of size, but this is even more true when you have a breed (or individual) of the "always on the go" variety. So, if your heart is set on a larger dog (I tend to favor them myself, so I understand) and you can find a landlord who has the sense to know that size does not dictate level of destruction , go for it. A good breed to consider in such a situation might be a rescue greyhound. These dogs tend to only require the usual walks and a good short run to keep them happy each day. However, they are not built to handle stairs so keep this in consideration if you are interested in the breed and do plenty of research!

TV dogs are well-trained and well-edited!
Behind every Lassie is a slew of other Lassies, ready to fill in when needed; sometimes because one is better or more reliable at performing a particular task than another. And behind all of those Lassies is a film crew, a director, a trainer, etc. Every dog you see on television, whether the content of the show is meant to be fact or fiction, has been trained and/or edited so that it can be portrayed a certain way in a certain amount of minutes for your viewing pleasure. This can lead to a very distorted perception of dogs from any number of breeds, backgrounds, or training programs. What you see on TV is almost never what you get. That said, a collie might be a fantastic choice for you. I am very fond of the herding group of dogs in general (those bred to herd livestock) and they are often very easy to train for people who take the time to train them properly. However, herding breeds do need quite a bit of physical stimulation and, even more importantly, plenty of mental stimulation. Your collie isn't likely to sit out in the yard patiently waiting for someone to fall into a well so that she can spring into action. If left to her own devices, she may sooner find more destructive ways to entertain herself.

Are we training for obedience or a triathlon?
People with active lifestyles who want a jogging buddy are often drawn to breeds with higher energy and greater stamina, such as dalmations, huskies, or border collies. This is generally a very good idea and can mean a great match. On the other hand, there are a few ways in which this can go very wrong. Focusing purely on a dog's physical needs can lead to the creation of a very athletic and unruly dog. When you take an athlete and continuously up his workout, you create an even better athlete with even more energy and stamina. This is fine if you're able to keep up, but if you end up allowing your dog to become accustomed to an exercise routine that you can't sustain, everyone eventually loses out. If you're seeking an active breed as a hiking or jogging buddy, make sure to focus on a consistent routine involving both physical and mental stimulation. The last thing that you want is a super athletic dog with absolutely no house manners. Besides, you're going to need something to do on those days when the weather isn't allowing the usual outdoor activities. You might be surprised at just how tired a dog can get after even a short training session.

Be willing to work...
No matter what type of dog you choose, you're going to run into some facets of its personality that you never saw coming. Maybe your situation will be more like mine with fate ultimately deciding what dogs come into your life? Maybe you already have your heart set on a specific type of dog? If you're interested in a particular breed, try to meet as many of them as you can and connect with current owners of the breed. Seek out responsible pet owners who are active in their dog's training and who treat him/her as a member of the family.

If you're looking at rescuing a dog you may have a great advantage in that you can often learn a lot about an individual dog from its caretakers. As I've mentioned here before, it can be a great idea to consult with a rescue that has a foster program. You will be able to communicate with someone who knows how a particular dog behaves in a typical home environment.

Define "perfect."
The perfect dog is the one that you take into your family, embrace, train, and love. It comes from an educated and patient human being who understands that dogs are individuals and have complex needs. It doesn't have to be pure-bred and certainly doesn't need to act like a robot. Dogs have distinct personalities, quirks, and sometimes faults that make them who they are. While we don't have the luxury of editing a real canine we do get to have them complete with blooper reels and outtakes. Personally, those are usually my favorite parts! :)

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