The Old Trainer: Visit a shelter and let the dog pick you

March 22, 2013 

Dear Old Trainer: I really enjoy the way you write about how much love a dog gives a family. My kids are 5 and 6 now, and I am in the process of getting them a dog. What breeds do you recommend as being the most loving?

-- Carl, San Rafael

Answer: It is true that some breeds are famous for being so loving they have enough for a family and everyone else they come across.

In no particular order such a list would include Golden Retrievers, labs, pugs, English Bulldogs, collies, heelers, Cocker Spaniels, Shih Tzus, hounds, boxers and any mixed breed.

But the difference in love from breed to breed is too small to measure.

All dogs are full of love, full -- as William Goldman wrote -- of "love coming down like love." Small dogs have just as much love as big dogs. Guard dogs have just as much love as lap dogs.

Every dog is packed with unconditional love.

So my advice is always the same -- concentrate on the individual dog, not the breed. You will get all the love you want from any dog you adopt, so the criterion is which dog fits your family best. That depends on how active you are, how much space you have, how much you travel and a dozen other factors.

Go to your local shelter and tell them about yourself and what you are looking for in a dog.

They know their dogs and are experts at evaluating families and finding the best fit. They'll consider your lifestyle and what you are looking for, then suggest several dogs they know are perfect for you.

Spend time with those dogs. Notice which ones come right to you and want to love on you and the kids. Ask the attendants about the personality of each dog. Give extra care to shy dogs, who often are the smartest.

Dogs are experts at knowing when they will fit into a family, so pay particular attention to which dog refuses to leave you alone and demands to go home with you. When one does, you've found the right dog.

Dear Old Trainer: You never mention using treats in training your dogs. Do you use treats and do they work?

-- Jessica, Evanston, Utah

A: Using treats works. I know many trainers, including professional trainers who work with show business dogs, who use them. Dogs learn with them, but I don't use them for several reasons.

For one, I don't care to walk around all day with my pockets stuffed with treats. For another, I don't want my dogs to stop everything and wait for a treat each time they do something right.

But the main reason is I base all training on canine psychology, and in the wild the pack doesn't get a reward when they obey an order from the leader. Expectation of a reward is a human affectation, not part of canine psychology.

Really, it comes down to what the trainer prefers, because the dog doesn't care one way or the other.

Jack Haskins writes as The Old Trainer. A trainer for more than 30 years, he has rescued, trained, and placed more than 2,000 dogs. Send questions to

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