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Choosing A DogChoosing the right dog for you.

So you’ve decided a dog is a good choice for you at this point in time. So the next step is to determine what dog to get.The two biggest things to think about to start with are: Will you get an adult or a puppy, and what breed or mix to get.

Adult or Puppy?

People often wonder what is the best choice for their situation when it comes to the choice between a puppy or an adult dog. Here is a list of the pros and cons of both:

Puppy Pros:

  • Ability to socialize to any situation.
  • Can setup training properly right from the beginning.

Puppy Cons:

  • They require a lot more input in terms of time.
  • Potty training is a must.

Adult Pros:

  • Usually potty trained.
  • Full grown so you have passed most puppy behaviours such as nipping.

Adult Cons:

  • May not have been socialized right and could have problem behaviours.
  • Often do not know their past.

If you want a dog that is absolutely perfect for you and you can take them anywhere then a Puppy is usually the best way to go. You can train and socialize them the way you want. With that said there are some awesome adult dogs out there that may already have the personality you want and may come with some training.

With a puppy you have the ability to socialize that dog to anything you see fit and raise them right from scratch the way you want them. There are no bad habits that have been practiced for months or years. Remember puppies are a lot of work!

Dog Breeds

If you are looking at using your dog for a specific job then you probably already know what type of dog you are looking for. If you are getting a dog to be a pet you should pay extremely close attention to this article.

Many dogs are very intelligDog intelligence.ent and do not have any desire to please. People often say they want a smart dog because they are easy to train. This is not a good way to determine the dog for you. Often dogs that lack in the intelligence area are easier to train because they do not have the intelligence to take over and test you, they want to please and follow a leader.

You can get lucky and get a dog that is intelligent and eager to please but this doesn’t happen frequently. If you do get a dog like this, count yourself as being very lucky.

As an example, when we help clients, if a dog has a super nice non-challenging temperament you could bet $100 that they won’t learn a command like down very quickly. They often take a 1 - 3 days to learn that command. Conversely if the dog is quite challenging, jumping and nippy they often learn the down command very quickly in under 20 minutes. So a smart dog can learn very quickly but they are likely to challenge you down the road. High intelligence in a dog is not an accurate predictor of being easy to train. If you want a trouble free dog, get one that takes a few days to teach anything. You may want to steer clear of the dog that learns things very quickly. If you want a working dog and are good at enforcing rules then the dog that learns quickly is a lot of fun, count on them testing you a lot.

The two white Havanese pictured above are brother and sister. The brother did not learn quickly but was very eager to please. To someone who didn’t know dogs, he would have seemed like the smart one because he would naturally come when called, fetch and would walk behind you. The sister learned quickly but didn’t have a desire to please. She did not naturally come when called, fetch and she wanted to walk in front of you and pull on leash. She learned things way faster than her brother. In this example you can see that intelligence didn’t predict having the dog listen well.

Dogs that are eager to please - Almost any breed can have eager to please dogs, some more so than others. If you were looking at a litter of puppies you would choose the puppy that is hanging out in the corner, not the ones that come running up to you. A lot of people pick the puppy that “chose them” and came running up. The ones that come up to you are often the most dominant puppies of the litter. They generally have a desire to be boss and less likely to be eager to please you.

In adult dogs they are the dogs that are happy to be pet but won’t come over to jump on you or be too pushy about being pet. Us humans being a primate species can view a dog coming up and wanting to be pet as being super friendly. In the dog world a higher ranking dog can force attention on a lower ranking dog but not always the other way around. A dog that hangs out off to the side but still likes to be pet is assuming you are higher ranking and is not trying to force attention on you. They don’t test you much if at all and make really good laid back pets.

Higher Energy Pleasers - Dogs that naturally fetch can make good high energy pleasers. Retrievers and Herding dogs often will fetch naturally or with little training. Herding dogHigh energy eager to please Labrador Retriever.s tend to be a bit more problematic in the city as they also have higher desires to chase bikes, joggers, cars and anything else fast moving. Retrievers don’t seem to have as much of this natural trait. If you are getting a herding dog beware of that potential issue. That is the number one problem people call with when they have a herding dog. Also remember that Herding dogs and Retrievers can be extremely high energy. Walks often won’t be enough to tire them out. Some need upwards of 10 km or more a day of running.

Dogs that can be difficult and / or dangerous - We have seen some real teddy bears in this category that wouldn’t hurt a fly. Keep in mind that is not what they were originally bred for (being a teddy bear). They were bred for guarding. If you are choosing a dog in this category make sure you find a breeder that breeds for easy going temperament or find a rescue with a dog that is naturally easy going unless of course you want a guardian dog.

Guardian dogs such as Rottweilers, Mastiffs, German Shepherds, etc. often fall into the Alpha category. They can really test you. With these dogs you almost always need to follow the rules 100% for the dog to see you as the leader. If you like to spoil your dog and not make them work for anything this can cause problems.

We get a lot of people saying this: “My dog is so lovely with me but extremely protective (aggressive) toward other people or dogs. I would like to train him not to be so protective”. If the people who have this type of dog are the type of people who like to spoil the dog, let them sleep with them in bed and have no rules for this dog then from a trainers perspective this is a difficult combination to have success unless the people are willing to change by providing leadership and structure.

If they are a strong minded person who is meticulous about enforcing the rules then a dog like this can be a good match. To gain guarding instinct you most often have to give up the “good with all people and dogs trait”.

The big caution is for the people that want to spoil and not enforce rules. If this is you then you are best to steer clear of Guardian type dogs or dogs that are pushy, nippy and barky. If you would still like a guardian breed then make sure you find a breeder that breeds more for nice temperament or a rescue that has one. Conduct a Temperament Test yourself to find a Guardian Dog that is more docile and easy going, they do exist you just have to look harder for them. We have seen lots of Rottweilers, Mastiffs and German Shepherds that didn’t have an ounce of guarding instinct in them.

Dogs that don’t want to please and are more difficult to train - Many Terriers will fall into this category. Many of the Terriers were bred to hunt vermin and to eradicate pests without any human direction. They are very intelligent and often have very low desire to please their humans. They very much want to be the boss. Their tenacity makes them very strong willed and much less likely to want to do as you want them to do.

Think of this from a Farmers point of view 100 years ago. A farmer may have a pest problem so they acquire a Terrier to eradicate the pests. The farmer wants a smart dog that is capable of working on their own. They want the dog to be independent so that they are content to work on their own. If a farmer wanted a dog to work with them that is where a Herding or Retrieving dog would come into play. Herding and Retrieving dogs have a much higher desire to please and work with people whereas many Terriers do not.

You can still have a Terrier trained to do awesome things but they are often for people who have more experience training dogs and most importantly are good at enforcing rules for dogs. Terriers are very strongly motivated by playing Tug of War and for some Fetch although they usually prefer keep away so this requires a bit more training.  If you just want an easy to train lap dog then a Terrier is probably not the choice. You can find eager to please Terriers, you just need to be good at Temperament Testing. We have seen some laid back Yorkies and Jack Russells but we have also seen some that are terrors. Familiarize yourself with Temperament Testing if you are drawn to a Terrier.

The best Lap Dogs - It seems that this is becoming one of the largest categories for people looking for a dog. If this is the case there are some easy signs to look for:

  • Low energy - You want a pretty lazy dog.
  • Not the Brightest Bulb - You are looking for a dog that is not all that intelligent. The nicest lap dogs we have ever met were some of the least intelligent dogs we have ever met. They didn’t have the intelligence to manipulate and take over. They just want to please and follow. To a person that doesn’t know much about dogs they can seem intelligent because they naturally want to please and follow. They will do their best to pay attention. The truly smart dogs, on the other hand, are often mistaken as dumb dogs because they have no desire to please and follow.

    You are looking for a dog that takes a lot of repetition to learn something new. If a dog catches on quickly they are often smart enough to Lead the Pack. Smart dogs learn quick but that doesn’t mean they are easy to train. Low intelligence dogs are often a lot easier to train, they take more repetition but once they understand they will almost always try to please and follow.
  • Omega - Often less intelligent dogs fall into this category. However you can get lucky and get a smart dog that also really wants to please and catches on quickly.

After working with hundreds of dogs you recognize patterns. Just watching a dog for 5 minutes without seeing them do any commands you can tell whether they will be smart or slow to a fairly high degree of accuracy.

Easy going - Never jump on you. When you pet them they happily accept and often look down or away. They never nip when being pet, they may lick a lot. They lay down off to the side. They take a long time to get them peeing if they ever do when away from their home. They prefer to pee in their own backyard. They won’t come over to sniff you. They will never play tug with you. They let go of toys quickly when they are holding them and you grab onto the toy.

If we see those traits, especially multiples of them it is nearly a sure bet that they will take quite a while to train new commands. They will often focus for very long periods and try to do what you ask but they just don’t have the intelligence to put the patterns together quickly to learn what you ask. They can still learn, they just take a fair bit longer (a few days instead of 10-20 minutes).

Trouble maker - They will jump on you. They will nip you especially when you try to pet them. They will play tug of war with you. They will pee on everything they can. They will steal items from you and run off with them. They want to sleep on your bed at the top of your bed and often between you and your partner (if there are two of you).

If we see those traits, especially multiples it is nearly a sure bet they will learn commands quite quickly once you get them to focus on you.

Real Problem Dogs - Any dogs that show aggression toward people, animals or over food or possessions prior to 1 year of age. If it is under the 6 month mark it is an even bigger indicator. Dogs that begin marking territory (lifting leg) prior to 6 months of age. Dogs that catch on lightning fast to commands, show them a couple of times and they have it figured out. These dogs develop some of the worst problem behaviours. They are highly intelligent. For people that want to use them as working dogs and who are good at enforcing rules and making the dog follow through on commands they can do quite well. For the person that wants an easy going companion these dogs can be a nightmare.

We have a dog in this category and she was a ton of work to train because she wanted to challenge so much. We have a lot of fun with her but make no mistake, she is not a lap dog. She has a job and rules and we always make her follow through on those rules. She failed police dog training (flunked at 7 weeks of age). She only failed one test otherwise she would have passed into the program. She was very close to being a suitable dog for chasing down criminals, biting them and hauling them to the ground.

So you can see where one dog is suitable for one person they are completely unsuitable for another. One person’s biggest problem behaviour is another person’s solution to a problem. Pick a dog that is naturally suited to you and then train them from there. Choosing looks last will often give you an advantage. You will then have a fantastic life long companion.