the Right Dog for You
are considering adopting from GRRI, another rescue group, or a shelter, our hope is that the
information provided in this article will help steer you towards a successful adoption.
homeless dogs are waiting for the right loving homes.
Let's NOT let them down!
This article contains excerpts from and is based on materials created by
Sue Sternberg, a noted animal training and behavior expert
who has devoted much of her professional
life to enhancing the adoptability of homeless dogs. She has
published numerous brochures and
videos; owns a boarding, training and adoption center in Accord,
New York; conducts seminars
nationwide; and is a frequent guest on Northeast Public Radio.
This article may not be reprinted without
the express written permission of GRRI & Sue Sternberg.
Bottom Line on Dogs
If you're thinking about
adopting a dog, before you do or consider anything else, consider this:
Every dog is born with an inherent
personality and temperament (just like people) that's difficult if not impossible to modify
and that requires proper outlets and acceptance.
That doesn't mean training is inconsequential.
It just means that you need to accept each dog for who he really is; that you need to be sure
you can meet his needs so you can BOTH get what you want out of the relationship; and that
you need to be committed to train him according to his essential nature, every single day of
What do we mean by essential nature,
temperament in a dog?
The dog's intensity and
arousal in chasing small animals
or moving objects;
The amount of daily aerobic exercise
The amount of daily
mental stimulation and physical affection the dog needs;
dog's confidence/shyness levels
in new situations and with unfamiliar people; and,
of leadership, structure and guidance
the dog will require to keep his own pushy or insecure tendencies
Once you accept the fact that
each dog is an individual, looking for the perfect person to fit his own personality, preferences
and needs, you're ready to take the next step.
Nearly every homeless animal in
America is in that state because someone else failed to honestly assess him or herself BEFORE
bringing that animal home.
Don't set yourself -- and an
animal -- up for failure!
Be honest and thorough NOW!
Who is your favorite dog in the
world? Why? What is he like? What do you like about him? How old is he?
If your favorite dog is 5 years old, try to adopt a nice, solid, mature dog
with similar characteristics. Don't look for a puppy like him -- because you won't find a puppy
that's like a 5 year old dog ... anywhere!
Imagine coming home from work,
or arriving home after being out all day. How do you envision your dog responding? Where will
he be when you arrive? What will you do upon arrival? Do you want to take him right out? Or
do you need to chill out first?
Do you arrive home full of energy
long day? Then you'd do fine with an adolescent or young
adult dog, because those dogs need lots of physical
activity and owners who can provide it regularly.
Do you work? Or are you out of
for more than 4 hours at a stretch without someone at home
who can care for the dog
in your absence? Then you need to consider an older puppy
(over 5 months old), an adolescent
dog (6 to 18 months), or an adult dog. That's because young
puppies need to eliminate often and can't deal with
long periods of isolation.
If you are considering a puppy and
are wondering how you can fit your active life into his early needs, know this: the general
rule of thumb is to take
the puppy's age in months, add 1, and that is the number of
hours a puppy can be left during
the day (i.e., a 4 month old puppy can probably hold his bladder
for 5 hours during the day).
Do you arrive home exhausted and
wanting to relax or eat dinner and not go out for an hour to
the park or backyard right away EVERY
DAY? Then select a mature dog, 4 years or older, and
one with a calm nature.
Finally, remember that any prolonged
period of isolation will increase the intensity of your dog's need for attention and exercise
when you arrive home -- no matter what age the dog.
Imagine a typical evening in your
home. What are you doing? Where do you imagine your dog is? Is he on the couch with you, watching
TV? Is he lying peacefully at your feet? Is he out playing with the kids? (A-ha! Nope! You
can't just leave him unsupervised with the kids, so you'd have to be out there with them.)
This mental picture
will give you
an idea of what kinds of rules and limits you'll need to set
in your household and for your new dog.
Do you want a dog on the furniture?
If so, choose a non-dominant, submissive dog who is less likely
to perceive being up on the
furniture as pack rank issue.
Do you want to prohibit a dog from
your furniture? Realize that if you choose a more pushy, confident
dog, you'll need to be VERY persistent and set lots of
and limits to make this work.
And remember -- if you have kids
AGE, no child is ever able to take full responsibility for
a dog. YOU will be the caretaker,
no matter what you think, no matter what the age of your child,
or what he promises. Don't fall into the "Lassie" trap. In the real world,
have run off and been hit by a car a million times over; or
snapped or growled at someone;
or chased a bicycle rider; or learned to bark incessantly;
or any number of things NO dog owner
wants. NO child should ever be left alone with ANY dog.
Imagine a typical weekend. What
activities are you engaging in? How will you include a dog?
Are you a hiking family? Most dogs
love to join in -- but need to be on leash in almost all cases.
A bicycle riding family? That's tougher
to do with a dog, but with lots of training it can often work.
Or are you a sedentary household?
If so, a mature, low energy, couch potato dog is the dog for you.
Do you live in an apartment or
a house? Do you have a fenced in yard? Do you plan to leash walk for bathroom activities and
exercise? Will your dog need to get along with other dogs -- at the park, on walks in the neighborhood, or in a doggie day care situation?
This is actually one of the most
critical evaluations of your household and lifestyle, one that can really make or break the
permanency of the relationship with your new dog.
If all of a sudden you are going
to be leash walking or leash exercising a dog, know that your
free time and routine will be drastically
altered -- for the lifetime of your new dog. Whether it's raining,
or you're sick, or exhausted,
or just feeling lazy, dogs have needs that have to be met DAILY
-- no matter what.
If you live in an urban or suburban
area where you and your dog will encounter other dogs while on leash, or you'll be exercising
your new dog off leash in a doggie park, you will need to specifically select a dog that gets
along with new dogs.
Even if you have a fenced in yard, the fact is, most dogs will NOT self exercise. You'll have to go out with him, throw a ball, or somehow
Also, left alone to their own devices,
most dogs will teach themselves bad habits while alone in a
yard -- more so if they can see
passersby or other animals. These dogs learn to bark or dig
or scratch or even practice aggression
by barking or growling as people or other dogs pass. Practice
makes perfect, so if a dog believes
that his barking or lunging is effective at making things go
away, each bark or growl will
be marked as success ... And the dog will learn to bark more
and more aggressively.
Finally, if there is any chance of
going after what the dog perceives as prey -- be it a squirrel or a passing child -- that dog
WILL break the chain of a tie out, or dig under a fence or do whatever it takes. For all these
reasons, leaving a dog unsupervised outside is NEVER the answer.
Frankly, there is NOTHING convenient
about owning a dog. It takes lots of effort, which, of course, is returned with the most amazing
and loving companion you could ask for. But it is in no way a free ride.
Are you in a rural area with a
lot of land that is VERY far from traffic, have no fence, but want a dog that can go with you
SUPERVISED off leash, to hang out with you or play fetch relentlessly?
If so, select a dog that is a little
insecure about life... One that comes up to you readily and is a little clingy, maybe leaning
against you right away, or hiding behind you for courage.
All dogs need supervision when outdoors,
so don't expect to let your dog hang out free range. Dogs are predators, they are animals.
WE are responsible for them.
The ONLY dogs that are truly savvy
about cars and are not getting hit and killed are the ones that are still alive until the day
they are hit and killed. You're just meeting those dogs earlier in the eventual sequence. NO
dog can be trusted around cars.
Look For in a Dog
With all the variables in dogs and
people, there are still five qualities that every pet owner should put at the top of the list
when searching for a dog to adopt:
A dog with high sociability and
affection who bonds easily and strongly.
We live in a crowded society, filled
with friends and family and relatives and neighbors and children and guests and strangers.
We need dogs who are loving and affectionate and congenial with people. These are the dogs
who are most fun and the least worrisome to live with.
The more a dog likes people, wants
to be with people, and needs people, the more willing that dog will be to accept all kinds
of handling and control and strange new people, and different looking people. The more people
loving your dog is, the bigger the buffer zone of love and affection there is to chip away
at before your dog resorts to aggression to get you to stop doing something he doesn't want
you to do ... Like having his nails clipped, or having a tick pulled off, or being hugged for
too long by a child or adult, or being pulled by the collar to get him off a particular piece
of furniture, etc.
The more sociable and affectionate
your dog is, the less likely he is to bite a friend or neighbor who comes onto your property
or into your home, and less likely you are to incur a law suit.
And of course, the more affection
and loving your dog is, the more joy and return you'll get from the relationship.
A dog who is calmed by touching
Dogs who are calmed by touch and
stroking typically make better pets. These dogs, in general, will be easier to live with and
easier to train, simply because they like the attention and find it relaxing. Dogs who are
overstimulated or become mouthy or over excited by touch and attention may still be highly
trainable, but will require much more work on your part, and much more overall training to
learn general household manners.
A dog with low arousal.
Arousal is defined as a state of
agitation. Aroused dogs have an unsettled, jittery quality
to them, and are often mistaken
for being "hyper" or "excited" The aroused
dog will usually be wagging
his tail, usually panting; he will look very "friendly"
to the inexperienced eye.
But "friendly" is really defined as a dog who distinctly
WANTS to interact with you,
who will engage in soft, loving eye contact, who may nudge
your hands, lean against you, or
paw at you for physical affection.
Dogs who are easily aroused and slow
to calm down are dogs who are going to be much more difficult
to live with, deal with and train.
Dogs who are calmer in nature or who can get excited but then
calm down quickly are going to be easier
to live with, deal with and train.
Look for a dog, who (indoors in a
quiet environment) is basically serene and calm after a few minutes of initial excitement.
Look for a dog who may perk up with stimulation, but who then calms right back down again,
especially with your petting or touch.
A dog with low to medium prey
and play drives.
Some dogs are more playful and intense
than others, and some dogs just get more worked up in play than others. Some dogs are not really
into playing much and seem kind of old even when they're young. Some people really like a "doggy"
dog -- one that could play fetch for hours, one that really gets going. Other people prefer
a very gentle, low key dog with more human qualities -- a dog who would rather lie on the couch
and watch TV than go out for a walk in the rain.
What's important here is knowing
that these differences pose different demands on YOU. One dog is no better than the next --
all have instincts, some just have more intensity than others do. People like different levels
of OOMPH in their dog -- but with these different levels come with different requirements.
A dog with a high threshold for
dogs, as long as they are alive,
are capable of aggression. Aggression is NATURAL for dogs.
It may not be appropriate, or safe,
or pleasant, but it's natural and all dogs can bite. That's
why you want a dog with a long
fuse, a dog who's threshold is so high you might never reach
it. That's why it's so critical
to seek a dog with high sociability, who LOVES affection and
petting and touch and kisses and
kind words and attention.
You Have Children
If you have children, rely on the
help of experts to help you adopt. Don't go it alone -- the risks are too great.
If you are considering shelter dogs,
consult a local trainer or behavior specialist who has experience in going to shelters and
evaluating temperament. Hire him or her to accompany you, advise you on what to look for, and
help you decide whether a specific dog is right for you.
Or work with a rescue group who carefully
evaluates temperament before placement and who puts YOU through the paces about your decision
to adopt. Don't be put off by rigorous applications or interviews -- they are good signs of
caring and thorough placement decision making, which is EXACTLY what you want!
In general, neither shelters nor
rescue groups will place strays in households with young children. Unless an honest and extensive
history could be taken during intake of the dog, caution MUST take precedence.
Although it's part of the American
Dream to get a puppy for the kids, the truth is, its hell to raise a young puppy while trying
to raise young kids. A young puppy can hold his bladder for only 2 hours, needs to be taught
everything about life, considers everyone (including the kids) his personal chew toys, and
requires constant supervision and total socialization. And 9 times out of 10, the responsibility
falls upon one parent.
There's also a myth that in order to get a good dog,
you have to start with a puppy, a "clean slate" and raise it right. But the truth
is that every dog is born with a temperament and personality.
Training and behavior modification
are great and effective and necessary -- but in the end, they
don't CHANGE underlying temperament
or personality -- whether you are starting with a puppy or
an older dog. And a dog's TRUE temperament
can be evaluated BEST when he is over 6 months old.
Dogs are never just who they are
in an isolated bubble. No amount of temperament testing can truly predict what a dog is like
and how he will act. That depends as much on who the dog is as it does who the person handling
and dealing with the dog is.
But imperfect as it is, temperament
Quality breeders routinely temperament
test their puppies at 7 weeks of age to better gauge their personalities and inform placement
Rescue groups like GRRI also evaluate
temperament on every intake -- to determine whether the Golden is temperamentally sound, and
again, to inform placement decisions.
Even if you plan to rely on a quality
breeder, rescue group, or professional behavior specialist to help you find the right dog,
knowing more about the temperament evaluation process can help you be a more informed and confident
Sue Sternberg, who's materials are
the cornerstone of this article, has prepared a number of excellent temperament testing materials
in print and video, and also conducts seminars.
To find out more
about these resources, visit: http://www.suesternberg.com/
Or contact Sue
at: Rondout Valley Kennels, Inc. 4628 Route 209,
Accord, NY 12404