There is a lot to think about when picking out a dog that fits your family. What size and gender? Do you prefer long or short hair, or something in between? Do you have colors you prefer? Or maybe a breed/breed mix that you are keen on? Something that will run 15 miles a day or is more the couch potato type?
The list goes on and on. But one of the most important things is often overlooked – temperament. As a dog trainer, I fully understand the impact of good training on how a dog behaves, but a dog that starts out with a great temperament will be much easier for a family to handle overall. So, when choosing a dog, temperament really should be one of the first things you look pay attention to; but how do you know if a dog had a nice temperament?
Shelters are scary. Most dogs in there are not acting like “themselves.” This makes it even harder to tell what a dog’s temperament is. If you can, try to visit the dog a couple times before making a decision. This way, you start to become familiar and you might get a better idea of his temperament.
Also, ask if there is a volunteer or staff member who has spent more time with the dog, then speak to that person about the dog’s disposition. He may have warmed up more to a particular person, showing them a bit more of his personality. It’s not a sure indicator of how the dog will be when he gets comfortable at home, but it can help.
Robin Bennett, CPDT-KA, is an expert in canine body language and behavior. An author of several books pertaining to doggy daycares, including how to tell if a dog is a good candidate for group play and teaching people how to understand dog body language, she has a lot of experience when it comes to assessing a dog’s temperament.
The following are Bennett’s tips on choosing a dog with the right temperament for your family:
#1 – General Socialness
The best family pet is a dog who is highly social. That means the dog will approach and interact with you softly when you pet him or talk with him. Social dogs enjoy being near you and won’t just come up to sniff you and then move onto something else when you reach out to pet them. So I would always look for sociability over anything else because social dog is more willing to forgive the crazy things people sometimes do to dogs that dogs really don’t enjoy.
#2 – Reaction to Kids
If you have children, the best match would be a dog that is more social toward your children than anything else. I would like to have the kids there to pick the dog and would look for a dog that enters the room and makes a beeline to the kids. The interaction with the kids should be soft, not just a dog that knocks into them. And I would prefer the dog choose to stay with the children for 3-5 seconds after the kids start petting the dog.
#3 – Level of Shyness
Unless you are a dog trainer or a very experienced pet owner, I would avoid the dog that is too scared to approach people or hides from you, even if that dog will allow you to crawl in the corner and sit with him. Normally this type of dog needs more work to fit into a busy, active family and will require more training.
#4 – Recovery Time
I prefer to choose a dog that will recover within 3-5 seconds if something scares him. So if you drop your keys on the ground, or a child falls, or the dog hears a loud truck he might startle, but ideally within 3-5 seconds he will be non-reactive towards the noise.
#5 – Choice in Interaction
I also like to see how willingly a dog will follow me (or the children) if he is off leash and we walk a few feet away and call him happily to us. Although you can teach a dog to come to you with training, I think willingness to follow shows a more social dog who might be a bit easier to train.
Want more information? Bennett recommends Sue Sternberg’s book, Successful Dog Adoption. It’s a great read for anyone who is thinking of adopting a dog or who works/volunteers at a shelter or rescue.