The worst mistake you made when choosing your dog.

If you screwed up when picking out your dog, chances are you made this fatal error: you picked a dog with the wrong energy level for your family or lifestyle. Around 90% of the problems we help people work through stem from this mistake.

Most of us choose our dogs for the wrong reasons. Here are a few:

  • She was so cute–cuteness rarely translates to suitability for your lifestyle. In fact, what seems cute at first may turn out to be really bad habits.
  • He chose me–the sign of impending doom for most pet owners. Beware the puppy that rushes with exuberance to meet you for the first time. The dog is not choosing you. It has that much energy and excitement for everything in its life. You will deal with the same behavior every time the dog sees a person, a dog, a car, a squirrel, ANYTHING.
  • We heard they are the smartest breed–chances are, this translates to a breed that really needs a job to be happy (and quiet).
  • We wanted a breed that was different/unusual/rare–there’s usually a reason that a breed is rare, and often the reason is that it isn’t suited for most people’s lifestyles.
  • Those dogs need homes too–you knew the dog was wrong for you, but you got it anyway because you thought no one else would take it. You are not doing anyone (including the dog) a favor with this line of thinking. The dog would be better off waiting for a home where it can get the proper amount and type of stimulation for its energy level.
  • It was free–a dog should never be chosen because of convenience. In order to fit into your life, it requires a good deal of care and thought. There have been really great dogs people have gotten for free, but more often there’s a reason the dog is free.

One of the most common reasons we work with people and their dogs is a massive mismatch between the family’s lifestyle and the dog’s energy level. You have a job and a family busy with after school activities? Chances are most dogs are going to be under-stimulated in this environment. And this doesn’t mean that you can’t have a dog! It only means that you need to take a little extra care to select a dog that has low energy. Maybe (gasp!) a puppy isn’t even right for you, and you should consider adopting a young dog. Or if you are committed to selecting a puppy, talk with responsible breeders or responsible rescue workers about the puppy’s activity and exercise needs. Find a breed and individual that WANTS to laze around the house. They exist.

A problem with adoption is that a huge portion of dogs are surrendered because of this very problem. The dog was in a family that could not fulfill its physical and mental stimulation needs. This leads to behavior problems that often result in the dog being surrendered. Be selective. Make sure the dog you are bringing home will not find more of the same lack of fulfillment. If the dog doesn’t fit your lifestyle, let someone else adopt it.

If you frequent my blog, you’ve met my Sully before. Sully ended up in a shelter because his family was unable to fulfill his mental and physical activity needs. After four weeks with me, Sully now spends most of his day sleeping quietly while I do my work. Sounds great, doesn’t it? But what you don’t see during that time is how much work it takes to get that dog. Sully goes to class and trains with me 2-3 nights per week. Throughout the day, every day, I am constantly asking him to offer behaviors, do tricks, and follow commands. Every time he wants something from me, I ask for something from him first. If that sounds like a lot of work, then a dog like Sully is not the right dog for you. For me, working with Sully is fun, not a chore, and a dog with his desire to work deserves to be placed with someone who enjoys the job as much as he does. The change in Sully’s behavior over the last month has been astonishing. The day he came home, he stole everything he could get his mouth on, then ran away as fast as possible. Today, less than a month later, my kids can play on the floor and he rarely bothers their toys. If he does, I can calmly say, “Drop it,” and he does. Instead of pacing the house restlessly, he sleeps, or lies on the floor and watches me work. He’s not perfect, but he’s getting better all the time.

It happens, sometimes, that after working with people for awhile, they ask, “How long do I need to keep up this amount of work with the dog?”

It’s a hard question to be asked, because sometimes the answer is forever, and the fact that the family is asking us, tells us they don’t enjoy the time they are investing in the dog. It’s a chore, not a game. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not judging them. Not everyone wants to devote all their spare time to training their dog, and it’s not a necessary ingredient for owning one. Sadly, it is a requirement of owning that dog–the one they chose. When they tell me, “When I get home from work, I want to relax. I don’t want to have to work more with the dog,” I have a hard time knowing what to say. Because they can’t have that dog, have it behave, and live that lifestyle. So they’re trapped between a dog they love and a lifestyle they hate.

So do yourself a favor next time. Do an inventory of your life and find out how much energy your next dog should have. Not what type of dog you’ve always wanted, loved the look of, or admired on TV. Not sure how to do this? We will walk you through the process for free. Really. No strings attached. We do this because the best way to keep a dog in its home is by making sure it’s in the right home in the first place.

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