Joan Merriam: Choosing a new dog, part two |

Joan Merriam: Choosing a new dog, part two

After making your list of what you want in a dog and you have found the breeder or shelter, Joan Merriam suggests, before making your final decision, to get to know your potential new dog first to be sure you are making the right choice for you or your family.
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Last month we talked about deciding to bring a new dog into your home. The next step is actually choosing that perfect pup.

But how, when there are so many choices, so many sad-eyed puppies and lonesome senior dogs?

Make a list

One way is to create a list of what you want in a dog, breaking it down into categories like “Must Have,” “Would Be Okay With,” “Prefer Not,” and “Absolutely Not.” Everyone in your family needs to agree, especially on the “Must Have” and “Absolutely Not.”

Keep in mind — and remind your children — that you may not get everything you want, but you need to stick to the criteria as closely as possible.

Think about it like getting a new car: most people don’t just go to any old dealer and randomly choose one that strikes their fancy. That’s a great way to get stuck with a vehicle that either has problems or isn’t right for your needs in the long run.

The same could be said for choosing a new dog. (And no, I’m not equating a dog with a car.)

Decide where to look

The next step is figuring out where to find your new dog. While my preference is always adoption, that’s a personal decision.

If you want a puppy or young dog and have decided to purchase, make sure you choose a responsible breeder. The Humane Society’s website has a great “How to Choose a Responsible Breeder” checklist — but regardless, be sure you and your family meet your pup in person before you take him home. Reputable breeders never ship or sell their puppies to strangers.

But let’s say you want to adopt. The first place many people go is their local shelter, and we have an excellent one in Sammie’s Friends.

Don’t assume that just because a dog is in a shelter, it’s a “problem dog.” Many dogs end up there because an owner had health or family issues, was forced to move or passed away. (My own Joey’s owner died, and he’s turned out to be a wonderful dog.)

You can also look at breed-specific rescue organizations, of which there are literally too many to count all across the nation. Just Google the name of the breed and the words “rescue California.” (Keep in mind that most rescue groups won’t permit adoptions outside their local region … so don’t fall in love with a Great Dane in North Dakota.)

Another option is to go a trustworthy website like PetFinder, Adopt-a-Pet or AllPaws. There, you can enter specifics on what type of dog you want and your geographic parameters.

Whether it’s a shelter or rescue organization, most will have done behavior and health assessments on their dogs. And speaking of health, don’t forget to tell your veterinarian you’re looking for a new dog.

Vets often know of clients who need to re-home their dog because of unforeseen circumstances.

Make your choice

Keep these things in mind when you’re ready to make that final decision:

How does the dog interact with humans? Ideally, she’s an equal-opportunity greeter, happily welcoming everyone no matter their age, race, gender or disability. A shy or fearful dog is probably not well-socialized, and will take a lot of work to become approachable.

If you have children, make sure your prospective pooch meets them first: if she’s hesitant or shows any signs of fear or aggression, she’s not for you.

How does the dog play? Some dogs, like Joey, have no idea how to play, whereas others are veritable terrors when playing.

Realize that if the dog gets overly-excited — yelping, barking, jumping on you, or is unwilling to calm down — he may be more of a training challenge.

Is the dog too “mouthy”? A dog needs to understand that putting teeth on humans isn’t appropriate. If she exhibits behaviors like hard or constant biting, nipping at clothes, growling, snapping or snarling, cross her off your list.

How does the dog handle touch? Can you pet him easily, rub your hands over his back or even gently hold him?

A dog that’s touch-phobic may have serious issues with bonding, which can last a lifetime without intensive and often professional behavior-modification work.

Does the dog get along with other dogs? This is especially important if you’re bringing a second dog into your home. Introduce your potential adoptee to your current dog.

Ideally, both will should show signs of joyful approval — or at the very least, tolerance.

One last thought: if you’re unsure about your ability to make a good choice, consider asking a trainer or behaviorist, or even a dog-knowledgeable friend, for help.

Others can often spot both positive and negative aspects of a prospective adoptee because they’re not emotionally involved in the choice.

Happy searching!

Joan Merriam lives in Nevada County with her Golden Retriever Joey, her Maine Coon cat Indy, and the abiding spirit of her beloved Golden Retriever Casey in whose memory this column is named. You can reach Joan at And if you’re looking for a Golden, be sure to check out Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue.

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