Choosing a dog… for Layla?

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 and her friend Gentle Ben. Ben was probably the best companion dog for Layla to ever live with us.

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.

Layla and Pugsley Hill take a breather during a play session. Pugs was a great friend for Layla, but would not have been a good housemate as he resource guarded food from 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.

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6 Comments

Filed under Breeding, Choosing a Dog, Dog Selection, Layla, Rescue

6 responses to “Choosing a dog… for Layla?

  1. Interesting post, Sara.

    I’ve flirted with the idea of getting a second dog off and on now for over a year. (Currently have decided against it.) I love that you made a list for both of you. I have pretty clear ideas about what I want in a dog, but should I choose to bring a second dog home, it seems smart to take Maisy’s preferences into account.

    I also like your thought about getting an adult. I’d love to get a puppy, but you never know what you’re going to get…

    Do you have any thoughts about what age the first dog should be when you add a second? Is there a point at which the second dog becomes too old to adapt easily?

  2. I don’t think there are any hard and fast rules about how old a dog should be before getting another one. I think for my situation, if I were getting puppies, every 5 years would be about perfect. That way there would always be one young trained dog to compete with, one older dog who may be still competing in veterans or may be retired, and possibly (God willing) an old retired dog. The current dog would be well out of its puppyhood before bringing another puppy home.

    I don’t think it’s a good idea to have two puppies simultaneously, so don’t like the idea of bringing a puppy into a home with a dog under 2 years old. Again, that’s personal preference. I also think senior dogs should be carefully considered before bringing a young, energetic dog into the mix. I’ve known homes where a senior dog was given new life by bringing a young dog home, and also known homes where a senior dog’s last years became hell because of constant torment by a young dog.

    I think more than looking at age, it’s important to look at the individual dog’s personality and try to find a good match for him or her. I don’t think people should get dogs for their dogs. They should get a dog because the person wants a dog, and try to take their current dog’s needs into consideration. But getting a dog for a dog can cause problems.

    I also think that you need to be willing to live with the fact that your current dog isn’t going to be all rainbows and pink ponies about the new addition. It’s normal for there to be an adjustment period, both right at first (Layla wouldn’t eat for the first 24 hours after I brought foster Lyric home, even though she ended up really enjoying him later on) and after the honeymoon period is over. I think Patricia McConnell’s running into the end of the honeymoon now, and that’s a tough place to be. After 1-4 months (depending on the dog), there’s likely to be a second adjustment period. It’s important to be prepared for things to suddenly seem worse for a period of time after the new dog has adjusted and his/her true personality begins emerging more strongly. Speaking of which, I really hope that my dog friends will be ready to remind me of this when I panic two months after bringing a new dog home when things seem to be falling apart!

    I would love to see Maisy’s list. What do you think she would want in another dog? Also, do you think that her housemate preferences and her play buddy preferences would be the same, or would they be different? It’s something I’ve been thinking about recently, since I think Layla’s preferences are quite different depending on whether she has to actually live with a dog or just visit it for an hour of fun.

  3. Yes, part of the reason I’ve decided to hold off on getting a second dog is because I don’t really want one. I think Maisy might like having a playmate, but, well, she has the cat (and they really do play with each other!)… for me, Maisy is more than enough dog!

    Still, if we were to get a second dog… Physically, we’re probably going with a male (although she has a female friend). Smallish. I think height is a bit more important than weight (at least to Maisy), so I’m thinking in the 10″ to 16″ range. White or red- she has a harder time with black dogs. Ears matter- Maisy tends to be reactive towards dogs with with prick ears, though it matters less when the dogs her her sized and light colored.

    Play style: Maisy loves chase games, so the other dog would need to be the same way. She does NOT like physical games, and this includes both wrestling AND in your face type of games.

    Personality-wise, it needs to be a fairly laid back, easy-going dog. Maisy is very intense, and has a tendency to resource guard, so she does better with a dog who won’t be too pushy. Her best friend/our cat is incredibly laid back. Nothing phases him, and he never gets in her space like the other cat does.

    As for the rest… I’d like a puppy, but I’m not sure that’s the best choice for Maisy, what with the uncertainty of it all. I have a STRONG preference for corgis, although I know they have prick ears. I do NOT want a dog who needs grooming- I’m wash and wear all the way, though I do like a fuzzy dog. I want something smart, affectionate, and people-oriented. Probably nothing too over the top, but also not a couch potato. A dog with a good sense of humor is a must- the kind of dog who will be reinforced by laughter, even though that will be insanely annoying at times.

    But for now… not yet. Maisy and I have a lot we need to work out first (ahem, reactivity), and I already feel guilty enough about how little time I spend with her.

  4. Your list of what you want almost perfectly describes my Amelia. Unfortunately, you will have to pry her out of my cold, dead hands. There’s no way I’m sending her to you!

    You might want to contact BRAT (Basenji Rescue and Transport) and see what they have in an older, known-quantity basenji.

    Basenjis have a sense of humor, they’re wicked smart (in the worst way), they’re definitely wash-n-wear. Even for showing Professor, I just use the spray-on wipe-off coat cleaner, never bother with a full bath. They can be prey-driven (Amelia is), not so hot on toys (although Professor is learning to tug), most are pretty good eaters. I’ve heard them described as the smart kids–not the ones that get a full ride scholarship to Harvard, but the ones that hack into the school computer, and sell all the exam answers for cigarette money.

    My household right now consists of Amelia, 11 yo queen of the universe; her sire that came to live with us at 8yo when her breeder died suddenly; and now the 7 mo Professor. Professor is mine, but Amelia has contributed to whipping him into shape as a housemate. They all tolerate one another pretty well, though we do have occasional snarks when I’m fixing dinner and we get a traffic jam in the kitchen. I just send everyone out of the room and it settles pretty well.

  5. This post is pretty old, but I thought I’d comment anyway. For my next dog (a LONG time in the future) I’d like to actually CHOOSE the dog! I would love to have a list of criteria and pick the dog that fits them. With Lok–I got the first border collie I found in a shelter after I bought a house and was in a position to have a dog. Jun and Elo just found their way into my life and never left. I don’t consider myself particularly spiritual, but I really believe all of them were meant to be mine, even though none of them are quite what I had planned. Somehow, they all seem to fit, despite all the many and varied issues between them.

    I was hesitant to add Jun and then Elo because of Lok’s preference for being an only dog. Both of them sort of bullied him at first (stealing toys and chews and rough play). But Lok seems to value stability more than anything, and while the constant change of fosters seemed to bother him, he has come to accept Jun and Elo as long-term family members. He and Elo are best buddies now and play daily.

    If I were to get a dog for Elo, it would be a young easy-going male, preferably a cattle dog. That seems to be the type of dog he gets along with best and plays with best. If I were to get another dog for Jun . . . I don’t really think it would matter. Jun’s focus is on me pretty exclusively.

  6. Pingback: In Which Layla Wants a Dog | Lessons From Layla

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