How to Raise the Perfect Dog
Choosing the Right Dog for You
I firmly believe there is a dog out there for everyone, but to choose the right one, you need to be realistic about your limitations and what you can give them. Buying a puppy is almost as easy nowadays as ordering this book online. But the truth is, a puppy isn’t a product you can stick in a cupboard and forget about if you don’t like it. And they are definitely not something we should buy just because they’d look nice in our house . . . or because they’re popular right now . . . or because someone down the road has just got one . . . or you’ve seen one you like on TV.
Have a word with yourself before you even start thinking about looking for a puppy. You have to be realistic about what you can bring to the table. You might think you’re going to get fit by walking your dog every day—and this is true—but can you put your hand on your heart and say you’ll be able to give a dog the exercise it needs for the next ten, maybe even fifteen, years? An under-exercised dog will undoubtedly make your life hell (you’ll make their life hell too).
And what about training? Yes, this book will show you how to train your dog. But it’s not going to physically do it for you. That’s still your job, I’m afraid. Training is time-consuming and requires your total focus and attention, especially in the early days when your puppy is learning so much and taking everything in like a mad thing. Then you’ve got to find the money to feed them, and vet bills can add up, especially if your dog’s breed has specific problems. And then there’s a thing called BREED FULFILLMENT.
What is breed fulfillment?
You’ll want to know about this as I’ll talk a lot about it in this book. As we know them today, dogs have come from a long line of ancestors who were bred for a specific purpose, from hunting and guarding to rescuing or just sitting on someone’s lap (that’s why they’re called lapdogs).
Whatever your dog was originally bred to do is called its breed genetic disposition, the characteristics and instincts that have been bred into their physical and psychological profiles over centuries. Maybe your greyhound needs bursts of intense speed every day—that’s their genetic disposition to race—or your terrier needs to pull and “rag” on toys to emulate how they might pull a rat out of a hole.
Fulfilling these basic genetic urges through the kind of play, activities, and general lifestyle you give your puppy is called breed fulfillment. It’s about helping your dog behave in its most natural and instinctive way. And like all of us, dogs are happiest and at their best when their basic needs are being met. More on breed fulfillment as we go along, but here’s a GOLDEN RULE: Ask yourself if you can deliver what’s necessary to keep your dog stimulated and breed-fulfilled in the right way.
As well as breed fulfillment, there are a few other things I want you to think about and ask yourself or discuss with your family or partner—or basically anyone else who is going to be involved in the dog’s life.
These are especially important if this is your first time owning a dog:
•What size dog do you want? Yes, size matters! Small dogs are generally cheaper to buy equipment for and take up less room on your sofa. Their food bills are smaller, and generally, their poos are too. They are also easier to transport and tend to live longer on average. Big dogs have a much larger presence; you will always know they are there. Larger dogs can generally handle a bit more rough-and-tumble.
•Exercise requirements. Every dog has different exercise needs, both physical and mental. Be realistic about how much time you can give that dog daily. Do not be fooled into thinking small dogs need less exercise! Dogs who have been bred for working (shepherds, spaniels, terriers, etc.) will require a lot of exercise and make your life difficult if they don’t get it.
•Are you passive or assertive? This is an important one. If you are a passive owner, you might want to swerve from the headstrong breeds, such as bulldogs, as they will exploit you given half the chance! Passive owners would be more suited to something with a soft nature, such as a greyhound.
•How much does the dog shed? If you are dreaming of a blue-eyed husky, are you also prepared to vacuum the carpet five times a day? You will have fur in your dinner, bath, and cup of tea! It’s relentless. If you want a dog that doesn’t shed tons, look at something like a Labradoodle or other so-called hypoallergenic breeds (but remember, there is no such thing as a fully hypoallergenic dog; it’s all about their saliva and how much they slobber).
•Slobber! That’s right; everyone loves a St. Bernard until they have slobber dripping from their ceiling! You must take this into consideration—larger dogs tend to be more slobbery. If you’re the sort of person who keeps everything nice and tidy, this dog will not be your friend.
•Health. Breeding will play a part in this, but generally speaking, certain breeds have fewer ailments than others. Potential vet bills are definitely something to consider. Brachycephalic dogs (dogs with flat faces like pugs and French bulldogs) will often have more health issues than, say, Border collies, who tend to have very few health issues.
•Breed fulfillment. I know, I’ve said it already, but it is so important I’m saying it twice. Can you actually meet your dog’s breed requirements—the impulses and drives that they have been bred for? Can you incorporate that, or something similar, into the training? An unfulfilled dog will be miserable and will make your life miserable too.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to put you off. I love dogs, and I think everyone can benefit from having one in their life. If you’re still unsure which breed is right for you, let me suggest a few that I think make brilliant first dogs.
My top five first-time dogs
Every trainer and dog lover will tell you something different about what breeds are best for you. At the end of the day, it’s your choice. But these are my top five dogs for a first-time owner. I’ve chosen them based on a decade’s experience of working with breeds of all sorts and seeing firsthand some of the common problems among dogs. These five are all typically easygoing, good-natured, smart, and willing to learn. The Rottweiler man in me can observe occasional “over-friendliness” in these breeds, but that’s not a bad thing for beginners, and basically makes them perfect for the novice trainer. If your heart is set on an American bully, but you’ve never had a dog before, think about having one of these dogs first—you can always grow your family later on (but, PLEASE, never get a second dog until your first one is properly trained!).
There’s a reason these dogs are favorite dogs for families—they’re calm and very affectionate (soppy). They are extremely intelligent and energetic, so they are easy to train and great for families who like the outdoors. They’re classed as medium-sized dogs, but some of them can get pretty big. Grooming requirements are fairly minimal (barring some heavy shedding), just a decent brush twice a week is all you really need, along with the occasional nail trim.
These gentle giants are originally from Canada, where they were bred to help humans with everything from sea rescues and hauling fishing nets to pulling logs and retrieving. They’ve got big, shaggy coats and, in my experience, slobber everywhere. But they’re also fiercely loyal, loving, and intelligent, making them an excellent choice for first-time dog owners, especially families. They’re not small though, so make sure you’ve got the room. They will grow up to be very strong dogs, so training from the get-go is essential.
As with the Newfoundland, this is a big dog with a big heart, with the bonus of looking kind of like a lion (they were originally bred in Germany to look like lions!). Confident but not aggressive, friendly but not crazy, these are great first-time dogs—but again, only for those with the space at home.
Labradors are the nation’s favorite pet dog, and for good reason. They’re clever, kind, affectionate, and calm. It’s no coincidence they’re the breed used as guide dogs for the blind—they are just so smart and reliable. You can’t go wrong here.
Border terriers are small and short-haired, so they shed far less than dogs with longer coats. In my experience, they are a highly intelligent breed and generally very easy to train. They’re also exceptional with people and children and have bags of character. They were originally bred to hunt rodents, so they’re determined and brave—but getting socialization right is key to avoiding aggression toward other animals.
At the end of the day, whichever breed you choose, this book will help you. Just remember this GOLDEN RULE: YOU’VE GOT TO PUT THE WORK IN!