By Nancy Carlson • Columnist • 

Happy Tails: Picking your perfect puppy

In my last Happy Tails column, I wrote a synopsis of a synopsis. The summer 2015 issue of BARK magazine featured an article touching on the most salient points in a 50-page report from Harvard Medical School called “Get Healthy, Get a Dog.” That report reviewed numerous studies showing that a dog — if we go to the trouble to build a relationship with him — is good for us.

Happy Tails

Nancy Carlson has an enduring interest in the bond between humans and animals.

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I find it no coincidence that the article immediately following that one was “The (Next) Love of Your Life: Choosing the Dog Who’s Right for You,” by Karen B. London, Ph.D.

The cliche we all know is that dogs are man’s best friend. I hope to make the case that owning a dog is more like a marriage than a friendship, however, at least in terms of the level of commitment.

Even our best human friends are free to come and go; your dog is not. Longtime friends with whom we have common histories and interests to bind us together can get on our nerves, or we on theirs, from time to time. At which point you may give each other some space for a while and then try again, or not. But either way, both you and your human friend make a choice. Our dogs are stuck with us, and we with them, unless we re-home them or relinquish them to a shelter, which is a sad and emotionally draining experience to be avoided if at all possible.

So let’s review. We only gain the health benefits of dog ownership if we develop a meaningful relationship with the dog. And whether the companion is human or canine, it’s a heck of a lot easier to develop meaningful relationships with an individual you like than one who is constantly frustrating you.

There are no guarantees, but if you choose a purebred dog, and do your homework, the odds of finding your perfect canine mate can improve. You start by comparing your interests and aspirations with a breed’s history. If you want to compete in canine sports like agility or obedience, you do not get a hound of any kind. If you want a couch potato companion, you do not get a herding dog, or at least not a young one. It’s fairly simple to look at a dog’s history in terms of what he was bred to provide to humankind and get a glimpse of the future you might have with this dog.

Once you pick a breed, research the breeder. Selecting a reliable and responsible breeder is a topic for a another column, but you can start by going to the breed club. Every American Kennel Club breed has one, and most of them have websites that sort the breeders by geographical location. Find some within a reasonable driving distance (for some breeds, that may mean Idaho or beyond), contact them and start working on convincing them that you are a person worthy of one of their precious puppies. (Hint: Try not to shop by price. A $500 pup is obviously a lot less expensive than a $1,000 one, but $500 is a pittance compared to the vet bills and heartbreak a poorly bred dog will bring you.)

You will want to ask questions about how they breed away from the genetic diseases inherent in every breed (but do your homework and find out what specific diseases your breed of interest is vulnerable to), and what priority they give to breeding for good temperaments. I can go on and on about finding reliable breeders — if you want more information, e-mail me and I’ll be happy to help.

Another advantage of buying a purebred pup from a reliable breeder is that you will have the opportunity to meet at least one of the pup’s parents, rarely the case when you adopt a dog from a shelter. According to the BARK article, and many other authorities, “The best predictor of a dog’s behavior is the parent’s behavior.” Breeders almost always have at least one parent on the premises, and if they don’t own the stud, they can at least give you their reasons for choosing him, and tell you where you can find him if you want to see him for yourself.

If the breeder is reluctant to let you interact with a parent, get your puppy from somebody else. Aggressive or fearful behavior in dogs is as much a factor of nature as nurture, and remember that you are making a “till death do you part” commitment. You might as well get the very best dog for you.

But many, many of you out there are choosing to adopt a dog from a shelter, which is wonderful and honorable but has its own set of pitfalls that you want to avoid if you can. So many, in fact, that if I continue this now I will take up much more space than normally allotted for this column. So I will continue the topic next time.

Can you wait two weeks to adopt your dog? If not, I suggest you find the summer issue of BARK and read the article yourself. Trust me, it’s worth your time.

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