As a Canine Behaviorist who specializes in behavioral assessments of shelter and rescue dogs I often get calls from families looking to bring home a new dog. The first thing that I do is set up a meeting with the whole family. During the meeting I attempt to get a complete background on the family to determine the right dog for them. During these meetings my clients always learn something about themselves and sometimes more about each other. I ask a ton of questions, sometimes seeming redundant but bringing home a new dog is a commitment for the lifetime of that dog.
Below are some of the questions I might ask as well as some explanations as to why I ask these particular questions. I hope this blog helps you make the decision that is right for your family. For additional assistance please contact me or a trainer near you.
Do you have children? If so what ages?? If you have children do the children bring friends over a lot? Have you considered bite prevention for your kids prior to bringing in a new dog? I offer a program to both individual families and groups of children called Be a Tree. The program teaches children to be doggie detectives and read canine body language. It also teaches them what to do and what not to do if they are approached by a strange dog. The American Humane Association states that more than ½ of all children in the U.S. will be bitten by a dog before they turn 12. The goal of the Be a Tree program is to drastically reduce those statistics through education. The program has been very successfull. If you are interested in setting up a presentation contact me or look at the Doggone Safe website for a presenter in your area.
Do you have other pets? What kinds? How old are they? There is more to consider than whether the dog will get along with the cat or vice versa when considering a new pet. Many people like to bring in a new dog when their current dog gets older. In some cases this can be wonderful and add years to your dog’s life. My husband and I got married and he brought with him his dog Hershey and I had my old man Shiloh. At first the two dogs had some fights that resulted in punctures but overtime I worked with them and they became best friends. Hershey added at least 3 years to Shiloh’s life. They loved chasing each other and playing together once they got through the initial stages of adjustment. Also, remember bringing in another pet is more work. Do you have time to throw ball for your ball dog and take your running dog out for a run? Make sure you are being fair to both the humans and the animals in your household when making your decision.
Have you ever had the type of pet you are considering? How are the circumstances similar and different from when you had this pet growing up? As a trainer I often times hear, “but my other dog was not like this he was perfect”. Every pet is different even if they are the same breed. Also, many owners myself included tend to go through amnesia as our pet grows older and forget what those earlier years actually were like. My Shiloh boy was the perfect dogs after his first 3 years. During his first 3 years he chewed everything in sight, even took a slate off the wood fence drug it into the yard, and chewed it up into little pieces before leading our chow on a romp through the neighborhood.
Do you work lots of hours outside of the home? Do you frequently take vacations? Would your pet be able to go? If not have you checked into pet sitters, boarding facilities? Neighbors can be great but they are not always reliable and often don’t have the expertise of those who work in the animal field. Do you have any travel plans in the near future in which you would not be able to take your pet? I always advise my clients to wait at least 6 months before taking a vacation after bringing in a new dog so that the dog can adjust to the family and the home. Any major life changing events in the near future? Getting married? Having a baby? Buying a new home? All of these things can be stressful for both humans and animals. Like with the vacation I always advise at least a 6 month wait between these events and a new dog, sometimes more depending on the individual dog. I speak from experience as a mom, puppies and babies are a lot of work together. I don’t advise this you will feel like you have lost your mind. Wait until your baby is older, seek advice from a trainer, and then work with a trainer to transition the new pup and the baby into your home smoothly.
What is your financial situation? (Basic Classes, vet bills, licensing, food, grooming). Do you own your home? If you rent a home or apartment what are the rules regarding pets? If your circumstances were to change tomorrow and you had to give up your pet could you find a friend or family member to take your pets? I like to see pets in forever homes so I always ask these questions. Emergencies come up with pets and you should be prepared. There is pet insurance to consider, we don’t do it but I know many who do and love having the reassurance.
What type of outdoor activities do you enjoy? Would your new pet be able to join you during these activities? What if your new pet has a hip issue and was not the running dog you thought he would be, would that be okay? I am an avid runner and love having a running dog. My Shiloh ran with me for 7 years before he retired to the couch. In my quest to find another running dog we ultimately ended up with 3 dogs. My husband brought his Coonhound along when we got married. Great dog loves to run but has a bad knee. Rescued another Husky from Husky Camp and found out she has hip issues. These two are now happy with walks and being couch potatoes. So I rescued Yukon from BARC. At first he was not sure of this running thing. Now he pushes me out the door in the morning eager for our runs together. If Yukon had not worked out I would have continued on my runs without a canine running partner and all 3 would have been happy couch potatoes.
Have you thought about the what ifs? What if my dog gets out of my yard? Can I make my yard secure? What if he digs and chews can I manage that? What if he fence fights with the neighbor’s dog? If you have a pool can you take the precautions to keep your dog safe around it? What if they say the dog does not chase cats and he chases your cats? When we adopted our husky we were told she was okay with a cat at the foster home. When we brought her home she went after one of our cats and we had to pry the cat out of her mouth. Thankfully the cat was okay. After several months of training I was able to train her to leave cats alone, now they sleep on her. Could you work with a fearful dog? Our dog Yukon was terrified of everything. It has taken intense training but I can finally say after a little over 12 months Yukon is doing amazing. He has his occasional issues but overall he has come a long way. It took lots of personal training and two Basic Obedience Classes to bring him around along with tons of patience.
If purchasing from a breeder are the parents on site? Are the parent’s hips and knees certified? Are there any health issues in the line? Please consider looking at the shelters and rescues first. There are so many pure bred dogs in need of forever homes.
Are you looking for a puppy, an adult or a senior? Don’t overlook seniors; they are trained and full of love. The shelters are overflowing with seniors. Some people love puppies, I love seniors there is just something about the older dogs eyes.
Have you thought about fostering? Many shelters and rescues are in desperate need of foster parents. Fostering can give you an idea if you are ready before making the commitment. It can also introduce you to different breeds of dogs. Always meet a potential foster before bringing them into your home and check to see what you are responsible for in regards to care and adoption events.
Love puppies? How about becoming a puppy raiser for the blind? Check out Guide Dogs of the Desert or a local group for more information. This may be the most rewarding, life changing thing you will ever do.
Remember, many trainers myself included will do behavioral assessments and answer questions regarding picking the right dog for your family. Many rescues and shelters have signs explaining the personality of the dogs. However, I have experienced cases where those signs have not been updated to fit the actual personality of the dog. So if you meet a dog and the tag says friendly and your gut tells a different story, go with your gut. Also, look closely at the pictures taken of the dog you are looking at, especially helpful when looking online. Dog body language is powerful and tells a story. For more information on how to read body language check out the Be a Tree website.
Pets are wonderful. I’ve always had them in my life. I do believe that everyone should have a pet but choosing the right one at the right time makes for the happiest endings.
Dixie Duncan, Canine Behaviorist