Selecting the Right Dog- Part 1: The Importance of Compatibility

The Importance of Compatibility

The decision process regarding adding a dog to your household is in many ways tantamount in significance and perspective to your decision process when selecting a mate.  Ideally, a spousal relationship expands the quality of life for both you and your partner.  Similarly, pet ownership should generate a mutually beneficial, symbiotic relationship that enhances the quality of life for both you and your pet.  Therefore, compatibility is a key issue in determining whether the process realizes optimal outcomes.

Humans will frequently spend many years evaluating amongst a pool of potential spouses.  Yet, in contrast, they will somehow on a whim drive to the humane society or a breeder’s home and without much forethought capriciously bring home a companion they expect to love and cherish for as long as the next sixteen years.  Does anybody see the lack of logic or consistency?

Certainly, dissolving an unsuccessful relationship with a pet is a less arduous and expensive task than divorcing a spouse.  Nevertheless, there often is comparable unhappiness and incapacitating morose guilt associated with an animal’s departure from the household.

Although training may minimize the likelihood and magnitude of failure, training only commences as a possible solution after obvious mistakes have endured.  In contrast, if you implement direct control by selecting the right pet before bringing a puppy or dog home you provide yourself and your family the greatest probability of formulating a successful, happy, long-term, human-pet partnership.  The following are key questions you should ask yourself if you are a prospective pet owner.  You should ask the questions listed below in Part 1 even before you choose amongst breeds or individual dogs.

Question #1: Should I even own a dog?

A dog needs attention, structure, routine, leadership, food, veterinary care, toys, supplies, and training.  Consequently, you need to have adequate time, money, energy, patience, and innate leadership ability to properly provide for your dog.

Question #2: Should I get a puppy or adult dog?

Puppies are initially more work, but are generally more malleable and usually come with a more reliable history.
Puppies are initially more work, but are generally more malleable and usually come with a more reliable history.

Puppies are cute and arrive with little or no environmental baggage.  However, they require training and patience for them to develop appropriate housebreaking, household manners, and obedience behaviors.  Moreover, they require tolerance when they inevitably commit housebreaking, chewing, and jumping foibles.  In contrast, adult dogs may come already trained in both household manners and obedience.  However, they may also arrive with undesirable behavioral complications caused by neglect, abuse, lack of training, limited socialization, or adverse environmental experiences.  Furthermore, since adult behavioral problems may have festered for a long period, they may be more difficult to extinguish than problems you observe in a puppy that is likely more malleable.

Question #3: Where should I get my dog?

Choices include professional breeders, backyard breeders, pet stores, humane societies, rescue organizations, prior owners, and strays.  Professional” breeders do not necessarily act professionally.  A truly professional breeder may be expensive, but will provide documentation about the health, history and lineage of a prospective pet; will have pertinent health certificates for the parents; will have a goal-oriented breeding program; will provide a hygienic environment; will provide puppies and adults ample socialization and appropriate household and obedience training for their age level; will offer you a formal sales contract that provides you protection against certain contingencies; and will interview you to confirm suitability.  Nevertheless, unscrupulous breeders exist who, in a quest for money, will mate substandard dogs that exhibit heritable health or temperament problems.  Likewise, many breeders have too many dogs to provide them adequate attention and care and live a less than hygienic lifestyle.  Therefore, investigate a breeder thoroughly before bringing home a puppy or adult dog.  Part 3 of this article will assist you in evaluating a breeder or shelter facility.

Backyard breeders are hobbyists who breed their family pet, show dog, or competition dog.  Breeding is not a major source of income for the backyard breeder.  Some backyard breeders will provide you care and quality equivalent or superior to a professional breeder.  However, many backyard breeders breed the family dog for no logical reason other than they wanted to breed or they wanted their children to see the “miracle of life.”  In most cases, run away from a breeder who cannot logically describe the rationale behind the breeding or who owns a sire or dam that is a poor example of its breed.

Pet stores all too frequently sell poor quality puppies at inflated prices.  The puppies are commonly purchased from unscrupulous puppy mills that breed inferior stock or outright lie on pedigrees.  Most importantly, pet store dogs are often notoriously difficult to housebreak.  Due to a psychological travail known as ‘learned helplessness,’ they learn to urinate and defecate in their crates, which violates natural precepts required to successfully housebreak a dog.  Unless the pet store adequately demonstrates that the puppy is well socialized with dogs and people and is taken outside to relieve itself, do not let emotion lead you to an impulse purchase.

Many humane societies now offer modern, clean facilities that provide a pleasant experience for prospective pets and prospective owners. the above is a photograph of the outstanding new structure of the Atlanta Humane Society at its satellite location in Alpharetta, GA.
Many humane societies now offer modern, clean facilities that provide a pleasant experience for prospective pets and prospective owners. The above is a photograph of the outstanding new structure of the Atlanta Humane Society at its satellite location in Alpharetta, GA.  BTW, the interior is just as nice as the exterior.

Humane societies often have nice pedigree and mixed breed dogs available for a nominal charge.  If you adopt a puppy, ask what information they have regarding the age of removal from the mother and/or the litter.  A puppy that lives a feral existence with its litter for an extended period (past 10 weeks) will often remain permanently inhibited in its abilities to comfortably socialize with humans.  Whereas, a puppy removed too early (before 6 weeks) may remain permanently inhibited in its abilities to comfortably socialize with dogs.  Puppy testing will maximize the probability that you bring home the right dog.  When considering a puppy, answer the questions in Part 3 of this article and conduct the tests described in Part 4b.  Similarly, when considering an adult dog, answer the questions in Part 3 and complete the testing described in Part 4a.  Consider only a healthy, happy, well-socialized, well-mannered adult dog.  Do not bring home a dog that exhibits lethargy, depression, health issues, anxiety, shyness, or aggression to humans or dogs.  Ask if the organization has a history of the dog and a reason why the dog was abandoned.  Ask for a trial period if there is no history. Do not adopt an adult dog that has a history of house soiling, separation anxiety, or escape behavior or that exhibits such behavior more than a few days into the trial period.  We want your puppy or dog to have the highest probability of easily assimilating into your household and lifestyle.  Although, you may feel sorry for a dog that has salient problems, by adopting such a dog you are more likely to end up feeling sorry for yourself.  Moreover, such a dog will likely require more time and money for training and will impose more stress upon your household.

Rescue organizations will foster pedigree and sometimes mixed breed dogs abandoned by prior owners or found as strays.  The cost is far less than purchasing a puppy or dog from a breeder, but usually more than from a humane society.  Rescue organizations usually have more information on an available dog than will a humane society and generally will foster the dog in a household environment rather than a kennel, which will provide valuable observations about the dog’s socialization skills, household manners, and temperament.  Regardless, exercise due diligence and the principles of caveat emptor.  In addition, evaluate whether the rescue representative is totally truthful.  Some rescue persons misstate or leave out material information to accomplish their mission of adopting the dog into a loving home. If you are uncertain, ask for a trial period.

When evaluating a dog from a present/prior owner consider strongly why the owner is placing the dog for sale or adoption.  Exercise caution about assuming someone else’s problem, regardless of whether the problem is due to poor genetics or poor ownership from the present seller or a previous party.  Nevertheless, often very nice dogs become available due to the misfortunes or lifestyle changes (divorce, relocation overseas, prolonged unemployment, disability, death) of an owner.  Again, diligently ask questions and complete the examination procedures described in Parts 3 and 4 of this article.

Almost everyone feels sorry for a stray dog.  However, hesitate extending the sorrow to yourself. Adopting a stray can be a wonderful, humane task.  Adopting a stray can also be the commencement of years of misery.  Have a veterinarian check the puppy or dog.  A dog with heartworm, for instance, immediately has a price tag of several hundred dollars or more and may never totally recover.  Evaluate the dog’s comportment amidst people (including children), dogs, and noises.  A shy, fearful or aggressive animal is a long-term project.  We have observed magnificent stray or abandoned dogs taken in by CPT customers.  We have also dissuaded clients from maintaining possession of inappropriate problematic stray dogs that disrupt the harmony of the family or of existing pets.

Each of the available sources has the potential of providing an outstanding pet as long as you are careful in the evaluation process.  Use the information above to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of obtaining a pet from each source.  Then, when locating a dog with potential, answer the questions listed in Part 3 and conduct the tests described in Part 4 before finalizing a purchase or adoption decision.

Question #4: Should I get a male or female?

Generally, males are more dominant and, unless neutered, more likely to roam, to exhibit marking problems, and engage in dog fighting.  In addition, males are usually larger.  Alternatively, females generally are smaller, softer emotionally, and more cooperative.  Females also, unless spayed, will spot the carpet, exhibit anxious, unfocused behavior, and perhaps mild urinary incontinence during estrus and during a frequently accompanying false pregnancy period.  Nevertheless, you minimize many of the preceding gender characteristics by spaying/neutering your dog.  Therefore, the main criteria once you know whether you are ready to own a dog, whether you should purchase or adopt a puppy or adult, and where you most likely will look to find the dog is not the gender of the candidate dog, but the socialization and temperament characteristics of the specific dog.  Consequently, although you may wish to consider gender as part of your evaluation decision, the data you obtain from the acquisition of a history and the completion of an evaluation will likely provide more relevance in maximizing the success of your human-dog partnership.


In summary, you should not act haphazardly when purchasing or adopting a dog for your household.  Conduct a thorough, well-thought decision process that emphasizes compatibility.  Compatibility is the key ingredient when formulating a solid foundation that supports a successful long-term relationship.  Asking the four questions listed in this article is the first step when commencing a decision process that achieves optimal compatibility.  However, it is only the first step of a multi-step process.  Part 2 will discuss selecting the right breed.  Part 3 will discuss evaluating breeder and shelter facilities.  Part 4A will discuss evaluating an individual adult animal and Part 4B will discuss evaluating an individual puppy and puppy testing.  Read each section in detail and act upon the recommendations.   Accordingly, you will maximize the probability that you will bond with a canine companion that will provide you years of love, pleasure, and joy.


© Copyright Mark Spivak and Comprehensive Pet Therapy, Inc., April 2007, Revised March 2014.  All rights reserved.

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