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The Dog Trainer's Guide to Choosing Your Dog

"Once you have had a wonderful dog, a life without one is a life diminished." - Dean Koontz

Ah...the Covid Dog. I would say that 2019 was the year of the Floofadoodles, but I think I'm going to name the "Covid Dog" the dog breed of 2020. It seems as if the moment quarantine started to hit Cleveland, everyone got themselves a new dog. I'm not going to lie; I did, too. Remember Ellis? The dog I was going to foster for 2 weeks? Well, we're on week 166 of those two weeks. Yes, we did finally foster fail with Ellis. I would not have given him such a dumbass name if I knew I was going to foster fail him. Sorry, Ellis.

However, bonus points to you if you know where the name came from.

So you think you need a dog (and I'm not going to argue with that!). But a dog is a long term relationship. Don't try to turn a one-night stand into a long term relationship. You need to do a little research first before you take them home to mother.

Unfortunately, a lot of the Covid Dogs not working out. Dogs having been adopted on a whim. Some dogs showing extreme dog reactivity. Dogs who turned out not to be safe around cats, or even worse: not safe around the kids. Here in Cleveland, the once empty (-ish) dog shelters and rescues are full again.

At the end of the day, whose fault is it that the dog didn't work out? The new owners? I'm sorry, but I refuse to judge someone who puts their children's safety first. Yes, dog training helps, but it's not instantaneous. So while perhaps dog training is a better option than re-homing a dog who doesn't walk well on a leash, bear in mind there is margin for error on that one. There is no wiggle room for mistakes when you're dealing with aggressive behavior towards a child.

Is it the dog's fault? No, please don't be silly. The beauty of dogs is that they are absolutely unapologetic about being a dog. They always do what they deem is correct based on the current information they have. They don't sugarcoat and they don't lie.

Me: Does this dress make my butt look big?
My Dogs: Absolutely!

So it's important to know who you are inviting to share the next 10+ years of your life with. Covid Dog or not, they all have distinct personalities and it's imperative you understand, to the best of your ability, how that personality fits in with the personalities already living in your house before you decide on a dog.

So how do you do that? By breed? Emphatically, no! Here's the problem with going by breed: you enter into the area of breed prejudice. No, not all Labs like water. Yes, there are some Border Collies who couldn't herd sheep out of a boot with the instructions written on the heel. Breed standards only give you a general idea of what you could expect from a specific breed, and is not an instruction manual for training the dog in front of you. Complicating the matter are dogs like the aforementioned "Floofadoodle"

Floofadoodle: n. Any breed of dog that is half Poodle, i.e., Labradoodle, Goldendoodle, Cavapoo, and of course the crowed favorite, the Shihpoo. See also: Mutt.

I always ask people why they got the dog they did (y'all have some hilarious "gotcha" stories!). I frequently hear people say that a friend of theirs got a Floofadoodle named Rex, and they really liked Rex, so they got a Floofadoodle too.

By that logic, I can state that friend adopted a beautiful child from Hyrule few years ago, and she's such an amazing, wonderful child that now I want to adopt a child from Hyrule. It doesn't work like that! You aren't taking into account the individualism of each child. Judging who a dog is based on breed is just as stupid as judging someone by their where they are from. So don't do it. Ever.

So how do you pick out a dog?

The same way you'd buy a car. Research and thought. Be willing to ask yourself the tough questions. Why do you want a dog? Companionship? Protection? Because Floofadoodles are sooooooo cute? Be honest with yourself. Because this dog will be with you for quite a long time, and there is a special place in hell for people who have The Dog of the Year. You know the type: they have a new dog every time you see them. It's usually the trendy dog. What happened to that Yorkie they had in 2018? Well, it wouldn't stop peeing on the rug. And the Malti-poo from 2019? It wouldn't stop barking. But just take a look at their new teacup Chihuahua!!! Isn't she adorbs?!

So now that I've ranted and railed against the bad dog owners, let's get down to business. What you need to know before adopting a dog.

The way I always tell my clients to go about it is to make a checklist with three columns: Wants/Needs/Deal Breakers. And then assign a number to each item rated by importance with one being low and ten being high. Here's a simple example for a dog if I were to get another one:


Puppy 3 Nothing under 8 lbs

Young Adult 8 Dog/Human/Animal reactive or aggressive

Healthy 5 Resource Guarding

No Sep. Anxiety 4

Medium Size 6

Housebroken 5

No Shedding 8

Purebred 2

How does this actually help? Well, most shelters and rescues are very familiar with who they are caring for. I can walk into any shelter and show this to them, and most shelters/rescues would then be able to match a great dog to my needs and wants. Or even better, they can tell me they don't have what I need right now. This is important. Remember, you are in this for a long-term commitment. You will have this dog for longer than most Hollywood marriages last. You wouldn't walk into a car dealership without knowing what you wanted, and even more absurdly, simply buy something that doesn't fit your lifestyle simply because you don't want to leave empty-handed. The worst case scenario is that you are shown a dog who doesn't fit your wants/needs, but you fall in love with them anyway. Know your limitations, because you may return that hard-luck case to the shelter in 2 weeks because he doesn't like cats, and during that 2-week period, the perfect home for that dog may have slipped away. The object is to adopt a dog that will permanently and safely stay in your home. <Full stop.>

So looking at my list, you can see that purebreds are interesting to me, but definitely not a deal breaker. To me, it's like a bow on a brand new Porche; cute, but lack of a bow doesn't diminish the Porche.

I'd kinda prefer a puppy, but not by too large of a margin. Separation anxiety totally sucks, but I know how to work with the behavior, so not a deal breaker for me. I'd just like to avoid it if possible. Housebroken is better, but again, not a deal breaker. I'd prefer healthy, but again, not an absolute deal breaker.

Now we get to the meatier issues. I am SO done with vacuuming and sweeping fur all the time. I love Sparta, but OMG

I want a younger adult. Why? Because I'm selfish. I don't want to say goodbye too soon. So I'm selfish, but I'm honest. Another reason is because I can handle all the puppy energy that comes off a young dog. I actually enjoy it.

Now let's get to the deal breakers.

Size: shocked that I don't want a small dog? All 5 lbs. of my Orion is definitely shocked. While I love Orion, I don't love the health issues that have come with him. And that little guy is definitely tough, I can only let him outside in our yard when Sparta and Ellis are outside due to the hawk threats. I'd rather just avoid the issue entirely.

Dog/Human/Animal Aggression: A lot of people would try to convince me to take an animal aggressive dog because I can work with the behavior. Why, yes I can. But I don't want to. I have 5 ducks, 2 cats, 3 dogs and 2 kids. So while yes, I can work with the behavior, do I trust how everyone else will be able and willing to work with the potentially dangerous dog we've added? Remember, it's not just my dog; it's the family dog. Know your limits as well as the family's limits.

Resource Guarding: Oh, man....I could write a book on resource guarding exclusively. It's tough. Here's a brief look at what's involved in dealing with it, but let's just say it can be difficult at best and traumatic at worst.

So that's my list. My husband's list would look different than mine. We would need to find the commonality and compromise on the "Wants" and accept each other's "Deal Breakers". Notice how there's no mention of energy level? It's not because I'm an athlete who can handle an active dog with 10 mile runs everyday. I just know how to handle energetic dogs intelligently and efficiently, as outlined in my article here. In other words, issues that aren't an issue (for me, anyway) don't make it on the list. I really don't care what color the dog is, or if it's male or female. But if it's important to you, LIST IT.

So before you head out and blindly adopt what turns out to be an albatross around your neck for the next 12 years, or even worse, regrettably have to return a dog to the shelter, do yourself a favor and make your list of wants and deal breakers. Make each person in your family fill one out independently, and take them seriously. I've even made a form to get you started, and included some of the things people forget to mention (click here for the form). Print it. Fill it out. Take it with you to the shelter, and get ready to meet your Best Dog Ever.

Dog Training vs. Dog Life

By focusing on dog life, rather than dog training, our goals can become so much more attainable and clear-cut. Most of us don't want an obedient dog, we just don't want a dis-obedient dog. Robot-style dogs who are afraid of stepping out of line are for certain types of people I guess.

But that's not my style. That's why I developed the Piloting method of dog training over 20 years ago, a force-free method of dog training and puppy training that didn't rely on abusive shock collars or cruel prong collars, yet didn't constantly bribe with non-stop click-n-treat style dog training. I want a bond with my dog based on trust and communication.

Learn more about our Piloting method of dog and puppy training here.

Find out more about our private in home 30 Day Best Dog Ever and 30 Day Best Puppy Ever training packages here.

Have questions about our puppy training or dog training?

border collie dog staying

Kerry Stack

Darwin Dogs

Dog Training and Puppy Training

Greater Cleveland Area

Northeast Ohio


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