by Don Hanson
For the past two months, I’ve written about people’s perceptions of what makes a dog the “perfect” choice for them, and how behavior affects the relationship and experience we have with a dog.
I want to start this month by addressing the variety of medical issues that can affect behavior. Behavior problems can begin before birth if mom is unhealthy or stressed. The endocrine system which produces hormones can negatively affect behavior when it is not working properly, such as with thyroid
and adrenal issues. Neurological, orthopedic, and even gastrointestinal disorders, or any medical issue that causes pain or discomfort can also cause our dog to behave differently. even an adverse reaction to a vaccination may cause an undesirable behavior change. The simple act of aging can change behavior as hearing and sight diminish or cognitive disorders manifest themselves. At the first sign of a behavior problem with your dog, talk about it with your veterinarian. Do not wait a week, a month, or years. your dog’s life and your safety, and that of others may depend on it. Also, understand that the longer an undesirable behavior occurs, the less likely we can change it.
What can we do to optimize our odds of getting a “perfect” dog?
Do your research – Before you even start looking for a dog, thoughtfully consider what you want and expect in a dog. not all dogs behave the same way due to selective breeding for certain behavioral traits. Some may express behaviors that are normal but that we may not want to deal with, such as herding dogs around children. When I counsel someone looking for a dog, I focus on behavior and health. What a dog looks like is a low priority for me. When doing your research, talk to pet care professionals with experience with the behavior of many breeds; trainers, behavior consultants, and veterinarians will be your best option. Professionals are more likely to give you an objective opinion than a breeder or rescue who wants you to take a dog home. Be aware that if you are considering a rescue dog, it is likely to be a mixed-breed, and the odds of knowing the precise mix of breeds are incredibly small without a DNA test. even if we know a mixed breed’s genetic profile, predicting behavior can be difficult if not impossible.
Note: I have nothing against rescue dogs or mixed breeds. Seven of my nine dogs were rescues. My objective is to suggest what you can do that gives you the highest probability of getting the dog that meets your definition of “perfect.” Sadly, we seldom get all of the information we need about a rescue to make a reliable prediction of future behavior. I believe that you will have the best chance of getting the dog you want by getting a puppy of a known DNA lineage from a reputable breeder.
See your dog’s parents - Genetics cannot be changed, so the best way to prevent your dog’s DNA from negatively affecting your concept of “perfect” is for you to make sure that you get to see your dog’s parents, so you can observe its behavior. If you notice any behavior of concern, look elsewhere.
Immediately work with a force- free professional trainer – Before you bring your puppy or dog home, select a trainer. The trainer can help you meet your puppy’s socialization needs between 8 and 16 weeks of age. This is a critical period for learning and habituation, and it ends quickly. Most of the dogs brought to me for fear and aggression were not adequately or appropriately socialized. A professional can also help you with the most common puppy problem behaviors such as play-biting, housetraining, jumping up on people, and chewing. Most people unintentionally train the puppy to do what they don’t want. A professional will teach you what and how to reward behavior, so the dog does what you want.
Continue working with a trainer who will teach you how to most effectively and humanely train your dog until you and your dog have mastered the behaviors that are important to the success of your relationship.
Be patient and accepting with yourself and your dog – you are only human, and like all other humans, you’re not “perfect,” and neither is your dog. While I understand the desire to have a “perfect" dog, and I believe it is a noble goal, at its best, it is nothing more than a hypothetical construct.
We will only know if we have had a “perfect” dog when it passes, and we can look back on its life and say, “My dog was perfect.” I have enjoyed and benefited from every dog in my life. Almost everyone had some characteristics that might be classified as “perfect,” but each also had some quirks. Those flaws or quirks made the dog the amazing individual I will never forget.