Puppies. They sure are cute. But one major reason people get a puppy is completely mistaken.
I said it once. You might have said it. You have friends who have said it. "I want a puppy so I can raise it to be exactly the dog I want."
It’s not our fault we think it’s possible to raise the perfect dog. The publishing industry has been working overtime to make us think so. If you go to the category "dog training" at Amazon.com in March 2013, the first book on the list is Cesar Millan’s How To Raise The Perfect Dog. Other titles include Sophia Yin’s Perfect Puppy In 7 Days, Sam Walker’s How To Raise the Perfect Puppy, Paul Silas’s Raising The Perfect Puppy ... you get the idea. These authors represent many different philosophies of dog training but there’s one thing they all seem to agree on: if you raise a puppy right, you get a perfect dog.
I believed this until I got a puppy. I got a puppy because I wanted the perfect dog. I bought books whose philosophies I trusted and I did everything right. Socializing, loving, boundaries, everything.
I love my dog. He’s a better-behaved, happier dog because I did all those things. But he’s not a perfect dog. He’s sweet and nervous and jumpy and kind, great with other dogs and skeptical about new people. He turned out to be ... himself.
The "person" check
Nowadays, I use a little reality check when someone makes a claim about dogs: if I put "person" in the sentence in place of "dog," would it make sense? This doesn’t always work, of course, but it’s often helpful. "All dogs of X breed are (aggressive, smart, sweet)" makes no more sense than "All Irish people are (whatever)." "All dogs want dominance" makes no more sense than "All people want dominance." And "How to raise the perfect dog" makes no more sense than "How to raise the perfect child."
Don’t get me wrong. The early development of both dogs and children is very important. There are better ways and worse ways to raise both dogs and children, and the better ways are definitely better. But each dog, like each person, is different. Puppies aren’t Play-Doh®. They are individual creatures. You can affect their adult personality with good or bad choices, but you can’t shape it.
So get a puppy by all means. Get one because they’re cute, and sweet, and fun, and because getting up in the middle of the night and the challenge of training, socializing, nurturing, and creating baby albums for your pup sounds like a blast to you. If you get a puppy, please adopt a shelter or rescue puppy, but go for it. Just don’t get one because you want a perfect dog. Young dogs will change as they get older, and you can’t predict exactly how, even if you’re "perfect" with your training and interaction.
The real perfect dog
If you want a dog you’re sure is perfect for you, there is a way to find one. Get to know several adult dogs. With adult dogs, like the best adult people, what you see (once you get to know them) is what you get. There’s an adult dog out there who is perfect for you.
Where is that perfect adult dog? Here’s the beauty of it – he or she is at your local shelter or rescue. Right now, probably.
(Shakira, in the picture and at our Milwaukee Campus, is four years old. She might be perfect. Read more about her here.)
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