Choosing the perfect dog (part 1) – and yeah, about that word “perfect” …

Planning for the introduction of a new canine companion into your life is a wonderful thing to do and planning to choose that companion from an animal sanctuary is extreme-sport marvellousness. You are giving yourself a chance of great joy and giving a dog, that may not have had a safe life thus far, a chance to taste great happiness. As you can see, between you and your new dog, there is a lot riding on getting this right – and you will.

This is a two part blog about choosing a dog. I know, how annoying is that? The thing is, there is a lot to say – things to identify and then, ways of addressing the identified. So for this blog we will be identifying and making lists and allowing some time for contemplating the lists. In the next blog, we’ll be addressing those lists.

What is involved, in choosing the perfect dog, is a little research, some clear-sighted honesty about yourself and your situation, a little meditating on dreams, some thoughts on what you have to offer the perfect dog, the perfect dog’s thoughts and a little light carpentry. Let’s begin.

Firstly, let’s be clear about the word “perfect” in “choosing the perfect dog”. “Perfect” is not a good word for us – it leaves no room for the charming movable feast of what makes us happy. It is far too constraining. What is perfect for me now is not perfect for me tomorrow. Perfect can be a mansion and a cup of tea, perfect for me can be a long way from perfect for the people I live with and as for a perfect dog – all dogs are perfect in the right place. So let’s dismiss this perfect dog thing. What you do in your planning will create the right environment for you and your dog – you will be very happy with the result.

So in this blog, all we are doing is shining the interrogator’s goose-neck lamp on some questions, some things to consider. We are making lists. A problem is not necessarily a reason to abandon the ship, but it needs to be identified before you see water coming up through the floorboards.

What follows will be some questions and thoughts to mull over under the following headings:

All about you
o Why do you want a dog and what are you imagining when considering your dog?
o What does the rest of the family think?
o What is your current set up, work-wise, living arrangement-wise and so forth?
o What brings out your best and your worst and how do you manage that?

All about the dog
o The two essential things about dogs
o Dog breeds
o Dogs that come from sanctuaries
o How will the dog be accommodated in your house and in your life?

Right then – are you on the couch and comfortable? Do you have a calming drink in your hand? OK.

All about you
Why do you want a dog?
There are any number of good reasons for wanting a dog, and maybe a shonky reason or two, on everyone’s list. In order to be sure that your life with your new companion is going to be the happy, healing, nourishing relationship it should be, you need to be clear about why you want a dog. Nothing is too hilarious to think about. The key is to be clear and honest. If you’re clear and honest about why, then you can judge clearly about whether this is a realisable, reasonable thing to pursue or something to be achieved in another way. The sanity and happiness of you, your dog, your family and possibly your cat as well depends on you doing this bit right.

So, do you want a dog to cuddle up to and laugh about your day with, do you want a dog for your children so they can enjoy the wonder of dog companionship and learn responsibility and empathy for animals, do you want a dog because your wife once said she’d like one or because it would make you exercise, or to look like the cool chick on the coffee ad or to be a companion for an older dog or to catch rats or commit crimes with?

Make a list. Write down all the reasons why you’d like a dog. Keep this list. Don’t share this list.

What does the rest of the family think?
Do they know what you are thinking? Are you thinking of getting a dog because of pressure from a family member, or because it would be good for one of them? Do you already have dogs and/or cats or stock or other living creatures, including regularly visiting grandmas, who will be affected, in good and possibly bad ways, by a dog in your home?

How are you currently fixed?
Are you renting and would that be a problem, are you working during the day and will the dog be alone for great periods of time, is your property fenced? An important thing to consider is whether your income is stable and sufficient for a new dog. As well as food, flea and worm treatments, dog registration fees, a warm and a waterproof coat and vaccinations, you need wriggle room for the unforeseen, just as you do with children. They won’t need money for school trips but sometimes they’ll need to go to the vet with issues, say. Is your lounge white and beautiful, with lots of delicate things on low tables? Do you have highly polished, sanded floors that you are rather fond of?

Now focus on who you are (and you can be courageously honest here because only you will see this list). Are you active or not really that active? If someone, say, dug a great hole in the lawn or up-ended a pot plant on the hall carpet, on a scale of 1 to 10, how would it make you feel? And if you were a 10 about the lawn, what do you think you might do then? Realistically, how much spare time do you have and are you good in the cold waiting for the last pee and poo for the night to happen? Are you the stubbornly persevering sort or the quick fix or nothing type? Please don’t let the answers to these on your list put you off. They are not unsolvable – you are simply identifying them.

All about the dog
The two essential things
There are two essential things to know about dogs. We did a blog on this not long ago and you should have a read here. I will not go on and on about the two essential things now other than to say that they are essential and that there are two of them and they are these:

1. Your dog’s life matters – in exactly the same way as your life matters. This is an important fact and must colour your every decision.
2. Your dog is not a robot. There is not a dog factory that can churn out the same dog to our desired specifications. They are like us, alas.

Do read the blog mentioned above and write the two things on your list pad and doodle on them for a bit.

Dog breeds
What sort of dog do you think you want? Just write it down quickly – no thinking. So you are going to need to get a book of dog breeds out of the library at some point. You should do this even if you get a cross breed or a complete mixed-up breed because the qualities of the dogs they are crossed with are in those dogs. This may not be a problem at all but they could be a factor. Dogs with beagle in them may bark and try to escape, dogs with terrier in them will be interested in your rat collection, dogs with mastiff in them will drool a lot and so forth. They’ll be big, they’ll be small, they’ll be speedy, they’ll be tolerant of children, not tolerant, shed hair, block the TV when they stand up, need a lot of exercising, can’t get them off the couch. An understanding of dog breeds, especially if you already have a bit of an idea of what you want, will help you consider the innate qualities that you will be living with (not necessarily problematic) when a dog is a certain breed. This is completely aside from the whole “a dog is not a robot” layer of qualities. Dogs, like us, have pasts and natural dispositions which are coloured by their experiences; they also have their own innate personalities and tendencies, just like us. Again, nothing unsolvable here – you are just making lists. So what are you really looking for, what would other members of your family be looking for – are they the same – do the differences matter?

Dogs that come from sanctuaries
Dogs that come from sanctuaries are not necessarily going to be any more problematic than dogs from any other place but giving them a forever home is a very big deal to them and to us because they have ended up in a sanctuary. Some of them have been severely abused or severely neglected or both; some have had a great home but have been surrendered because of changed family circumstances, or their owner died and the family couldn’t take care of them, or they developed problems that the owners couldn’t fix. Some are born into sanctuaries because their pregnant Mum ended up there. Whatever the reason, no dog wants to end up in a sanctuary; they want to be loved in a home and that’s where they should be. For many, the sanctuary is the best home they have ever had; for some it’s just abandonment and they are confused and anxious. Sanctuaries like HUHA rehabilitate the dogs with nourishment, with training, and with love. The dogs are given leadership and taught that they matter, that they are important and respected and that they are loved. You don’t get a dog from HUHA in the same condition that it was in when HUHA got it. Bringing home a sanctuary dog to share your life with is a big deal and a special event. Always consider it.

Accommodating your dog in your house and in your life
And now for your last list – how will your dog be accommodated in your home? Where will he or she sleep in your house? How important will they be as part of your family? What happens at holiday time? What happens for them during the day when everyone is out? How much time for exercising will there be in a day? Can you securely fence the property? What happens when times are tough, when money is short, when the kids leave home? Is the dog allowed to make mistakes – and how many?

Hopefully this helps you to identify what you want and what you and your family can manage; where you need to do a little research or have a family discussion. Next time we can look at the lists and work out where a little preparation is needed, some solutions and work-arounds, some compromises maybe or new choices, some massaging of that notion of “perfect”, some insights into what the dog might need. The result can be a lot more scientific hopefully and less random then it could have been. You will be prepared and ready for joy.

Everyone needs the happiness that a life shared with a dog can bring and every dog deserves a home where they are truly part of the family and where their life is safe, full of joy and fun. Why can’t we all get a bit of that?

Millie and Pudding