This is the story of how I picked out my current dog, Rosie.
Rosie, the perfect dog for me.
When my previous dogs Ally and Daisy died within 58 days of each other, after being an integral part of my life for almost a decade, I knew that I would miss having a dog in my life, and that my search for a new dog would begin almost immediately. Everyone grieves differently, and some need to allow the passing of time without a dog to feel that they’ve fully honored their beloved, but I had a gaping dog sized hole in my heart after the loss of Ally and Daisy, one only a new dog could fill.
Ally and Daisy living their best lives in nature.
I was working at the Humane Society of Utah at the time, so I had easy access to a wide range of available dogs. After working in the animal welfare field for a decade, much of that time specifically focused on behavioral assessment and rehabilitation, and sharing my life with two dogs, who, although perfect in my eyes, did each have a behavioral challenge that made them more challenging to live with (reactivity and resource guarding), I knew that what I most wanted in my new dog was an individual who was as healthy as possible, physically and mentally.
Some people in my life thought, and even said aloud to me, that since I am a highly skilled, experienced dog trainer, with experience managing and improving a wide variety of canine behavioral concerns, I should adopt one of the most challenging dogs at my shelter, one of the dogs that other people can’t handle, one who needed the adult only, highly managed, only pet home that I could provide. While I personally know people who chose that route, who feel called to be a refuge to those dogs, I knew myself and my needs well enough to know that what I needed was an easy dog.
I am a person who takes my dog on vacation with me, traveling hours in the car, and staying in other people’s homes with their assorted children and pets. I take my dog hiking, and I live in a city where even the most remote trails inevitably have other people and dogs. I socialize with other dog moms and their dogs, so I needed a dog who could get along with a wide variety of dogs, cats, children, and change. After spending so much time managing dog/dog reactivity with Ally and dog/dog resource guarding with Daisy, I knew that I wanted an “easy” dog this time around.
So I sent out an email to my coworkers, asking them to keep an eye out for my ideal dog. (I worked in the behavior department, and worked mostly with the “problem” dogs, so I knew my ideal dog was likely to pass through the shelter system without being flagged for my professional inspection. In the email, I outlined my criteria for my perfect dog:
1. Female (This is just a personal preference, likely stemming from growing up with a female dog, and then falling in love with two female dogs as adults. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with male dogs, and I’ve grown fond of many individual male dogs throughout my animal welfare and training career.)
2. Age 2-4 years old. Don’t get me wrong, I love puppies with all my heart, but my life at the time was not conducive to raising a puppy properly, what with working 10-hour days away from home. And adolescent dogs? Again, lovely creatures, I spent lots of time with them professionally, but not the right fit for my life at the time. A young adult dog, past all the typical shenanigans, but with still much life to live, was my goal.
Puppies are amazing, but so much work!
3. Nothing brachycephalic, dwarfed, folded, or otherwise intentionally maladaptive. I’ve seen too many dogs suffering – unable to walk without wheezing, joint disease, infected skin folds, etc, to want to bring a dog with these features into my life. I know there are many people who love their dogs with these features very much, and are offended by the idea that people think they should no longer be bred, but I am a pragmatist at heart when it comes to canine form and function.
Sweet dogs, but so many medical issues!
4. No terriers, no toys, no hounds, no artic breeds, no guardian breeds. Again, nothing against any of these types of dogs, I’ve known and loved dogs of all these types, they’re just not the right dog for my current lifestyle and preferences. For instance, I am a big advocate for letting dogs be dogs and giving them opportunities to perform their normal behaviors, including vocalizations. However, I personally prefer quieter dogs, so it wouldn’t make sense for me to acquire a hound or a husky, who are known for their vocalizations. Basically, I am most drawn to the sporting and herding breeds, due to their functionality and temperament.
5. Good history with humans and dogs. My shelter at the time had two main ways of sourcing dogs – surrendered by their owners, who completed a health and behavioral history on them at the time of intake, and transferred from municipal shelters, who generally arrived without much in the way of behavioral history, since they often originated as stray dogs picked up on the streets without historical details. I was not opposed to a dog transferred in without a history, since it’s possible to get a sense of a dog after spending some time with them, but the known history does make the process easier. My definition of “good history” meant generally neutral or friendly when meeting novel people and dogs.
6. Generally healthy at the time – no chronic conditions or indications of ill health. I’d spent the last couple years of Ally and Daisy’s lives managing an assortment of old dog ailments, so I was ready to take a break from infirmary for a while and focus on enjoying a dog who could fully enjoy their body’s capabilities.
7. Medium sized, 40-70 pounds. This again, is just a personal preference, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with small or large dogs, I am just a mid-sized dog person myself, again perhaps because I’m drawn towards the pragmatism of the mid-range, away from the extremes.
Tiny Snow, one of my fosters. I prefer a more substantial dog.
Several days went by and nobody flagged any dogs for my examination, and I started to wonder, “Are my criteria too narrow? Does the dog that I want even exist?” I knew in my logical brain that of course many such dogs existed, I’d met countless of them over my years working in shelters, I just had to be patient. But every morning waking up in a house without a dog made my heart a little bit sadder.
Finally, after about a week of looking, I walked into a kennel-filled room and saw a black and white, fluffy face looking out of the glass top of the kennel, stress panting, eyes dilated, looking like she was trying to figure out how in the world she’d ended up in this terrible place. I clocked the green collar around her neck, my shelter’s identification of an “easy dog,” and immediately ran up to my office and pulled up her profile, to see if she might be the one.
Her name was Asta, and she’d been surrendered along with another dog due to the life situation of the guardian. So far, so good. She was listed as a border collie mix, and described as friendly towards new people, new dogs, and children. She was chunky at 52 pounds and had no known health issues. She was listed as being 7 years old, and since she’d lived with her previous guardian since she was a puppy, it seemed likely that was an accurate age.
So, other than being older than I’d been looking for, she seemed like a perfect match. I decided to bring her up to my office to spend some time with her.
Rosie decompressing in my office on the day I met her at the Humane Society of Utah.
She was still stressed to be in a new place without her people, but started to relax as soon as I took her out of the kennel and into my office. She was open to interaction, but also willing to just relax on her own. She was willing to take treats from me right away. She was interested in politely sniffing everyone who entered my office to meet her.
After an hour of decompression time, I recruited a coworker to help me assess her dog skills. I introduced her to a young playful dog, an older chill dog, and a dog who wanted nothing to do with her. She was polite and appropriate with them all, so I sent her photo to my husband to let him know I was brining home our maybe new dog.
Like many progressive shelters, the Humane Society of Utah has a no hassle return policy, so although I took her home, it was with the understanding that if she wasn’t actually the right fit for my home, I could return her without judgement. I’m a big fan of this policy, and wish it was more widespread in the animal welfare world, because there are so many things that you just can’t know about how a dog is going to fit into your life until you bring it home.
When I adopted Ally, my first dog, from the now defunct Fairy Dog Mothers rescue, they had a mandatory 10 day waiting period from when you took the dog home until you could officially make the decision to adopt. At the time, as a brand new dog guardian, I thought it was weird, as I loved Ally with my whole heart the moment I met her, but knowing now what I didn’t know then, it’s fabulous.
Anyways, I took Rosie home on April 11, 2022, in the midst of a mild snowstorm, and introduced her to my husband and my home. She was a bit stressed out her first few days, but adapted quickly, and has been the perfect dog for me ever since.
Rosie on the snowy April night I brought her home.
This is not intended to be a how-to for everyone searching for a new dog of their own, as everyone’s journey will look a little different, but I do think it’s important to really think about what characteristics you’re looking for in a dog before starting your search. I’ve seen too many people fall in love with a cute face and end up with a dog who isn’t the right fit for their life. I highly encourage anyone on the search for a new dog to make an actual list of the age, size, energy level, sociability, coat type, temperament, etc. that suits their life, and then search for a dog based on those criteria.
If you’re overwhelmed by the options, I do offer a service to help you make the best decision for your home, whether it’s acquiring a puppy, or an adult, from a responsible breeder, rescue, or a private rehoming situation.