I’m still planning to post on choosing a dog from a shelter, but wanted to talk a bit more about my own personal search for a dog, and how that will likely impact Layla. This is a subject that has a large part of the blog-reading dog community in an uproar right now, due to Patricia McConnell’s recent posts about her dogs Willie and Hope (which you can read here and here).
Layla is not the ideal dog for a multi-dog household. In fact, I think if asked she would much prefer to be the only dog for the rest of her life, thankyouverymuch. She’s pushy, a resource guarder (food, toys, and locations), and quick to spark up. When she gets into a fight or goes after another dog, she tends to break skin, although she doesn’t do major damage (small scratches or a single small puncture are typical). She does a lot of posturing, her play skills have deteriorated over the past few years, and her back/neck issues (most likely caused by two herniated discs) put her at risk of re-injury during a scuffle or wild play. Easy to match up, she is not. That said, she is fairly easy to manage provided I listen to what she’s telling me and provide plenty of structure.
I’m not an easy owner to match to a dog either. For one thing, I’m not immediately attracted to the best prospects. Broken dogs fascinate me. Show me a 12-year-old, three legged, one-eyed, epileptic Pit Bull who obsesses over window blinds and has fear issues with people touching his tail, and I’ll slap the money for an adoption fee down right this instant. I want to save the world, and I have a special place in my heart for seniors and dogs with medical issues who no one else wants. On top of that, I find behavior fascinating, especially abnormal behavior. Did I mention that I also want to do dog sports and have a strong bias against biddable breeds? You see where there could be a problem here.
Looking at my situation, I decided to write up two lists. First, I made a list for Layla. If Layla could choose our next dog (and remaining an only dog wasn’t an option), which qualities would she require and which would she want? Then, if I didn’t have Layla and could have any dog in the world, what qualities would I require and which would I want? Our lists looked something like this:
Layla’s ideal dog: must be male, preferably intact. Would prefer an older adult or senior. Needs to be medium-sized: toy or teacup breeds could be in danger due to her high prey drive, and large or giant breeds could put her more at risk for re-injuring her back. A calm but very self-assured dog would be best (a natural leader). Must not be confrontational about resources. A dog with a similar play style (chase and be chased) would be best. Breed-wise, Layla prefers Pit Bulls, likely because she was very well socialized to Pits as a young dog. She also seems to like most sighthounds we’ve met. She prefers not to be touched by other dogs.
My ideal dog: would be female. I like confident, outgoing, and very intelligent dogs, which usually also means a dog who is a bit pushy, manipulative, and quick to take advantage of a situation. I prefer dogs who think for themselves rather than waiting to be told what to do, and who have a sense of humor (even if that sense of humor means that I am often the butt of a joke!). The dog should have pretty high food, toy, and chase drive. While Layla is not a cuddly dog, I’m very tactile and love dogs who melt into my lap. I like unusual dogs and don’t want to be another person who gets a clone-copy Border Collie to do dog sports with. It’s important to me that my next dog be safe around all people (including children) and will be tolerant of other dogs on leash, as I would like a dog who I can use for dog training demos. I do NOT want to have to do major grooming, so need a dog who is wash’n’wear. I prefer smaller dogs simply because they’re cheaper to feed and vet, but do not want a dog who is so small that I worry about stepping on it or having it fill up too quickly when using food rewards for training.
After looking at these lists, I was able to better put together a list of the qualities that my next dog should have:
- Male (Layla wins this one. I strongly believe opposite-sex pairings are safer and less likely to have issues down the road.)
- 12-45 pounds (We agreed on this point!)
- Short haired, may consider rough wire-type coat if not overly heavy (Layla has no preference to coat type that I know of, and I don’t want to groom. This was an easy one.)
- Strong preference for sighthound or terrier type dog (Layla and I both like sighthounds. I like terriers. She likes Pit Bulls, but my landlord’s insurance doesn’t allow them. Honestly, both sighthounds and terriers can be more likely to spark back at a dog, so I could be getting myself in trouble here by choosing a breed type less known to be tolerant of other dogs. This is where a careful evaluation of the individual dog, thoughtful integration into my household, and a dose of luck will come in.)
- Moderate drive (Too high drive increases the likelihood of resource guarding issues between the two dogs, but I also need a dog who can be motivated for the sake of training. With the Premack principle on my side, as well as knowledge of the principles of shaping, I would hope that I can increase my chosen dog’s drive for food/toys if that becomes necessary.)
- No strong preference as to age, except in the case of a rescue dog with an unknown background in which case he should be at least 2 years, preferably 3 or older. (Dog-dog tolerance levels tend to change as a dog matures, and a younger dog could mature to be less social than originally thought. Many game dogs do not really “turn on” to other dogs until eighteen to twenty-four months. There is likely a genetic component to this (although socialization experiences also influence the final result). The last thing we need is for the dog to mature just as dog-selective as Layla!)
It’s very clear to me that I am not getting a dog for Layla. She doesn’t want a dog. She wants to be The Only Dog and continue in her role as Queen of the Universe. She doesn’t like fostering either, but I ask her to allow me to foster dogs on occasion. That said, I think that she does enjoy hanging out with certain other dogs, and there are even dogs who she enjoys playing with. We recently fostered a hound mix puppy who she really did seem to enjoy after the initial 48-hour adjustment period, and she seemed a bit depressed after he was adopted. She has also successfully lived with Duke, whose dog skills are very deficient, as well as fosters of different ages (although adults have always been males). If I didn’t believe that she would adjust to a second dog, I may not consider adding to our family.
What about your canine household? In what ways do you take your current dog(s) into consideration when planning to add to the pack? Do you and your dog(s) agree about which qualities you would prefer in another dog, and if not, in what ways do you compromise? I still plan to post about what I personally look for in a shelter or rescue organization, but may also write more about managing our canine household (including my views on fostering and how foster dogs are different than Forever dogs) or Layla’s specific dog-dog tolerance level if they’re topics that interest people.