Just as the human personality is possessed of endless variations, dogs have the same inherent diversities, with just as many twists and differences of their own. When it comes to choosing a dog that will fit into an owner's life, all of its many traits, quirks, and distinctions enter into play; similar to the complex mystery of what draws one person to another, the elements bonding owners to their dog are equally inexplicable. Adopting a pet is far more than simply bringing an animal into your home; you are adding a new member of your family, with its own place and role in the family's day-to-day activities and life. It follows that choosing a dog is a decision with many consequences, requiring forethought and consideration. Choosing well can mean years of enjoyment and companionship. Choosing poorly is a gamble that could have an unpleasant payoff.
The process of selecting a dog should start with some general questions that grow more specific. What do you want to gain from the relationship with your dog? Do you work full-time, part-time, or out of the house? Do you have enough free time to train and care for a puppy, or is an older, more independent dog a better option? Do you have children? Other pets? Allergies? A preference for a smaller dog over a big one?
Sue Sternberg, a pet expert and the owner of a boarding, training, and adoption kennel, advises anyone considering adoption to consider such questions and create a profile of themselves, so that an animal shelter can better match a pet with its owner. She also notes that it isn't necessary to seek out a breeder or buy a purebred to find the ideal dog, and she is strongly opposed to buying a pet from a pet store, where dogs are often subject to cruel conditions and sold at heavily inflated prices. Instead, there are a number of shelters, such as the Little Guild of St. Francis in West Cornwall, Connecticut, that can make the best possible match.
In the northwest corner of Connecticut, when unclaimed strays or abandoned pets come to the attention of dog wardens, they are referred to the Little Guild. The shelter was founded in 1957 to alleviate the problem of homeless pets; it provides its charges with veterinary attention, nutritious meals, and grooming. The shelter also has a "no kill" policy, which means it does not euthanize unwanted animals.
Most dogs brought in to the Little Guild are former house pets with behavioral problems, ranging from minor infractions such as hyperactivity to more serious or aggravating offenses, including aggression and house-soiling. No one type or breed has a monopoly on residency, and the Little Guild's staff points out that non-shelter dogs can exhibit the same behavior. The shelter performs a temperament test on each of the dogs to help in compiling a profile, but it's important to remember that a dog may carry physical or emotional damage from its previous life that may not be readily apparent. A simple obedience class, however, can eliminate many problems.
When first approaching a dog you may want to adopt, there are a number of exercises to try out, on both puppies and older dogs. First, play with the dog; sit on the floor so the it senses warmth and friendliness, and speak to it in a soft voice. Try to get the animal to follow you; if it requires a lot of effort, the dog is likely to be submissive and could require patient training and reassurance until it's secure in its new home. If the dog pounces and jumps, it is probably a dominant dog that will need a firm hand to establish who is in charge. Ideally, the puppy should come right over and play. A little mouthing is normal behavior, as is a little preliminary hesitation.
For older dogs, the first job is to get the dog used to your presence. Never grab an unfamiliar dog; pet it slowly and softly to see if it accepts your affection. Walk around the room and see if it follows. Look out for signs of lethargy, which could indicate poor health; the ideal dog should be cheerful and responsive.
Both Sue and the Little Guild say that it's best not to have too specific an idea of what the dog should look like. Watch instead for a real emotional connection, for the dog that seems to like its owner will fill its role perfectly.