Finding a Companion Dog
About 6 years ago, my partner mentioned wanting a companion dog and I asked him (as I have never had a dog before), “if we got a dog, what would you get?” and his response was “we’ll go to a rescue centre and see if they have any huskies”. Fair play I thought – save a life and the husky is a beautiful dog. But as an over-thinker, I did some research in to this and ultimately my main concern was that huskies can and want to run over 100 miles a day in extreme weather conditions. This does not reflect my lifestyle. As I looked deeper, I learnt that they can be aloof, rough in play and should never be allowed off-lead due to their high prey drive. Naturally alarm bells rang and I conveyed my concerns which in turn led to a vast research project for me, to find the right way to introduce a dog or puppy to our home.
For this blog, I want to pass on some of the important aspects I learnt from my research on the chance that my encyclopedia of ‘dog’ information can help someone embarking on the daunting path of selecting a dog. I must point out here that the dog world is full of highly conflicting information and opinions. I am by no means presenting myself as an expert but as someone who spent a lot of time looking in to finding the perfect companion dog to the home and has no qualifications or notable experience in the dog world.
Where to start.
There are 3 routes to consider and there are pros and cons to each to what you choose to do, depends on how you feel about the process and the dog/s involved.
It’s an incredibly honourable act to rescue a dog in need. There are thousands of beautiful dogs in need of home and I am horrified by the actions of the Yulin Dog Meat Festival. I wish every dog had a loving home and never had to experience the horrors of humanity. However I do believe it is not in the interest of every person to rescue a dog. Dogs are extremely impressionable and bad experiences (like people) can lead them to be reactive which can upset and deter people looking for man’s best friend. It is unfair for dogs to be re-homed multiple times and can add extra rejection to the dog looking for a forever home. So my view on this is to be careful. Do not fall in love with a rescue dog because of its good looks and your imagined ideologies of what it should be. No. Speak to a reputable charity (such as Battersea Dogs Home or DogsTrust) who have a background history or have put the dogs through personality tests to assess it’s suitability to the right home (be very careful of farms disguised as ‘rescues’). Each dog and case is different and so this requires some in-depth research and meetings to make the right decision. You can often volunteer to walk the dogs in rescue too and this is a fantastic way to meet and bond with a dog, and for it to bond with you.
There are some things to take in to consideration here. A rescue will unlikely have been brought up to your expectations and so be prepared to put in some work to help them adapt to your way of living. This isn’t necessarily difficult, but worth noting and the charity should help you recognise this before adopting.
Puppies on the other hand have the risk factor of not knowing what temperament, characteristics they will take on. This can be guesswork when it comes to size and personality but if you have the space, patience and funds, this does not necessarily make a difference. It really is worth considering the cost of food that the dog may consume, the space you have at home and the exercise needs needed to keep the dog happy and healthy.
Every dog deserves the right home and as controversial as this subject is, I do believe that no matter what country its in. I do however firmly think that it is crucial to meet the dog before adoption though, so if considering a rescue from abroad, take a holiday and meet it first. Again, don’t be fooled by appearance.
Another controversial topic.
Dogs were bred for their performance up until the Victorian period, at which point they were often inbred to produce dogs for a desired ‘look’. Ultimately this was man interfering with nature at the expense of the dogs health. Just take a look at the English Bulldog, German Shepherd and the Boxer. As a result of these practices many ‘breeds’ are fuelled with genetic disorders. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are known to have something called ‘Syringomyelia’ which is a condition where the brain can be too large for the skull, Golden Retrievers are associated with cancer, German Shepherds can be affected by the MDR1 gene defect and English Bulldogs can only have puppies via a cesarean. In general, many of the breeds suffer from hip dysplasia, bloat and allergies so it’s quite a minefield when looking for a healthy dog and certainly worth considering before going through heartache.
More recently however, rules have been put in place so that (most importantly) families cannot be bred together and now breeders are (mostly) placing together dogs that have been tested for health and temperament to create healthy offspring. It is this approach to breeding (pedigree or not) which is greatly different to some of the awful practices in the past.
At this point you might be thinking a wolf sounds like the most healthy way to bring an ‘original’ dog to the home. Perhaps. But it is a wild animal that has evolved separate from people and there are many examples to read about online where hybrids have been unsuitable, dangerous companions.
It is therefore highly advisable to pick a dog over a wolf as they were bred for the purpose of living with people. This does not have to mean they need to be Kennel Club Registered. There are plenty of breeds ‘in development’ such as the Northern Inuit, the Berger Blanc Suisse and the Labradoodle. There can be variation within ‘new breeds’ but in my mind this does not matter as each dog also has it’s own personality. Dogs are not created on the production line. However I reckon some family history is a good idea here and you must again be prepared for the challenges ahead. For example it may e.g. look like a German Shepherd but have the aloofness of the Husky. Returning a dog because you didn’t do your research is not an option.
While a dog is still a dog, each breed can be recognised by characteristics generalised by size, temperament, looks, exercise needs, living conditions, vocal / digging tendencies and intelligence. It is also worth considering whether or not you want a ‘show’ or ‘working’ line dog. The difference here is that show dogs ‘look’ the part and are the dogs entered in competitions such as ‘Crufts’ (not that you have to enter them). Whereas ‘working’ dogs are ‘bred’ to meet working standards – you will often find this in e.g. herding, gundogs or hounds – they were bred to fulfil a job or role in the community and need to enrol in these jobs to feel satisfied. Again this is not guaranteed but statistically you can get a good indication from the parents what the puppies will be like and this is incredibly valuable in terms of selecting a ‘breed’. Statistically if e.g. 99% of huskies love to run 100 miles a day, the chance of getting a non energetic husky will be low. Perhaps from rescue? Certainly make sure that you are aware of the breed’s challenges. It is so difficult to say no to an adorable puppy before it has grown up.
A telltale sign of an excellent breeder is that they will ask you to return the dog to them directly (or sign a contract) if for any reason you can no longer care for them properly (e.g. a death in the family). This demonstrates love and devotion to their dogs and highlights that they have an excellent moral compass.
3. Non Purebred
There is also a misconception that mixed breeds are healthier due to their genetic diversity. Unfortunately this is not true. There are breeders out there “not screening sires and dams for genetic disorders”. People are consumer driven and some see this as an opportunity to sell puppies at a high price and with minimal work put in, often referred to as ‘backyard breeding’.
There is a great documentary by the BBC called ‘Cruel Puppy Dealers Exposed | BBC Documentary 2016’ which exposes many of the dishonest ways that puppy farms are disguising their practices. A real eye opener and certainly worth considering if looking for a puppy. I had no idea how deceptive some of the methods could be. This highlights just how important it is to meet the mum and see the puppies with her. You will be able to tell if the dogs are stressed and nervous to their environment (if put on for show). It is therefore crucial to be careful if looking on sites like Pets4Homes as litters can be designer ‘money makers’. What justifies selling an unknown, unplanned, non kennel club, mixed breed for £1,000? This is a good sign of immoral breeding.
This is not however to say that there was an accident and someone wants to find the puppies good homes. Certainly they want to cover the costs, vet care and food but they should be more concerned about the homes the puppies are going to than the profits.
4. Puppy Raiser
Alternatively, you can actually volunteer to be a puppy raiser for the Guide Dogs and help contribute towards a good cause. This is an excellent way to test out living with a puppy while receiving support from the trust. It is however worth noting that puppies are a huge amount of work, an unlikely fit for small children due to their incredibly sharp razor-like teeth. Not to mention that after all the hard work, the puppy will move on to fulfil its training.
5. Retired Working Dog
You can apply to home a retired working dog from the Guide Dogs association or even the military. There can be long waiting lists from this and possibly require medication due to natural ailments, but the positive side is again, honourably homing a dog in need of a loving, relaxing retirement for the remainder of its time. This I think requires someone with a strong heart.
6. Puppy VS Adult
This is the final tricky decision to make. Puppies are adorable and the great part of getting a puppy is that they imprint to you and adopt your lifestyle. Everything from living indoors and being use to the television, dishwasher or car to perhaps running with horses, taking train journeys or getting involved in extreme sports. They are however a huge amount of work – often compared to raising children. They are babies and need your guidance early on to help them grow in to the dog you want them to be. Housebreaking is often a major factor here and this requires a schedule to help prevent accidents. If you work a standard 8-hour office job, can you make it home to relieve the puppy? Or perhaps you can take some time off to help the puppy during the first few months? The other thing to consider is whether or not you have children. The idea of letting kids play with a puppy is admittedly adorable. But the reality is that they have extremely sharp little razor teeth and they would wrestle with their siblings, which is then applied to you… this can really hurt. They need to be taught about bite inhibition and not to nip humans which can be a very sore / frustrating period. It certainly requires a lot of understanding, persistence and patience. If your children can be trusted to be involved in this and accept some responsibility and accidents then there is nothing to worry about, however if you have toddlers or excitable children, this could be an unpleasant experience. It is also worth noting here that a little research on ‘breed’ bite statistics is valuable if you are considering a dog to be around children. Surprisingly some of the breeds on this list are not what you would expect – including the Chihuahua, Dachshund, Dalmatian and Jack Russell Terrier. A small dog is not necessarily best for children. Saying that though, every dog is an individual and this is not an exact science.
Alternatively, if you just don’t like the idea of housebreaking or teaching basic manners, then any dog over 8 months old should be on its way to maturing in to the dog it will become. Breeders sometimes take puppies back if there are lifestyle changes in a family (e.g. a death) at no fault of the dog and they need a new home. Alternatively, rescues and retired working dogs need homes and they should hopefully have a good history or have undergone tests to confirm their nature.
I think that’s everything. It really is a minefield but certainly worth researching properly. So many people spontaneously want to ‘get a dog’ and choose one based on meeting someones well trained dog in the park (that one time!) or because of its captivating ‘looks’. There are so many dogs out there without homes and they really are loving and intelligent so don’t add to the problem; a dog is for life and becomes part your family.
There is no right answer to this blog, just some information to consider and help navigate your way through the overwhelming abyss of information when trying to select a dog that is right for you. Just be logical about it. Create a shortlist and go meet some dogs! It’s so exciting meeting them all and you can never ask too many questions. Research itself is incredibly valuable but remember that this is a guide. I do believe for us in the end, that our dog chose us.