Raising Bennett: Choosing your new family member
So how do we decide who to add to our family? It’s such a difficult decision and one that we have to remember may be living in our home for the next 15 years.
There are so many options when it comes to choosing your next dog. Will you be getting a puppy or an older dog? Will that puppy or older dog be from a rescue, from a registered breeder or from somewhere else? What breed or mix of breeds will they be?
The answers to all of these questions will be different for different people. I know for myself when it came to choosing Bennett to come and live with us it wasn’t an easy decision at all, and it was one that took probably 5 years in the making!
Around 5 years ago I begun thinking would Lil like to live with another dog in the household? At that stage I was very active with her in training and with utilising her in my business. I was single, working full-time in another role within mental health research and also dog training casually on the side. I was very busy and I wanted her to have company in the time that I couldn’t have her with me. I needed that company however to be a positive addition to her quality of life, not a stressful one. Over the subsequent few years I went on to foster 5 dogs varying in ages, breeds and sexes. Each came with their own various personalities and behaviour characteristics. Two I remember resulted in Lil retreating into a shell of herself, fearful to approach me or to enjoy her space within our home. As much as I adored these dogs, I knew they weren’t right for her as she started to get older. We fostered a gorgeous older labrador who was petrified of anything that wasn’t a fenced back yard. Scared to come inside, scared to walk outside. We worked on helping her build her confidence and she was adopted by a wonderful family perfectly suited to her needs as she was to theirs. As the next couple of years went by, it was becoming apparent to me just how much I used Lil in my work and that whoever became that addition to our household would have some huge paws to fill as they begin to help me help other dogs with their behaviour. This put added pressure on choosing that perfect fit for us. This new dog had to suit not only my needs, but Lil’s and also my partner’s who I now lived with – alongside his 16 year old cat! This led us to choosing a puppy from a breeder that bred the low shedding breed, Portuguese Water Dogs, that would be smaller than Lil, but be very socially confident and higher energy. I also researched the breeder extensively and the work they did on early habituation and socialisation, the temperaments of their dogs, and the types of dogs their previous litters turned out to be like. This suited perfectly the needs of everyone in our household, and the future of training and therapy work I wanted to do with our future dog.
Meeting my new human
So often I work with families who it has clearly been a problem of the wrong fit of dog for the family and lifestyle. It was nothing at all to do with the family and the love they could provide, or anything wrong with the dog and their behaviour, it was just the wrong pairing. If only breeders and even the rescue organisations could have possibly taken a bit more time to ask a few crucial questions as to whether this pairing was going to be a likely good fit for life. Some do, however many don’t.
So what are some of the questions that we should be asking ourselves as we embark on that exciting yet daunting search for our newest family member? I wanted to list some of the ones that I feel are the most important for all families to consider:
How to you envision spending your time with your new dog? Is it lazing on the couch having a Netflix marathon? Or is it getting up and running 5klm each day? Do you want a dog that is happy to lounge around at home or at a cafe, or one that wants to be stimulated by training or working in a particular role? Exercise and mental needs are crucial to consider. Many breeds have strong needs for exercise and a job to do. If you don’t plan on being involved in training or you lead a busy lifestyle that doesn’t include any outdoor activities or your dog being with you, you may find a border collie or another strong working breed developing significant behaviour concerns through boredom and frustration.
Do you suffer from allergies or ‘I need a clean house-itis’? If you have any allergies to dogs or are very houseproud, you may find a high shedding breed such as a malamute or a golden retriever drives you a little crazy or even makes you unwell. This can result in owners keeping their dogs in the backyard instead of in the home which can in turn lead to dogs barking outside or scratching at doors to come in as they crave social attention. I’ve also seen this lead to severe cases of jumping up and mouthing when the family do come outside as their dog is just so over excited to see them. Noone wins in this situation and both sides end up resenting each other and the relationship they have becomes quite toxic.
Do you have young kids or elderly people living in the home? If so, would a boisterous 40kg adolescent dog bowling over children in the backyard be something that you have the time to work through with a trainer? Or would a smaller, older and more docile dog be better suited?
Do you have other pets? Some breeds have more of a drive to chase (sight hounds such as whippets) and others are more predatory such as terrier breeds. If you also have a home full of guinea pigs or other small pets you may have some management exercises ahead of you to keep everyone safe. Do you have an existing elderly dog that may struggle with a larger puppy in the home? Does your existing dog have issues with guarding resources or not getting along with other dogs? Do you have an anxious cat or other pet that may struggle to adjust?
Are you experienced in understanding dog behaviour and training? Do you have time and the finances available to work with a dog that has special needs? Some dogs may be looking for a new home due to some underlying anxiety disorders and significant behaviour problems which need ongoing management, training, and possibly medications. Quite often these are understated by rescues as to their severity and how the behaviours may impact your future with your new dog. Make sure you ask lots of questions about why this dog was looking for a new home? What would it mean to take on this dog with regards to involvement with professional support in the future? Are there aggressive behaviours of concern? Are they safe with kids and other pets?
What is your home and yard like? If you’re rescuing a dog that has come from a rural setting and you live in an inner city apartment on a high floor, this may take a lot of adjustment for the new dog to cope with. How do you plan on helping your dog adjust to new living environments? Has this dog lived in different settings previously and been exposed to the things that they will likely be exposed to in your life? Do they have a history of problematic barking that with close neighbours may create conflict?
Personality of the dog. Do you want to involve this dog in therapy roles or sporting pursuits? Ensuring the dog is socially confident and enjoys the company of strangers will be crucial in them suiting this role.
Meeting my new sister
There are so many things to consider when we choose a living being as our new family for up to the next 15 years of life. If you’re at a stage where you’re beginning to consider adding a new furry family member to your household, animal trainers and behaviourists like myself are more than happy to help guide and support you through this process. Don’t hesitate in reaching out to someone local to your area for suggestions or even contacts on where you could start searching for them.
Please feel free to comment and ask any questions!
Laura, Lil and Bennett.