In Search of the “Perfect” Dog

< A version of this article was published in the FEB 2020 issue of Downeast Dog News >

This is part one of a three-part series published in the Downeast Dog News in February, March, and April of 2020

< Updated 01FEB20 >

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What Can Affect Our Dogs Behavior?

I am often asked, “How do I get the perfect dog.” I always start by asking for clarification of how the person that asked the question defines “perfect.” Typical responses are; I want a dog that will: have good manners, NEVER bite, NEVER growl, like ALL people, like ALL dogs, like ALL of our current pets, will NEVER chase cars, will ALWAYS stay in an unfenced yard, will NEVER jump on people, will ALWAYS alert me when someone “sketchy” is in the yard but will NEVER bark at people I like, will NEVER kill a squirrel, will ALWAYS be safe around ALL kids, will ALWAYS come when called and will stay close to me but will not hang around me when I don’t want them to, and so on. At its most extreme, that sounds like “I want a dog that will do anything I want, whenever I want, and will do nothing and be content if I don’t want them to do anything.” That is not a realistic expectation and is failing to meet some of our dog’s most basic welfare requirements. [ FMI ]

I often wonder where people get their expectations of what constitutes a “perfect” dog. Unfortunately, not all but some of the people selling dogs, breeders, shelters/rescues, pet shops, set us up to think the dogs they want us to go home with is “perfect” because they know if we think otherwise, they may lose a sale. Selling a dog is not unlike most other things for sale. We typically want the best we can get. In some cases, those selling the dog even go so far as to use puppy temperament tests and shelter behavior assessments to convince us this is the right dog for us. Unfortunately, these tests may be misrepresented and presented to us as a predictor of future behavior. If we interpret that as a guarantee, they may or may not try to dissuade us from that impression. Temperament and shelter assessment tests are nothing more than a snapshot of a dog’s behavior in a specific scenario at a single moment in time. They are not predictive of nor are they a guarantee of future “perfect” behavior.

In some cases, our expectations of a “perfect” are the result of memories of dogs popularized through the mass media like Lassie or Air Bud. As endearing as those stories are, they are fictional accounts of dogs. Assumptions about certain breeds, usually based on an opinion that may not be supported by data, such as “Schnockelfensters are ALWAYS great with children!” can also bias our opinion inappropriately. I cannot tell you how many different individual dogs and breeds I have met over the past 25 years, but I do know I have seen extremes in behavior in all breeds.

If we look at the list of the characteristics many want in a “perfect” dog, most of those characteristics focus on a dog’s behavior, what it will or will not do.  I also want to point out that people often also use lots of absolutes with words like; ‘NEVER,’ ‘ALWAYS,’ and ‘ALL.’ The problem with using absolutes when discussing the behavior of a dog, or any animal, even human behavior, is that behavior can change and often does change and, like most of life, is seldom absolute. [ FMI ]

Many things can affect behavior. Genetics play a major role in future behavior. If either parent had certain genetic traits such as shyness, the puppies will probably also be shy.

We have many different breeds of dogs because they were selectively bred for certain traits. Dogs come preprogrammed with certain species-specific behavior motor patterns based on what they were bred to do. The dog is a predator, and as such has a motor pattern sequence to ORIENT > EYE > STALK > CHASE > GRAB-BITE > KILL-BITE > DISSECT > CONSUME prey.  That does not mean every dog will be an efficient predator, but they may still have a strong instinct to go through all or part of this sequence. This pattern of behaviors is what makes retrievers retrieve and what allows herding breeds to move livestock successfully. Unfortunately, a working herding dog with strong instincts to stalk, chase, and grab-bite is probably not a desirable trait for a dog that will be living with children. Something we need to consider when searching for the “perfect” dog for our family today and what it will look like throughout the dog’s expected life. A herding breed may be a perfect companion for a young couple that likes to hike, but may not be the best choice if two years later they have twin infants. [ FMI – ]

What happens during a puppy’s critical developmental period from birth to 16 weeks of age also has a great influence on behavior. If a puppy is a singleton, that puppy not have an opportunity to experience social interactions with littermates unless it is placed in another litter where it can gain the social skills it will need to interact with other dogs successfully. [ FMI ]

Next month I will discuss other factors that can influence our dog’s behavior.

Recommended Resources

Articles on Don’s Blog
( )

Brambell’s Five Freedoms – Helping Your Dog Thrive

Understanding Behavior; Why It Matters –

Does My Dogs Breed Matter? – Parts 1, 2 & 3

Puppy Socialization and Habituation

Adopting A Pet – Finding the Right Dog for You and Your Family

Adopting A Pet – We’re Getting A New Puppy (or Dog)!

Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop ( ) in Bangor, ME where he has been helping people with their pets since 1995. He is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP), Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), Associate Certified Cat Behavior Consultant (ACCBC) and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). Don is a member of the Pet Professional Guild (PPG) and is committed to PPG’s Guiding Principles and the Pain-Free, Force-Free, and Fear-Free training, management, and care of all pets. Don produces and co-hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show, that airs on Z62 Retro Radio WZON (AM620) and WKIT 103.3-HD3 and is streamed at every Saturday at 9 AM. Podcasts of the show are available at, the Apple Podcast app, and at Don’s blog:  The opinions in this post are those of Don Hanson.

©01FEB20, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved
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Podcast/Book Review- Considerations for the City Dog by Melissa McCue-McGrath

Considerations for the City DogKate and I recently had dog trainer and author Melissa McCue-McGrath join us on two episodes of The Woof Meow Show to discuss her new book. Considerations for the City Dog. The book offers excellent advice on what to consider before getting a dog, which is the subject of our first show (Interview with Melissa McCue-McGrath author of Considerations for the City Dog – part 1 – click to listen).

In the second show (Interview with Melissa McCue-McGrath author of Considerations for the City Dog – part 2 – click to listen ) we get into the nitty gritty of the book which is useful to any dog owner, whether city dweller or hermit. Topics we discuss include; the environmental shock that can occur when a dog rescued from the rural south ends up in a major urban area like Boston. We also discuss how these dogs are transported and how that can negatively impact the dog’s future behavior. Many rescues do this right, but some do not, and intentionally flaunt the law. Like Kate and I, Melissa believes that meeting the dog first is absolutely necessary before adopting, yet many rescues do not require or even offer this opportunity. Melissa’s book contains many tips on what to look for in a breeder, rescue or shelter as well as suggestions on what to avoid.

We also discuss walking devices; leashes, collars and what works best. The importance of mental stimulation in a dog’s life and how to accomplish it. How to find a good trainer and behavior consultant and what to look for in that individual.

The concept of shared space is discussed; the need to respect and follow leash laws and to make sure that we do not allow our dogs to infringe on the space of other dogs who might not enjoy an interaction with another dog.

This book is a “Must Read” list of every breeder, rescue and animal shelter employee. This week we talk about factors to consider when getting a dog. You can learn more at and at Melissa’s blog

PODCAST – Listener Questions No. 19

10OCT15-Listener_Questions_No19In this weekend’s episode of The Woof Meow Show Don and Kate address questions from listeners; Am I too old to get a dog?, Kissing booths for dogs – bad idea?, What do you think of XYZ brand of dog food?, What do you feed your pets?, and Why is it important to use an accurate measuring cup when feeding my pet?

Listen to the show by clicking here:


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